Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The quack science of Paul Cameron

As a college student in 1989, I remember sitting in a pew one evening hanging onto every word Dr. John MacArthur delivered in a sermon on Romans 1 on the topic of homosexuality. Always impressive in setting up the introduction, Dr. MacArthur began by inundating his audience with a battery of statistics supporting the utter depravity of homosexuals and their lifestyle. I remember feeling shocked, horrified and nauseated as he laid out for us the sinful depths to which these people, who surely had less moral sense than animals, had sunk.

At the time it never occurred to me to question where Dr. MacArthur was getting his information. He was such a highly regarded preacher and Bible scholar, all of us who attended his church revered the ground he walked on. So I was left feeling deeply shaken by what I had learned. And the loathing it bred in me toward homosexuals over the next decade inevitably outweighed any sense of having a Christian duty to love them.

Even though I was beset with so much prejudice, which I thought had been justified by scientific fact, I'm thankful I have not only come to my senses about gay and lesbian people, but I have learned that many of those "statistics" that circulate in conservative Christian circles originate from one Dr. Paul Cameron. Cameron is responsible for many beliefs that float around in conservative Christian circles such as:

*Homosexuals are 8 to 12 times more likely to molest children than heterosexuals.

*Homosexuals are responsible for one-third to one-half of all child molestations.

*Forty-three percent of all sex murders are committed by homosexuals or bisexuals.

*The average life span for homosexual males is 43, for lesbians 45.

It turns out Cameron has generated these kinds of statistics using shoddy scientific research based on skewed samples, pre-selected samples, under-represented populations, unprofessional surveying techniques, invalid interpretations of data, and possibly false or joke responses to survey questions.

Mark Pietrzyk's article serves as a decent layman's introduction to the depth of the problem with Cameron's research.

I highly recommend Dr. Gregory Herek's article which presents a more in-depth analysis of Cameron's research and surveying methods.

Dr. Herek also critiques Cameron's gay obituary study that was used to generate his statistics for the average life span of gays and lesbians. In 1998 William Bennett retracted his citation of the statistic in an article for The Weekly Standard, when flaws with Cameron's study were exposed.

It is not surprising, then, to learn that in 1983 Cameron was dropped from membership with the American Psychological Association (APA) for "lack of cooperation with the Committee on Scientific and Professional Ethics and Conduct."

In 1986 the American Sociological Association (ASA) passed the following resolution: "The American Sociological Association officially and publicly states Paul Cameron is not a sociologist, and condemns his consistent misrepresentation of sociological research."

And in case you're tempted to dismiss the positions of the APA and the ASA as evidence of a vast left-wing conspiracy, note that recently conservative Christian psychologist Dr. Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College has also taken issue with Cameron's research.

There are good scientists and there are bad scientists, and there are scientists whose work sinks beyond mere quackery into the realm of lies and deliberate deception. That is simply the way things are. But to persistently tout the work of someone who belongs in the third category because it justifies our own loathing and bigotry, even though such work has been repeatedly debunked as a miserable falsehood, is damning, truly damning to the conservative Christian church.

Update: Take a look at Dr. Throckmorton's recent blog commentary on Paul Cameron's disturbing 1999 article "Gays in Nazi Germany." I'll leave you to read the shocking excerpts for yourself. Then you'll understand why Throckmorton concluded his comments with this:
Suffice to say that Dr. Cameron is not simply ideologically opposed to homosexuality, he is fixated on “solutions” that I find abhorrent. I call on fellow social conservatives who still refer to the Camerons’ work to take a hard look at these posts and reflect on whether someone with such extreme animosity could possibly approach social science data with sufficient objectivity to be trusted.

For a list of organizations that continue to cite Cameron's work, click here.