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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Shades of Nazi 'eugenics' - Paul Cameron is at it again

I need look no farther than two blocks west to get a glimpse of how the radical religious 'reich' views science. In Kansas the fun-D'uh-Mental-ists are going after the theory of evolution with all the zeal of William Jennings Bryan questioning substitute science teacher John Scopes in that hot Tennessee courtroom 80 years ago.

Let's face it. Science is not the friend of dogmatic, unquestioning religious literalism. All those carbon-dated dinosaur bones are sooooo inconvenient when religious "scholars" claim the world began in 4004 B.C.

But every once in a while religious zealots find a scientist they can embrace whole-heartedly. Such a man is Paul Cameron, head of the ultra right-wing Family Research Institute, a Colorado Springs-based organization that bills itself as "a non-profit educational and and scientific organization. The website features links to Cameron's articles about homosexuality, sodomy and child molestation that are almost, well ... obsessive.

Two decades ago Cameron was kicked out of the American Psychological Association (and the American Sociological Association followed suit two years later) for shoddy research, misrepresentations and ethical violations. You'd think such censure would cause a bona fide research to slink off in disgrace, but not Cameron. He formed his own "institute" and the religious right loves him for telling them what they want to hear about those pesky homo-sec-shuls. Now Cameron is back trying to grab the spotlight with a "new" study purporting to show that homosexuals die earlier than heterosexuals ... "proof" that being gay is hazardous to one's health.

Showing up in my e-mail the other day was a press release touting "interview opportunities" with Cameron. The press release read:

COLORADO SPRINGS - Family Research Institute President Dr. Paul Cameron announced today that a new study shows that the life span of homosexuals is 20 years shorter than the norm. The study will appear in a 2005 issue of the refereed scientific journal Psychological Reports (Volume 96: pp. 693-697).

Speaking on behalf of his Colorado Springs think tank, Dr. Cameron said, "Indeed, gay obituaries suggest that engaging in homosexuality costs participants between 15 to 25 years of life, suggesting that homosexuality is more dangerous than smoking or obesity and that homosexuals generally do not reach old age."

"10,000 gay obituaries have been collected from homosexual publications. Are the obituaries listed in the gay press representative of gay deaths in general?" Cameron asks.

A new study that compared them with Centers for Disease Control data indicates they are.

The Washington Blade, a homosexual newspaper, has been the major gay paper used to track gay obituaries. So its obituaries for death due to AIDS were compared to AIDS deaths among males who had sex with males from the CDC for 1994 through 2000. Surprisingly, there was almost perfect correspondence. The effects of the new drug cocktails for AIDS were evident in both datasets. In 1994 the CDC put the average age of death by AIDS for gays at 39, the Blade at 40. By 2000, the CDC reported the median age of death at 43 and the Blade at 42. Similar correspondences were noted for the 25th and 75th percentiles of deaths.

The CDC reported that 9% of heterosexuals who died of AIDS were at least 65 years of age. But less than 4% of homosexuals and IV drug abusers who died of AIDS reached 65.

"These findings add substantial support to our previous findings," said Cameron, who headed the study. "While no one has all the facts on this issue, the CDC data is about as good as it gets. These data indicate that considerable progress in medically combating HIV is being made - it's even affecting deaths from other medical causes. Right now, the median age of death for gays in the obituaries is
running near 60 - about tied with the median age of death for lesbians. Of course, the median age of death for adults is about 80 - so the 20 year hit for engaging in homosexuality that we reported 15 years ago continues to hold."

The new study "Gay obituaries closely track officially reported deaths from AIDS" can be read in the scientific journal, Psychological Reports (2005;96:693-697).

Something about the study rang a bell. Sure enough, a quick web search found that Cameron had tried to pawn off that "study" as "science" in 1994 only to see it quickly debunked.

University of California at Davis pyschologist Gregory Harek, PhD, devotes space on his website to debunking the study (and, in fact, Cameron's entire research on homosexuality). On Harek's site about the gay obituary study, Harek writes:

Obituaries in gay community newspapers do not provide a representative sampling of the community. This is evident in the fact that only only 2% of the Cameron group's obituaries were for lesbians. Moreover, community newspapers tend overwhelmingly to report deaths due to AIDS (only 11% of Cameron's gay male obituaries were not related to AIDS). In addition, community newspapers tend not to print obituaries for people who are not actively involved in the local gay community, those who are in the closet, and those whose loved ones simply don't submit an obituary to a local gay newspaper.

The Cameron group's gay obituary study reports many numbers and statistics. However, they are absolutely worthless for estimating the life expectancy of gay men and lesbians.

Now, apparently, Cameron is back trying to peddle his flawed and worthless (not too mention old) statistics to the gullible who a) are predisposed to believe anything negative about "the homosexual lifestyle," and b) are unschooled in scientific methodology and unable to tell the difference between legitimate research and psuedo-science in service to an agenda. Cameron's "research" is the heir apparent to Nazi Germany's fascination with "eugenics" to provide proof that Aryans were, indeed, the master race and Jews were a separate - and sub-human - species.

The unfortunate thing is that once the news of the study enters the public consciousness, it will get repeated and repeated among the right-wings homophobes until it carries the cachet of "gospel truth." I can almost hear the fundies defending the research by claiming, "It's the TRUTH! It was published in a SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL!"

Defending studies published in Psychological Reports as scientific proof of anything is like defending the latest gossip item in The National Inquirer as journalist proof of some Hollywood starlet's bad behavior.

Psychological Reports is one of the magazines published by Ammons Scientific Journals. Check out the company's web site and you'll notice something a bit odd. Browse through the authors' submission instructions and you'll discover that they actually charge $27.50 per printed page. In the field of scientific publishing, the idea of paying for one's own publication is downright unheard of. If anything, it sounds a bit like a science vanity publication in much the same way that those poetry vanity publications will publish your poetry if you just agree to buy multiple copies of the book in which they publish it.

Scientific journals traditionally operate under a policy of peer review and usually of blind review. This means that each submission is sent to two or three reviewers who are knowledgeable in the field. In blind review they do not know who wrote the paper or what institution she may be affiliated with. It is the reviewers task to tell the editor whether the paper says someting new, accurately reflects the state of
knowledge in its literature review, utilizes appropriate methods, reports an appropriate statistical treatment of the data, and is clear and understandable. Publication is a peer-reviewed journal gives reasonable assurance that the methods reported are sound and that the meaning of the results is not grossly exaggerated.

Perhaps that's why Cameron's press release refers to Psychological Reports as a "refereed" publication, as opposed to a "peer-reviewed" journal. For the record, there are more than 20,000 refereed journals out there, mostly published on the web. Many of them are quite good and follow scientific methodology. There are also more than a few covering such pseudo sciences such as creationism and UFOs.

With his flawed methodology and his suspect agenda, perhaps Cameron would better be spending his time pursuing UFOs and alien conspiracies involving planting dinosaur bones to fool palentologists than studying the complexities of human sexual orientation.

(For more information on Cameron, see Harek's website and the numerous links on Cameron's "research" on the Queer Resources Directory database.)