Lying with Statistics 101

Perhaps it’s a quirk of the nasty weather, but crackpot theories are erupting like fungus on a decaying log.

Most recently, Paul Kix of AOL News heralded Walter Schumm’s new “research,” which in effect piggybacks on the homophobic scribblings of Paul Cameron, founder and chairman of the Family Research Institute. In 2006, Cameron purported to have proof that gay parents produced gay children at a higher rate than heterosexual parents—who themselves, he failed to note, have been producing gay children since the dawn of time (or Creation, if you prefer).

It’s disingenuous at best to compare percentages of any magnitude, because no accurate count exists of the number of child-rearing gay households. This year marked the first time that the US Census allowed a place on its forms for same-sex spouses who self-identify as married.

This objection holds equally for heterosexual parents of gay children: Who knows? I have adult friends who never came out to their now-deceased parents. If Mom and Dad don’t know their kids are gay, neither does Schumm.

Kix reports Schumm “found it strange that parents can influence so many facets of their children’s lives—but not in any way their sexual orientation.”

Given that families—liberal, moderate, or hard-shell fundamentalist—have not been able to influence the sexuality of their own gay children, it doesn’t seem “strange” that gay parents have equally scant influence over the sexual orientation of their kids.

Of course, Schumm’s purpose may be to try to lead his audience to believe that sexual orientation is a matter of choice rather than innate. Then, all the sturm und drang clarifies into a matter of his own agenda—a political statistics-as-a-homophobic-weapon, rather than a true anthropological, ethnological, or sociological study.

I can’t divine Schumm’s intended goals, but those of his predecessor, Cameron, and of the Family Research Institute, pursue the “overriding mission” to publish “empirical research on issues that threaten the traditional family, particularly homosexuality.”

Suppose that one embraced simply “families,” rather than “traditional family” myths—households in which GLBT and straight children all are welcomed and cherished for themselves. All the palaver would become moot, and it simply would be parents raising children.

I recommend that the reader check out an old—but still valid—work: Darrell Huff’s How to Lie with Statistics (1954). Cameron and Schumm seem to have done so.

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