Analysis: So-called research that disgusts real scientists

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Anyone who logged on to this morning would have been shocked to read the headline that suggested homosexuals have a shorter life-span than smokers.

What’s worse, the headline suggested that this was a scientific study.

Being a scientist myself, and having worked for one of the most reputed peer-reviewed medical journals in the world (the British Medical Journal) and learnt much about medical studies, I can now set the record straight.

Paul Cameron is not a scientist, and his so-called research is not valid.

Don’t believe a word of it.

First things first. According to the news release, Cameron released the findings of his “study” at the convention of the Eastern Psychological Association.

Did he actually present a peer-reviewed scientifically and statistically valid report there?

Of course not.

Even an undergraduate student of statistics would have, as has happened so-often in the past, dismissed with incredulity this propaganda masquerading as science.

I cannot find any information on sampling, the sources used, methodology of the study, or the statistical methods from which the conclusions were drawn.

What he presented was a poster, dubiously titled “Federal Distortion of the Homosexual Footprint.”

A promotional campaign it certainly was. Research it ain’t.

I’ve never heard of Paul Cameron before today.

And I read hundreds of scientific journals every month as part of my work.

If his research was anything of a scientific nature, I’m pretty sure I’d have come across it.

In any event, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and went about researching his credibility and so-called scientific work.

My first stop was obvious to anyone even remotely familiar with medical literature.

PubMed – the US National Institutes for Health’s database of almost all biomedical articles with any inkling of credibility published in the last 60 years or so is the largest of its kind.

I searched for articles by the “scientist” in question.

Almost a dozen articles by Paul Cameron turned up – all of them for a journal I had hitherto unheard of, called Psychological Reports, and one for the Nebraska Medical Journal.

Were any of these articles actually credible research papers? No.

Most were pieces of biased commentary, dressed up with flawed statistics, partly from his own misguided and unreliable “research,” and partly from misrepresented data of other studies.

I don’t know about the editorial stance or about the editorial board of Psychological Reports, but one thing is certain, none of his papers have any scientific merit.

I searched other databases – Ovid Medline, Science Direct and the British Library. I got nowhere.

Next, I had to investigate the primary sources themselves — Paul Cameron and the Family Research Institute.

Surprise, surprise. It is a flagrantly anti-gay organisation.

Its information to visitors reads: “Family Research Institute is a non-profit scientific and educational corporation that believes the strength of our society depends on preserving America’s historic moral framework and the traditional family.

“FRI is working to produce sound, scientific data on pressing social issues, especially homosexuality, in an effort to promote traditional policies.

“We welcome all who would join in the fight to restore a world where marriage is upheld and honoured, where children are nurtured and protected, and where homosexuality is not taught and accepted, but instead is discouraged and rejected at every level.”

How does science work? Prove by disproving. No scientist would ever start a work with a self-evident bias.

Nor would an organisation that purports to be educational or scientific.

Yet, Paul Cameron has founded FRI, in his words to “preserve America’s historic moral framework and the traditional family.”

And he calls the organisation scientific. What nonsense.

This isn’t the first time Paul Cameron and his colleagues’ muddle-headed thinking has got many people upset, predominantly non-homosexuals.

Even when he was working, two decades ago, as a professor at the University of Nebraska, he got many people upset when, in an interview with Penthouse Forum magazine, he indirectly called for extermination of all homosexuals.

After the University refused (understandably) to renew his teaching contract, he founded the Institute for Scientific Investigation of Sexuality (ISIS), and used this so-called institute as a means to launch a vicious campaign against homosexuals in the US.

Much to the disgust and distress of fellow psychologists and epidemiologists, the guy went on to distribute leaflets, and eventually books and videos, suggesting that homosexuals are more much more likely to be paedophiles, drug addicts and murderers, and that homosexual families are dangerous to society.

A one-man publicity machine, he has repeatedly misused and manipulated statistics to portray gay men and women as serial killers, child molesters and disease carriers.

Mark Pietrzyk, a research analyst for Log Cabin Republicans, wrote about Cameron and his cronies way back in 1994 in the New Republic.

The most illuminating paragraph from his research is this:

“A Cameron study that has received perhaps the most attention is “The Lifespan of Homosexuals.”

“It concludes that less than 2% of gay men survive to old age; that lesbians have a median age of death of 45; that gays are 116 times more apt to be murdered than straight men and twenty-four times more apt to commit suicide, etc.

“The source of this material? A comparison of obituaries from gay newspapers with a sample from regular newspapers, a method that would be laughed at by any reputable scholar.

“Obituaries in gay papers do not accurately portray deaths in the gay population as a whole.

“They are not meant to provide a public record of deaths of all gays but to allow members of the urban gay community to express mourning for their peers, particularly those whose lives have been cut short by illness or accident.

“Gays who die outside these communities or who die of natural causes are much less likely to be written up in a gay paper.”

Pietrzyk also reported that Cameron was expelled from the American Psychological Association, which he denied.

The fact remains though that six psychologists complained to the APA about his sloppy methods, and an official investigation was launched in early 1982.

Cameron resigned from the organisation later in the year, even though APA expressly forbids members under investigation from resigning.

Funnily enough, Cameron responded to Pietrzyk’s report, though his response was as silly as his claims.

Apparently, the guy has consulted over 140 years of research on homosexuality.

I should certainly like to see his findings from his large consultation, considering most reputed scientific journals of the world – including Science, Nature, PNAS, NEJM, BMJ and The Lancet – have reported on the large body of research pointing to the biological origins of homosexuality, not just in humans, but in hundreds of species across the animal kingdom.

Doubtful? Just search Google Scholar or PubMed.

The only organisations paying any heed to Cameron and the so-called findings produced by his team, are ultra right-wing traditionalists who are peurile in their objection to the prevalence of homosexuality across the animal kingdom.

That includes, inter alia, human beings, if you didn’t know.

No wonder then that no worthy news organisations or scientific publications have ever paid heed to his work.

As for the rest of us, the only thing worth doing, faute de mieux, is to ignore it all, and move on.

One final point in defence of my own journal.

Mr Cameron’s website claims that he is a peer-reviewer for the BMJ on homosexuality-related articles.

He has done one peer-review for us since 2003.

We have since published more than 1000 articles on homosexuality, for none of which he served as a reviewer.

And the BMJ has not published a single article, not even an electronic letter from him or his colleagues.

Balaji Ravichandran is editor of the Student British Medical Journal.