Part 1—Chris Mooney tells several old stories: Tomorrow, North Carolina will vote on a constitutional amendment which would ban same sex-marriage and same-sex civil unions. Beyond that, the amendment would end various domestic partner benefits.
The amendment is expected to pass. Saturday, in this piece at Salon, Chris Mooney explained the “bad science” involved in the debate about this amendment.
He told a familiar tale. “Many voters who go to the polls to support Amendment One will do so believing outright falsehoods about same-sex marriages and civil unions,” Mooney wrote. “In particular, they hold the belief that such partnerships are damaging to the health and well-being of the children raised in them.”
According to Mooney, this claim is utterly bogus. The claim has been “explicitly disavowed by the American Psychological Association,” he writes. In this passage, he quotes the APA:
MOONEY (5/5/12): “Beliefs that lesbian and gay adults are not fit parents...have no empirical foundation,” concludes a recent publication from the organization. To the contrary, the association states, the “development, adjustment, and well-being of children with lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from that of children with heterosexual parents.”According to Mooney, the studies don’t show that same-sex partnerships are harmful to children raised in them. So why do voters think different?
Alas! In response to that question, Mooney tells a sadly familiar tale. The following passage describes a groaningly awful intellectual scam. But at its heart, the process Mooney describes is extremely familiar:
MOONEY: “Beliefs that lesbian and gay adults are not fit parents...have no empirical foundation,” concludes a recent publication from the [APA]. To the contrary, the association states, the “development, adjustment, and well-being of children with lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from that of children with heterosexual parents.”Groan. Studies show that children in heterosexual two-parent families do better than children with just one parent. In a blatantly bogus way, “Christian conservatives” pretend that these studies have established that heterosexual families are best for kids—better than two-parent same-sex families.
So how can Christian conservatives possibly claim otherwise?
Well, one favored approach is literally citing the wrong studies. There is, after all, a vast amount of research on kids in heterosexual two-parent families, and mostly these kids do quite well—certainly better than kids in single-parent families (for obvious reasons). Christian conservatives cite these studies to argue that heterosexual families are best for kids, but there’s just one glaring problem. In the studies of heterosexual two-parent families where children fare well, the comparison group is families with one mother or one father—not two mothers or two fathers. So to leap from these studies to conclusions about same-sex parenting, explains University of Virginia social scientist Charlotte Patterson, is “what we call in the trade bad sampling techniques.”
That claim is groaningly bogus.
Mooney refers to this as “bad science.” If his account is correct, his judgment is groaningly apt. But then, this has been a familiar story across the political landscape over the past forty years.
During that period, our political discourse has been dogged by bogus claims in a wide array of major areas. Citizens hear such bogus claims again and again and again:
If we lower our tax rates, we get increased revenues!Over the past forty years, American voters have been assailed with a wide array of bogus claims in a wide array of subject areas. If Mooney’s account of the “bad science” concerning child-rearing is true, it represents the latest example in a very familiar trend.
European-style health care has failed everywhere it’s been tried!
Social Security will go bankrupt—belly-up—by the time younger voters retire!
The US once had the world’s best schools, but things have gone straight downhill!
If Mooney’s account is accurate, North Carolina voters have been exposed to some very bad science. But uh-oh! To our ear, Mooney offers a rather slippery account of this process—and as he proceeds, he seems to flirt with some bad science all his own!
Again, there’s nothing strange or unfamiliar about Mooney’s basic story. American voters are often misled by bogus claim from tribal leaders. Sometimes, it even happens in the liberal world! (If you watched MSNBC spread its reams of bad information about the killing of Trayvon Martin, you saw this process unfold.)
Have conservative voters been fed “bad science” about the effects of same-sex marriage? If so, there’s nothing new about that! But after describing a familiar process, Mooney just keeps going. He continues from there to make sweeping claims about these misled voters.
Let’s step back and look at the larger question involved in Mooney’s piece, which bears a sweeping pair of headlines not of Mooney’s creation:
Does our tribe reason better than theirs? Is their tribe ruled by forms of hate? It’s always possible, of course—and such claims are very pleasing. Tribes have always made such claims, ever since tribes began.
But does our tribe reason better than theirs? It’s certainly possible! But the claim is so pleasing that it may tend to produce bad reasoning of its own. In fact, it almost certainly does.
Mooney starts with a very familiar story. After that, has he perhaps been lured into “bad science” of his own?
Tomorrow: Muddled assertions