Virtually all peer-reviewed academic research on same-sex parenting has come to one conclusion: there’s no evidence that being raised by same-sex parents harms children in any way. This result, which has been replicated in one form or another at least fifty times, drives sexists and homophobes up a wall. If for children, being loved and taken care of by two parents is what matters, then the cherished conservative belief that children “need” parents of both sexes for healthy development is unsupportable. Furthermore, the research undercuts the myth that children need protection from queers (a major plank of the anti-same sex marriage platform).
No Basis by Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai is frequently cited by anti-gay activists to argue against this body of research (and, by a logically dubious implication, same-sex marriage). Christianity Today’s take on No Basis is pretty typical:
They particularly criticized “convenience sampling,” in which investigators select whoever is available, and “snowball sampling,” in which homosexual activists help researchers find volunteers willing to answer questions.
“These studies prove nothing,” Lerner and Nagai wrote.
From No Basis itself:
Lerner and Nagai claim that studies of same-sex parenting don’t meet minimum standards of scientific respectability. But are the standards they put forward ones they genuinely believe in, or are they standards that Lerner and Nagai opportunistically take on for the specific purpose of rejecting same-sex parenting studies? (It is perhaps worth noting that No Basis was commissioned by The Marriage Law Project, an organization formed to oppose same-sex marriage). One way of answering this question is to see if Lerner and Nagai have held their own research to the rigorous standards they insist are mandatory in No Basis.
Before No Basis, Lerner was probably best known for a 1996 study, published by a right-wing think tank in the wake of the O.J. verdict, which claimed to show that American juries typically treat black defendants more gently than white defendants (the disadvantage of whites compared to blacks is a frequent theme in Lerner’s research). Although the study was never published in a peer-reviewed journal, Lerner’s spectacular findings – in particular, his claim that juries convict white rape defendants twice as often as black rape defendants – created a stir in the mainstream press. From U.S. News and World Report (Oct 14 1996):
The study was widely derided by academics (among other things, it ignored the disparity in sentencing, an area in which the judicial process is clearly easier on whites compared to blacks). For our purposes, what’s interesting is that this study flunks the standards advocated in No Basis. As the ACLU comments,
Lerner and his associates thought a sample size of five was solid enough to trumpet to the national press; but samples many times larger are still too small, according to Lerner, when he needs an excuse to dismiss gay parenting studies.
What about Lerner and Nagai’s other standards? In No Basis, a major objection to many studies of same-sex parenting is the use of non-probability samples, and in particular “snowball” sampling, in which participants recruit other participants. Here’s a passage of recommendations from No Basis:
2) Ignore studies based on non-probability samples…
3) Especially ignore studies where participants recruit other participants. These are so subject to bias, that the limited results cannot be trusted.
That’s some very strong language. So, surely, this is a standard that Lerner and Nagai genuinely believe in – not just an opportunistic standard they’ve taken on to bash gay parenting studies? To answer that question, I’ll quote from a review of Lerner and Nagai’s book American Elites (the review was published in the prestigious American Journal of Sociology, September 1997):
(Emphasis added). Again, it’s clear that Lerner and Nagai have altered their conceptions of what is and isn’t acceptable methodology.
These are by no means unique examples – see, for instance, this Lerner and Nagai study of affirmative action. Although Lerner and Nagai argue in No Basis that conclusions can never be drawn without extremely rigorous statistical controls or tests of significance, they didn’t bother using any such statistical tests here. Instead, Lerner and Nagai present only percentages, an approach they single out for harsh criticism in No Basis. Note as well that their study seems to have included only 37 black students – a sample size they’d deride as far too small in No Basis.
You may be now saying to yourself, “so Lerner and Nagai use the same bad methods that the gay parenting studies do. They’re still bad methods, right?”
To that I’ll say: Have patience, folks. I’ll get there.
Today, I’ve shown that Lerner and Nagai are not serious about the standards they used to reject gay-parenting studies in No Basis, as demonstrated by the fact that they’ve never taken these standards seriously in their own work. Tomorrow, I’ll show that – setting aside Lerner and Nagai’s double-standards – the standards they use to dismiss gay parenting studies are illogical, misapplied, and show a severe misunderstanding of social science norms and standards.