Friday, March 29, 2013

Manufacturing dissent

Ezra Klein quotes from the American Sociological Association's statement on gay parents to contradict Scalia's statement that sociologists disagree about whether gays make good parents.  I think that he could go one further.  Scalia is probably taking Mark Regnerus's recent study as evidence of dissent within sociology.  Problems with Regnerus's study have been covered extensively, due to the e.g., defining gay parents as parents who have ever had a same-sex relationship, no matter how short-lived, as well as the conservative funding sources. The right comparison is obviously between children of stable same-sex and stable opposite-sex relationships, rather than between children of unstable same-sex and children of stable opposite-sex relationships. 

Scalia may hold a view common among conservatives that academic consensus derives more from liberal bias than from knowledge, so are only interested in findings contrary to liberal views.  Like many, I would call that cherry-picking, but conservatives seem to regard it as a necessary corrective.  It's a huge problem, and it's why there seems to be a red reality and a blue reality.

Two similar examples in my research areas:

Out of ~12 studies on virginity pledges, 2 find that pledges work, and those are the ones quoted by conservatives, especially because the first study found that pledges work (Bearman and Bruckner 2001 in American Journal of Sociology).  I reanalyzed B&B's data using better methods and found pledges didn't work. 

Out of hundreds or thousands of studies on condoms' effectiveness in preventing STIs, one prominent study (Zenilman 1995) found that people who reported condom use still got STIs.  Zenilman concluded that the subjects had over-reported their condom use; right-wingers said the study proved condoms don't work, which resulted in CDC being ordered to remove information about condoms from their website during the Bush administration. 

The biggest examples are global warming and Keynesian economics.  In red reality, the 0.3% of scientists who "don't believe" in global warming matter more than the 99.7% who do, and Scalia's discounting of the academic consensus on gay marriage is just the tip of the melting iceberg. 

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