Christian "Science"

Feòrag NicBhrìde

The last Prattle included a news item about anti-gay posters flyposted around Edinburgh by "ex-gay" Clay Garner. Entitled "Five things you did not know about gay men", the poster listed a number of 'statistics', such as gay men average 110 sex partners a year ("I wish!" was the universal response to that one) and that 70% admitted eating their partner's excrement. Although the culprit refused to name his sources, the 'statistics' are based on the work of discredited psychologist/sociologist Paul Cameron.

A favourite of American Christian fundamentalists and 'family values' campaigners, Cameron is an ex-psychology lecturer who, set up his own organisation, the "Institute for the Scientific Investigation of Sexuality" (ISIS), now the Family Research Institute, in 1980. He published a number of extremely homophobic pamphlets linking homosexuality to violence, murder, bestiality and child abuse. At the same time, Cameron presented himself as an expert on the matter. By 1985, the Advocate warned he "just may be the most dangerous anti-gay voice in the United States today".

He was directly involved in anti-gay campaigns and when 'statistics' were not enough, resorted to outright lies to further his hatred. In one notable case, he told a public meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska Right now here in Lincoln, there is a 4-year-old boy who has had his genitals almost severed from his body in a restroom with a homosexual act. The local newspapers and police, to their credit, actually checked out the claim and found no evidence to support it. Cameron finally admitted that the rumour had no basis but insisted it could be true.

[ Paul Cameron ]

His attitude towards AIDS is equally charming. He proposes tattooing people with AIDS, and has suggested that, should a vaccine be discovered, gay men be castrated to prevent them cheating on nature. He has even advocated his own final solution to prevent the spread of AIDS.

The bulk of the infamous 'statistics', come from research conducted by ISIS in 1983 and 1984. More serious researchers have pointed out several serious errors in the methodology which make the results meaningless, including a sample so small it would take just 3 liars in each of eight cities to alter the findings dramatically. Only 41 respondents claimed to be gay men. A good example of the problems caused by sample size is Cameron's claim that 29% of people with a gay parent had also experienced incest. A total of 17 respondents claimed to have a gay parent. Only 5 of the adults reporting incest also had a gay parent, so the percentage of such people in the population as a whole could be anywhere between -4% and +62%!

Another concern is the length of the questionnaire and the complexity of the format. Respondents filled in forms on their own which asked 550 questions and took over and hour to complete. It is usual to repeat early questions towards the end of a questionnaire as a check. Cameron did not include any such safeguards. Just to make life more difficult, medical terms for the genitals and bodily functions were used and not explained.

Obvious bias played a part in both the phrasing of the questionnaire and in the collection of data. An article about the survey was published by the Omaha World Heraldwhile data was still being collected in that city. Cameron said the survey was to provide ammunition for those who want laws adopted banning homosexual acts throughout the United States. He also made the national news during data collection in Dallas over a public remark that gays should be quarantined.

Another famous 'study' by Cameron was of obituaries in the gay press, from which he extrapolated an average life expectancy. He claimed that both lesbians and gay men have shorter lives than straights. His figures were obtained by comparing the ages in paid-for death notices in local newspapers with obituaries in the gay press, which mostly focused on community activists and deaths from AIDS-related illnesses, a bit like comparing apples and avocados.

When the ISIS pamphlets were published, a number of the psychologists cited complained that Cameron had deliberately distorted the results of their studies. Dr. A. Nicholas Groth, director of the Sex Offender Program at the Connecticut Department of Corrections and a genuine child sex abuse expert was particularly angry at the way Cameron had misrepresented his research.

Other researchers complained that he had over-generalised their work, taking specific studies of gay men being treated at VD clinics, self-professed 'delinquents' and other small, non-random samples and treating them as if they were representative of the homosexual population as a whole, even when the researchers had specifically stated that this was not possible.

The American Psychological Association investigated and found that, in addition to misrepresenting the work of others, his own research left a lot to be desired. Cameron was dropped from APA membership for a violation of the Preamble to the Ethical Principles of Psychologists; in December 1983. He claims he resigned before then but, in reality, he tried to resign while under investigation -- prohibited by the APA by-laws. The Nebraska Psychological Association has censured him twice.

After this rejection by psychologists he pretended to be a sociologist, but not for long. In 1985, the American Sociological Association adopted a resolution criticising Cameron and set up a committee to critically evaluate and respond to his work. The eventual report was accepted and a resolution passed asserting that Paul Cameron is not a sociologist, and [the ASA] condemns his consistent misrepresentation of sociological research.

The sloppiness of Cameron's work is reflected in his publication record. Gregory Herek surveyed the outlets for Cameron's research and the impact of those journals based on the Journal Citation Reports. none of the Cameron group's research reports have been published in highly-respected, scientifically rigorous, and highly influential psychological journals. All of his papers have appeared in low-ranked journals, many vanity published in the pay-for-publication Psychological Reports.

The status of the journal alone is not necessarily the measure of a scientific paper. The number of times a paper is cited in other papers shows its influence. It seems the serious psychologists paid little attention to his work. Excluding self-citations, Cameron's papers enjoyed a total of 14 citations between 1983 and 1996, mostly letters contesting his findings and literature reviews.

So who does take Cameron seriously? Not surprisingly, his most enthusiastic fans are the religious right. The 'statistics' are used by opponents of measures to ensure equality for all, and by proponents of countermeasures specifically to deny rights to lesbians and gay men.

A video, The Gay Agenda was distributed to service personnel and politicians, and sold via Pat Robertson's 700 Club, when Bill Clinton tried to lift the ban on lesbians and gay men in the military. Described as "a splendid teaching tool" by one 2-star general, The Gay Agenda is a watered-down version of a tape produced for the Oregon Citizens' Alliance, Dangerous Behaviors: A Growing Pattern of Abuse. which featured direct quotes from Cameron's work as pictures of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer flashed on screen.

As well as the better known Christian organisations such as Focus on the Family and the Coalition for Family Values, Cameron associates with some very dubious characters indeed. David Caton, is director of the Idaho Citizens' Alliance and a former cocaine user who claims to have been addicted to pornography. A $300 habit apparently caused him to masturbate uncontrollably. He now uses Cameron's statistics to support his claim that gay men are sexually-obsessed perverts.

Cameron regularly speaks at Human Life International's conferences and their founder, Fr. Paul Marx, is on the advisory board of the Family Research Institute. A militant anti-abortion group, HLI also promotes some more embarrassing opinions. In his Confessions of a Prolife Ministry, Marx declares The same segment of the Jewish community that accuses the Pope of insensitivity to the Jewish Holocaust, not only condones but has more or less led the greatest holocaust of all time, the war on unborn babies.

But what about the statistics on the Edinburgh poster. They are based on one of Cameron's pamphlets Medical Consequences of What Homosexuals Do, published by the Family Research Institute. The claim that gay men average 110 partners a year and 62 rectal encounters comes from a study of gay men attending a 'special' clinic, and so cannot be considered typical of the population as a whole. Cameron doesn't mention sanitary towels at all, but he considers the use of 'diapers' (nappies) or colostomy bags a potential risk of fisting and inserting toys into the rectum. He doesn't actually give a single case where this has happened--the paragraph is entirely speculative.

And the shit? Cameron's original claim appeared in a 1989 edition of Psychological Reports, based on data from the 1983/4 survey. It seems the original question asked if the respondent had ever experienced "oral-anal contact", which is slightly different. In Medical Consequences, this becomes About 80% of gays admit to licking and/or inserting their tongues into the anus of partners and thus ingesting medically significant amounts of feces. The figures mostly come from the ISIS study, and show that 37 gay men have, at some time, engaged in oral/anal contact and another 3 have actually eaten fæces. Using Cameron's figures, I calculate that I can be 99% sure that between -32.8% and 47.5% of gay men have deliberately eaten shit.

[ The homphobic poster which inspired this article ]

Sources

The Queer Resources Directory is full of source material and articles concerning Cameron, the religious right and homophobia in general, as well as useful campaigning resources. Included is Mark E. Pietrzyk's article for the News-Telegraph The man behind the myths: a report on the chief anti-gay researcher of the theocratic right which acted as a starting point for this piece, and pointers to Gregory M. Herek's website which provides a thorough examination of Cameron and his research methods from a scientific viewpoint. It also manages to do this using accessible language!