PolitiFacts Pants on Fire

Posted on | April 8, 2013 by Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. |

Yesterday, the Providence Journal published a PolitiFact editorial claiming that my use of one word–”shattered”–in the Rhode Island marriage hearings last month rendered my statement to the committee entirely “false” and me imprudent. But to make their claim, the editors constructed and attacked a straw man argument which ignored the context of my statement–context I provided both in my public testimony and direct communications with them. Ironically, PolitiFact ended up vindicating my statement in the process of trying to disparage it.

In my statement I said that the scholarly basis for claims that it makes no difference whether a child is raised by her parents or by adults engaged in a homosexual lifestyle were not based in the scholarship. To the contrary, and as the PolitiFact hit piece concluded, there is an ongoing debate in the literature. As one of its interviewees put it, there is nothing “definitive.”

But that is not what we in Rhode Island heard at the last round of hearings and that is precisely why I found it important to bring this to the attention of the committee this year.

Before making a sweeping change to a fundamental aspect of our society–before we redefine marriage–we should first remove any doubt about whether doing so promotes the common good and especially the good of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society including children. As I said in my testimony, this is the value of research. It allows us to know whether we can extend the many moving personal stories and anecdotal evidence to the broader population.

Let’s start at the beginning. On March 25th I received an email from Michael McKinney, who said he was a reporter at the Providence Journal writing a story about my statement.

In my reply to his email I explained that the reason I brought the new study to their attention was precisely because of the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee’s keen interest in question of where the peer reviewed research stood on this question during their last round of marriage hearings at which I also testified.

At that hearing, the committee chair asked witness after witness whether there was any “peer reviewed” research to refute a then-recent study which asserted that children do just as well or even better when raised by lesbians than in other family arrangements.  So relentless was her questioning that it began to draw laughter when witnesses preempted her query and stated up front whether they had anything “peer reviewed” in their testimony.

The senators were noticeably silent on the matter at this year’s hearing. Not a peep about where the peer reviewed literature came down. No smug queries meant to highlight the one-sidedness in the journals concluding it made no difference whether a child had a mother and a father. That is because last June Mark Regnerus and his colleagues at the University of Texas published some of their findings in an extensive study that found children do better when raised by their own parents.

Mr. McKinney said the Regnerus study “has not reordered the social-science world in the way Yoshihara suggests.” I never said it reordered the social science world. But it certainly reordered this year’s hearings and the conception of the academic status quo.  And it certainly raises doubts about whether redefining marriage is good for our children.

One would think that a reporter at a reputable newspaper would have read the testimony he was fact checking. I submitted the testimony in writing for the public record. Yet Mr. McKinney leads the reader to believe that I only provided links to the papers when he and PolitiFact requested them. In fact, I spoke about each at some length.

Mr. McKinney further leads the reader to believe that I was not aware of the criticisms the Regnerus study evoked. To the contrary, I not only acknowledged the challenges to Regnerus’s study in my oral and written statements but also noted that the authors had re-run their data based upon the extensive criticisms. I believe this added to their credibility and I said so in writing and for the record. Mr. McKinney left all of this out of his story as well as any mention of how and in what ways Regnerus and his research were vindicated.

When Mr. McKinney wrote a second time raising the question of the criticisms, I put him in touch directly with Dr. Regnerus. Yet Mr. McKinney did not make mention of this nor allow the reader to have any statement of rebuttal from Regnerus in the piece.

Mr. McKinney criticizes my use of the term “best” to characterize the Regnerus study by claiming my statement covered the full constellation of any and all research ever done on this matter. Let’s put it back in perspective. In the quote Mr. McKinney excerpted from my testimony, I contrasted the quality of the study touted in the previous year’s hearing with the superior quality of the latest research. That previous study, which I referenced in my email to Mr. McKinney, had 78 subjects (39 boys and 39 girls) and used self-selected responses to an online query.  As I explained both in my testimony and in my email, this is on its face inferior to the 15,000 subjects, almost 3000 interviews, which informed the Regnerus study.

One would think that a reporter trying to promote the facts would have made better use of them.

For their use of a straw man argument and for misleading the reader regarding the context and content of my statement, I rule Mr. McKinney’s and PolitFact’s editorial False.

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Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.

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