Advocacy research in the ‘gay rights’ arena: a follow-up


Two months ago, I wrote a post about advocacy research: “scholarly” research driven by a political agenda rather than a scientific agenda, often at the expense of objectivity and methodological rigor. The specific study I cited as an example of advocacy research was published in the journal Pediatrics and was reported widely via the Associated Press.

The author claimed the study’s primary finding to be that homosexual teens in “unsupportive communities” (or “conservative communities,” as reported in the news) were significantly more likely to commit suicide than homosexual teens in “supportive” (liberal) communities.

It turns out that independent scholars with much more expertise in the field than I agree that the focus of this gay-teen suicide study on community factors was misplaced. A critique of the gay-teen suicide study, which was also published in Pediatrics, used the original study’s own data to point out that a teenager’s “community environment” has only “a small effect” (based on a scientific standard for effect size) on the likelihood of a teenager attempting suicide – regardless of that teen’s sexual preferences.

Further, the critique pointed out that the gay-teen suicide study ignored basic rules of scientific research. From the critique:

Even with a relatively large sample, the interaction effect [between community environment and suicide] was reported as not statistically significant…It seems that such nonsignificance proved no barrier to the author reporting the results of the interaction [between community environment and suicide] and then using [that result] to call for significant policy changes. I am not sure that’s how science is normally done.

This is just another illustration of how advocacy research is a real and troubling issue in the “gay rights” debate. It is both unfortunate and disturbing that some otherwise respectable scholars would lower their research standards in order to forward the “gay rights” agenda. When pushing a political agenda masquerades as objective scientific research both politics and science are tarnished.