According to an annual survey produced by Roy Morgan, doctors are one of the most trusted professions out there. They certainly make ministers of religion pale in comparison.
I reckon this is right. I put my life into my doctor’s hands. If I didn’t trust him I’d go somewhere else. It’s even more pronounced when you arrive at the ER – you don’t even know the doctor treating you there but you trust her implicitly. Why wouldn’t you?
But just because we trust doctors in medical situations doesn’t mean that the entire medical profession gets a free pass with everything. Actually let me narrow that right down. I have one particular set of medicos in mind…
Children raised in same-sex families develop as their peers in families with heterosexual parents do, a group of senior pediatricians and adolescent health experts says.
And the group has called on the medical community to debunk “damaging misrepresentations” of the evidence being used by the “no” campaign in the postal vote on same-sex marriage, saying the real public health risk comes from discrimination.
They’re doctors. We should trust them, right? After all they’ve done the research…
The 13 specialists, who include Professor Frank Oberklaid from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Associate Professor Michelle Telfer, from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, write in the Medical Journal of Australia: “The research tells us that children and adolescents with same-sex parents are doing well, despite the discrimination their families endure. This will not continue for long in the face of hostile debate.
Except, when you actually look at the research paper [pdf] (publicly available through a free registration on the AMJ site), we begin to see the cracks…
It should be acknowledged that there are methodological challenges in answering questions about children’s wellbeing in same-sex parented families. Samples of children with same-sex parents tend to be small, and many population-based studies do not ask for information on parents’ sexuality. This means that much of the research on same-sex parented families has used convenience or volunteer samples that can be biased. Despite this, the consensus of the available, high quality research is that children raised in same-sex parented families do as well as other children.
For a discussion of the methodological approaches within this body of research, see Dempsey.3
So what did they do? Well it’s a summary paper. They took 3 other studies that summarised other research in the area and then they summarised the summaries. And they announced the “results” a couple of weeks out from the end of the postal survey. Politics over-riding academic process? Shame on you for even thinking so.
We aren’t given the detail of their statistical work on the public website. We have to trust them on it at this stage. But we don’t need to guess. Douglas Allen’s large-scale 2012 survey of the Canadian census [pdf] begins with a helpful survey of other research in the field. Even more helpfully he notes where the research is a genuine random sample, whether the data is “hard” or “soft” (i.e. hard is a clearly objective measure of child welfare such as graduation rates (which Allen uses) or suicide attempts etc whereas “soft” can be as soft as asking same-sex parents whether their own kids are “doing well”). He also shows us the sample size (which is very, very important – if you want to make sure you’ve got a good sample you need a decent sample size; think of those political polls which have over 1000 sampled and still have a margin of error of 3%).
In a nutshell, the better research (all other things being equal) is going to have a large random sample with “hard” data. Clear on what to look for? OK, here’s Allen’s table:
It should be immediately clear that the last three on the survey are by far the superior data sets. Rosenfeld measures grade retention (the likelihood a child will repeat a school grade)
Children of heterosexual married couples had the lowest implied rate of grade retention: 6.8%. Children of lesbian mothers and gay fathers had grade retention rates of 9.5% and 9.7%, respectively. Children of heterosexual cohabiting parents had a grade retention rate of 11.7%, while children of single parents had grade retention rates between 11.1% and 12.6%.
The differences in childhood grade retention between all types of non–group quarters households were dwarfed by the high rates of grade retention of children living in group quarters. According to Table 1, children living in group homes, many of them awaiting adoption or foster parents, had an implied grade retention rate of 34.4%. Children who were incarcerated had a grade-retention rate of 78.0%.
The Regnerus study is well discussed (and has a helpful summary website showing all the results which also shows statistically significant differences between various family types). Allen’s own research also shows a clear difference in outcomes for different family types.
The point of all this? When the authors of the AMJ paper claim that
The consensus of the peer-reviewed research is that children raised in same-sex parented families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as children raised by heterosexual couple parents. These findings have been replicated across independent studies in Australia and internationally, some of which we discuss below.
you should question the accuracy of their prescription. The evidence is not clear. The largest random samples using “hard” measures say otherwise. It’s not conclusive either way and there’s much reason to suggest that perhaps the strong claims made by the authors in the media need some examination.
I’d be getting a second opinion.