by Andy Birkey
Professor Gary Remafedi, M.D., of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota called on James Dobson of Focus on the Family to correct “gross misrepresentations” of his research in a letter sent to the religious right group on Wednesday. Remafedi is the latest in a long line of researchers who have demanded that Dobson and Focus on the Family correct inaccurate references to their research, citations that are often used to create a false and negative impression of gays and lesbians.
“I want to draw your attention to a gross misrepresentation of our research at the website of Focus on the Family,” wrote Remafedi. A section of the site called “Myths and Facts” makes the assertion that sexual orientation is easily swayed in adolescence and that “homosexual activist groups” and a culture supportive of gay marriage can influence teens to become gay.
“Many teens today either know someone struggling with homosexual thoughts or behavior – or are battling the desire to enter into this kind of a life for themselves,” the Web site reads. “What’s worse is that some teens have given up the fight and have surrendered to the idea of being gay. During early adolescence, many children experience a period of sexual-identity confusion when they can easily be influenced in either direction.”
Dobson then uses Remafedi’s research to back up his claim. Remafedi says his research doesn’t say anything to that effect. In fact, he wonders if Dobson even read his research.
“Had the authors of ‘Myths and Facts’ actually read the article, they would have found no support for their contention that ‘many children experience a period of sexual-identity confusion when they can be influenced in either direction,'” wrote Remafedi. “The word ‘confusion’ does not appear in our article; nor did we find that anyone can influence a young person’s sexual identity.”
Remafedi is not alone in his concern that research is being grossly misinterpreted in order to engage in culture-war positioning. New York University sociologist Judith Stacey was infuriated when she saw her research in Focus on the Family materials used to paint gays and lesbians as unfit parents.
“I’ve had to spend a lot of time correcting the record,” she wrote. “The bottom line is there is no research-based reason to deny rights to same-sex couples and their children. We should be passing laws and making policies that make life easier for all families — not harder.”
In a Time magazine op-ed in 2006, Dobson used research to make the case that gays and lesbians are unfit to raise children. Several researchers were alarmed to see their research misused. New York University educational psychologist Carol Gilligan, Ph.D, in a letter to Dobson said, “My work in no way suggests same-gender families are harmful to children or can’t raise these children to be as healthy and well adjusted as those brought up in traditional households.”
“I trust,” the letter said, “that this will be the last time my work is cited by Focus on the Family.”
Kyle Pruett, M.D., of the Yale School of Medicine also told Dobson to correct the record on his research. “You cherry-picked a phrase to shore up highly (in my view) discriminatory purposes,” he wrote. “This practice is condemned in real science, common though it may be in pseudo-science circles. There is nothing in my longitudinal research or any of my writings to support such conclusions.”
Remafedi sent his letter to Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out, a watchdog group that monitors instances where research is used erroneously against gays and lesbians.
“Focus on the Family has engaged in a disturbing pattern of misrepresenting the work of legitimate researchers to further their anti-gay agenda,” Besen said in a press release. “We call on Focus on the Family to immediately expunge all falsehoods and fallacies presented as ‘facts’ from their past and present literature.”
Remafedi’s full letter to Dobson:
Dr. James Dobson
Focus on the Family
Colorado Springs, CO 80995
April 30, 2008
Dear Dr. Dobson,
I want to draw your attention to a gross misrepresentation of our research at the website of “Focus on the Family” (see http://www.family.or…). In the third paragraph of the article, “Myths and Facts,” our research is cited in support of the statement: “During early adolescence, many children experience a period of sexual-identity confusion when they can easily be influenced in either direction.”
First, please note that the citation itself is incorrect. The original article was published in Pediatrics, not Journal of Pediatrics. The correct reference is: Remafedi G, Resnick M, Blum R, Harris L. Demography of sexual orientation in adolescents. Pediatrics. 89(4):714-721, 1992. More important, had the authors of “Myths and Facts” actually read the article, they would have found no support for their contention that “many children experience a period of sexual-identity confusion when they can be influenced in either direction.” The word “confusion” does not appear in our article; nor did we find that anyone can influence a young person’s sexual identity.
The purpose of our study was to explore patterns of sexual orientation in a representative sample of more than 34,000 Minnesota students in grades 7 to 12. We found that the percentage of student who reported being “unsure” about their orientation steadily declined with age from 25.9% in 12-year-old persons to 5% in 18 year-old students (p. 716). Youth who were “unsure” were more likely than others to entertain homosexual fantasies and attractions and less likely to have had heterosexual experiences (p. 720). These and other data suggested that uncertainty about sexual orientation “gradually gives way to heterosexual or homosexual identification with the passage of time and/or with increasing sexual experience” (p. 720).
Please ask the authors of the misstatements to correct them as soon as possible. In the interest of accurate translation of research into practice, a copy of this letter will be posted at www.truthwinsout.org. Thank you for your attention.
Gary Remafedi, M.D., M.P.H.
Professor, Department of Pediatrics
University of Minnesota