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Only the gay die young? Examining claims of shorter life expectancy for homosexuals
April 12th, 2007 by Warren
A spate of articles and news releases have appeared recently purporting to demonstrate that the life expectancy of homosexuals is in the neighborhood of 20 years lower than that of straights. Behind this flurry of activity is Paul and Kirk Cameron of the Family Research Institute and a poster session presented at the March, 2007 Eastern Psychological Association convention in Philadelphia.
The first news release was titled “1.4% of Adults Homosexual?” This release carried a link to a paper ostensibly presented at the Eastern Psychological Association, titled, Federal Distortion Of Homosexual Footprint (Ignoring Early Gay Death?). However, according to the letter below from the president of the EPA, Dr. Phil Hineline, the title and intent of the paper referenced by the news release is different than what the Camerons told the EPA they would do.
Following the first news release, others followed from the Camerons proposing that a reason fewer people over age 60 identify as homosexuals is because they are not alive (see them here, here, here, here, here and here). Again saying these data were presented at the EPA convention, the Camerons based their assertions on data from Denmark and Norway. On April 3, I received an email from Paul Cameron with “gays die too young to permit them to adopt” in the subject line. The email contain a Rocky Mountain News article quoting Cameron and an April 2 news release he said he gave to the Colorado legislative committee titled, “Gays Disruptive, Die Sooner & Their Kids Complain.” It was addressed to over 40 news outlets and bloggers, with this message: “How about an interview?”
These claims have never made sense to me, and I wrote briefly about this several months ago. So I dove into this a little further. In the mean time, Jim Burroway, over at Box Turtle Bulletin examined the Camerons’ work with an analysis of the study and a letter about the study from Dr. Paul Hineline, EPA president.
I also wrote to Dr. Hineline with questions about the Camerons’ study and to ask permission to include a response here. Here is the letter (which is identical to the one posted at Box Turtle Bulletin).
Dear Warren Throckmorton,
In response to your query, the following is a statement suitable for public distribution, provided that quotations from it are not lifted out of context.
- - - - - -
Paul Cameron and Kirk Cameron have posted for circulation a controversial and lengthy manuscript that purports, via the tagline at the bottom each page, to be the account of a presentation at the March 2007 meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association. The title of that manuscript, as well as its main emphasis, focuses upon an issue that was not present in the title nor was it in the supporting materials that were submitted by the Camerons for a poster presentation at EPA.
The submitted title, which appears in the EPA printed program, is: “Federal distortion of homosexual footprint.” The accompanying Abstract asserts that the proportion of the Canadian population identified as lesbian, gay and bisexual is substantially lowered if adults over age 60 are included than if they are excluded from the sample. The asserted implication is that federal agencies are exaggerating the size of the homosexual proportion of the population by excluding adults over 60 from the assessments.
In contrast, the manuscript at issue carries the title: “Federal Distortion Of Homosexual Footprint (Ignoring early Gay Death?).” Two of the three paragraphs in its accompanying Abstract focus upon the topic of the added parenthetical phrase, which is an inference — indeed a topic — that was not present in the materials submitted to EPA. Irrespective of its potential for controversy, it is highly unlikely that the augmented/altered version would have been accepted for presentation, for there clearly are many reasons other than differential longevity that could result in the under-reporting of homosexuals over 60.
Whatever its content, even the format of the manuscript to which the EPA identification has been affixed — a manuscript of more than 7000 words plus three tables and six graphs, would have been completely inappropriate as a poster presentation, which was the venue in which Dr. Cameron proposed to participate in the meeting.
To clarify the relevant history and circumstances: After putting out the call for submissions to be proposed for the EPA meeting, we typically receive over 700 submissions as was the case this year. These submissions are divided into categories (e.g. Animal Learning, Social psychology, etc ..) and each section is reviewed by a volunteer on the program committee. As each submission typically has at least two authors, vetting authors against other organizations’ lists of people with problematic ethical records is simply an impossibility, especially given the time-frame of preparations for an annual convention.
For acceptance, a work had to be complete, be methodologically sound using proper data collection techniques and/or experimental methods, the
conclusions had to be derivable from the presented results, and the topic deemed to be one that could stimulate interest and discussion among those attending the meeting.
The submission by Dr. Cameron indicated that there was a possibility that the prevalence of homosexuals in the population had been overestimated by previous techniques. Data were presented, reportedly using a broader defined sample than that used by government agencies, which indicated that the prevalence of homosexuality in the population was smaller than had been previously suggested. The submission by Dr. Cameron was for a poster presentation, and it was accepted as a poster, not as a paper or address. Whatever the Camerons ultimately presented, occurred in an hour-long “poster session” among approximately 70 posters.
There was nothing in the materials submitted by the author for review by EPA that indicated that the work could, or would, be informative with respect to the longevity of homosexuals.
Philip N. Hineline
President, Eastern Psychological Association
I provided Dr. Cameron with the letter from Dr. Hineline and asked for an on-the-record response to it. The following email is Dr. Cameron’s reply:
Dear Professor Throckmorton:
I’m not surprised – not even annoyed — that Dr. Hineline has made an issue of the fact that we covered more ground in our poster than we promised in our abstract. In making this point, he implies that the rules for the presentation of posters at the EPA are as rigidly codified and enforced as procedures in a criminal trial. Such is by no means the case.
As you know, posters are probably the most informal way our profession has devised to present new information at a convention. You put up the poster and you hope people will stop and ask you questions about your research or request a copy of the findings you are presenting.
At a recent meeting, one scholar attached the word SEX to the top of his poster. When asked why did it, he smiled and said, “Just to catch people’s attention.” Did he seek permission from the EPA to include that Attention Grabber in his poster presentation?
Surely Dr. Hineline knows that, over the years, numerous posters have contained information not included in the abstract. So is he implying that if the organization had known what the Canadian, Norwegian, and Danish reports told us about the gay lifespan, the EPA would have rejected the proposed poster? I hope not. If so, then the EPA has sacrificed scientific inquiry to political correctness. If not, then what is Dr. Hineline’s point in bringing up this matter?
Besides, what he says about the presentation is in error. He writes that there was: “nothing in the materials submitted by the author for review by EPA that indicated that the work could, or would, be informative with respect to the longevity of homosexuals.” Inspection of Table 1 and the four-page abstract itself would challenge that assertion.
(See the blog post for this table)
Note: Hetero = heterosexual; Homo/Bi = homosexual or bisexual; Unknown = refused or coded as “don’t know”; Hetero/Homo = Ratio of heterosexual to non-heterosexual
The almost 1 of 50 adults homosexual before the age of 45 plummeted to 1/233 adults homosexual after age 64. These data demand explanation. And (from the proposal)
In the Canadian database, a decline in homosexuality was evident by the fourth decade of life. Those who identified themselves as homosexual constituted a relatively stable fraction of adults only for those aged into their mid-40s (e.g., one of every 47-48 adults). Thereafter, their proportion dropped regularly, down to one of every 234 adults in old age (65+), resulting in an overall estimate of 1.4% of adults who ‘were
As you can see, in both the table and the abstract, we note the precipitous decline in the homosexual population following middle age. Indeed, failure to consider the reason for this decline would have constituted negligence on our part.
We extrapolated the figures on the gay lifespan after we had submitted the abstract; and since they came from Census Bureaus as the Canadian statistics, we thought they deserved inclusion. I think this incident illustrates the sad truth that if you publish research that is inconvenient to the gay rights movement, you encounter more obstacles than those whose work supports gay claims.
Given the number of typos in Dr. Hineline’s email, I wonder if it was not written in haste and hence without the reflection necessary to state his case clearly and accurately. Perhaps he has read the misleading information about me that the American Psychological Association distributes and has assumed them to be a reliable indicator of my skill and diligence as a scholar. If such is the case, I understand his attitude. Few professionals – whether doctors, lawyers, or psychologists — like to question the integrity of their national organization. Yet all of these groups have become battlegrounds for proponents of various political agendas.
All the best,
My initial interest in this topic is as always, to provide the best information to those with sexual identity conflicts. Another interest I have is to examine the accuracy of this study and the claims made based on the study. To do that, I am reviewing the study and I have asked others to do so. I hope to have an analysis of the claims of shortened life spans soon. For now, I will leave it to readers to digest and comment on the public presentation of these claims by the Camerons, the response of the EPA president and the rebuttal by Paul Cameron.
Only the gay die young? Part 2 - Danish epidemiologist reviews the Cameron study
April 13th, 2007 by Warren
Yesterday, I posted a letter from the EPA president, Phil Hineline, and then a response from Paul Cameron regarding a March presentation by Paul and Kirk Cameron purporting to show that homosexuals comprise a smaller than assumed percentage of the population because older gays are not included in prevalence estimates. Further, the Camerons assert that the reason older gays are not figured in to the prevalence numbers is because most of them die young. That post did not discuss in detail the claims of the Camerons, but rather some aspects of the presentation and the subsequent dissemination of the study by the Camerons.
However, to address the actual claims of early demise, I asked Morten Frisch, Danish epidemiologist, to review the Cameron’s paper “Federal Distortion Of Homosexual Footprint (Ignoring Early Gay Death?). Morten is the lead author of a recent report on environmental influences on marriages decisions among heterosexuals and homosexuals. I wrote about this study here and blogged about it here. He very kindly agreed to do so and replied earlier today. As I suspected, he did not find their arguments compelling, or use of data appropriate. Here is his brief analysis:
Cameron and Cameron’s report on ’life expectancy’ in homosexuals vs heterosexuals is severely methodologically flawed
It is no wonder why this pseudo-scientific report claiming a drastically shorter life expectancy in homosexuals compared with heterosexuals has been published on the internet without preceding scientific peer-review (http://www.earnedmedia.org/frireport.htm). The authors should know, and as PhD’s they presumably do, that this report has little to do with science. It is hard to escape the idea that non-scientific motifs have driven the authors to make this report public. The methodological flaws are of such a grave nature that no decent peer-reviewed scientific journal should let it pass for publication.
As a measure of gay individuals’ average ‘life expectancy at birth’, Cameron and Cameron gathered information about age at death from obituaries for homosexual people in the U.S., and they obtained Scandinavian data regarding the average age at death among homosexually partnered persons who died within a period of up to 14 years after the introduction of laws on homosexual partnerships.
Due in part to reports like the present homosexual persons remain subject to stigmatization. The majority of homosexual people, even in comparatively liberal countries like Denmark, are not open about their sexuality in public. Particularly older homosexuals who grew up in periods when their sexuality was either a crime or a psychiatric diagnosis tend to remain silent about their homosexuality in public. Therefore, the higher prevalence of self-reported homo/bisexual experiences and feelings in younger than older age groups most likely reflects that young gays and bisexuals are less hesitant than older ones to provide honest answers in sex surveys.
The majority of homosexual individuals in the report by Cameron and Cameron were presumably open about their same-sex preferences. The groups studied comprised homosexuals who had entered registered partnerships in Denmark or Norway, and homosexuals in the U.S. whose relatives considered homosexuality to be such an integrated part of their deceased loved ones’ personalities that they felt it natural to mention in the publicly available obituary. Since, as noted, age is a strong determinant of openness about homosexuality, the study groups of deceased homosexuals in Cameron and Cameron’s report were severely skewed towards younger people. Consequently, the much younger average age at death of these openly homosexual people as compared with the average age at death in the unselected general population tells nothing about possible differences between life expectancies in gays and non-gays in general. All it reflects is the skewed age distribution towards younger people among those who are openly homosexual.
To further illustrate Cameron and Cameron’s methodological blunder, imagine a country that sets up a new register to record all cases of sexual harassment against women. After 14 years of operation the register is contacted by an advocacy group who gets access to the data to examine how sexual harassment influences women’s life expectancy. Among those women who died during the maximum of 14 years of follow-up, few women will have died after the age of 50, simply because most sexual harassment cases occurred among young women. Using the same logic and methods as Cameron and Cameron, this advocacy group could arrive at the conclusion that sexual harassment reduces women’s ‘life expectancy’ by 30 years or more. Needless to say, this would be as pure nonsense as the conclusion reached by Cameron and Cameron that heterosexuals outlive gays by 22-25 years.
In theory, despite their possession of academic degrees, the authors may have been unaware of the flawed methodology they used and, therefore, they may have been in good faith when writing their report. If so, they should promptly retract it to avoid further stigmatization of homosexual persons. However, expectations that this will happen are slim. Results simply fit too well with the views they have previously expressed.
Morten Frisch, MD, PhD, DSc(Med)
Thanks again to Morten for his comments. I hope to summarize my thoughts about this episode by early next week.
To see all the entries regarding the Camerons' work, go HERE.
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