Weak Data, Small Samples, and Politicized Conclusions on LGBT Discrimination

Jan 14, 2020 by

by Mark Regnerus, Public Discourse:

The measurement, analytic, and interpretive decision-making displayed in much (though certainly not all) of the LGBT discrimination and well-being literature is troubling, indicative of a lack of standards, poorly defined concepts, impressionistic conclusions derived from small numbers of interviews, the politicization of results, and the overall novelty of the field.

According to a purported deep dive into the social scientific literature, discrimination against LGBT Americans has yielded “a huge human toll.” That was the news greeting readers of the December 19 issue of the Washington Post. Since I was the principal author of the amicus brief that authors Nathaniel Frank and Kellan Baker feature (as a foil) in the first paragraph of their Post article, I figured I should read it carefully.

I did, and what appeared there isn’t new news. It’s the same weak data, small samples, and politicized conclusions to which we have been treated for years. Half of the six studies Frank and Baker discuss in the Post even fail to “prove” that patterns of discrimination widely, systematically, and profoundly harm LGBT Americans.

The pair report that they “spent two years conducting the largest known review of the peer-reviewed scholarship on the relationship between anti-LGBT discrimination and health harms,” but no such comprehensive document is evident online—only a brief overview of findings and a primer on their methods. They began by screening more than 11,000 peer-reviewed articles, a process that yields—in the end—300 articles probing the association between anti-LGBT discrimination and health and well-being.

I don’t blame them for limiting their analyses. The measurement, analytic, and interpretive decision-making displayed in much (though certainly not all) of this literature is troubling, indicative of a lack of standards, poorly defined concepts, impressionistic conclusions derived from small numbers of interviews, the politicization of results, and the overall novelty of the field. It was, after all, not many decades ago that the study of sexuality commenced. It’s been dogged by weakness the entire way. Alfred Kinsey was not just a pathfinder in sexual science; he was the first of many methodological offenders—plenty of whom have had a vested interest in the results of their own studies.

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