Good Critical Thinking: Do Try This at Home
That was good advice from one of my recent “Family Studies” professors, as he urged us to carefully examine the research studies we were analyzing. Did the researchers use a random sample? Who were the participants, and how were they selected? How do the results compare with other studies?
And what about those shady “lurking variables”–hidden factors that can impact the outcome without the researcher’s awareness? One classic example used in the classroom is that of increased ice cream sales causing an increase in homicide rates. Before we all scream to ban ice cream, consider the “lurking variable” that both ice cream sales and murder rates have in common. . . such as warmer weather.
So when we see headlines about a recent Australian study claiming, “Children of same-sex couples are happier and healthier than peers,” a good critical thinker would ask some of these questions:
Did the researchers use a random sample?
Good research depends on good methodology. Since no one can study an entire population, researchers use sample groups to represent the whole. But only a random sample is representative of the whole population. Only a random sample can allow the conclusions to be generalized to the population. “Only a random sample will guarantee an unbiased result.”
The Australia same-sex parenting study did not use a random (probability) sample. Participants were gathered through a convenience (non-probability) sample. Although there are some things we can learn from non-probability samples, “we cannot make valid inferences about the larger group from which they are drawn.” In other words, we cannot claim that “children of same-sex couples are happier and healthier than peers.”
Who were the participants, and how were they selected?
Participants in the Australia study were same-sex parents who saw “advertisements and media releases in gay and lesbian press, flyers at gay and lesbian social and support groups,” and signed up to be a part of the study. They were volunteers who understood the nature and significance of the study ahead of time.
“As a result,” explains renowned social scientist Dr. Mark Regnerus, “It seems unwise to trust their self-reports, given the high risk of “social desirability bias,” or the tendency to portray oneself as better than they actually are.”
In addition, it was parents who reported their children’s well-being, rather than children reporting for themselves. It is human nature for most parents to say their children are doing well, even when there are difficulties, and especially when parents are feeling in the spotlight.
Also, many of the children were quite young. The median age of the children with female parents and those with male parents was was age 4 and 2, respectively. This seems to beg the question of whether more time is needed for the bigger picture to unfold regarding child well-being.
How do the results compare with other studies?
There is much we do not know about same-sex parenting because same-sex marriage is still so new. It has only been legally recognized in the entire world since 2001, and in the United States since 2004. There has simply not been enough time to do serious longitudinal research on the outcomes of children raised in same-sex homes.
But what we do know is that we have over 40 years of research showing that children need the unique and combined gifts of a mother and a father:
• Early research from the 1950‘s showed how essential mother love and attachment was for children.
• Later research has demonstrated the many ways father-presence matters.
• “Studies suggest that men and women bring different strengths to the parenting enterprise, and that the biological relatedness of parents to their children has important consequences for the young, especially girls.”
• “Few propositions have more empirical support in the social sciences than this one: compared to all other family forms, families headed by married, biological parents are best for children.”
The Australia study’s conclusions contradict decades of research by suggesting that mothers are optional and fathers are optional.
As one commentator noted, “Nature’s purpose and design in ideally giving every child her own mother and father as parents has not been challenged by any serious studies to date, including this one. And it is unlikely any serious study ever will. No politically manufactured form of family has ever rivaled or replaced the natural form of family of mother, father and child.”
The Australia study does not appear to stand up to critical thinking questions.
But what about my professor’s other advice? Where is the author of this study coming from? It turns out that the lead author, Dr. Simon R. Crouch, is an openly homosexual man with twin boys about 4 years of age.
So, please don’t just believe every headline or title you read. Be a good critical thinker and examine it for yourself.
With so much at stake for children now and in the future, we must make sure we get this right.
United Families International, President