Live on National Television: Sex, Lies and Videotape
The first one to publicly point out the whopper was Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show," Comedy Central's spoof and commentary on the news.
But this was no laughing matter.
During an April CNN discussion of a Texas proposal to ban same-sex couples from becoming foster parents, Cathie Adams, president of the far-right Texas Eagle Forum, declared that it was "a proven fact" that "children in same-sex couple homes are 11 times more likely to be abused sexually."
Her sparring partner, Randall Ellis of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, called the claim "completely absurd," but conceded he knew nothing of the "study" that Adams claimed had been carried out in Illinois.
CNN anchor Kyra Phillips, as Stewart acerbically pointed out, offered no enlightenment, and Adams' tendentious claim went essentially unchallenged.
It was, as it turned out, utterly false.
As was pointed out in a lengthy article by Carl Bialik, the Wall Street Journal's "Numbers Guy," Adams' statistic ultimately came from Paul Cameron, a gay-bashing activist whose research was discredited long ago and whose organization, the Family Research Institute, is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Adams told Bialik she derived it from an article on the far-right WorldNetDaily Web site. That article cited another by Cameron that was published in the journal Psychological Reports.
Cameron looked at the 270 cases of sexual abuse of foster children reported to Illinois authorities between 1997 and 2002, 34% of which were same-sex in nature. Citing other studies that conclude gays make up 1% to 3% of the U.S. population, Cameron concluded that "homosexual practitioners" were vastly more likely to abuse children sexually than far more numerous heterosexuals.
But Cameron had no idea if the abusers were in gay or heterosexual partnerships. In other words, a foster parent in a heterosexual relationship who abused a child of the same sex was jammed by Cameron into the "homosexual" category – a gross error that was amplified by Adams when she later told CNN viewers that the same-sex abuse had occurred "in same-sex homes." Adams compounded this wildly unscientific approach, Bialik reported, by simply dividing the 3% into the 34% to derive her 11-fold statistic – despite the fact that neither she nor Cameron had any information about the percentage of gays in Illinois, as opposed to the United States as a whole.
One Cornell statistics professor told the Journal that Cameron's "study" was not a "competent research paper." Another, at Duke, called it "pretty lightweight." A far more serious study of a similar matter produced almost opposite conclusions.
Cameron's response? "There is no perfect study," he told the Journal. And Cathie Adams? She told Bialik she "didn't have that articulated as well as I should have. ... It just requires more explanation than you can do in sound bites."