Anti-gay researcher Paul Cameron's falsehoods are well known. The incredible thing is the people who still cite them.
Nearly 600 evangelical Christians packed into the gymnasium of the Calvary Christian Academy in Forth Worth, Texas, to witness a ceremony on a Sunday in June. With a flourish of his pen, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed the first bill while the televangelist at his side praised Jesus.
Gov. Perry shared the stage with celebrity Pentecostal faith healer Rob Parsley, whose television program is carried by 1,400 stations nationwide. In the audience were the leaders of two prominent family values action groups: Donald Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
The first document Perry signed that day was a parental notification law requiring girls under 18 to obtain parental permission before having an abortion. The second proposed that the state constitution be amended to specifically prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying. (Texas voters overwhelmingly approved the amendment this Nov. 8.)
Parsley heaped praise on Gov. Perry for "protecting the children of Texas from the gay agenda." Then he rattled off a series of shocking statistics: "Gay sex is a veritable breeding ground for disease," he said. "Only 1% of the homosexual population in America will die of old age. The average life expectancy for a homosexual in the United States of America is 43 years of age. A lesbian can only expect to live to be 45 years of age. Homosexuals represent 2% of the population, yet today they're carrying 60% of the known cases of syphilis."
The televangelist did not reveal where he got those numbers. He stated them starkly as facts to be accepted on blind faith. But they are not facts. They are gross distortions lifted straight from the pages of pseudo-scientific studies by Dr. Paul Cameron, a crackpot psychologist and champion of the anti-gay crusade.
Under the guise of chairman of the Family Research Institute, his statistical chop shop in Colorado Springs, Colo., Cameron has published dozens upon dozens of research studies that offer homophobes a supposedly scientific justification for their prejudices by invariably concluding that gays and lesbians are dangerous and diseased perverts.
"Homosexuality is an infectious appetite with personal and social consequences," is how Cameron describes the phenomenon he studies. "It is like the dog that gets a taste for blood after killing its first victim and desires to get more victims thereafter with a ravenous hunger."
$27.50 a Page
While he makes no attempt to disguise his personal bias, Cameron dresses up his studies with footnotes, bibliographies and charts, and then publishes them in bogus "academic" journals. His work is propaganda masquerading as science and has been repeatedly unmasked as such by many legitimate scientists. Cameron himself has been cast out of both the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association. The ASA declared that, "Dr. Cameron has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented sociological research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism."
But no matter how low his professional reputation sinks or how patently ludicrous his findings become (one recent Cameron study concluded that lesbians are 300 times more likely to die in car accidents than heterosexual women), the social impact of Cameron's so-called research far exceeds that of all but a few genuine research psychologists. Cameron's findings are repeated ad nauseam by lawmakers, radio talk show hosts, preachers and anti-gay activists across the country. In 2003, his research was cited by dissenting justices on the Massachusetts Supreme Court in the case that led to legalizing same-sex marriage in that state. In 2004, a majority decision by the Florida Supreme Court that upheld a law banning adoption by same-sex couples specifically cited Cameron's research as being "consonant with the notion that children raised by homosexuals disproportionately experience emotional disturbance and sexual victimization."
Religious right action groups including Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition promote Cameron's statistics on their Web sites. The Christian Communications Network, a public relations firm run by anti-abortion zealot Gary McCullough -- media adviser to Operation Rescue and the parents of Terri Schiavo, whose feeding tube removal sparked a major controversy -- publicizes Cameron's findings to religious newspapers and helps distribute tens of thousands of his heavily footnoted pamphlets to church congregations.
Not one of Cameron's anti-gay studies has been published in a respected scientific journal with rigorous content review standards. Instead, Cameron props up his façade of credibility by publishing his studies in Psychological Reports, a Montana-based vanity magazine that advertises itself as "The Scientific Manifestation of Free Speech" and will publish practically anything for $27.50 per page.
Unlike a serious academic journal, Psychological Reports does not employ a stringent peer review panel of scientists to guard against flawed studies. But its title looks good in footnotes, and Cameron has been publishing his work in the magazine since 1972, long before he joined the anti-gay crusade. His first study in Psychological Reports concerned the relationship between pet and non-pet owners and animals. Cameron concluded that pet owners are far more likely to be kind to animals than non-pet owners.
'Too Powerful to Resist'
While Cameron describes homosexuality as a "crime against humanity," he seems fascinated with the mechanics and pleasures of gay sex. In a widely publicized 1999 interview, he said, "Marital sex tends toward the boring end. Generally, it doesn't deliver the kind of sheer sexual pleasure that homosexual sex does. If you isolate sexuality as something solely for one's own personal amusement, if all you want is the most satisfying orgasm you can get, then homosexuality seems too powerful to resist. The evidence is that men do a better job on men."
In a separate interview, in 1996, Cameron traced his distaste for homosexuality back to his childhood, claiming that when he was 4 years old a pedophile approached him in an apple orchard and forced him to perform oral sex. "I must have been a beautiful and charming little boy. But I didn't like it very much," Cameron said. "I remember that he was kind of dirty, and this bothered me." A year later, according to Cameron, a female stranger lured him into a bathtub. "I had a much more pleasant experience with the woman."
Now 66 years old, Cameron received his doctorate in psychology from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1966, and became one of the first researchers to look into the adverse health effects of secondhand smoke. He also studied what he called "the happiness of handicapped versus normal persons," publishing his findings in 1971 under the title, "Satisfaction of the Malformed."
In 1978, Cameron authored a sex guide for Christian teenagers called Sexual Gradualism in which he assigned numeric values to sexual acts: Kissing level three, heavy petting level five, intercourse level eight. In it, he suggested that teens experiment with heterosexual sex, short of intercourse, as a means of preventing homosexuality. "While no parent wants his child starting the sexual process 'too young,'" he wrote, "better too young than homosexual."
Cameron first waded into the fray over gay rights in 1982, when he became chairman of the Committee to Oppose Special Rights for Homosexuals, which formed to fight a proposed ordinance in Lincoln, Neb., to extend civil rights protections to gays and lesbians. Cameron was then a professor at the University of Nebraska. Campaigning against the ordinance, Cameron told the congregation of the University of Nebraska Lutheran Church that a local 4-year old boy had recently been dragged into a shopping mall bathroom and castrated by a homosexual. The story was totally false. The Omaha Police Department and local hospitals had no record of such an assault. But the tale of the homosexual castration attack upon a child quickly became a popular myth, and Cameron kept defending it in the media as "an example of what could happen," even after admitting that his source for the information was a friend of a friend who'd supposedly heard it from a police officer. The Omaha gay rights ordinance was voted down by a four-to-one margin.
Cameron had learned an important lesson: The more sensational a falsehood about homosexuals is, the more it will be repeated, and the more it's repeated, the less it matters whether or not it's true.
550 Sex Questions
A year after his victory in Nebraska, Cameron announced himself as the head of a new scientific research group he called the Institute for the Scientific Investigation of Sexuality (ISIS). He said the institute's first project would be a nationwide sex survey. And Cameron boldly predicted in media interviews that, "The results will tend to indicate that those who lead sexually venturesome lives are more inclined toward suicide, are less happy, and contract more diseases." (Legitimate researchers do not publicize their findings in advance of data collection).
A 550-item questionnaire designed by Cameron was at the heart of the ISIS study. The questions were oddly constructed and deeply personal: "With how many homosexual virgins have you had homosexual relations?" and "How would you feel about sharing toilet facilities with a homosexual?" (Multiple-choice answers to the latter question included, "Very positive. I'd enjoy it greatly.") Another question asked respondents why they thought they had developed their sexual orientation and gave a checklist of 44 reasons including "I was seduced by a homosexual adult" and "I failed at heterosexuality." According to contemporary newspaper articles, residents in several neighborhoods targeted by Cameron's field teams called the police to report that perverts in the area were asking sleazy questions.
Legitimate scientists have identified and described in detail multiple fundamental flaws in the ISIS study's methodology and statistical analysis, any one of which would be enough to destroy its credibility. But still, to this day, Cameron's 1983 survey serves as the religious right's primary wellspring of anti-gay fear mongering.
"Whenever frightening claims about homosexual sex habits or child molestation are reported in pamphlets, videotapes or other materials, chances are the information has been taken from this single study," writes David Williams, director of the Kentucky Gay and Lesbian Library and Archives, who tracks the use of Cameron's statistics. "As propaganda, it has taken on a life of its own. As information, however, it's stunningly useless."
The same year Cameron conducted the ISIS survey, he released a separate study claiming that homosexuals are "10-20 times more likely than heterosexuals to molest children," a startling figure that still frequently pops up in hard-right religious sermons and AM radio screeds.
Cameron based that finding on a 1978 study by Nicholas Groth, the highly respected director of the Sex Offender Program at the Connecticut Department of Corrections. Groth had interviewed 175 convicted child molesters and found that more of them had molested boys than girls. Cameron's statistic is derived from the false assumption that men who molest boys are gay, despite the fact that Groth's original study found that none of the men identified himself as homosexual. Instead, the pedophiles were either heterosexual outside of their criminal behavior or were what Groth termed "fixated pedophiles with no interest in sex with adults."
Groth was outraged and filed a formal complaint with the American Psychological Association that led to Cameron losing his professional accreditation. "Dr. Cameron misrepresents my findings and distorts them to advance his homophobic views," Groth wrote the APA. "He disgraces his profession."
Cameron took his act to the national stage in the mid-'80s against the backdrop of the escalating AIDS panic. In 1986, he co-authored the book Special Report: AIDS, which advocated establishing concentration camps immediately for "sexually active homosexuals," theorized that HIV is transmissible by casual contact, and popularized a fictional medical condition labeled "Gay Bowel Syndrome."
In 1987, Cameron moved to Washington, D.C., and changed the name of his organization to the Family Research Institute. Later that year, his institute set up a booth in the exhibit hall at the Third International Conference on AIDS featuring banners that read, "Stop the pipeline: Cut homosexual travel" and "Problem: A worldwide homosexual network. Solution: Destroy the homosexual infrastructure. Punish homosexual acts."
The booth was swarmed with angry AIDS victims and gay rights activists, some of whom repeatedly sneezed on him before being arrested and dragged from the hall. An Associated Press journalist recorded a confrontation between Cameron and a reporter for the Gay Cable News Network.
"All we're saying is, screen and quarantine until we come up with a cure," Cameron said. "Rights have run amok in our society, particularly sexual ones. Homosexuals were hung 300 years ago in our society."
"Is that what you're advocating today, that gay people be hung?" the gay journalist replied.
Cameron continued, "Homosexuals were castrated 200 years ago."
"So things are getting better then?"
"Homosexuals were imprisoned 100 years ago."
"What sort of concentration camps do you have in mind, Dr. Cameron?"
'Hobos and Jailbirds'
Cameron moved his base of operations to Colorado five years later, in 1992, after supporters of a state constitutional amendment to ban civil rights protections for gays and lesbians distributed 100,000 copies of his study 'What Homosexuals Do" (sample statistic: 17% eat human feces) to Colorado voters one week before they went to the polls. The amendment passed. Later that year, during the raging debate over President Clinton's proposal to allow gays in the military, Army officials circulated Cameron's studies inside the Pentagon.
In 1994, Cameron attended a secret anti-gay summit in Colorado Springs that was attended by the leaders of virtually every major religious right political action group in the country. They gathered to discuss how best to combat "the homosexual agenda." Infiltrators recorded Cameron saying that when considering "what should be done with queers," it was important to keep in mind that "most people who engage in homosexuality are of the lower strata; these are people who are waiters and busboys and bums and hobos and jailbirds and so forth."
That same year, the Family Research Institute released Cameron's infamous "Gay Obituary Study," in which he calculated the "average gay life span in America." He did this by culling 6,000 obituaries from gay publications at the height of the AIDS crisis, tallying the ages of death in each, dividing them by 6,000, and thus arriving at the conclusion that the average life span for a gay man is 43 years old.
In 1997, former Secretary of Education, Book of Virtues author and gambling enthusiast William Bennett cited Cameron's obituary study in a Weekly Standard column titled, "Clinton, Gays, and the Truth." Later that year on the ABC news program "This Week," Bennett said, "The best available research suggests that the average life span of male homosexuals is around 43 years of age. Forty three."
After Bennett took Cameron's life expectancy figure for gays to a mainstream audience, the online magazine Slate published a devastating critique of Cameron's work by Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute. The average age at death for AIDS victims, the magazine noted, was about 40. For Cameron's figure of 43 years old to be true, Slate pointed out, gay people who never contract AIDS could have a life expectancy of no more than 46 years -- a truly absurd proposition -- even assuming that half the gay population will eventually contract AIDS.
"Looked at another way," Slate reported, "if even half the gay male population stays HIV-negative and lives to an average age of 75, an average overall life span of 43 implies that gay males with AIDS die at an implausibly early age (11, actually)."
In the end, Bennett retracted his claim. "Given what I now know, I believe there are flaws with Paul Cameron's study," he said.
But the 43-years figure will not die. It gains new life with every repetition, whether by a neo-Nazi posting on-line or a televangelist standing with the governor of Texas.
The Big Lie
Cameron's newest batch of research concludes that gay sex is more dangerous than smoking. These studies basically recycle the obituary study with a new twist. First, Cameron presents it as a given that the average gay life span is 43 years, citing his own 1995 study as evidence. Then he compares 43 years to the average life span of smokers to conclude that having gay sex is far more dangerous that cigarettes.
"No one argues that people smoke because they are smokers. They are called smokers because they smoke. Yet gay rights activists maintain that homosexuals engage in homosexual acts because they are homosexuals," Cameron said in a recent interview with a born-again Christian on-line magazine. "Thus sex with nearly anonymous partners of the same gender becomes a constitutionally protected means of self-expression, something a homosexual is compelled to do the way pear trees are compelled to produce fruit."
It appears the smoking-versus-gay sex propaganda seeds Cameron planted last year are beginning to bear their own fruits. In June, the Rev. Bill Banuchi, executive director of the New York chapter of the Christian Coalition, said in a speech protesting Gay Pride Day that gays should be legally required to wear warning labels, not unlike Jewish stars under the Nazis.
"We put warning labels on cigarette packs because we know that smoking takes one or two years off the average life span, yet we celebrate a lifestyle that we know spreads every kind of sexually transmitted disease and takes at least 20 years off the average life span, according to the 2005 issue of the revered [sic] scientific journal Psychological Reports."
One month later, Dr. John Whiffen, chairman of the board of the National Physicians Center for Family Resources, a faith-basped advocacy group that was contracted by Bush Administration federal health officials to develop an abstinence education curriculum, said that, "There are obvious effects for male homosexuals from a health standpoint. Parents should discuss those with their child." Then he added: "It's fairly well-accepted that smoking is not a good idea. It takes seven years off your life. It appears that male homosexuality takes more than that off your life. Naturally you should warn them about that."
Somewhere, Paul Cameron is smiling.