Paul Cameron Denounced in Anthropology News
May 8th, 2007
It’s been a full year since Paul Cameron’s paper on gay parenting appeared in the Journal of Biosocial Science. Despite a barrage of emails from Abigail Garner, (one of the authors whose work Cameron misrepresented in the paper), myself and others, there has been nothing but silence from the journal’s editors.
This month, Anthropology News published a series of articles in its May edition addressing Cameron’s publication in the JBS. Unfortunately, the contents of that newsletter are not online. But Raymond Hames, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Nebraska, sent me the text of an article he co-wrote with Edward H. Hagen, of the Institute for Theoretical Biology at Humboldt University in Berlin.
That article, “A Case of Misrepresenting the Scientific Record on the Effects of Parents’ Sexual Orientation,” calls the Journal of Biosocial Science to task for the failure of its peer-review process to uncover Cameron’s rather obvious weaknesses and distortions. The scientific peer-review process ordinarily assumes that a researcher is acting in good faith, that “a genuine attempt was made to learn about the world.”
However, recent events have shown that an author’s good faith can’t be taken for granted. Not only are there career pressures to report breakthroughs that haven’t occurred, but personal biases can also drive an author’s efforts:
At the extreme, partisans repeatedly shop a piece of strongly biased pseudo-science to a large number of journals in the hopes that their “result” will slip through at one, gaining the imprimatur of acceptance in a peer-reviewed journal. We regret to report a recent instance involving Paul Cameron, an anti gay-rights activist, and the Journal of Biosocial Science (JBS). JBS, published by Cambridge, is edited by well-regarded biological anthropologist C G N Mascie-Taylor and features an impressive editorial board, with members from universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and UC Berkeley.
Professors Hagen and Rames briefly describe a couple of the particular flaws in Cameron’s JBS article, some of which I reported last year. They also note that pro-gay biases can inflect research as well. However:
In light of increasingly sophisticated attempts to manipulate the scientific record to political ends, journal editors must ensure manuscripts are sent to reviewers who know the relevant research literature and who have the requisite methodological skills. In a “Debate” section, JBS did publish a reply to Cameron by Todd Morrison (who does not discuss the problems we identified here). Unfortunately, this has further legitimized Cameron’s junk science by suggesting that Cameron is engaged in a real scientific debate. JBS, unlike Science in the Hwang Woo-suk [fraudulent stem cell research] fiasco, has failed to acknowledge or address the real issue: the severe failure of its review process.
Professors Hagen and Rames wrote to the JBS editors last August with their objections to Cameron’s article, and JBS was invited to respond to the articles in Anthropology News. The editors have not responded in either case.