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“86 Percent” of Tony Perkins’s Statistics Are Rubbish

Jim Burroway

November 29th, 2010

[Update: A couple of eagle-eyed commenters noticed something we all should have caught. This post has been revised accordingly. I love BTB readers.]

The Family “Research” Council’s Tony Perkins appeared on Chris Matthew’s Hardball on MSNBC today to demonstrate his outrage over the Southern Poverty Law Center’s adding his organization to their very small list of anti-gay hate groups.

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SPLC’s Mark Potok explained that the FRC earned its Hate Group designation due to the FRC’s persistent acts in demonizing LGBT Americans with false research and statistics. Perkins then set out to defend his group by demonizing LGBT Americans with false research in statistics:

If you go back to the Archives of Sexual Behavior, a peer-reviewed reviewed journal, that stated that in self-identified… 86% of men, homosexual men, or who engage… or men who engage in molestation of children, 86% of them identified as homosexual or bisexual. That study has not been refuted.

The study was not “refuted,” in Perkins’ terminology, simply because the finding was not considered to be significant, not even by its authors. The study, “Behavior patterns of child molesters” by W.D. Erickson, N.H. Walbek, and R.K. Seely which appeared more than twenty years ago (1988, to be exact), didn’t set out to determine the sexual orientation of child molesters. The study, of 229 convicted child molesters in Minnesota, (which, by the way, was never intended to be nationally representative in any way) was focused on the types of sexual contact the men engaged in with their victims — vaginal or anal penetration, oral contact, and so forth. In this particular sample, 63 victims were male, and 166 victims were female.

But the ”finding” that Perkins and company found so exciting is encapsulated in just one sentence: “Eighty-six percent of offenders against males described themselves as homosexual or bisexual.” (emphasis mine.)

That’s right, one lone sentence out of a ten page document, buried deeply within the text. [Update: -- and Perkins completely misquoted it. Perkins said that 86% of men who abused children -- without regard to gender -- said they were gay or bisexual, a claim that the authors specifically did not make.]

The authors themselves didn’t see it as a significant finding, and there are other good reasons for it. The authors didn’t delve into the adult relationship makeup of these offenders, nor did they disclose what criteria the offenders used in their self-labeling. The authors also didn’t try to investigate whether there was any validity to their self-labeling.

And this, too, is important, because child sexual abuse experts understand that abusers often have little to no sexual attraction to other adults of any gender, which means that in clinical terms they are actually pedophiles rather than homosexual or bisexual. And while many pedophiles will identify themselves using the language of heterosexual/homosexual/bisexual, their crimes are no more relevant to LGBT equality than the prevalence of heterosexuals among rapists are relevant to straight people.

This study did not investigate sexual orientation. It did set out to answer the questions that the investigators sought to answer, which was what kind of sexual contact did offenders initiate with their victims? FRC, however, took a single sentence from a study that did not try to investigate the sexual orientation of offenders, and amplified a throw-away line as though it were the entire study’s reason for being. And because it didn’t investigate sexual orientation, it’s illegitimate to to amplify one lone throw-away sentence into “overwhelming scientific evidence” — those are Tony Perkin’s words — that gays are a threat to children.

The reason the FRC is legitimately a part of the SPLC’s list of hate groups is their penchant for taking one line from a study out of context, and present that single sentence as being somehow more significant than the tons of studies that experts in the field of child sexual abuse have conducted through the ages. We have summarized many of those findings in our report, Testing the Premise: Are Gays a Threat To Our Children? Interestingly, that report was prompted, in part, by a specious tract put out by the FRC a few years earlier. That specific tract has been withdrawn, but not because they woke up and realized their so-called “research” was bogus. They still hold to their false linkages between homosexuality and child sexual abuse here and, more significantly, here (PDF: 312KB/22 pages).

Oh, and nice touch there, when Tony Perkins adds, “If you look at the American College of Pediatricians, they say the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a risk to children.”

The American College of Pediatricians is a rump political group formed in 2002 in response to the much, much larger American Academy of Pediatrics’ statement in support for LGBT parental rights. The AAP is made up of some 60,000 members who know more than just about anyone what’s best for children. The American College of Pediatricians, on the other hand, is made up of a couple hundred dissenters who, by judging from their web site, are mainly concerned with homosexuality more than the plethora of childhood health issues that your average pediatrician is much more likely to care about.

When the SPLC announced that they were adding the FRC to their small list of anti-gay hate groups, they cited the FRC’s “propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling.” Tony Perkins responded by providing convincing proof of the SPLC’s allegations. And he did it with the slightest hint of embarrassment.

Comments

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David Roberts
November 29th, 2010 | LINK

Well said. There is a part of me that continues to become ill at the site of someone, even Tony Perkins, lying through their teeth to hurt others. I only regret that neither Matthews or Potok were prepared to counter that rubbish.

Kudos still to the SPLC for telling it like it is.

a.mcewen
November 29th, 2010 | LINK

It’s cool. I added this piece to my Huffington Post story. And I’ve been telling everyone not happy with how Potok wasn’t able to refute Perkins – be it because of Matthews or time – that this is the first time groups like the Family Research Council have been really put on the spot about how they lie on lgbts. And they have been pushing these lies for over 20 years. What we need to do now to take the SPLC designation, question these groups’ credibility and point out their lies every time. Just be persistent and tell as many folk as possible every time.

Ben in Atlanta
November 29th, 2010 | LINK

I managed to sit a co-worker down and actually read a study and see who the participants were and actually look at the numbers.

Then I showed him my friends Al & Gil in our “It Gets Better” video. They’re almost 80. Al usually serves as our Santa and Gil is his elf. And yes our parents know what’s up with them.

Welcome back Jim. You were missed.

David C.
November 29th, 2010 | LINK

What we need to do now to take the SPLC designation, question these groups’ credibility and point out their lies every time. Just be persistent and tell as many folk as possible every time.—a.mcewen

How about starting by sending Chris Matthews and Hardball along with its MSNBC producers an e-mail with a link to or perhaps even the important debunking snippets from the body of the story here.

AJD
November 29th, 2010 | LINK

What disappointed me is that Potok didn’t challenge Perkins on the “86%” statistic… I just hope they see this post.

cowboy
November 29th, 2010 | LINK

AJD: You’re hoping who will see this post? Mr. Perkins or possibly the millions that tuned in Hardball?

Neither likely to happen.

They needed to have Dan Savage as a third contributor to the discussion. I’m sure Chris Matthews was only using CNN’s coattails to bring up this issue and I’m surprised MSNBC didn’t ask to have a reputable gay commentator…(like Rachel Maddow?)

I vote for Timothy Kincaid to go toe-to-toe with Tony Perkins on ABC Nightline. That ought to be a bigger impact on more people.

Donny D.
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Jim,
We all know that Protestant fundamentalism is redneck religious, but did you really mean to say Tony Perkin’s stats are “rubish”, as in rube-ish? Or do you mean “rubbish” as in garbage?

Lynn David
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Welcome back, Jim!

You haven’t lost your form!

Reminds me of the guy, I met online, who claimed to be ex-gay. He was saying all gay men were pedophiles. So I asked him how many boys he had defiled. Shut him up.

Jim Burroway
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Donny D.

I meant “rubbish”, as in spellcheck doesn’t work in headlines.

DN
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Perkins made textbook use of the “Gish Gallop.” Cite as many statistics as possible, as fast as possible, leaving your opponents scrambling to refute your attacks, and leaving the audience with the impression that you’re the knowledgeable one and your opposition is a bumbling fool.

I don’t blame Potok or Matthews for not being able to refute the 86% number because I can’t expect them to be prepared to refute *every possible* one-sentence throwaway statement Perkins could make.

Bernie
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Everytime I see that Man on camera, he makes me sick to my stomach. He is anything but Christian. This spin doctor is so transparent it’s not even funny. I always detect something in his body language. It appears that he’s trying to keep himself from squirming, in keeping a stalwart countenance, classic precursors to lying.
I was curious to his spin when Matthews challenged him about Peter Spriggs assertions. Yet another vacant attempt at covering his ass.
It’s too bad there wasn’t enough time for Potok to debunk his falsehoods(how polite he was in saying that instead of LIES!).

Patrick
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Perkins is an expert speaker (and a former politician). I found his response to the Sprigg issue telling. Spring said he thinks homosexuality should be outlawed. Perkins responded by saying the FRC is not and will not be working toward that end. What Perkins did not do is answer the question. The question was does he (or the FRC) think homosexuality should be outlawed. Saying you will not work toward the end is not identical to saying what you think on the matter. There may be other reasons why they won’t try to outlaw it, even if they think it should be. Perkins is excellent at changing the subject when challenged.

In defense of Potok, he wasn’t given the chance to repudiate Perkins’ comments. This is one of the problems I have with Matthews – he tends to want to do the talking and, because he is not very knowledgeable on the subject, lets pass many comments about homosexuality that should be challenged. This is why I prefer Rachel Maddow and Cooper Anderson to address these – they tend not to put up with it as much.

However, based on Matthews’ body language, he seems to be coming around a little bit.

Regan DuCasse
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Yes, Tony Perkins got in his talking points, using distorted information and bogus institutions that no one really KNOWS or cares to analyze as you have Jim.
But as we speak, Matt Barber has an article over at TownHall trying to discredit the SPLC.

I sat there, seeing this with Perkin’s ever present SMIRK and knew exactly what he was doing. And how he lied.

But it’s interesting to see the comment threads the dissenters are generating. With no sense of irony, they ARE displaying EXACTLY the kind of hysteria that Perkins thrives on.
It’s right in front of my eyes, and it’s at the same time infuriating and scary.
I KNOW the gravity of what Perkins is doing, but feel somewhat helpless in how to stop it or what to do.

And that he IS given a national forum to do it in, comes at the expense of what he deserves. I don’t think that most people will be able to discern what he’s saying as lies and misinformation.
He’s believed by millions. And there are more people like him, and their effectiveness is reflected in elected officials and as Perkins pointed out, how many states still have marriage bans or some other form of anti gay discrimination on their books.

We are confronted with people like Rick Warren, and that pastor at that San Diego megachurch, Skylight and they simply say the same things with a gentler and less off putting demeanor.

And it’s gay people who are ignored, dismissed, or their defenders barely get a word in on forums like Hardball.
Even if Dan Savage or Jon Capehart had been there, usually they are dismissed as ‘you’re gay, you WOULD say that’ by the opposition.

This is where us straight allies have to be VERY clear and concise about what we have to say and inject things that ARE a matter of fact and evidence, not ideology.

This is why I put in questions that would corner someone like Tony Perkins.
It is too bad that Potok didn’t even get to say “WHERE did you get THAT information and how OLD is it? He should have been able to say that the ACP is an anti gay panel of unqualified people. Which is where TP gets ALL of his info about gay people, for that matter.

The SPLC and other institutions like it, have a very specific criteria to define hate groups. They are more than qualified to do so, and there is a reason why.
They do NOT come by their determinations lightly, or often as Matt Barber is charging.
These institutions EXIST for a good reason, where the FRC and CWA actually do not.

I think it’s time for forums like Hardball to consider Tony Perkins a liability. That’s the thing about hate groups and their speech.
They actually ARE.

Free speech, really isn’t. And certain types of speech are NOT protected by the Constitution. And no media outlet is obligated to incur risks because Tony Perkins skirts libel and slander.
Tony Perkins might cry foul, and that he’s being silenced, but he can also be reminded that he’s a small fish that can cause big problems and he’s not worth it.
I’d say that’s good enough reason to not invite him anywhere or be allowed a national stage to tell the whoppers he does.
He IS a liability and it’s high time people like that learned that lesson.

CPT_Doom
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

I don’t blame Potok or Matthews for not being able to refute the 86% number because I can’t expect them to be prepared to refute *every possible* one-sentence throwaway statement Perkins could make.

But that’s just it – they don’t need to refute the exact statistic, even though it is a prime example of Perkins’ and FRC’s misleading use of statistics to demonize the LGBT community – particularly gay men.

Even if the 86% figure were true – what would it matter? What percentage of murderers, rapists, burglers, committers of assault, robbers, and other violent criminals are straight men? I don’t have the exact figures, but I will bet every dollar I’ve ever made that it is higher than the proportion of straight men in the population. How exactly should that impact Tony Perkins’ life?

Let’s look only at molesters. Whatever the percentage of gay men among them, the fact is nearly every single molester is a man of some sort. Does that mean that Mr. Perkins should have his children removed from his home because he’s a likely molester? Should all men be removed as teachers because they must be considered threats?

It is pure bigotry to use a statistic, or any other supposed fact, about any group to claim that an individual member of that group must suffer or have his/her life limited as a result. We don’t blame all women for prostitution, we don’t blame all teens for the juvenile delinquents among them, and we should not blame all gay people for the alleged crimes of the few. In this country, we are supposed to be judged on our individual merits, skills, abilities and accomplishments. No more, no less.

Priya Lynn
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

True enough, CPT Doom, but even the study Perkins refers to does not say what Perkins claims it did. Perkins said according to the study 86% of child molesters referred to themselves as gay when in fact the study said only about 24% of the child molesters referred to themselves as gay (assuming 1 victim per molester).

.86X63M=54gay identified 54/229=aprox 24%

Bad Wolf
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Did anybody notice the change in the quote? In Perkins’ quote he says: “86% of men, homosexual men, or who engage… or men who engage in molestation of children, 86% of them identified as homosexual or bisexual.”

While the original quote reads: ““Eighty-six percent of offenders AGAINST MALES described themselves as homosexual or bisexual.” (emphasis mine).

One might expect that a (male)pedophile who preys on (male) victims might be homosexual…

Perkins’ misquoting completely changes the source quote, but then IOKIYAR, I suppose

Timothy Kincaid
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Bad Wolf,

One might expect that a (male)pedophile who preys on (male) victims might be homosexual…

One might expect such a thing, but one would be wrong. Actually very few pedophiles who prey on male victims have adult homosexual attractions. Most are avowed heterosexuals – if they have any adult attractions at all.

See our analysis here.

Jim Burroway
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Bad Wolf,

Good lord. How could we all have missed that? I’ve updated the post accordingly. To Timothy’s point, a male predator who preys on male children isn’t necessarily gay or bisexual. But still, a major misquoting like that is important. Great catch.

Priya Lynn
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Bad Wolf said “Did anybody notice the change in the quote?”.

Yes, I pointed it out in my comment immediately prior to your comment.

cls
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Yep, that was the old bait and switch. Start out talking about men who molest children, then take a quote only about men who molest boys and then try to apply that to the total universe.

Another important factor to consider is that the laws are out of sync with clinical terms. A child molester is defined legally. If the law defined child as anyone under the age of 30 then almost ever adult would be a child molester at one time or another.

Pedophiles are usually attracted to children per se, not to one gender or another. And it is true most of them do not identify as gay. True pedophiles often engage with children of both genders.

But the law includes adolescents in the category of child. Individuals who are sexually interested in teens, ephebophilia, do tend to differentiate.

So when they research men who “molest children” knowing whether we are talking about true children (prepubescent) or merely those legally defined as children, but who are pubescent) can change things rather dramatically.

if the former is used for the study then few gay men would show up. Most those individuals would not be interested in adults and those who are would tend to identify as straight.

Adding pubescent teens (often very willing teens) changes the mix. Now you would get people who identify as gay and straight both. But since the law tends to crack down on same-sex relationships more than opposite sex ones, gay men would be over-represented in this mix, not because they are more likely to have sex with teens, but because they are more likely to be prosecuted for it.

For instance some states still criminalize same-sex relationships if one partner is under 18 but the same age dichotomy would be legal if they were an opposite sex couple.

Priya Lynn
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Jim, thanks for giving someone else the credit for what I pointed out first. *sniff*

Jim Burroway
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

Priya Lynn,

True, but I missed it because you went about it differently. Instead of pointing our attention to the quoted sentence directly as a misquote, you went with the math instead. And as everyone knows, math is hard. ;-)

JJMoody
November 30th, 2010 | LINK

A poster above made the comment that free speech isn’t free and not all speech is protected by the Constitution, both are true statements. Unfortunately though, Perkins’ speech is protected by the Constitution. Even hate speech is considered protected speech under the protections of the First Amendment. SCOTUS has upheld the free speech rights of the KKK and similar groups several times.

The reason people have such a problem refuting all of Perkins crap is that he throws out so much complete and total BS at one time that it is next to impossible to address all his lies and misleading and false information without a much longer time than is usually provided in a format like this one. Perkins knows that and he takes full advantage of that fact.

The fact that he and his buddies hide behind organizations that have a veil of respectability by using names that are very similar to actual recognized groups doesn’t help. Most of the public doesn’t know the difference, and honestly they don’t have a reason to know the difference. Another thing Perkins and his type count on.

These people are hard to deal with and they know it, they love that they are hard to deal with.

They will eventually hang themselves with all the rope they have tossed out, but until then we have to continue to do what we can to refute their speech with truth and reason.

Their desperation is already showing in so many ways and they know.

Priya Lynn
December 1st, 2010 | LINK

No problem, Jim.

David C.
December 1st, 2010 | LINK

Note that Chris Matthews has now set at least part of the record straight.

Marlene
December 4th, 2010 | LINK

Here’s what I’m going to send to those who think it’s being “balanced” by having bigots like Perkins and their ilk on their show when talking about LGBT issues:

“I’d like to know if you’re going to have a leader of Hamas or a similar group on for “balance”, next time you talk about Israel.

I’d also like to know when you’ll have a member of the Klan or a neo-Nazi group as “balance” the next time your show talks about race relations in the US.

Why do I ask you that? Because you recently had a member of a known hate group on your show, supposedly as “balance” when the show discussed something having to do with a LGBT issue.

Please go look up the Southern Poverty Law Center’s newest additions to their list of hate groups, and realize the fact there’s no difference between Hamas, the Klan, and a group like the Family Research Council in the view of the SPLC.

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