Box Turtle Bulletin

Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
This article can be found at:
Latest Posts

Posts for April, 2009

NARTH To Export Ex-Gay Message To London

Jim Burroway

April 21st, 2009

PinkNews is reporting that two American ex-gay proponents will conduct a conference in London this coming weekend. The conference is sponsored by an organization called Anglican Mainstream, which seeks to push the Anglican mainstream to the far right.

Speaking at the conference will be Joseph Nicolosi, a co-founder and past President of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). He is well-known for his “reparative therapy,” which blames a male child’s homosexuality on the father. He is fond of telling stunned audiences, “Fathers, if you don’t hug your sons another man will” Nicolosi used to be a featured speaker at Love Won Out conferences in the U.S. until he displayed his famous temper on CNN.

Jeffrey Satinover is the author of Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, in which he contends that homosexuality was improperly declassified by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental illness. He contends that there is no such thing as “sexual orientation,” and therefore there should be no civil rights extended for something that doesn’t exist. This line is now a pervasive theme in ex-gay circles.

The conference is to be held at a thus-far undisclosed location in central London. Anglican Mainstream, despite its name, is a far-right organization which cites the work of discredited “researcher” Paul Cameron, as well as holocaust revisionist Scott Lively.

Pink News Gets It Even More Wrong

Jim Burroway

July 15th, 2006

An update to an earlier post The Advocate Gets It Wrong

A tip from a reader (Thanks Jeffery!) led me to this article from London-based Pink News, which breathlessly exclaims:

Up to 20 per cent of gay men have tried crystal meth

Research published today by City University, London has found that up to twenty ten [sic] per cent of gay men in London have tried the clubbing drug crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth). Of these men, most use it only infrequently.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! And what’s with the “twenty ten per cent”? Did the article originally read “ten per cent” and someone decide it needed punching up?

I expect this from Paul Cameron, Melissa Fryrear and others like them. (And I fully expect the anti-gay press to pick up on this very soon.) But when I set out to counter the misrepresentation of research by anti-gay activists, I certainly didn’t expect to see the same thing coming from the gay press. I am pulling out what little remains of my hair here.

So, where does the 20% figure come from? It comes from an even smaller sample from that same study’s convenience samples we talked about before — gay men who attend selected gyms in central London. I’m not familiar with the gym scene in central London, but these researchers appear to conclude that the gym scene is closely related to the club scene. I don’t know about the gym venues surveyed to know if this connection is real.

But for the sake of argument, let’s just assume that the connection is there. If so, it still doesn’t mean that this sub-sample of a sub-sample is representative of gay men in London overall. To say that one in five London Men have used meth, even infrequently, blasts right through credulity and proceeds straight to ludicrous.

And how do we know this? Other London-area researchers have looked into exactly this issue. They compared survey responses from a national probability sample (The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, or Natsal) and a “community sample” from London drawn from gay bars, clubs, saunas and STD clinics (The Gay Men’s Sexual Health Survey, or GMSHS). Here is what they found:

These results show that the Natsal London men recruited by a probability sample were less likely to report STIs [STI in UK=STD in North America – ed.], GUM clinic attendance [GUM=Genitourinary Medicine, the British term for STD clinics – ed], or HIV testing than GMSHS men recruited from gay venues…

It is important to consider the appropriate sampling frame for a particular set of research questions. … Our findings suggest that focusing on a community sample of MSM [Men who have sex with men – ed.] is likely to result in an overestimate in the prevalence of sexual risk behaviour and sexual health outcomes with respect to all MSMs in Britain.

– Ref: Dodds, Julie P.; Mercer, Catherine H.; Mercey, Danielle E.; Copas, Andrew J.; Johnson, Anne M. “Men who have sex with men: A comparison of a probability sample survey and a community based study.” Sexually Transmitted Infections 82, no. 1 (February 2006): 86-87. Abstract available here.

Crystal meth is serious business. Because meth users are at least twice as likely to engage in unsafe sex, studies like this one are exceptionally important to understand how we can better target educational and prevention programs. And we can better target these programs when we know where we can find these high-risk groups. Professor Jonathan Elford, one of the authors of the study, noted:

What is clear from the research in the gyms is that crystal meth is a part of the London gay club-drug scene. Health promotion and awareness campaigns around crystal meth must therefore focus on the gay club scene to have maximum impact.

And Will Nutland, Head of Health Promotion at Britain’s Terrence Higgins Trust, added:

This research adds to the growing understanding of crystal meth use among gay men in London and helps to ensure that our educational responses are properly grounded in evidence.

That’s why we do these studies — to provide intelligent responses to a serious problem, not to provide headline writers with sexy headlines.

To learn more about convenience samples, see The Survey Says… What Everyone Should Know About Statistics. You can also see how the Washington Times started an urban myth in What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples.

The Advocate Gets It Wrong

Jim Burroway

July 12th, 2006

The Advocate just posted this news item:

Approximately 10% of gay men in London have used the recreational drug methamphetamine, according to a study published in the online edition of the journal Addiction.

Well, er, no. It’s bad enough when anti-gay extremists get research wrong to portray gays as drug-fueled sex fiends. We don’t need our own media outlets feeding the myths.

It appears that neither The Advocate nor Sirius OutQ (which originated the story) read the abstract to that article very closely:

Participants HIV-positive gay men attending the HIV treatment clinic in 2002–03 (n = 388); HIV-negative gay men attending the HIV testing/sexual health clinics in 2002–03 (n = 266); gay men using the gyms between January and March 2003 (n = 445), 2004 (n = 653) and 2005 (n = 494).

Conclusion Among gay men in London surveyed in clinics, approximately one in 10 reported using crystal meth in the previous 12 months (HIV-positive men 12.6%; HIV-negative men 8.3%).

That’s right. The 10% statistic came from men surveyed at HIV/STD clinics. So what does that prove? Only that 10% of gay men surveyed in HIV/STD clinics used crystal meth. That’s it. Nothing else. It is not generalizable to gay men across London or anywhere else. It applies only to gay men at HIV/STD clinics. In London. Crystal meth usage may be different elsewhere.

This study is based on what’s called a convenience sample — an easy-to-access group of people recruited to test a particular hypothesis. This is a perfectly legitimate means of studying simple correlations. But it is by no means a general population survey, and the authors did not intend for it to be cited as such.

This is not to say that men who take the responsible step of getting tested should fall under the suspicion of being drug users. But the only thing this study can possibly demonstrate is that when targeting intervention programs for crystal meth users among the gay population in London, one place to look might be in HIV/STD clinics. But even there, only one in ten are likely to be users. (I’ll have to get the article’s full text from the library to know the nature of the “gyms.”)

Anti-gay extremists often misrepresent research to claim that a given survey represents everyone regardless of how the survey was put together. And when they turn to studies based on STD clinics, they obtain some pretty out-of-whack statistics (which is why STD population-based studies are especially popular with that crowd.) But when the media does it (and especially our own) it is downright irresponsible and outrageous.

Ten percent would be a large chuck of gay men using crystal meth. One in ten — look around and consider that possibility. This would be big news. But to use this study to say that 10% of all London gay men are meth users is simply wrong, not to mention slanderous to the men of London. Give us — and especially our gay friends in London — a break.

UPDATE: To learn about other research which proves this study cannot be extrapolated to the general male population in London, see our response to an even more eggregious misrepresentation of this study in Pink News Gets It Even More Wrong.

To learn more about convenience samples, see The Survey Says… What Everyone Should Know About Statistics. You can also see how the Washington Times started an urban myth in What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples.