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“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…”
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Posts for March, 2013

As NOM often tells us, married people live longer

Timothy Kincaid

March 14th, 2013

The National Organization for Marriage often touts the statistical advantages of marriage. For example, this is from their fact sheet, Why Marriage Matters:

Both men and women who marry live longer, healthier and happier lives. On virtually every measure of health and well-being, married people are better-off than otherwise similar singles, on average.

Which is, to my way of thinking, a good reason to support marriage equality. Unless, I suppose, you don’t want gay people to live longer, healthier, and happier lives.

But I think NOM would counter that these statistics of benefit only apply to heterosexual marriages. And it is the magical, mystical, godly coming together of penis and vagina that in some unknown way (similar to the power of wearing your lucky socks on game day) gives better lives. I get the sense that they really do think there’s something holy and mysterious about heterosexual married sex.

But they would be wrong. The Danes took a look. (LA Times)

Men in same-sex marriages are living longer, according to Danish researchers, but mortality rates among married lesbians have begun to rise after a long period of decline.

The study, published Tuesday in the International Journal of Epidemiology, used Denmark’s civil registry to follow 6.5 million adults from 1982 to 2011. The study is the first of its kind to examine mortality — the risk of death during a specific period of time — and relationship status for an entire nation.

(What do you bet NOM mentions this study… but only the part about married lesbians mortality beginning to increase.)

And it turns out that it isn’t penis in vagina, after all, that results in longer lives.

Researchers found that marriage in and of itself did not ensure low mortality during the period studied. For instance, opposite-sex married couples who lived apart faced a two-fold increase in their mortality rate.

Also, heterosexual men and women saw a steep jump in their mortality rate during the study period if they were married two or more times. The rate increased 27% for women with each successive marriage, and it increased 16% for men.

And so, with their usual logic, social conservatives will continue to insist that gay men and women leave their partners and live celibately. Or marry someone of the opposite sex – even though they know that this is likely to result in some poor soul’s unhappy divorce and remarriage (and increased mortality).

You’re killing me, NOM, you’re killing me!

Marriage Equality States Are the Healthiest States

Rob Tisinai

December 6th, 2011

People with a religious aversion to marriage equality sometimes like to offer up secular reasons against it.  I’ve seen this one many times:

  1. Premise: Legalizing same-sex marriage will increase homosexual activity.
  2. Premise: Homosexual activity is inherently harmful to one’s physical health.
  3. Conclusion: Therefore, legalizing same-sex marriage is public health hazard.

You can argue with the truth of either premise, and you can dispute the logic of the conclusion, but I’d like to go another direction and point out that marriage equality states turn out to be the healthiest states.

The United Health Foundation has just released health rankings of the 50 states.  The top 5 are:

  1. Vermont
  2. New Hampshire
  3. Connecticut
  4. Hawaii
  5. Massachusetts

4 out of the 5 of the healthiest states are marriage equality states!  That’s all the more striking when you remember that only 6 states in the country have legalized same-sex marriage.  And all 6, by the way, are in the top of half of the health rankings.

Now don’t go all Yee-haw! on me yet.  You could raise a slew of objections to this, including:

  • Correlation does not imply causation.
  • The gay and lesbian population is too small to affect such a crude and broad measure as national rankings.
  • Same-sex marriage has not been in place long enough for its effects to appear.
  • Other factors — such as education, income, and demographics — could be responsible for these results.*
  • For all we know, those healthy states might even be healthier if they banned same-sex marriage.

Of course, this blade cuts both ways.

Ppoliticians and business leaders have argued that banning same-sex marriage can hurt a state’s economy. They offer clear, causally-based arguments.  For instance, bans do harm because they make it hard for businesses in that state to attract the best talent. An executive with engine manufacturer Cummins, Inc., testified that a such a ban “jeopardizes our ability to be competitive in global markets.”

And how do opponents of marriage equality respond?  With the same, bogus argument-by-ranking I derided above. For instance, Maggie Gallagher writes that same-sex marriage bans can’t possibly hurt a state:

The top five states for income growth in that decade [1999-2009] are: Wyoming, North Dakota, Louisiana, Montana and Oklahoma. Four of the five states with the fastest income growth per capita have state marriage amendments, and none have gay marriage.

I laughed at Maggie’s naivete when I read that. The objections above to the physical health argument apply nearly word-for-word to her economic health argument. Maggie wondered, Why would a reputable company like Cummins Inc. embarrass itself in public by making such a ludicrous claim? (by “ludicrous claim,” she’s referring to a causal argument based on direct experience that she hasn’t bothered to refute). In fact, Maggie’s the one who should be embarrassed.  And sadly, it’s not just Maggie.  Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-MN) recently offered up the same flawed reasoning, too.

So how should this analysis work? Social science is tricky because controlled experiments are often impossible to conduct. Instead, scientists use statistical analysis to try and isolate the impact of possible variables. My own training in econometrics has left me skeptical of this approach unless you’ve got mountains of data to work with. I don’t think we’re there yet.

Alternatively, you could deveop causal hypotheses to explain an interesting observation, and then test those hypotheses.  For instance, if you’re trying to determine whether same-sex marriage promotes public health you could test whether:

  • Married partners support each other’s personal health in ways unavailable to a single person.
  • It’s easier for married partners to both get health insurance than it is for a single person (i.e., spousal benefits).
  • Marriage can provide a stable and secure environment conducive to mental and physical health.

In fact, these and other causal factors have some empirical support — support that Maggie Gallagher herself has written about in a book she titled, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially (which makes her adamant opposition to marriage equality all the more distressing).

How about the claimed economic benefits of same-sex marriage? We’ve already seen one causal hypothesis above. There are others, too, also with some empirical support. And yes, Maggie has written about those as well.

By the way, Maggie’s coauthor on that project supports same-sex marriage.  It’s a bit of a shame — and quite revealing — that Maggie is willing to ignore her own research in favor of this new lame argument-by-ranking.   I suppose she’s working with what she’s got, and tossing the rest.

Despite all this, I suggest you keep these health rankings in mind. You’ll be able to shoot down anybody repeating Maggie’s bogus logic:

Your opponent:  The states with the healthiest economies have banned same-sex marriage!

You: The states with the best physical health allow it.

And when your opponent argues that things are more complicated than that, you can simply reply: Exactly.

*You could add access to health insurance to the list, but our conservative opponents probably wouldn’t highlight that.

“Exotic Become Erotic” Professor Thinks He Has Scientifically Proven… Well, You Already Know

Jim Burroway

March 2nd, 2011

Which means I don’t have to tell you:

According to “Feeling the Future,” a peer-reviewed paper the APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology will publish this month, (Cornell Professor Daryl) Bem has found evidence supporting the existence of precognition. The experiment I’m trying, one of nine Bem cites in his study, asks me to guess which of two curtains hides a photograph. (Some of the images are erotic, some neutral, in an attempt to see if different kinds of photos have different effects.) If mere chance governed each guess, I’d be right 50 percent of the time. Naturally, I’d guess correctly more like 100 percent of the time if you showed me where the photo was before I chose.

But what about if you showed me the photo’s location immediately after I chose? Perhaps, if I had ESP, I could peek into the future and improve my guesswork, even just a little bit. Over seven years, Bem tested more than 1,000 subjects in this very room, and he believes he’s demonstrated that some mysterious force gives humans just the slightest leg up on chance.

Between 1996 and 2000, Professor Bem published a series of papers touting his “Exotic Becomes Erotic” theory of sexual development, in which he posits that:

…biological variables, such as genes, prenatal hormones, and brain neuroanatomy, do not code for sexual orientation per se but for childhood temperaments that influence a child’s preferences for sex-typical or sex-atypical activities and peers. These preferences lead children to feel different from opposite or same-sex peers–to perceive them as dissimilar, unfamiliar, and exotic. This, in turn, produces heightened nonspecific autonomic arousal that subsequently gets eroticized to that same class of dissimilar peers: Exotic becomes erotic.

In other words, Bem’s theory holds that we become attracted to those who are different from ourselves, a theory which leaves masculine gay men’s attractions to effeminate twinks but not to women (or twinks to each other or bears to each other or jocks to each other or lipstick lesbians to each other, etc.) unexplained. Nevertheless, this developmental theory which downplays the possibility of biological forces in favor of peer relationships as a cause for homosexuality — and for which there is precious little clinical evidence for support — found favor with NARTH’s own socially-constructive viewpoints.

On January 27, Bem appeared on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report to discuss his latest paper on ESP. While amusing on cable television, his paper has generated considerable consternation among psychologists:

Responses to Bem’s paper by the scientific community have ranged from arch disdain to frothing rejection. And in a rebuttal—which, uncommonly, is being published in the same issue of JPSP as Bem’s article—another scientist suggests that not only is this study seriously flawed, but it also foregrounds a crisis in psychology itself.

…To science-writing eminence Douglas Hofstadter, the publication of work like Bem’s has the potential to unleash, and legitimize, other “crackpot ideas.” In the New York Times, the University of Oregon’s Ray Hyman used the words “an embarrassment for the entire field.” Some critics protest that the article can’t explain what mechanism might be behind precognition. (“We almost always have the phenomenon before we have the explanation,” Bem says.) Others just scoff: Why limit yourself to one kind of pseudoscience? As York University’s James Alcock points out in Skeptical Inquirer, that 53 percent might as well be proof of the power of prayer.

“It shouldn’t be difficult to do one proper experiment and not nine crappy experiments,” the University of Amsterdam’s Eric-Jan Wagenmakers tells me. He’s the co-author of the rebuttal that accompanies Bem’s article in JPSP. Wagen­makers uses Bayesian analysis—a statistical method meant to enforce the notion that extraordinary claims require extra­ordinary evidence—to argue that Bem’s results are indistinguishable from chance. In essence, he explains, 53 percent of a bunch of Cornell sophomores, in unmonitored experiments conducted by a pro-PSI professor, shouldn’t really move the needle, considering how deeply unlikely the existence of precognition actually is. The paper, says Wagenmakers, never should have made it through peer review, and the fact that it did is representative of a larger crisis in the field: The methods and statistics used in psychology, he writes, are “too weak, too malleable, and offer far too many opportunities for researchers to befuddle themselves and their peers.”

But then, you already knew that, didn’t you?