I mean, of course, their insistence on painting groups like the Family Research Council as "hate groups" because of opposition to what is sometimes called the gay rights movement. I am linking to the SPLC's latest statement justifying the practice, not to their critics, so as to examine it.
As the SPLC made clear at the time and in hundreds of subsequent statements and press interviews, we criticize the FRC for claiming, in Perkins’ words, that pedophilia is “a homosexual problem” — an utter falsehood, as every relevant scientific authority has stated. An FRC official has said he wanted to “export homosexuals from the United States.” The same official advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality.Criminalizing homosexuality is off the table thanks to Lawrence v. Texas, but remember that was only decided in 2003. The SCOTUS had as recently as 1986 upheld similar statutes, which means that applying the SPLC's standard of outrage suggests that the United States Federal government was a 'hate group' within the lifetimes of most Americans. The Supreme Court certainly was one in 1986, was it not? And thirteen states met this radical standard in 2003 -- as did the United States military until last year.
Are these all hate groups? The military as recently as last year?
The other justification is apparently the FRC's research paper, a thorough critique of which has been published on the UC Davis website. Let's look at some of the criticisms of the FRC paper, one at a time.
Freund et al. (1989). Heterosexuality, homosexuality, and erotic age preference. Journal of Sex Research, 26, 107-117.Well, conceding that opposing research exists is a good sign, right? That's appropriate.
This article is discussed above in the "Other Approaches" section. As the FRC concedes, it contradicts their argument.
The next objection is the longest, so let's look at it in full.
Silverthorne & Quinsey. (2000). Sexual partner age preferences of homosexual and heterosexual men and women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 29, 67-76.The problems in comparing cases with very different methodologies are real enough, although it's worth noting that there is a general problem about causal arguments here. Even in the strongest cases, empiricists often resist causal arguments: for example, A. J. Ayer criticizes 'water boils at 100 degrees centigrade' as a law of nature because it doesn't hold at higher altitudes. He argues that ultimately every statement we make of the type 'such-and-such is a law of nature' is merely a statement of our attitudes about things, rather than a correct formulation of anything like an actual law.
The FRC cites this study to challenge the Freund et al. data (see the previous paper above). However, the methodologies were quite different. Freund and his colleagues used a sample that included sex offenders and they assessed sexual arousal with a physiological measure similar to that described below for the 1988 Marshall et al. study. Silverthorne and Quinsey used a sample of community volunteers who were asked to view pictures of human faces and use a 7-point scale to rate their sexual attractiveness. The apparent ages of the people portrayed in the pictures was originally estimated by Dr. Silverthorne to range from 15 to 50. However, a group of independent raters perceived the male faces to range in age from 18 to 58, and the female faces to range from 19 to 60.
The article doesn't report the data in great detail (e.g., average ratings are depicted only in a graphic; the actual numbers aren't reported) and the authors provide contradictory information about the rating scale (they describe it as a 7-point scale but also say it ranged from 0 to 7, which constitutes an 8-point scale). In either case, it appears that none of the pictures was rated as "very sexually attractive" (a rating of 7). Rather, the highest average ratings were approximately 5.
On average, gay men rated the 18-year old male faces the most attractive (average rating = about 5), with attractiveness ratings declining steadily for older faces. They rated the 58-year old male faces 2, on average. By contrast, heterosexual men rated the 25-year old female faces the most attractive (about 5), with the 18- and 28-year old female faces rated lower (between 2 and 3) and the 60-year old female faces rated the least attractive (about 1).
A serious problem with this study is that the researchers didn't control for the possibility that some of the faces pictured in the photos might simply have been more or less physically attractive than the others, independent of their age or gender. The researchers explicitly acknowledged this shortcoming, speculating that the women's faces in the 25-year old group might have been more attractive than women's faces in the other age groups. But they didn't address the possibility that the attractiveness of the male and female faces may not have been comparable.
This issue could have been addressed in various ways. For example, prior to collecting data, the researchers could have started with a large number of photographs and asked a group of independent raters to evaluate the general physical attractiveness of the face in each photo; these ratings could have been used to select photos for the experiment that were equivalent in attractiveness. Getting independent ratings of experimental stimuli in this way is a common procedure in social psychological research.
Thus, even if one accepts the questionable assumption that this study is relevant, it doesn't support the FRC's contention that gay men are more likely than heterosexual men to be child molesters for several reasons:
the researchers failed to control for the varying attractiveness of the different photos;
all of the faces portrayed in the photos were perceived to be at least 18; and
the study merely assessed judgments of sexual attractiveness rather than the research participants' sexual arousal.
To some degree, then, we have little choice but to concede that it is possible to raise methodological objections of this type; and we should take note of them. But it isn't clear that there is a level of similarity that would satisfy, especially once we move away from boiling water and into the realm of human experience. We can reject the comparison, but it isn't clear why we don't reject the rest of the associated discipline. Every study in psychology is rife with objections of this type, and every academic comparison of two studies in psychology employing different methodologies would need to be set aside by this standard. It's not clear that standard of rigor prevails in the academy, to say the least that might be said. To say a little more than that, it's clear that the UC Davis paper does not apply the same level of critical rigor to the study with which it agrees.
Blanchard et al. (2000). Fraternal birth order and sexual orientation in pedophiles. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 29, 463-478.Here the objection is formal, and it's one that I find bothersome. The question the FRC is interested in is whether homosexual males are more likely to prey on boys than non-homosexual males. The psychological community would like to define homosexuality exclusively in terms of attraction to adults. (This is made explicit on the UC Davis page: "The distinction between a victim's gender and a perpetrator's sexual orientation is important because many child molesters don't really have an adult sexual orientation. They have never developed the capacity for mature sexual relationships with other adults, either men or women. Instead, their sexual attractions focus on children – boys, girls, or children of both sexes.")
This study categorized convicted sex offenders according to whether they molested or reported sexual attraction to boys only, girls only, or both boys and girls. These groups were labeled, respectively, homosexual pedophiles, heterosexual pedophiles, and bisexual pedophiles. This classification referred to their attractions to children. Adult sexual orientation (or even whether the men had an adult sexual orientation) wasn't assessed.
This strikes me as the core of the question of whether the FRC's study is right or wrong. I am sure that the FRC is thinking that the term "homosexual" includes "men who are sexually attracted to boys" as well as "adult men." Those who are on the other side of the debate what to carefully separate the two groups (although there will be some overlap among the relatively few men who are sexually attracted to boys and also adult men).
In other words, whether the FRC is a 'hate group' spreading lies, or a mainstream organization with a social science study that backs up its claim, really comes down to the definition of the phrase "homosexual male." If we give the FRC the right to define its own terms, their evidence is not easy to dismiss; if we insist on the right to define the terms for them, their study does not hold.
That may be an interesting point, but it's pretty clearly not adequate to establish that the FRC is a hate group, or that it is spreading falsehoods. The strongest claim justified here is that you disagree, for reasons you think valid, with their definitions.
The next footnote also relies on this point, so we will skip it. The footnote following that also relies on the same point, but in an interesting way:
"...the authors were discussing published papers that used a classification system focusing entirely on the sex of victims (not whether the perpetrator is straight or gay)."
Again, this is really a question of definition. If intentionally seeking out opportunities to have sex with boys is evidence of a man's homosexuality, then the FRC is right. If it is irrelevant to the question of homosexuality, they might be wrong.
It strikes me, though, that probably the average American would accept the FRC's standard here. It's not obvious that a man who seeks opportunities to have sex with boys is free of homosexual desire, just because he doesn't feel the same way about adult men.
Of the two remaining footnotes, one excludes the evidence of a work on the grounds that it was a work of journalism and not science; OK, that's fair enough. The other one, though, has this:
Erickson et al. (1988). Behavior patterns of child molesters. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 17, 77-86.Eighty six percent is a pretty striking figure; the objection to it is methodological, but how serious does the methodological error have to be to exclude a percentage approaching nine in ten from being considered as evidence of correlation? In order to discredit the FRC's thesis here, you have to set aside the claim as evidence entirely. That's an admirably rigorous standard, provided that it's evenly applied; but it's not really evidence that the FRC is engaged in knowingly spreading falsehoods. What it is spreading is an actual study whose methodology may be questioned.
This study was based on a retrospective review of the medical records of male sex offenders admitted to the Minnesota Security Hospital between 1975 and 1984. Apparently, 70% of the men abused girls, 26% abused boys, and 4% abused children of both sexes. (The paper is unclear in that it doesn't explain how perpetrators with multiple victims were counted.) The paper asserts in passing that "Eighty-six percent of offenders against males described themselves as homosexual or bisexual" (p. 83). However, no details are provided about how this information was ascertained, making it difficult to interpret. Nor did the authors report the number of homosexual versus bisexual offenders, a distinction that the Groth and Birnbaum study (described above) indicates is relevant.
In other words, all the evidence that the FRC is a 'hate group' comes down to formal objections to either methodology or study definitions. I have here cited none of the FRC's defenders, nor the FRC itself, but only the SPLC and UC Davis. I also think it shows that the FRC's position is largely defensible if we understand them to think that "homosexual" as a term expressly includes men who sexually prey on boys. That's probably a viable plain-language reading of the term. The academic insistence that it is an unreasonable slander on homosexuals is well-intentioned, but it should surely be fought on other grounds than by labeling anyone who adopts the plain-language standard as hateful.
For example, there are good grounds to make the exclusion from pragmatism. The purpose of the inquiry is to protect children from predators; that may be easier to do if we can break out the larger, FRC-style category into two smaller categories only one of which is problematic. If we can more precisely target the dangerous group, we can more precisely exclude them while also giving greater liberty to a group that isn't actually dangerous to children.
You can make a moral argument here as well, as to the rights of the non-dangerous group to be free from slander. I think that's the argument driving the SPLC's desire to issue labels of 'hate,' but it's gotten there much too early. We don't really even have a good plain-language term for the group they want us to see as separate from 'homosexuality.' That strikes me as evidence that the person who makes the FRC-type argument is probably doing it honestly, and defensibly given the set of categories they understand to apply. Until you have persuaded most people that these categories don't apply -- which will be in evidence once there is another commonly-used word that denotes only the one category and not the other -- it's too soon to be waving the bloody flag of "hate group" wherever you find your opponents.