I want to pick up on the last post, which you should probably read before going further. Here we are with two studies, one published in Pediatrics and the other on the website of Family Scholars. They appear to reach contradictory conclusions, with the first study finding that children of lesbian couples (who are children conceived with third-party sperm) do as well, if not better, than other children while the second study concludes that children of conceived with (only some of whom are children of lesbian couples) suffer harm.
One thought is that it might be possible to harmonize the two studies, because they have studied different populations. The first study focused on 17 year olds who were children of lesbian couples. The second study focused on adults between the ages of 18 and 45. Of the 485 adults studied, 39 of them (about 8% were children of lesbians). Each of these distinctions is important, but perhaps the first point is that no single person could be the subject of both studies. Thus, the researchers studied completely separate populations, which might mean that it is not so surprising they reached different conclusions.
In addition, because the children of lesbians only consist of 8% of the groups studied by the Family Scholars, it’s not always possible to extract conclusions about that populations. For some of the Family Scholars data, data reporting responses of children of lesbians are reported separately but in other instances, children of lesbians are included in the larger undifferentiated group. In those instances, it’s really not possible to reach any conclusion about the responses of the 8% of the population who were children of lesbians. Any variation in their response could be overwhelmed by the responses of 92% of the subjects who are not children of lesbians.
The age difference between the two populations studied may also be important. Children who are 17 now came of age within the last decade. The environment for children of lesbians and gay men in the 2000s is quite different from that a child born in 1965 (45 years ago) might have faced. I cannot tell the age range of the children of lesbians (this is one of those things that isn’t broken out separately) but it does seem to me that social conditions have changed substantially within the last decade or so. Thus, difficulties that may have afflicted children born in 1980 may not persist for those born in 1990. What I mean is, it seems possible to me that an older sample would reflect more adverse impact than a younger sample.
But truly, this is all speculation and I’m not an expert on the analysis of social science studies. Perhaps the studies really are irreconcilable. How then should one choose which one to credit?
Let me start with the obvious. It seems to me wrong to simply credit the study that happens to reinforce an existing belief. It’s hard to resist the temptation perhaps, but I think it is worth the effort.
One potential issue that must be of concern is bias on the part of the researcher. But surely all these researchers have some interest in their topic, else they wouldn’t be doing the research. The mere fact that a researcher has a point of view cannot disqualify them from doing research, or we’d be left with researchers who didn’t care about their topics–hardly my ideal researchers. The crucial question, it seems to me, is whether bias influences the design, execution or reporting of the studies in a way that undermines our confidence in the results.
It’s hard for me to make that assessment, since I’m not a social scientist. But it seems to me this is a critical purpose of peer review. Peer reviewers ensure that the design, execution and reporting of the study is not infected with bias. And only one of these studies is peer reviewed–the one in Pediatrics.
I’ve read the response on the Family Scholars blog about peer review–which I think is essentially an assurance that the authors have done something that is the equivalent of peer review. (Mind you, I’m not sure exactly what it is they have done, because they do not say.)
I find it impossible to accept this assurance. Peer review isn’t self-administered. It’s administered by an editor who does not share the author’s bias. It seems to me that Mr. Blankenhorn, who is President of the Institute for American Values which commissioned the study, shares the viewpoint of the authors. He is as interested as they are, and hence is not in a good position to design proper peer review.
I must confess, there are other aspects of the presentation of the Family Scholars report that leads me to be somewhat suspicious of it. Consider, for example, the name of the report. It’s called “My Daddy’s Name is Donor.” And what proportion of the people they surveyed called their donor “daddy?” Seven (I think this is percent, but it could be seven people, I suppose. This is on page 91 of the report.) The most common referent is “donor” (55) followed by “seed giver” and “contributor of genetic material” (each with 32).
Choosing a title that suggests that lots of donor conceived people think of the man who provided the sperm as “daddy” may make good press, but it’ s not a fair representation of the results of the study. I don’t think any peer-reviewed scientific journal would allow it. And it does give me pause.