The Thing About Studies

I’m stepping out of discussions about the marital presumption for a moment to raise what is really a much broader issue.      Generally the choices people make when advocating for any particular rule in family law (and in law generally, I would guess) are driven by some goal that they are trying to achieve.

For instance, in family law many people advocate for particular legal arrangments because they care about the well-being of children.   Indeed, it is probably fair to say that the well-being of children is the single most broadly agreed upon goal of family law.   There are other goals you an advance of course—interests of and/or fairness to adults, say.    But the consideration of children—for a whole range of reasons–is often centrally placed in the  debate.

Now the fact that many people agree on the centrality of the well-being of children does not mean that people agree on what family law should be.   There are at least two reasons for this.  First, I’m not sure we agree on what the well-being of children means.   But more importantly, we don’t agree on what policies serve the well-being of children.

To illustrate with an issue that is frequently raised  here, some people assert that the well-being of children is served when they are raised by their genetic parents.  That leads them to advocate for legal recognition of parents on that basis, which makes perfect sense.   But I don’t agree with the premise–that the well-being of children is served when they are raised by their genetic parents–so I don’t reach the same  conclusion.

Now we can argue–forever, I imagine–about what might serve the well-being of children.   I suspect when we do that we draw on some blend of our own experience leavened by education, anecdote and I’m not sure what else.  But it’s also a subject that is (frequently) studied and so one can bring the results of the studies into the picture.

Now I’m generally a fan of science and scientific research.   I believe that well-crafted research can help us discovery important truths about the world.   But studies about the well-being of children aren’t like physics experiments and they are at best very difficult to well.   You just cannot study a child raised by her/his genetic parents and then study the same child not raised by his/her genetic parents.  You cannot take identical twins, separate them at birth and have one raised by the genetic parents and the other raised by a family that is identical to the genetic parents except that there’s no genetic connection.

I don’t mean to despair completely.   There are certainly sound studies.  But there are also so many unsound studies–and they may be unsound for different reasons.   Yet if we (and I include myself in the “we”) like the conclusions they reach we may be a little more charitable about methodological problems.

At this point, let me be a bit more specific and talk about what got me started on this just now.   There’s a trial being held in Michigan just now about whether a lesbian couple should have the right to adopt each other’s children and to get married.   (The women have been foster parents and each has adopted some children, but the other cannot complete an adoption because MI won’t allow the women to marry and only married couples can co-adopt.)

The state’s contention is that different sex couples make better parents than same-sex couples do–or perhaps even that same-sex couples don’t make good parents.   Obviously that is a disputed contention and the trial is supposed to resolve the dispute.  (There’s a second issue that I haven’t seen addressed much: Even if it is true that different sex parents are better, how does barring same-sex couples from marrying encourage different sex parents to have children?  Or how does letting same-sex couples get married harm different-sex parents?   I think the state needs to make this connection in order to prevail here.)

Anyway, the state is relying primarily on a study by Mark Regnerus, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas.   Professor Regnerus is the author of a study published a couple of years ago that found that young adults who had a parent who had been in a same-sex relationship fared less well than their counterparts who did not have such a parent.

The study has been the focus of a lot of criticism, largely because Regnerus did not compare children raised by same-sex couples to children raised by different sex couples.  He compared children raised by different sex couples with children who were raised by a parent who at some point had a same-sex relationship.    (You can read more about why this is a problem here or many other places I’m sure you can find.)

But now there’s this trial.  And at trial Professor Regnerus will testify (next Monday, I believe) and he will be subject to cross-examination.  (You can read a blog of the trial thus far here and you’ll see that there’s already groundwork for the cross-examination and you can also see a bit about the methodological objections to other studies.)

I’m eager to watch this all unfold.   I’m curious about how the judge will reach a decision.  Is it a question of credibility–who is telling the truth?  Or does the judge decide which methodology is better?

What I really wonder, though, is whether anyone will be convinced of anything they didn’t already believe.

I’ve more to say on this topic but this is quite long enough, so I’ll stop right here.

54 responses to “The Thing About Studies

  1. Julie looking to psychological studies about benefits and outcomes of being reared by this or that type of person whether married or unmarried seems at odds with what I have learned from you. Whether you taught this to me directly or indirectly I can’t be entirely sure, but your style is to lead the person your debating towards a defense that is based upon stuff like psychological studies and anecdotal evidence. You kind of bate a person into using words like moral, natural or normative because you know that they are impossible to support. I pretty much learned that if a person does not stick to what the law is and then base what they think the law should be on something totally concrete and fair that the argument is pretty much doomed to be circular and everyone agrees to disagree and goes home. So the take away is not to talk about proof that can be challenged with opposing proof to the contrary. Studies of psychological outcomes, even those that have been conducted by by now very dear friends, don’t actually prove anything concrete about outcomes for kids because one lesbian can do a great job of raising kids while another might blow at it terribly because she’s an alcoholic. Basically sexual preference has nothing to do with meeting the basic needs of a child. Similarly kids can turn out fine no matter if they have two or one person raising them or bio parents or whatever often better than if their bio parents raised them so there is no substance in trying to compare outcomes. Outcome is not the basis of a winning argument I don’t think. Not from what I’ve learned here.

    Also if justice is blind then why are we looking to see who benefits from what the law should be? I mean the law is not supposed to be to anyone’s benefit, its simply supposed to be fair and just and based upon fact. So people have or don’t have certain obligations and then people have or don’t have a right to rely upon them to do the things they are or are not obligated to do. The best interest concept really sort of flies in the face of blind justice. Right? I mean its in the best interest of all people to be treated equally and fairly obligated equally and fairly and to have their rights be equal and fair. The results of equal and fairness are not supposed to matter to the law. Like what’s fair may put someone in jail and they won’t like that nor will their family but its whats fair. The truth is the truth whether we like how the truth makes someone feel about themselves or not. Which is my contention with a modified birth record: when people argue about how the modified record protects adopted people from the social stigma of adoption I find that to be a weak argument because we should not modify the facts because they might potentially embarras someone or because they’d rather if people thought something that was not true. Maybe it would be in someone’s best interests to present themselves as something other than what they are but the law is not supposed to care about that.

    So in this instance I’d think arguing that being with straight married couples gives kids better outcomes lacks that basis in blind justice. The argument would need to be based upon something fair. I can see the argument for requiring two people to adopt rather than only 1 person because the state needs two sources of support for the child to mimic the two that they loose upon adoption. Even if the child only has one known parent, the child has the right to support from both and to adopt them to only one person actually removes their right to the second source of support and that is important if we are going to be fair to minors who have already lost so much.. Should they be married? I think that is not essential because no minor has a right to have married parents. Sure maybe it is best for them but it is not a right that any child has and therefore should not be a requirement. More of a bonus as it is for any child. Furthermore when your already selecting unrelated people to raise the child biology goes out the window. When the state is in the position to pick parents where they are not with bio parents, their job would be to make sure they are placing them with individuals who want to raise the child and who are safe to raise the child who at that moment are not living in households with people who are not able to clear their background checks. They should be willing to handle the unique medical needs of the child. Stuff like that. I believe the rule about marriage and adoption is better changed and focused upon, it is not a state law anyway is it? Is it a state law that people who adopt have to be married or is that just policy for the agency handling the adoptions? Is it a state law that they have to be straight? Or is it mere policy that flies in the face of equal treatment of people?

  2. I’m not sure what to say except that I don’t think this is at all at odds with my methods. There are, as I think you suggest, two different conversations. One is about what the law is–what current statutory structures are like. This is where the post about the MI marital presumption starts–with an explanation of MI law. The second conversation is the normative one–about what the law should be. You can take off from the first (descriptive) to the second.

    In that second conversation–about what the law should be–one not only says “I think the law should be X” but also says “because…….”. The mere fact that I think it should be X is hardly enough to be persuasive. So I might say “I think the law should be X because that is best for children.”. Now you might agree that we should do what is best for children, but you might not agree that X will, in fact, be best for children.

    So that’s the piece of the argument I’m thinking about here. How do we know what is best for children? To some extent I think we all draw on our own experiences and assumptions. That’s inevitable. But there are people who actually study what is best for children and it seems to me that we at least ought to think about what they have to say. They might be child psychologists working from their own exposure to children (not the subject of this post) or they might be people who deal with social science studies. I think these can be useful, but I am wondering about how useful. Can they persuade us of something we don’t already believe or are they just ammunition?

    From my point of view, anytime one offers a particular view of what the law should be, the person also ought to be able to offer some explanation/argument for why the law should be that way. Why enact this law or this policy? Would it be a good thing? Good for who? How do we know? That’s all I’m talking about here.

    • Right I know what you’re talking about is the vast range of opinions on the topic of what is best for children and how studies are obviously going to be bias in the direction of the individual trying to prove a theory. If they don’t like the results they won’t publish the study.

  3. But I’m trying to explain that I’m having a revelation here and it is the answer to the question I had when I set out to find out why the law was so unfair and inconsistent to these people I’d been helping with the false and incomplete birth records. The reason I started coming to your blog to read was I could not understand why results of cases seemed inconsistent with the law or like it was just so super unfair so often. It’s this best interest of the kid thing. Which seems to be a masking a secondary agenda of what’s in the best interest of the state financially in many cases as well.

    We write down the various obligations and expectations everyone has and call it law. Government has its obligations and expectations and the people have their obligations and expectations as well. It’s fair and just for judges to make decisions that align with what all the people involved had the right to expect or had the obligation to do.

    If the obligations and expectations are all reasonable to begin with then sticking to them is what’s fair. If what is fair to everyone is not “best for the child” or “best for the state financially” then they just throw out what’s fair to everyone and do whatever the hell they want. Like a parent whose child is in the foster care system can comply with all the requirements to regain custody but the state will favor adopting the kid out if the mother is on welfare. What is fair based on everyone’s obligations and expectations would not be in the best financial interests of the state because they’d continue supporting the child. The child has a right to expect support assistance from the state if their parents are destitute based on the laws that obligate the state to do that. The child has a right to expect their parents to comply with the law and keep them safe etc. The state has an expectation of having to support under those circumstances but if meeting those expectations is going to cost them money and they have the opportunity of an open cps case in front of them, they’ll choose adoption and say its in the best interest of the child. I think maybe we should have other state’s decide cases where the judges determination has the opportunity to eliminate or reduce state financial risk of having to make good on its obligations to support destitute children. What’s fair to everyone involved may not be in the very best interest of a child or the state finances but it was what everyone had the right to expect given the law as it stands. If the law as it stands is written to protect everyone from situations that are physically dangerous (and it is) then what’s fair is truly what is best.

    What’s best also involves supposing about the future. What’s fair and just to everyone involved would necessarily exclude situations that placed a child in eminent danger. If being fair to the adults involved (like not being discriminated against for their sexual orientation) aligns with the child’s expectations of care and support then nobody should need studies one way or the other. Its a psg match.

  4. How do we know what is best for children? is a difficult question to answer, and I personally can not provide an answer. However, i think this method over here, of calling someone deemed to be an “expert witness” and asking him questions, I think its a misuse of the scientific method.
    Leaving aside of course the question of who gets declared an expert, its still problematic.
    As I’ve previously mentioned, I work in the health field, and studies in the health field are continuously emerging that have conflicting results. I can only imagine that the situation in the social sciences is even less conclusive, as socially there are so many more variables, social conditions change so rapidly, and people’s social behavior is far less programmed by an absolute cause and effect that the medical activities of their body (at least according to my personal philosophy). In order for studies to be valid, there needs to be consistent results that examine the same thing, that are consistent and reproduced over a long period of time. Even then, such studies can often only predict a tendency, not anything absolute.

    • then there is another category, a common sense category which is tricky. for example when slavery was outlawed. i don’t think we would need to bring studies and expert witnesses to show that slavery is bad. its just one of those obvvious things. i believe abolitionists relied a lot on first person anectodal accounts which made things obvious that slavery is very bad indeed. So there are certain things which are just obvious. but the problem is that common sense is sometimes just prejudice.

      • another method as to determining whether something is ok or not , is to use the “what if everyone” test. Would this be ok if it was applicable to EVERYONE? sometimes then, the answer is much clearer.
        this is the litmus test i use regarding parent contracts and similar things that come up on this blog. because it could be for the individual in question, the parentage contract could be the best thing in the world. but what would happen if i made that acceptable for everyone? not so wonderful anymore.
        perhaps if I could very clearly pinpoint in which circumstances the parentage contract might be a good thing, I could write an exception into the law- while making it very clear that it is to be understood as an exception to the general rule, not to turn over the general rule. but those circumstances are very hard to pinpoint.
        regarding adoption I don’t see an issue though. whatever people’s beleif about the value of having a parental figure of both genders, i can’t imagine they would say that in the absence of one makes it worse that growing up in an orphaniage or foster care.

        • The issue with the birth certificates and adoption is that in most states the Originals are sealed. Which means those in the BSE have to go through a lot to find their birth parents. If you just unsealed them, it would solve that problem. The reality is an amended birth certificate is more widely accepted for proof of an adopted child’s age when they are enrolled in school, sports activities or a passport. An adoption decree is not accepted in a lot of situations, which I think people like Marilynn want to be the case to further lower the status of the child’s parents.

          • No, they’d have their original birth certificate to meet the needs of enrollment they’d be on totally equal footing in that regard, they’d just also have the adoption decree to prove that they adopted the kid and have the authority to enroll the kid in school. I’m not talking about using an adoption decree instead of a birth certificate as that would not be equal. It does not replace the birth certificate it documents an adoption. The adopted person is then in the same position as everyone else having a birth certificate and it proves that their adoptive parents have authority over them now.

            • “No, they’d have their original birth certificate to meet the needs of enrollment they’d be on totally equal footing in that regard, they’d just also have the adoption decree to prove that they adopted the kid and have the authority to enroll the kid in school.”

              Again the adoption decree is not accepted in a lot of situations including some school situations. That’s why the amended birth certificate is needed.

              “The adopted person is then in the same position as everyone else having a birth certificate and it proves that their adoptive parents have authority over them now.”

              No, it just demeans the parents into being recognized as second class citizens because they lack a biological connection. Which is your ultimate goal.

              • stop derailing this thread. it isn’t about birth certificates and don’t make it so.

                • You were referencing parenting certificates to which I responded to because that’s essentially what a birth certificate states (who are the parents).

                  I find it ironic that you continue to defend Marilynn. I guess biological parents stick together in these situations.

                  • its a grand biological parents conspiracy

                  • No, it’s just you banding together forgetting where you came from.

                  • M. is the designated de-railer of threads on this blog. Of course, we enable her. And I am aware that I’m the greatest offender.

                    A response to any off-topic post should be:

                    LOL you be tolling #troll

              • Ki’s right but I did not start it here I’m responding to it.
                G they accept adoption decrees as proof of the adoptive parents authority not the adopted person’s identity. That is what the bc is for

                • Not everyone and every entity. Schools don’t all accept it and neither does the government for passports. That’s where the amended birth certificate makes the difference.

                  • If they never changed it they’d use the original problem solved. Its the adoptive parent that needs to prove who they are. adoption decree does that

                  • You aren’t getting it. An adoption decree is not accepted in a lot of situations as proof of being a legal parent (such as enrolling in many schools). But an amended birth certificate is accepted in all situations.

                  • Greg amended certs are optional for Adoptive Parents. There are plenty of adoptive parents who manage to enroll kids in school, obtain them passports and get medical treatment for them just fine using the accurate original and their decree. Which organization is is that you are aware of who won’t recognize a decree in conjunction with the obc? Sounds odd to me, it’s signed by a judge.

                  • I’ve heard of certain schools, youth sports programs and even parents trying to get a passport for their child who is still a minor who were denied and or had issues with an adoption decree. So that document is not universally recognized in the United States. I don’t think this is something with a biological child would understand having never having to go through that.

                • Yeah, you simply mentioned that I don’t think children should have “any civil rights human rights.”

                  But you never mentioned WHY you said that. I was talking about Ireland, and their marriage laws. I mentioned that birth certificates are relatively new. I don’t have any strong opinions about birth certificates at all. Was it because I mentioned that historians don’t see them as medical records?

                  I don’t know. I would like to agree that she never uses my name. Respond to the idea, and there is no need to use the handle. She can go on all she wants about slavery or how birth certificates are the Holocaust and I’ll ignore her, because she won’t be talking to me, specifically.

                  Agreed, Marilynn? Stop responding to me by name? Simply respond to the ideas? I will do likewise if we’ve got an agreement.

                  • M,
                    Do you get that I have no idea why you lash out at me? At random times you accuse me of promoting slavery, or you accuse me of wanting no one to have civil rights.

                    And I have no idea what you are talking about. I have no idea what you are responding to from what I wrote. You’re simply throwing wild accusations at me that make no sense.

                    No civil rights — What does that even mean? Are you saying I don’t think children should be able to testify in court? Are you saying I believe in racial segregation?

                    It’s incoherent.

                  • Good grief you are acting like a baby getting all incensed like this. The sum total of your comments you were just a good example o someone who I’ve gone down to the mat with on do you think owning a person without subjecting them to abuse or hard physical labor is wrong? Is it wrong to buy title and control over someone and then treat them nicely? And you never said no you stuck to your guns about there having to be hard abuse even though in the 13 amendment text it actually said that the authors don’t intend it to cover just that type of slavery but also other kinds. Whatever you stuck to your guns that its fine and was not wrong what happens to adopted people and donor offspring even though they don’t have the same rights and freedoms. So your a great example of someone who does not care about what is happening to them. It’s not wrong to restrict rights or freedom so long as nobody is chained up fine by you. Months of conversations to draw upon. But you are being just over the top. I wont say your name but you go on ahead and continue saying that I’m a troll because you calling me names does not make me look bad. I’m argumentative for sure but it’s not for the sake off the argument its because I know people are being treated poorly and there are certain laws driving that I want to talk about those laws and hash out the details.

                  • This post is incoherent. I can’t follow it’s logic. I spent entirely too much time line editing this weekend, and I’m not about to try to puzzle it out.

                    But I read enough that I can see:
                    LOL you be trolling. #troll

                  • “Good grief you are acting like a baby getting all incensed like this. ”

                    Marilynn, you started this all with your Neo Nazi non biological parent agenda accusing Tess of awful things that are simply not true. You need to apologize and back off for good.

                  • Greg,
                    That would be great, but it will never happen.

                    Trolling isn’t about caring about discourse, or engagement, or accuracy. It’s about getting a response and attention.

                    There was an article on trolling not too long ago — actually, a sociological study. Trolls get endorphin rushes.

                  • Slate’s Chris Mooney, who dissected the study last week, noted that the authors “found that the relationship between sadism and trolling was the strongest, and that indeed, sadists appear to troll because they find it pleasurable.”
                    Indeed, as the abstract notes:
                    “Of all personality measures, sadism showed the most robust associations with trolling and, importantly, the relationship was specific to trolling behavior. Enjoyment of other online activities, such as chatting and debating, was unrelated to sadism. Thus cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism.”

                • “All of you go to all the same blogs to talk about the same topics I do defending you positions. You are the same. I don’t call you names I take issue with your opinions. You are not being civil”

                  What are you talking about here? I haven’t been posting on any other blogs for more then a month.

                  I really find these interactions odd. They are also psychologically fascinating — I mean, are you projecting something onto me that you’re reading on other blogs? It’s really weird!

                • You’ve complained several times that you do not understand the definition of an internet troll. I’m posting it here, again, so you can be sure to read it.

                  urban dictionary, “troll”

                  “One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument”

                  • when i said i find your comments informative i didn’t mean those of this sort

                  • Totally you. Your projecting.

                  • yes, sorry, it is not meant to be informative. But I do hope it clarifies that I will not engage with confusing, inflammatory comments that are meant to derail the thread.

                    I still don’t know what set her off this time. The comments aren’t just inflammatory, they are confusing. (“Marilynn is freaking out about what? And why? I don’t know? Still don’t know what freaked her out this time.”)

                    I am hopeful that we could agree on a system in which Marilynn and I agree to not refer to each other by name. Ideas may be discussed, but no names. That would lend itself to an atmosphere of civility.

                  • I won’t talk about trolls if she will stop trolling me.

                    She can troll others, and I’ll ignore it.

                  • In other words: I wish she would stop engaging with me by name.

                    Debating the issues are one thing. Toxic trolling is something else.

          • she referenced parentage contracts not certificates Greg.

            • Are you talking about me or Kisarita or Julie?

              If I did, I don’t remember talking about it. I can’t imagine why I would have talked about it, as I don’t have an opinion on it. I wanted to talk about the Irish marriage laws, and I was’t much following the birth certificate discussion.

            • And birth certificates list parentage on it. So my comment is relevant.

              • btw – I have no idea what she is talking about re parentage certificates.

                • Neither do I. Maybe she is referencing my proposal from the other comment thread about parentage being removed from the birth certificate and being replaced by a parentage certificate? That’s the only thing I could think of.

        • I’m not sure I understand the “what if everyone” test. You mean what if we allowed, say, the purchase and sale of children generally? I might show you that a particular transaction was okay, but you’d consider the general rule?

          I think this is a useful approach, (though the example I gave may not be a good one–and I know it is my example and not yours.) One of the characteristics of law is that it is general-of broad application. And if there are exceptions then those, too, are general. The rule doesn’t apply in all cases where X is true, say.

          But this doesn’t get you around the need for studies or evidence. You might want to say, for example, that single people should not be allowed to adopt. That would be a general rule. But wouldn’t you have to show that often (how often?) having a single people would harm the child? And perhaps that if single people were barred from adoption there would still be enough adoptive parents? (No state bars single people from adopting, in part because I don’t think you can show these things.)

          • What if everyone works more like, let’s say we commit to the idea that nobody has to prove they are a bio parent and in fact we say they don’t have to be bio parents to be the first parents in line. Well then that means that no minor is entitled to care or support from a bio parent. Children would have a claim to whoever was first in line. If nobody wanted them then too bad

        • I LOVE what if everyone , its my favorite.

          • What if everyone that wanted kids could have them? What if there were never any unplanned pregnancies? What if children were never neglected or abused by their parents?

            It’s nice to live in a fantasy world where everything is perfect but the reality is not everyone is born into or lives in the same situation. Thus it seems like people are treated differently when the reality is they are treated the same but their situations are different.

      • because the topic sometimes come up i just want to make it clear that i find this topic in no way comparable to slavery, and i hope we don’t get sidetracked debating that. quite the opposite i brought it up as a contrast point, to show the differnce between some things that are obvious and some that aren’t.

      • (Your use of slavery is not offensive. And thank you for your sensitivity to the issue.)

        I am also following the Michigan case.

        The “Brandeis brief” was the first to utilize extensive sociological evidence. (Muller v. Oregon, 1908.) Louis Brandeis would later be appointed to the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States.) His sister-in-law, a member of the National Consumer’s League, wrote the famous brief.

        The Brandeis brief “kickstarted” this use of sociology in the courts.

      • One can reject slavery because it is morally bad. If you do that then I don’t think you need to have studies because you aren’t being instrumentalist–you’re not against slavery because it causes bad things but rather because it is in and of itself evil.

        In the same way, some people oppose marriage for same-sex couples or same-sex couples based on an argument that these things are inherently wrong or unnatural. You have to accept that premise, but once you do there’s no need for any evidence. Other people oppose those things on the basis that they cause some harm. If you take this line of argument then I think you need to demonstrate the harm that flows from them. It turns out, I think, to be very hard to show that kind of harm. And the Supreme Court took the “it’s just immoral” argument out of play in Lawrence vs. TX. That’s part of why I think you’ve seen such dramatic change in law recently.

    • I think there’s a lot that’s quite true in what you say. What I cannot figure out is where this leaves me. Does this mean there’s no point in anyone doing studies? That doesn’t seem to be right. And while it may be impossible to do a perfect social science study, there are clearly better and worse studies. So critiquing methodology is legitimate and important, it seems to me. Understanding the nature of flaws or the limitations of a study is helpful.

      But I think that the whole idea of a live trial on this is at best odd. Still, maybe the adversary system with cross examination and all that helps us understand the weight we might give various studies. I can see that there are studies that I like the results of (which is to say they agree with what I think) but which are of limited value because of methodology.

      • Right. And what makes someone the ultimate expert in order to be called up to the stand on the first place? if i consulted 10 people who had extensively studied the issue, I might still get 10 different opinions. Who chooses who gets to be heard?

        • Courts rely on an adversary process. that means each side decides what experts they want to present. Of course, each side chooses the expert who is “best” for them. (Best here would be a combination of you like the results and the methodology is defensible.) You might see this process of selecting who gets heard as problematic, of course. But the whole idea of the adversary system is that this figurative jousting gives the court all the best information each side has as well as all the arguments about what is wrong with the information. And on that basis the judge can determine the facts.

          I can see all sorts of flaws with this, but it’s actually hard for me to find a system I like better. If the judge selected an official court expert I’d find plenty to complain about then, too.

          • The Michigan case is particularly interesting because of the trial, much like the trial for Prop 8.

            The cross-examinations allows the other side to question the methodology of the studies.

            • There is really a larger question here, I think, one that brings in the general utility of the adversary system. Given the press treatment of studies (which is the subject of the next post–which I just put up this morning) maybe it is good to have trials like this. Here each side is motivated to really test the methodological soundness of the other’s studies. With a good judge–one who runs a proper courtroom and is smart and engaged–perhaps we can all learn from this. We can see whatever flaw there are to be seen. That is the particular genius of the adversary system.

              I suppose where I have doubts is really the next step–that the judge decides the facts. This isn’t a case where there are competing versions of the truth (I say it was raining, you say it was sunny) and one of us is likely lying. Those questions involve the determination of credibility and whatever the ability to judges or juries to do that, those who have at least seen the witnesses are better able to do it than I–who only read transcripts–am. I’m just not sure that is true with this kind of testimony about dueling studies. but I guess we will see how it goes in MI. I think the main witness for the state takes the stand Monday AM and it will be interesting to see how that goes.

              • I expect Monday to be quite interesting.

                I agree that is the particular genius of the adversary system. The methodology can be judged, and literally “put on trial,” so to speak.

                I expect Monday’s cross-examination will demonstrate that the main witness for the state conducted a study on family fragmentation and instability.

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