Bad science. Bad, bad science.

Curator's Note

Neat and tidy boundaries between public and scientific discourse get all blurry in the context of social controversies—perhaps especially those surrounding sexual orientation. Do-it-yourself online videos along with blogs have created new opportunities for political activists to critique ‘bad’ science and for scientists to rebut misappropriations of their work by political activists. The video posted here, by Daniel Gonzales of Ex-Gay Watch, takes on a study by Robert Spitzer on “reparative therapy” and its uptake in the news media and by “pro-family” Christian organizations. The critique focuses mostly on methodology and in this respect doesn’t do much to challenge the role of science in the ethical and political debates about efforts to change gay men and lesbian’s sexual orientation. However, this video, and others linked below, show that YouTube and the like can provide a medium for non-scientists to challenge scientists’ arguments and for scientists to speak directly to public audiences when their work is misused by political activists. Both activists and scientists are often poorly served by journalists who are often either unable or unwilling to carefully deal with complex arguments or are constrained by norms of “objectivity” to treat “both sides” of any issue as roughly equivalent. It will be interesting to see if such efforts to bypass the traditional media filter become more prominent in socioscientific controversies.

Some other examples:

Spitzer himself challenges how his work was appropriated by Focus on the Family.

Two other scientists rebut James Dobson’s appropriation of their work, here and here.

And, finally, activist Wayne Besen has started a new website, RespectMyResearch.org, where scientists can report distortions of their work by James Dobson & Focus on the Family.

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