Evidence is in: Gay marriage doesn’t hurt children

Published: Grand Forks Herald (June 23, 2014)

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — When I read Ronald Fischer’s recent column opposing gay marriage, I couldn’t help but think of a line in the Sherlock Holmes story, “A Scandal in Bohemia”:

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

It is clear that Fischer started out with the theory that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry, then developed his case to match that opinion (“Focus ‘marriage debates’ on best interests of children,” Page A4, June 19).

While it isn’t my place to speculate as to his motives for doing this, every American has a responsibility to call attention to factual distortions that could deprive their fellow citizens of their civil liberties. Here are Fischer’s.

  •  He uses bad scholarship.

Fischer repeatedly insists that children are better off when raised by their biological mother and father, claiming that “study after study” supports his assertion. Tellingly, though, he doesn’t state precisely how many academic studies draw this conclusion, and only provides one specific example — a 2012 study led by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas (he also mentions the work of Louisiana State University’s Loren Marks, which accompanied Regnerus’s study; more about Marks below).

Regnerus’ now-notorious study purports to show that gay parents are bad for kids. But Regnerus had a very good reason to reach that conclusion: He was paid handsomely by conservative groups that were openly hoping he would do so. “In meetings hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington in late 2010, opponents of same-sex marriage discussed the urgent need to generate new studies on family structures and children,” The New York Times reported earlier this year.

“One result was the marshalling of $785,000 for a large-scale study by Mark Regnerus, a meeting participant and sociologist at the University of Texas.”

In finding the “right” results, Regnerus engaged in misleading scholarly practices that an internal audit by Social Science Research — the journal that initially published Regnerus’s paper — determined should have “disqualified it,” such as including only two respondents who had actually lived with a gay couple for their entire childhoods and defining “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers” as anyone who had been in a homosexual relationship at any point after having a child.

Because the Regnerus paper is the only official source used by Fischer to suggest that gay parenting hurts children, one has to wonder if Fischer knew the sordid history of that research. If he did, then he was dishonest for citing it without mentioning these details; if he did not, then he loses all credibility as an effective advocate for any evidence-based cause.

  •  He misrepresents the legitimate scholarship on gay parenting.

Fischer actually spends very little time addressing the rest of the research on gay parenting, which, in the words of Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University, has yielded “overwhelming evidence so far that there’s not much difference between children raised by heterosexual or same-sex parents.”

Indeed, all Fischer does is briefly acknowledge a 2005 policy brief by the American Psychological Association, which found that 59 independently-conducted studies had each determined that children raised by homosexual parents were not uniquely disadvantaged.

Then again, while he writes that LSU’s Marks “debunks” the APA’s review, he notably fails to summarize or explain Marks’s argument as to why the review was wrong so that readers can judge the rebuttal on its own merits.

What’s more, there has been plenty of research done since 2005. When Judith Stacey of New York University and Tim Bilbarz of the University of Southern California conducted a review in 2010 of every social scientific study published in the United States on gay parenting, they determined that no pattern existed of studies finding gay parents to be any worse than their straight counterparts.

The bottom line is that while those who disapprove of homosexuality are entitled to their opinions, they don’t have the right to force their views on other people. This is not a liberal position or a libertarian or a conservative position; it is the one and only constitutional position.

In the words of Barry Goldwater, the founding father of modern conservatism:

“The big thing is to make this country, along with every other country in the world with a few exceptions, quit discriminating against people just because they’re gay. You don’t have to agree with it, but they have a constitutional right to be gay.”

Observations from the primary campaign trail

Published: The Morning Call (June 16, 2014)

After more than two years as a political columnist for PolicyMic and other publications, I made the decision last month to undertake a career hiatus and work as the Northampton County field organizer for Tom Wolf’s gubernatorial campaign.

Although I knew this would probably be a temporary position, I embraced it not only to help the Democrats nominate the strongest possible candidate for governor but also to learn more about what it’s like to work at politics at the ground level — locally, where our elected leaders have the most immediate and direct impact on our lives.

Now that the Democratic primary is over and my position with Wolf has ended, I figured it would be fun to share three observations that apply to anyone — regardless of party or ideology — for whom professional politics is his line of work.

•1. You’re surrounded by idealists.

It is a quintessentially American impulse to dismiss those who work in politics as untrustworthy scum; one could expect little else from a nation that traces its genesis to a literal Declaration of Independence from a despotic monarch. There is some truth to this assumption, of course, as any glance at our daily headlines will quickly reinforce.

At the same time, one side of our political life that doesn’t receive much attention — mainly because it doesn’t sell papers — is the fundamental decency that is prevalent among its professionals. Sure, politics has more than its fair share of scoundrels and idiots, but a surprising number of your colleagues are intelligent, well-informed, and … well, kind of noble.

What else would you call the decision to work seven days a week, often for 10-12 hour days, making a quarter of what you could conceivably make in the legal or corporate world? Yes, many of them are also ambitious (a trait hardly limited to the political arena), but just as many aren’t, and both the ambitious and the humble have chosen a low-paying workaholic lifestyle because they want to devote their careers to a cause they believe is important. Left wing, right wing, centrist or radical, these men and women are reminders that in its own quiet way, civic duty is still alive and thriving.

•2. Voter nonparticipation is your main job complaint.

While I can’t speak for all political professionals on this one, I can say without hesitation that I grew to resent nonvoters far more than the ones who simply didn’t agree with me. Although interactions with people of opposing partisan and/or candidate loyalties could be unpleasant, they were still passionately participating in the same process to which I was devoting so much of my time, energy and money.

Nonvoters, on the other hand, were the worst. They were not only more likely to be disrespectful when I contacted them or to flake after committing to volunteer (both the biggest pains insofar as the requirements of my job were concerned) but also more likely to display a self-destructive attitude.

You see, for people who work in politics, their job is at its core a numbers game –— figuring out how to make sure their candidate and party get more votes than the opponents. If a citizen told me that he or she didn’t vote, I was professionally obligated to stop concerning myself with that person’s needs and opinions since they could literally do nothing to help or hurt my candidate.

This was especially upsetting when it would be someone who was poor or suffering from some form of injustice who would directly benefit if they and others like them were more involved but who, by their own choice, were invisible to the powers that be.

•3. You develop a sense of your (infinitesimally small) place in history.

Elections do matter. In this one, for instance, Democrats are trying to oust Republican Tom Corbett, one of the most unpopular governors in the nation, despite the fact that no Pennsylvania governor has ever lost a bid for re-election.

Throughout the nation, Republicans are trying to ride a tidal wave of optimistic expectations to success in the 2014 midterm elections, while Democrats are hoping to stave off, if not reverse, Republican gains. When you get involved, you play a part in making this history, no matter how small your role might seem to be.

As Robert Kennedy famously put it: “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

Anti Big Pharma But Pro Vax

Published: GirlieGirlArmy.com (June 12, 2014)

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Liskula Cohen and Matt Rozsa

co-author: Liskula Cohen

Vaccines are a touchy subject. While the trend is turning towards being passionately against them,  others still teeter between comfort in the decision to ultimately have their children vaccinated, feeling the pros outweigh the cons. While we respect our anti-vax readers opinions, here is another perspective from a Mom you’d least expect it from. Liskula Cohen is a progressive activist, attachment parent, and vocally anti gmo/ pro plant-based eating, so when she made the decision to vaccinate her child, it wasn’t an easy one. Here’s her story;

I’ve never met Jenny McCarthy, but I’m certainly familiar with her crusade against vaccines. For better or worse, we live in a society where celebrities can develop large followings and convince millions of people to make major life decisions based on their advice. When they use that influence to spread credible information about important issues, they perform a valuable public service. On the other hand, when they push positions that have been discredited by the scientific community, they aren’t just wasting an opportunity to do good, but are being dangerously irresponsible.

Like many expectant mothers, I felt quite vulnerable when I was pregnant. Consequently, when a friend who’d had triplets told me that she blamed vaccines for causing one of her daughters to became autistic while her two sisters did not, I became afraid. Because I didn’t have any reliable statistics of my own, I began reading blog posts – too many, as it turned out. By the time my child was born and due to be vaccinated, I was scared stiff. While McCarthy herself hadn’t made me feel this way, the anti-vaccination agenda that had been largely popularized (although she has recently stopped calling it “anti-vaccine,” which I’ll address later) through her campaign had reached me through someone I trusted.

Then I did something I wish all anti-vaccination advocates would do; I looked at the science.

For one thing, I found that the entire anti-vaccine movement began with a paper published by a scientist named Andrew Wakefield in 1998. It is worth noting that a year earlier, Wakefield had filed a patent for a new measles vaccine that he hoped would replace the existing one. Despite this obvious conflict of interest, Wakefield’s article presented a study that alleged a link between the MMR vaccine and various gastrointestinal and developmental disorders (including autism). His argument has since then been completely discredited: One scholar found that Wakefield had manipulated the data used in his study; ten of the thirteen scientists who contributed to Wakefield’s paper have withdrawn their work; the journal which first published the article has since then retracted it; and an investigation launched by the UK’s General Medical Panel determined that Wakefield had not only reached his conclusions “dishonestly and irresponsibly,” but had performed tests on children that weren’t in their best clinical interest and showed “callous disregard for the distress and pain” they would suffer.

As if that hadn’t been persuasive enough, I found that the established scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that immunizations have not been linked to autism, from studies published in Public Library of Science One and The Journal of Pediatrics to the positions asserted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, many parents are predisposed to be suspicious of the scientific establishment, allowing McCarthy to continue spreading Wakefield’s erroneous message. As a result, more than 130,000 preventable illnesses have been spread since 2007, with almost 1,400 of them resulting in deaths.

Parents are encouraged to use the regular vaccine schedule, which has been approved by the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Although it has not been studied or approved by public health groups, another alternative is the Dr. Sears alternative vaccine schedule, which Sears explains is meant to alleviate the fears of parents still somewhat swayed by McCarthy’s rhetoric by spreading shots over a longer period of time. “If some of the theoretical problems with vaccines are real, this schedule circumvents most of them.” Sears writes. “If the problems aren’t real, then the only drawback is the extra time, effort, and cost for the additional doctor’s office visits.” After talking with my daughter’s pediatrician, I chose the Sears slow schedule (which she had used for her own four children), happy that I had combined my own judgment and instincts with the opinion of a qualified medical professional.

Indeed, I am hardly a shill for Big Pharm. I’m an Attachment Parent, exclusively breast fed my daughter for a year, still baby wear, and co-slept for a year. In addition to traditional medicine, I also use natural medicinal and homeopathic practices. When it comes to my daughter’s body, I rely on good common sense as much as possible. That’s why, even though I’m still somewhat nervous about vaccines, I remember that the thought of losing my daughter scares me far more.

Likula and Liv Cohen

I am not writing any of this to attack McCarthy personally. Recently she has made efforts to rehabilitate her image, such as a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed last month in which she declared that she is “in fact, ‘pro-vaccine’,” is “wrongly branded as ‘anti-vaccine’,” and – per a Time Magazine quote of hers from 2009 – is simply “demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins.” Of course, she omitted the next line of the quote from that interview, in which she declared that “If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the fucking measles.” Even though she is admitting that vaccines are important, she has yet to retract her longstanding assertion that there is a link between certain vaccines and autism… one that, it cannot be repeated enough, has not been scientifically proved.

In short, I don’t doubt that McCarthy only wants what she believes is best not only for her own children, but for children everywhere. The problem is that the science shows her inaccuracies are a public health risk. Already lives have been damaged, even lost, because of that pseudo-scientific campaign. I can’t imagine how terribly she will feel if an outbreak occurs because of people who protest, “But Jenny McCarthy said I was doing the right thing!”

Matthew Rozsa, the co-author of this piece, has autism and has written about it extensively.

The Crazy Things David Brat Believe Will Make You Wonder How He Earned His Ph.D.

Published: mic (June 12, 2014)

The man who beat Eric Cantor may have a Ph.D., but he sure doesn’t act like it.

I’m not saying this because I disagree with his political views. There are plenty of conservatives and libertarians in academia (hoary claims of ivory tower “liberal bias” notwithstanding), and while I don’t share their opinions on a multitude of subjects, we have always stressed rational debate and fact-based inquiry.

The problem with Brat is that, like so many Tea Partiers, he rejects objective realities when they clash with his partisan agenda. For instance:

1. He perpetuates the myth that the Founding Fathers created America as a Christian nation.

It’s no secret that Brat, like many on the far right, openly believes that God is on his side. Hence few were surprised that the man with the Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary made declarations like “God gave us this win” and “God acted through people on my behalf.”

More disturbing was his assertion that “faith in God, as recognized by our Founding Fathers is essential to the moral fiber of the Nation” and that Cantor needed to lose because he “failed to uphold that Creed.”

Considering that there were no well-known blemishes in Cantor’s personal life, it’s fair to assume that his alleged “failure” involves his policies, which, in turn, implies that the Founding Fathers wanted America to be governed on Christian ideals. This is a flat-out lie, as demonstrated in numerous works of indisputable scholarly authority. For those who don’t feel like checking them out, I refer you to this pair of quotes from the authors of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution:

“Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.” – Thomas Jefferson (1814)

“An alliance or coalition between Government and religion cannot be too carefully guarded against. … Every new and successful example therefore of a PERFECT SEPARATION between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.” – James Madison (1822)

2. He has misrepresented the science behind climate change.

While I couldn’t find any quotes from Brat flat-out denying anthropogenic global warming, this quote from a campaign video is pretty troubling:

“They [climate scientists] said we’re going to run out of food 200 years ago, and then we’re going to have another ice age. Now it’s, we’re heating up …”

Brat is almost certainly referring to an infamous story from a 1975 issue of Newsweek called “The Cooling World,” which quoted a handful of scientists saying they thought the Earth’s temperature was cooling instead of warming up. As the American Meteorological Society has explained, however, this was never the position of more than a handful of scientists:

“A review of the climate science literature from 1965 to 1979 shows this myth to be false. In fact, emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even then.”

Do you want to know another view that is only held by a tiny fraction of scientists? That global warming isn’t anthropogenic (97% of scientists think human beings are causing global warming).

3. He thinks Adolf Hitler could rise again because Christians aren’t aggressive enough.

Here is the full quote, courtesy of Brat’s 13-page essay in a 2011 issue of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology:

“Jesus was a great man. Jesus said he was the Son of God. Jesus made things happen. Jesus had faith. Jesus actually made people better. Then came the Christians. What happened? What went wrong? We appear to be a bit passive. Hitler came along, and he did not meet with unified resistance. I have the sinking feeling that it could all happen again, quite easily.”

I don’t even know where to begin. For one thing, his characterization of Hitler’s ability to achieve and maintain power is grossly simplistic (if for no other reason than, despite Hitler’s own views on Christianity, many Christian right-wing elements in Germany supported him).

Additionally, as the rest of the essay makes clear, Brat’s chief reason for thinking another Hitler could rise again in America is the simple fact that the state has more violent power than any individual who opposes it — a fact that applies to every sustainable government that has ever existed. Finally, there is the ludicrous notion that Christians have been historically passive. To counter that, I will close with another quote from Thomas Jefferson (with whose work Brat should definitely familiarize himself):

Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the Earth.”

Write What You Know

Published: CadyMcClain.com (June 8, 2014)

This literary aphorism may have been penned by Mark Twain, but it could have very easily been said by Cady McClain, the daytime television star (All My Children, As The World Turns, The Young and the Restless) whose memoirs, Murdering My Youth, were released on Amazon in April. Unlike many similar books published by public figures, Cady does not use this as an opportunity to indulge in celebrity gossip or promote future projects in her career. Instead she confronts a number of themes that forever simmer beneath the surface of her story – child abuse, the entertainment industry’s exploitation of young stars, female objectification – that, when they do bubble up, scald everything they touch.

While Cady isn’t the first writer to touch upon many of these subjects, her book is unique because of the degree to which it illuminates the whole by coming to an understanding of a small part. She doesn’t set out to preach or globalize her individual experiences, but simply to tell her story. It just so happens that, in the process of taking us on her own journey through memories that have “allowed me to negotiate this collective awfulness that we must sometimes call existence,” she winds up offering insights that will help her readers do the same thing.

​Take, for instance, this passage from the close of her book, where she summarizes the long-term effects of child abuse on its victims. Although lengthy, it deserves to be quoted in full:

“Adults from abusive homes do not easily trust others. We are very sensitive to criticism and have little confidence in ourselves. Our internal world generally vacillates between despair and rage. Joy peeks out sometimes with the help of alcohol or drugs, but it’s not a real joy—it’s a simulated one. It is a joy that can only exist because something is blocking the pain. Even in that state of manufactured aliveness, we are easily influenced by the ideas of others. We feel like freaks. We fear our own needs. We look to others: lovers, husbands, children, to help us change our lives or ourselves, and when they cannot we despair.”

There are many incidents of abuse to which Cady is referring here. The most heinous among them, of course, was the sexual abuse perpetrated by her father, who molested her when she was eight years old. This was naturally a formative event in Cady’s life, and she traces her evolving attempts to cope with the trauma – from confusion and defensiveness as a little girl and betrayal by her therapist to her struggles with her sexuality as a teenager and adult – with admirable candor. These sections are often uncomfortable to read (as they should be), but they are among the most courageous of her book.

​Beyond that is the abuse experienced by a little girl who was denied her own childhood. It is here that the dark side of a life spent in show business is drawn into starkest relief. We see Cady experience a grueling work schedule (and never get to keep the money earned from it), labor every day to support her emotionally unstable mother (both as a child and then, after she receives a breast cancer diagnosis, during her adulthood), and miss out on the fundamental developmental experiences that make childhood so wonderful. Even as she describes the upsides of this lifestyle – her ability to escape into the worlds of the fictional characters she got to play, to reach out to others who are as lonely as herself – one can’t shake the sense that, as such puts it so well, “Once youth is sacrificed to the movie gods, it cannot be returned.”

​Yet even many of the people most responsible for Cady’s childhood suffering aren’t robbed of all sympathy. Particularly poignant is Cady’s account of her mother’s heartbreaking ordeal after being abandoned by her father for a younger, more attractive woman. At one point, after her mother had assaulted her father’s mistress with keys in a blind rage, Cady recalls that “as my mother stood defeated and un-chosen, I had a deep pang of compassion for her. It was awful to see her so humiliated… fat and shaking and covered with blood and tears.”

​It is impossible to read this without juxtaposing it with the conditions Cady describes in show business, where women find their value inextricably tied to their beauty and are so often reduced to “shark chum.” The social standards that objectify women, which had left Cady’s mother broken and alone, had also helped Cady carve out a substantial career for herself – and yet also left her, if not broken and alone, then certainly wounded and struggling to come to grips with the meaning behind her scars.

​As the themes of child abuse and female objectification writhe and coil throughout Cady’s narrative, the importance of Twain’s earlier quote becomes clear: The story in Murdering My Youth may be specific to Cady, but its relevance is universal. Anyone who has been abused by their parents or other loved ones, regardless of the exact nature of that abuse, can understand what Cady means when she says “We feel like freaks. We fear our own needs.” No woman alive today can be insensitive to Cady’s determination, as well as that of her mother, to be viewed as a human being instead of the sum of her physical parts.

​When Twain urged authors to write what they knew, it was because he understood that the most meaningful stories are the ones that come directly from our own hearts. Murdering My Youth, ripped from the soul of its author, is exactly what he had in mind.