Sunday, April 08, 2007

Crappy scientists, take one

From Replace the Lies with Truth and Kevin's Space, I see that Paul Cameron has a new "study" out proving how the evil homosexual agenda exaggerates the numbers of gays in society and how they tend to die young. This is already being touted by Christian media and has been cited by Porno Pete's Americans for Truthiness Truth about Homsexuality. The study is crap. I'm no sociologist and even I can drive a truck through their methodology.

I want to point out here how Cameron and his son are co-opting the scientific process to give their study a veneer of validity it doesn't really deserve. Let me point out that my background is in the physical sciences, so my observations are based on that. Things may be a bit different in the sociological realm, but I doubt by much.

The noise being made by the Cameron about their study, mostly being made via press release, is in regards to "Federal Distortion of The Homosexual Footprint," a poster they presented at the 2007 convention of the Eastern Psychological Association. Their conclusion was that there are fewer gay men and lesbians over 60 that self-identify as gay, therefore they die young.

At a scientific conference there are generally three tiers of events: invited talks, regular talks, and posters. Invited talks are a fairly big deal. They're given by respected scientists, they're fairly long (usually about an hour), and there are relatively few of them. They're the most prestigious. Regular talks are given by scientists and grad students. They're shorter, perhaps fifteen minutes with five minutes for questions, so there are about five times as many of these as the invited talks. They're the bread-and-butter of scientific conferences. Now, sometimes, the authors of regular talks are asked to write their presentation up into a paper, and these are published in a proceedings. Proceedings can be cited by someone else in a scientific paper, but they're not considered good citations, because they haven't undergone peer review and are not generally as high quality as a real paper.

Posters are the lowest tier at a conference. Basically, you put your poster up in a room of about fifty other posters and stand in front of it. People walk around the room looking at posters, possibly asking questions about them. Often, poster sessions include food subsidized by a company, because otherwise, people wouldn't show up. These are invariably done by graduate students; I've never heard of anyone else presenting a poster. They're not peer-reviewed and, most of all, they're not documented or published anywhere. There's barely any evidence that the Camerons even presented this poster, let alone what it said or if anyone paid attention to it.

Here is how the press release is touting Cameron's credentials:

Paul Cameron, a reviewer for the British Medical Journal, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Postgraduate Medical Journal...

The fact that Cameron is a reviewer for these journals means nothing. It's about as prestigious as saying he's a dues-paying member of a psychological organization (which he may not be, since he's been kicked out of two of them).

The way that peer review works is that a scientist submits a paper to a journal. The editor of that journal sends the paper to two or three other people to look it over and critique it. If there are any major flaws, errors, or inconsistencies, the reviewer sends comments back to the editor, who forwards them back to the original scientist. He can then revise the paper, or respond to the commenter. Once the comments have been addressed to the satisfaction of the reviewers, the paper is them published. (I imagine this is very field-specific. Again, this is only in my experience.) Editors are usually fairly indiscriminate about who they ask to review a paper.

So the fact that Cameron's press release lists among his credentials the fact that he is a reviewer for these journals says more about his lack of esteem in the scientific community than anything.

No comments: