July 1, 2008

From Russia With Hate: Paul Cameron @ Moscow State U. Sociology Dept.

Posted at 9:35 am (Pacific Time)

  • Take one US antigay activist who happens to have earned a Ph.D. in psychology and has been denounced by major professional associations of psychologists and sociologists in his home country and Canada.
  • Add one Russian university department where the training is substandard, the faculty don’t publish in their field’s academic journals, the dean has been charged with plagiarism, and xenophobia is encouraged in students’ work.
  • Combine and season with dubious research findings published in a low-prestige academic journal.

That’s the recipe for Paul Cameron’s recent visit to the Sociology department of Moscow State University. It was a seemingly perfect match, teeming with possibilities for public pronouncements based on junk science and chock-full of sexual prejudice.

And it didn’t disappoint. Press service dispatches from Russia suggest that Cameron has found a highly receptive audience for his antigay rants

Before considering Cameron’s statements, let’s revisit those ingredients.

Ingredient #1: Moscow State University’s Troubled Sociology Department

Last year, MSU students organized to combat their Sociology department’s eroding teaching standards and repressive living conditions. They issued an open call for support on their website that listed a variety of grievances and concerns:

We, a group of students of the Sociology Department at Moscow State University, have asked the department’s administration to improve the quality of teaching, stop force-feeding us with ultranationalist propaganda, and ensure acceptable conditions of life and study. In response to our demands, the administration has stepped up repressive measures: Friends who were distributing leaflets have been arrested by the police; individual students have been threatened; and the dean’s office and a servile student’s committee have written a letter to the rector (president) of the university asking to clamp down on any unapproved student protest actions, campaigns, or meetings on campus. All this is part of an attempt to muzzle us and create a wall of silence to conceal the dramatic state of affairs at the department.

In recent years, lectures at the department have become ever more insipid and formal exercises. The administration has cut the number of seminars and practical classes. We are allowed to take ever fewer course units in neighboring disciplines. We are hardly ever given the opportunity to attend talks by outside lecturers. Exam questions are limited to the contents of a textbook authored by the dean.

The dean’s office has distributed a brochure to all students which approvingly quotes the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” blames Freemasons and Zionists for the world wars, and claims that they control US and British policy and the global financial system….

A March 19, 2007, NY Times article reported that the University had created a commission to investigate the students’ accusations. According to the students’ web site, that commission was highly critical of the department, finding that the level of training for students was substandard, that the faculty does not publish research in major sociology journals and is largely isolated from the field of sociology, and that the main textbook used in the department (authored by the department’s own dean/chairman) is unsatisfactory and includes multiple instances of plagiarism. The commission also noted that some graduate students’ work included ideological expressions of bigotry against other cultures.

Ingredient #2: Paul Cameron, Antigay Activist and Discredited Psychologist

Most readers of this blog are already familiar with Paul Cameron, who holds the dubious distinction of having been castigated by the major professional societies of two different disciplines:

  • In 1984, the American Psychological Association informed its members that “Paul Cameron (Nebraska) was dropped from membership for a violation of the Preamble to the Ethical Principles of Psychologists” by the APA Board of Directors.
  • Later that same year, the Nebraska Psychological Association adopted a resolution stating that it “formally disassociates itself from the representations and interpretations of scientific literature offered by Dr. Paul Cameron in his writings and public statements on sexuality. Further, the Nebraska Psychological Association would like it known that Dr. Cameron is not a member of the Association.”
  • In August, 1996, the Canadian Psychological Association adopted a policy statement that said, “The Canadian Psychological Association takes the position that Dr. Paul Cameron has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism and thus, it formally disassociates itself from the representation and interpretations of scientific literature in his writings and public statements on sexuality.”

Combine and Stir Well: Cameron In Moscow

As Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin reported on June 16,

Paul Cameron, of the Family “Research” Institute …. is in Moscow, where tomorrow he will speak at Moscow State University on a panel called “Social norms and prospects of development of society.”…  Cameron will be spreading his discredited “research” to Russia, where he remains an unknown quantity. There, he will speak on “Homosexuality and the demographic problem.”

Indeed, Cameron appears to have found a receptive audience in Moscow. According to an Interfax-Religion News Service report, headlined “The Number of Drunken Drivers and Tax Evaders Among Homosexuals is Twice as Much – Expert“:

The number of drug-addicts and drunken drives among representatives of sex minorities twice exceeds the same figure among heterosexuals, director of the American Family Research Institute Paul Cameron believes.

“The number of those who use alcohol, heavy drugs and drink behind the wheel is twice as much among homosexuals. Besides, homosexuals twice more often evade taxes,” Dr. Cameron, who studied phenomenon of homosexuals for 40 years, said in the round table in Moscow.

He cited his institute’s research proving that representatives of sexual minorities of both sexes changed partners more frequent than heterosexuals. The number of those who suffer from venereal diseases among homosexuals is also much bigger.

Cameron also told about recent research of the degree of everyday risks for homosexuals and heterosexuals conducted by the Canadian government. The research showed that the number of homosexuals exposed to the risk to be murdered or violated, which includes home violence, is twice as much as among heterosexuals. The expert stressed that Canada officially permitted homosexual “marriages.”

Another Interfax dispatch that same day reported Cameron’s belief that “Almost all homosexuals are victims of fashion or sexual violence in childhood.”

[Note: I believe the Interfax translation went wrong here. From what I know of Cameron’s rhetoric, I suspect he said something to the effect that many people become homosexual because they are influenced by society’s current norms that allow for (limited) acceptance of sexual minorities, not that they are fashion victims, as the news agency’s dispatch suggests.]

And the report indicated that Cameron had endorsed the Moscow mayor’s repressive actions against free speech by gay rights groups:

He urged Russians to back up such politicians as Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov who opposed gay parade in Moscow. Cameron also finds it joyful that representatives of the sociology faculty of the Moscow State University showed interest to his institute’s research and plan to conduct similar independent analysis.

“The USA needs your help. We want Russia to say strong “no” to homosexuality. American government groundlessly ignores our scientific research data. The West is rich, but this particular situation makes it die,” the researcher said.

Seasoning: Cameron’s “Research” Findings

As is generally true of Cameron’s statements about homosexuality and sexual minorities, the comments reported by Interfax are so full of falsehoods, junk science, and outright bigotry that a point-by-point rebuttal would be a Herculean task — not unlike cleaning out the Augean stables. Because many of those comments echo “findings” he reported in a 2005 paper published in Psychological Reports, I’ll note a few problems with that paper.

[Note: As explained on my web page, Psychological Reports is Cameron’s main publishing outlet. It is a low-prestige academic journal that is distinguished from most other journals in the behavioral and social sciences by its policy of charging authors to publish in it.]

In the article, Cameron claimed to have reanalyzed data from the 1996 National Household Survey of Drug Abuse (NHSDA), using a publicly available version of the data on the webite of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). The website also permits users to conduct simple data analyses, which Cameron’s article says he used.

One big concern about the article has to do with the numbers Cameron reported. I’m not confident that they actually match those in the NHSDA data set. He reported that 176 respondents had engaged exclusively in same-sex sexual conduct during the previous year. However, a 2000 paper published in the American Journal of Epidemiology — authored by UCLA Profs. Susan Cochran and Vickie Mays — used the same data set and reported that the sample included 135 people who said they’d had only same-sex sexual partners during the previous 12 months. I used the same on-line NHSDA statistical tools that Cameron said he’d used and I obtained results essentially the same as those of Cochran and Mays. Given the extensive track record of Profs. Cochran and Mays in analyzing data of this type, and their publication of these and other national survey data in prestigious academic journals, I’m inclined to trust their results over Cameron’s. Just where Cameron found his “extra” 41 respondents isn’t clear.

Another numbers-crunching concern is that Cameron analyzed the data by simply cross-tabulating various behaviors (e.g., drug use) by sexual behavior category. This approach ignores the complex relationships among key variables. In the 1996 NHSDA data set, for example, age, income, and employment status are correlated both with males’ same-sex behavior and with their use of an illegal substance. Much of the association between sexual conduct and drug use may be accounted for by these and other variables. Cameron’s article, however, didn’t use statistical methods that would control for these correlations and, consequently, couldn’t take into consideration the whole array of variables that might influence behavior.

Even if Cameron’s numbers were accurate, it’s important to remember that the NHSDA included no questions about whether the respondents considered themselves to be gay, straight, or bisexual. Rather, participants were asked whether their recent sexual partners were male, female, or both. Thus, the data set addresses sexual behavior, not sexual orientation. Although the two are certainly correlated, it’s not accurate to equate behavior and identity. In the previously mentioned American Journal of Epidemiology article, for example, Profs. Cochran and Mays estimated that as many as one third of the NHSDA respondents who reported at least one instance of same-sex behavior wouldn’t self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Yet another limitation to the article’s credibility is the consistent antigay spin in Cameron’s interpretation of the findings. This is even more evident when we consider how he presented differences between Blacks and Whites in the same data set. According to the data tables in his Psychological Reports article, Blacks were more likely than Whites to report recent illegal drug use, involvement in prostitution, being on parole, injecting drug use, cocaine use, multiple problems related to alcohol use, having sex outside an ongoing relationship in the past year, more sexual partners, family members on welfare, and absence from work in the past 30 days. Rather than assert that Blacks pose a risk to society — a claim too preposterous even for Cameron — he allowed that the differences he observed between Blacks and Whites in the NHSDA sample could be attributed to the effects of racial discrimination.

Using Cameronesque logic, he then concluded that the differences between same-sex and different-sex groups couldn’t be explained as the result of antigay discrimination because they didn’t parallel the differences between White and Black respondents. That is, respondents reporting same-sex contact didn’t match Blacks on all of the variables listed above.

If the Interfax dispatch is accurate about Cameron’s use of the Canadian data, his antigay spin becomes even more obvious.

Presumably, he was referring to the 2008 Statistics Canada report, Sexual Orientation and Victimization 2004. It noted that the 2004 Canadian General Social Survey on victimization inquired about respondents’ sexual orientation for the first time, following Parliament’s amendment of the criminal code to include sexual orientation as an identifiable characteristic for protection from hate crime victimization. The survey found that sexual minorities experienced higher rates of violent victimization and discrimination than did heterosexuals.

While a reasonable person would understand these data to mean that sexual minorities are the targets of discriminatory attacks, Cameron interprets them as showing that sexual minorities — not the perpetrators of antigay violence — are the problem. This is consistent with his endorsement of Moscow’s Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who has repeatedly denied gay groups the right to publicly demonstrate, saying such marches are “satanic” and referring to same-sex relationships as “a deadly poison for children.”

Recipe For Hate

Cameron has unsuccessfully sought credibility in the US as a researcher for at least the past quarter century. The rogue Sociology Department at Moscow State University — with its low academic standards and atmosphere of repression and xenophobia — seems like the perfect place for him to land.

Sadly, his approach to “research” may well catch on there, subjecting Russia’s sexual minorities to even more hostile stereotypes than they currently face, with the added scientific veneer that Cameron’s spouting of bogus statistics can provide.

And sadly, for those of us in the United States, Cameron probably won’t stay in Russia but will instead return home to Colorado Springs and continue to foist his half-baked ideas on the American public.

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Thanks to Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin for many background resources related to this post.

For more information about the Moscow State University Sociology Department and its Dean, Vladimir Dobrenkov, see Richard Bartholomew’s June 21 post at Talk to Action and his March 25 (2007) post to Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion.

For more about Paul Cameron’s Moscow visit (and about Cameron in general), see Jim Burroway’s posts at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Further reading:

Beauchamp, D.L. (2008). Sexual orientation and victimization 2004. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Available at: http://www.statcan.ca/bsolc/english/bsolc?catno=85F0033M2008016

Cameron, P., Landess, T., & Cameron, K. (2005). Homosexual sex as harmful as drug abuse, prostitution, or smoking. Psychological Reports, vol. 96 (#3), pp. 915-961.

Cochran, S. D., & Mays, V. M. (2000). Relation between psychiatric syndromes and behaviorally defined sexual orientation in a sample of the US population. American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 151 (#5), pp. 516-523.

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.