In 2014, a team led by Columbia University Associate Professor Mark Hatzenbuehler published a groundbreaking study claiming to show that “structural stigma,” which the authors define as “communities with high levels of anti-gay prejudice,” increases the likelihood of a premature death among LGBT people. The study has now been retracted.
The researchers claimed that sexual minorities living in communities with high levels of prejudice, on average, live 12 years shorter than those living in accepting communities. The study, “Structural stigma and all-cause mortality in sexual minority populations” was re-analyzed by the original authors after renowned sociologist from the University of Texas at Austin, Mark Regnerus, published an article in the same academic journal showing that the study’s main findings failed to replicate after using ten different approaches. Regnerus’s findings proved right, and the journal Social Science & Medicine retracted the original paper.
The study showing sexual minorities living in highly prejudiced communities are more likely than others to die younger was important because this was all the evidence some needed to insist we all restructure society by reconsidering sexual identity, sexual orientation, and religious liberty. In other words, if a root cause can be found for why sexual minorities are prone to shorter lifespans, then it must be addressed urgently through sweeping legislation or other means. The faulty results Hatzenbuehler and his team produced in their research provided additional grounds for progressives to attack and undermine religious liberty.
How the Study Went Wrong
To carry out the study, Hatzenbuehler and his team relied on data from the General Social Survey (GSS) and the National Death Index (NDI). The GSS studies American culture and provides information on social attitudes and the NDI stores death records.
To evaluate prejudicial attitudes towards sexual minorities, the researchers reviewed the answers to the following questions: 1) “If some people in your community suggested that a book in favor of homosexuality should be taken out of your public library, would you favor removing this book, or not?” 2) “Should a man who admits that he is a homosexual be allowed to teach in a college or university, or not?” 3) Suppose a man who admits that he is a homosexual wanted to make a speech in your community. Should he be allowed to speak, or not?” 4) “Do you think that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex is always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?”
The researchers considered these questions “anti-gay prejudice questions” and evaluated the data gathered by the GSS and the NDI, which resulted in their key finding of a significant link between high levels of prejudice and having a shorter life expectancy.
Yet when Regnerus published findings that failed to reinforce LGBT activists’ claims, some people proceeded to attack his character and beliefs. In July 2012, Regnerus published a study showing that there are notable differences in outcomes between children raised by parents in a same-sex relationship and children raised by intact biological families. His study directly challenged the American Psychological Association’s declaration that: “Not a single study has found children of lesbian or homosexual parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relation to children of heterosexual parents.”
As a result of his research, Regnerus experienced unrelenting vilification. The academic establishment even questioned the peer-review process of the publisher. A few months later, however, the University of Texas at Austin cleared Regnerus from all the allegations.
The Strange Lack Of Coverage
Naomi Schaefer Riley, writing an opinion article for the New York Post, rightfully observed that after Hatzenbuehler and his co-authors published their study showing a link exists between anti-gay prejudice and reduced life expectancy, news coverage about it was rampant, but when Regnerus published his results directly challenging the paper’s key findings, the media did not do its due diligence in covering it.
Of course, one might expect that the mainstream media is all for the pursuit of truth and factual coverage of important news, but apparently this is not always the case. Perhaps some facts don’t fit their desired agenda, or maybe they are afraid of giving a platform to so-called “dangerous” ideas.
Although it appears Hatzenbuehler and his co-authors did not intentionally commit the error which after correction did not show the link between anti-gay prejudice and premature death to be “statistically significant”(as has been the case with other studies in recent times) it nevertheless highlights a cold truth in contemporary American culture: mainstream media only covers what it wants and what it wants the public to see.
A key takeaway from this is that it’s all too easy to accept conclusions that advance political causes. We can make that mistake as consumers of media, too. Check the evidence before you buy a conclusion.