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Why NOM threatens more than just LGBT Americans, and how their tactics might mean the downfall of a millennia old discipline

NOM Exposed Right-wing

This post was submitted as a guest piece for publication (if you’d like to submit a guest piece at any time, please e-mail it to prop8trial at couragecampaign dot org. Make sure to include a byline, any links if you have any, and a title. If you can include everything in HTML, even better).

The post comes from Bryce, who identifies himself as a PhD student at Georgetown University whose dissertation focuses on gay and lesbian politics. Thanks for the submission Bryce! -Adam

By Bryce Myers

Recently, Jeremy Hooper posted here at Prop8TrialTracker.com on the National Organization for Marriage’s (herein: NOM) use of dubious polling methods to advance their claim that the majority of Americans actually oppose marriage equality. I agree with the issues presented on the website, and there are two reasons I take issue with NOM’s history of dubious polling. (In this post, I include an open letter I have written to NOM).

Before I discuss them, however, I want to observe one key thing: NOM’s tactics offend me—not as an activist, nor as a gay man—but as a scientist. I have dedicated my life to advancing the tradition of academics in America and scholarly integrity. NOM’s recent tactics have set this project back greatly, by infusing a worthy public discourse on the purpose and nature of marriage with what some have already likened to “academic malpractice.” In short, their dishonesty in political discourse—a tactic which is more common to authoritarian regimes than to a pluralist political society—is dangerous to those who make a career of teaching politics, and to a nation which thrives on a civil, and well-informed, political society.

Another cautionary word is that I expect that, given my personal views, some would call me biased. But this is hardly a concern given that this critique is of a group which has hired a man to do their polling who is SO biased that, when asked questions about his methodology, he refers the person doing the asking to a book he has written on Mormonism and advancing the anti-LGBT cause. However biased I may be perceived to be, I will never fail to defend my claims, nor will I attempt to defend them by essentially conceding that I cannot do so and that I am, indeed, biased. My love of a tradition as old as mankind itself will not allow me to do these things.

The first way in which we can observe NOM’s reliance on subterfuge is through a Huffington Post article, which calls into question the methodology used on a poll relied upon by Deseret News in order to claim that the majority of Americans are averse to the idea of equality. Dr. Lawrence is a fixture with the National Organization for Marriage, and his polls frequently come out with very counter-intuitive results. When people seek to understand why it is that the results seem to contradict common knowledge, they usually find one of two things. First, those persons might find that Dr. Lawrence has used the know-how of one of the best educated political scientists to undermine the goals of the discipline from which he has gotten so much. In the past, he has over-sampled segments of the population which are known to be less amenable to the LGBT rights project. This engineers results which are less favorable to LGBT persons (this is explored in greater detail below). Second, those persons might find (as the Huffington Post finds) that Lawrence, and those for whom he conducts polls, will not answer questions about his methodology. This is equally detrimental to the field of political science. I have recently noticed that it shocks people to be told that, in the scientific community, it is considered a grave faux-pas (not to mention a HUGE red-flag) when someone does not divulge their polling methodology, and/or provide their data. But this should not really be surprising. One can make or break a career on the science they conduct, and others may want to make contributions based on their results. The sheer gravity of those tests, not to mention the inevitable desire—which accompanies ground-breaking research; something that every scientist aspires to accomplish—can only mean that those results must be replicable. On the first day of class, every political science graduate student learns at least one thing: empirical research is meaningless unless you make the data available for replication. And throughout her years of study, that student will hear cautionary tale after cautionary tale of people whose careers were stopped dead in their tracks because they refused to make their data available. It is for this reason that almost every professor has a “Data” section on his or her website, where their past data is available for public use; and, every professor will provide data which they have not already made so available. That Dr. Lawrence would conduct a poll and not make the data available would, within the discipline of political science, be akin to him having never done the poll at all.

Second, even if NOM’s refusal to make their polling data fair and available did not cast doubt on the validity of their findings, it would still hurt the discipline of political science. Let’s assume for the moment that the findings are fair and accurate—an assumption which no person should make in this situation. If that IS the case, then LGBT rights groups and NOM alike should both reflexively ask the same question: Why are our polls getting different results? The only way to answer this is to pore through the data. When you have polls that ask the same question, the same way, to the same people, and get two different answers you start an arduous process of analysis. You regress, cross-tab, and dissect that data six-ways from Sunday! Who answered which way? Was one group over-sampled? Under-sampled? Did the timing of the question matter? What did they have to say about other issues? The list goes on and on. But NOM did not do this. Instead, they relied on Deseret News to just say: “Here is the data, we must be right, they must be wrong.” This makes no sense and, as a result, is not particularly compelling. In order for NOM to prove that Americans are—as they claim—allergic to the idea of LGBT persons being seen as equals, they would need to go into the data and explore it in detail. They would need to make the argument, at length, that previous polls—the preponderance of which contradicts their findings—missed something SPECIFIC which NOM has since corrected. The fact that they downplay this incredibly important process of intellectual exploration (not to mention, the equally important process of validation) is depressing to someone who has pledged to spend his life passing on the tradition of higher education in our country.

And this is not the first time NOM—and Gary Lawrence—has falsified or manipulated polling data. On February 17, 2011, while I was studying at a different institution, I wrote an open letter to Brian Brown asking him to be more ethical in his polling practices. The letter (found here) made two key assertions: 1) NOM falsely claimed bias in legitimate polls—threatening those persons’ reputations—for its own personal gain, and 2) its alternative question failed to meet basic, objective, scientific standards. NOM was push-polling. Just months later, in New York, NOM released another equally flawed poll. In this poll, they sampled a small population, which is a frequent practice for people who get their desired results and want to stop further polling, lest they find out they were mistaken. For smaller samples, the confidence intervals (two numbers, which tell us between which points we may be confident in our results) shrink, meaning that it is harder and harder to be confident in our results. Indications of error become weaker and weaker with smaller samples. In addition, NOM over-sampled older Americans, which all other polls (which they were claiming to dispute) indicated were least likely to support LGBT rights. The principle is simple, if I look at Poll A, Poll B, and Poll C, and they say that all people love kittens except a certain demographic, and then I do Poll D and only ask that demographic, then I will get the opposite result. Then, I can say “people actually HATE kittens!” NOM did just this, using their engineered results to claim that the original polls were wrong; however, if those polls HAD been wrong, then NOM’s strategic sampling would have failed. Thus, far from disputing the results of existing polls, NOM actually confirmed them by using those polls’ results as a guide on how to fudge their own results.

NOM is in a precarious place. As a social movement, they are—by all objective standards—failing. A whole host of polls indicate that a vast majority of voters (even those who oppose marriage equality) consider marriage equality to be inevitable. They have suffered stunning defeats in New York where marriage equality is now legal; in California where a bill, which they had hoped to stop, missed the deadline for petitions to send the matter to the ballot; and in Courts of Appeal who have repeatedly said that they can no longer protect secret donors who seek to circumvent the stated principles of the US Constitution. And the only recent claims of victory that they can muster regard a special election for the US House of Representative, which NOT A SINGLE academic—even those opposed to marriage equality—seem to believe had much of anything to do with the NATIONAL mood toward marriage equality. How do they deal with this? Do they do what others do when their backs are against the wall, and channel it into the energy it takes to come from behind? No. They lie. They make up polls. They engineer data. They lie to the American people, they lie to their supporters, and they lie to themselves. Indeed, if the statements they have made in the past year were made under oath, then Brian Brown and Maggie Gallagher would be sporting prison jumpsuits for having committed perjury. There is no other way to say it: they have committed a sin (literally and figuratively; for a group which so frequently relies on support from the religious, one would imagine that they would be more familiar with the maxim of the Ninth Commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Lie”) in knowingly, and intentionally deceiving people. Any other way of describing their actions is merely sugar-coating reality.

But worse than their lying—which can be refuted through simple observations of the truth—they are setting back the project of teaching future generations. One must wonder if these means will justify the ends when NOM finds itself arguing, in the future, with a group of scientists who will simply falsify results to prove whatever point they may wish to make. NOM would, then, undoubtedly cry foul, but they would have no reason to do so. In this hypothetical, those individuals would only be holding themselves to the same standard to which NOM currently holds itself.

If NOM cannot make its argument honestly, then perhaps it is not an argument worth making. But I suspect that a man who offered torn families and victims of hate crimes hugs instead of help in changing the cultural milieu which produces them would never see things that way. Likewise, a woman who wrote a column claiming to have soul searched her way to wondering what role she plays in a society which looks down on gays and lesbians, only to contribute to it in a most acerbic way not more than a week later, would also probably not see the value in making an argument with integrity or not making it at all. But for the rest of us, NOM has failed to see that they must pass the limits of making a civil argument that contributes to the American democratic process, in order to do what they think is “right.” And, perhaps, no matter what twists and turns the fight for equality may take in the future, no step will be more crucial than the first step of observing that NOM has failed before it has even begun to fight. If we do not see things this way, the losers in this battle may well be those who value our American democratic process.

30 Comments

  • 1. Ann S.  |  October 26, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Thanks for the post, Bryce!

  • 2. Alan_Eckert  |  October 26, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    I always love to see a guest post now and then.

  • 3. David Henderson  |  October 26, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Brazil's Supreme Court has said that gay marriage is legal: http://www.suntimes.com/news/world/8419812-418/br

    Some of the sites I'm finding this on say that due to Brazil's political structure, the Brazilian Supreme Court's ruling is not binding on Brazil's states, just the federal government. I'm having difficulty confirming that, so I'll just put this out there with that potential caveat.

  • 4. Tasty Salamanders  |  October 26, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    Well if that Federal/State binding thing for Brazil is accurate I guess it means at the minimum that Brazil is now immune from a DOMA situation with their federal government ignoring legally preformed marriages between same-sex couples.

  • 5. Canadian JAG Officer  |  October 27, 2011 at 5:19 am

    This wasnt their Supreme Court it was an appellate court and that is why it is not binding. Their structure is different such that they dont have the same stari decisis principle for lower courts. BUT if this goes to Supreme Court (as the last case which gave civil unions did) then would be binding for the country.

    There have already been a few lower court decisions converting their civil unions to marriages and seems pretty consistant across the judiciary that their constitution guarantees marriage equality,
    and based on decision of the court regarding civil unions Id definitely bet that if or when a decision reaches their Supreme Court there will be a swift ruling in favour of marriage equality.

  • 6. Steve  |  October 27, 2011 at 6:56 am

    It's a civil law country, so lower courts aren't bound by the decision of other lower courts. They interpret the law as written. Only the Supreme Court can give binding decisions and guidance on how to interpret laws

  • 7. Ann S.  |  October 27, 2011 at 7:41 am

    Thanks @David Henderson for bringing this up and to Tasty Salamanders, Canadian JAG Officer, and Steve for illuminating comments. I'll be very interested to see what happens.

  • 8. Bob Barnes  |  October 26, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Bryce, first of all let me thank you for this brilliant piece, I hope to see more from you.

    I'm in research and have passed Dr. Lawrence's work to my colleagues where the responses have been pretty much the same. But even to the a layman, the next question on most minds is how this group of people, who say they fight for wholesome religious and moral standings, use such deceitful, underhanded tactics?

    Yep, they will lie to us about lying—begin the paradigm shift.

  • 9. Elizabeth_Oakes  |  October 26, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Because it's about power–and the lust for power creates the desire to *win* no matter what. "Lying for the Lord" is an admitted practice, often used by religious figures who crave power–a policy that says it's okay to lie to those who oppose you if it furthers your holy cause. To be fair, non-religious autocrats do the same thing (just call it "lying," I guess.)

    That's why publicly calling out lies is important, especially in the Age of the Internets–lies are easily propagated, but thankfully so is the truth. And the truth, unlike doctored polls, has legs.

  • 10. Bob  |  October 26, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Excellent article Bryce,,,, thanks for pointing out the seriousness of the situation for everyone!!!! for taking aim at their methodology,, and how it impacts the world, progress, and history,,, if we do not call them out on these issues,,, really great job,,,, NOM is failing because of it's scewed methdology,,,, we can take them to task,,, everone can become engage and aware,,,,, (Rachel Maddow, did a good job of calling them out on her show),,,, will history repeat itself ,,, or will we make NOM accountable,, and in so doing,,,, silence them…..

  • 11. Ronnie  |  October 26, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Excellent, on point piece Bryce….. ; ) ……… Subscribing & sharing….

    New Tunisian Government to Recognize 'Dignity' of Homosexuals: Gays 'Have a Right to Exist': http://www.towleroad.com/2011/10/new-tunisian-gov

    <3…Ronnie

  • 12. Philip  |  October 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Just got a note from a High school friend: "My son is doing a debate (for) the legalization of gay marriage as a college project. He needs to interview as many people effected by this debate as possible and i was wondering if he could interview you. He would not give any "identity" information if you want to remain anonymous and you do not have to answer any questions that you do not feel comfortable answering. If you are interested in participating in this and/or know anyone else that might be please let me know…"

    Anyone else interested in possibly interviewing with him either via phone/skype or email? I'm "bluprntguy" on facebook…

  • 13. Alan_Eckert  |  October 26, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I'm game. I'm one of the married folks in California. Sending you a message on Facebook.

  • 14. Ed Cortes  |  October 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    I'll contact you on FB as well – Also one of the lucky ones in CA!

  • 15. Jeff  |  October 26, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I would be willing also

  • 16. AnonyGrl  |  October 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    If he wants to talk to a New Yorker, I can tell him how things went down here in Albany when the marriage equality bill was happening.

  • 17. Rev. Will Fisher  |  October 26, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    If he wants the perspective of a clergyperson in a jurisdiction where SSM is legal he's welcome to call me.
    Rev. Will Fisher (347) 886-7352

  • 18. Mark M. (Seattle)  |  October 26, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    My husband and I would be happy to be interviewed. We'll be intouch this evening once we get home.

    Mark (and Robert)

  • 19. Chrys  |  October 26, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Sure – my lady and I were married in NY 11 days ago, but we live in PA. You didn't come up on FB when I checked, but my email is chryssalys@aol.com. Email is the best way to get hold of me, TBH.

  • 20. Karl  |  October 26, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Bryce
    Thanks a great piece

    Rachel Maddow caught them in another deception in her show yesterday in which they had photo shopped a picture of a crowd cheering Obama into a crowd cheering Brown—Its on yesterdays–Tuesdays show on MSNBC.

  • 21. Gregory in SLC  |  October 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    yea, that was awesome! @ Rachel Maddow:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCjOU3abnTM&fe

  • 22. TomTallis  |  October 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    "NOM would, then, undoubtedly cry foul, but they would have no reason to do so."

    You're being too kind. These people live in a constant state of cognitive dissonance; it's a way of life for them. The consistently and with perfectly clear consciences believe that polar opposites are both true on all types of subjects. If you point this out to them, they just look at you funny, and continue on their way. In other words, they really believe that what they're doing is spreading the truth and that their methods, which we see as dishonesty and hypocrisy, are fundamentally true, as well.

    They really believe that, even if these particular pictures are NOT of a NOM rally, that's the turnout that NOM would get if they held a rally tomorrow (it's always tomorrow).

  • 23. Elizabeth_Oakes  |  October 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Or maybe it's like the tack Harold Camping had to take after his prediction that the world would end May 21, 2011 (in case you haven't heard: it didn't)….or then again on October 21st (same.)

    See, the End Of The World wasn't a BODILY ascent into Heaven and REAL earthquakes and stuff, as Camping mistakenly preached; it was SPIRITUAL rapture and SPIRITUAL earthquakes, so the Rapture etc. actually did happen just like he said it would, but you couldn't see it. Ya just knew.

    So, NOM's crowd isn't in BODILY attendance or a REAL crowd, but in SPIRITUAL attendance with all their SPIRITUAL enthusiasm for the anti-equality cause. Problem was–Google Image searches for "spiritual attendees at hate rally" didn't bring up the desired results and NOM needed some sort of image to show what was going on, so Photoshop to the rescue! Hey, isn't science great when you need it??

    YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO PROVE NOM STOLE THE PHOTO BUT YOU CAN'T PROVE ALL THOSE PEOPLE WEREN'T SPIRITUALLY THERE (yawn)

  • 24. Ann S.  |  October 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Good one, Elizabeth!

  • 25. loaferguy  |  October 27, 2011 at 5:19 am

    As NOM Swipes Third Photo, Right Wing Allies Label Actions "Unethical"
    http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/2-as-nom-swi

  • 26. Gregory in SLC  |  October 27, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Another DOMA lawsuit:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/gay-troops

  • 27. Sam  |  October 27, 2011 at 8:46 am

    Probably smart to jump on the 1st Circuit bandwagon after Gill.

  • 28. Ronnie  |  October 27, 2011 at 8:52 am

    This is the dangerous & violent America NOM et al is creating & perpetuating……

    Brutal Assault of Gay High School Student by Bully Caught on Camera: VIDEO: http://www.towleroad.com/2011/10/ohiobully.html

    "A gay student at Union-Scioto High School in Chillicothe, Ohio was brutally beaten this week by another student for being gay. Class members watched as the bully waited for the student to arrive in the classroom, grabbed him, pushed him to the ground and punched him in the face."

    According to an email received by Towleroad from Equality Ohio, "The victim has suffered a possible concussion and dental damage. The attacker was suspended from school for just three days. "

    (me) Suspended for only 3 days?????!!!!… EXPEL THE SOCIOPATH!!!! … Maybe Maggie G's "'Marriage' Anti-decency Alliance: Pillorying & Defaming" farce can interview the violent neanderthal on why it was important to bash a human being just because that human is gay… Protect the children does not mean punch the children in the face… But you know, it is the prop H8 witnesses & supporters etc. etc. who are in "danger" <–BULLSHITE!!! … This animalistic bullying behavior should not be tolerated in a civilized society…… X I …Ronnie

  • 29. Str8Grandmother  |  October 27, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. In the comments at TowelRoad are contact phones and e-mail addresses for the Supt. of schools and The District Attorneys Office. This attack is outrageous. And as people at TR pointed out in comments, at least one student had the video rolling on the bully as he lay in wait before the poor gay student entered the classroom.

  • 30. Opinion: Regnerus Study &&hellip  |  July 26, 2012 at 10:08 am

    […] scientifically disreputable funders have very long and disgraceful histories of using falsified scientific records as part of their efforts to demonize homosexuals to the public and to motivate […]

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