Tuesday, 7 July 2009

That second adjudication in full

Right, still no announcement on the PCC's site of the second adjudication, so here it is:

http://www.mediafire.com/file/3myt0kmnndz/Adjudication 2.pdf

As before, contact details are blacked out. Also helpful might be the results of the literature review:

http://www.mediafire.com/file/g4dzrtj2ny1/Same-sex adoption - Literature review.pdf

This is name-checked in the adjudication as the 'over twenty studies' I cited - the interesting thing here is that, for all their love of context, the Commission didn't get the point of these studies in relation to my argument. It's not weight of numbers which is important, it's the lack of 'repeated academic studies' or 'an increasing weight of academic evidence', i.e. that accuracy that I'd been complaining about.

Also interesting is the claim that the newspaper cast doubts on these studies - I was never shown their criticisms, although I trust they will be weighty and peer-reviewed. The Commission also fails to note my concern that the one paper the Mail cited wasn't itself peer-reviewed, and so had roughly the same authority as the newspaper itself does.

I'd also note again that the Commission agreed that the Mail had been misleading, but not that anyone misled needed to be told that they had been. Which brings me back to the conclusion that I drew from the last adjudication - there is no point seeking correction from the PCC. Their adjudications fail to engage with the arguments which have been made, their rules flex to accommodate what has been written, their sanctions are inconsistent with their rulings.

So where now? I think we need to find more public ways of dispelling media inaccuracy, both through direct engagement on a personal level with those the media has misled but also through wider fora. The Internet is a useful tool, but no substitute for direct, participatory action - one of things that's come out of this is the need for a greater communication between interest groups, single mothers coming under the same attacks as the LGBT community from the same shoddy 'academic' data, the scientific community being smeared by the misrepresentation of their methods, religious groups having their faith hi-jacked by special interests. Introducing this blog on another site I described it as an attack on us all, and it is. We need to bring misreporting and misinformation in general into our more established criticisms of society and the state because it's causal, not symptomatic.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

PCC ruling in full

Right, in the absence of any movement on the PCC's website, I've uploaded the adjudication of the Melanie Philips complaint (which pre-dates this blog) here:


There are a couple of things to note. The first is that the complainant is the same as for the two Amanda Platell complaints - me. I apologise for the slight subterfuge previously - I didn't want this blog to prejudice the complaints with the Commission, so didn't want to make public that the author of this blog and the supplicant to the Commission were the same person. As it transpired this was slightly over-cautious, as the Commission ruled principally in the newspaper's favour anyway. I hope I can be forgiven this. The other thing is that I've blacked out the contact details of myself and the name and contact details of the person I dealt with at the Commission. Finally, the 'Esq' is not my chosen affectation, it was granted by the PCC and it seemed churlish to refuse it.

The adjudication allowed for the publication of a letter outlining my position. My proposed text was this:

http://www.mediafire.com/file/e0l0hodcmml/Proposed text of 'right to reply'.pdf

the Mail's response was this proposed text:

http://www.mediafire.com/file/ejiozw2wdwm/Mail's proposed right to reply.pdf

and the resulting letter was one originally proposed by the PCC, published today in the Mail:


Unfortunately, I don't feel I can publish the correspondence between myself and the newspaper in the earlier stages of the complaint - fun though it is. Unlike the proposed letter, it was not intended for publication and is stamped 'Private and Confidential', which I feel I should honour. I should also mention that the contact details for the correspondent at the Mail have been removed.

So where does this leave us? From my point of view, I've started to reconsider my position on the feasibility of the PCC as a forum for resistance to the inaccuracies of the Mail and print media in general. The moment came when the adjudication reached 'The column had made it clear that there was research which concluded that gay adoption did not affect children negatively'. What the column had said was, in fact, '
Such people routinely claim that research shows there are no adverse outcomes for children from same-sex adoption. These claims are totally untrue.' The PCC took a statement denying the existence of evidence to be 'making it clear' that evidence existed. Reading that rather tortuous re-imagining of the text, it strikes me that the PCC is not so much a body to hold the Press to account as one to justify their actions within the Code. It becomes a way of legitimising press coverage, rather than scrutinising it.

On that basis, a mass movement to protest at inaccuracy becomes counter-productive. The Mail continues as before to tout their single, non-peer-reviewed, partisan 'study' as evidence of a flat-earth, but now do so with the feather in their cap that an outside body has approved the accuracy of their position.

This presents a problem - how do we prevent the systematic misleading of a readership of 1.6 million people which preaches a doctrine of division within the community and seeks to harm children in care by denying them the opportunity of a stable family? I'm not at all sure I have an answer to that yet.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Damp Squib

Right, had a letter informing me of the Commission's decision - sadly not yet on their website (neither is the previous adjudication) - and it is somewhat disappointing.

In relation to Amanda's first claim, that of an 'increasing weight of academic evidence', the Commission accepts that this was misleading, but felt that the remedial action offered by the newspaper (removing the claim from the online version and noting on their library database that the claim had been challenged) was sufficient. It was not felt that anyone misled by the statement needed to be disabused of their misconceptions through a correction in the newspaper. The justification for this was:

"In the context of a comment piece - albeit that the part in dispute was a factual statement - and in circumstances where there was still debate about the academic evidence that did exist, the Commission concluded that this was a sufficient remedy to the complaint."

Which is baffling.

In relation to the second complaint:

"It was clear that the context of the piece was about adoption. Nonetheless, the disputed sentence was slightly more general, suggesting that 'repeated academic studies' showed that children fare best when they have a married mother and father in the home. This was not necessarily about adopted children only."

The disputed sentence, in context, was:

"Or how about the boss of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, David Holmes, who described as 'retarded homophobes' those who believe that heterosexual couples make the most suitable adoptive parents. This, despite the fact that most ordinary families recognise that a child fares best when it has a married mother and father in the home - a belief that is backed by repeated academic studies."

The Commission felt that it was not its position to make "an objective assessment of each piece of evidence provided by both sides" but that "it was legitimate for different people to cite certain evidence in support of their position at the expense of other evidence - particularly in the context of a comment article". On this basis, no remedial action was felt necessary. There is no appeals process.

It would appear that the plan of using the press watchdog to ensure accuracy was a little over-optimistic. The question now is whether we carry on in the hope that eventually they'll change their minds or we seek other means.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

When is a factual claim not a factual claim?

A correspondent has been in touch regarding an earlier complaint to the PCC regarding the Mail's coverage of same sex adoption. They had complained about the following passage from a column by Melanie Philips in late January:

"Such people routinely claim that research shows there are no adverse outcomes for children from same-sex adoption. These claims are totally untrue. The fact is that there are virtually no studies of children adopted by gay couples – or raised by male same-sex couples. In general, studies of same-sex child rearing are in turn extremely thin on the ground and methodologically too unsound to be authoritative." (To place children with two gay men when an adoptive mother and father are available, just to uphold a brutal dogma, is a sickening assault on family life, Daily Mail, 28th January)

The grounds for the complaint were essentially the same as for ours regarding Amanda Platell - that there are factual inaccuracies that need to be corrected.

The PPC's adjudication (not yet available online, sadly) was interesting:

"While the column had been phrased in stark terms - the journalist had made one claim which was prefaced by "the fact is", for example - the author's claims would nonetheless be recognised by readers as comment rather than unarguable fact. The columnist was entitled to present her particular views on the issue of gay adoption in robust language. Complaints about the accuracy of the columnist's claims had t be viewed in this context."

The adjudication goes on to say that the passage makes readers aware that contrary research exists (the claims which are "totally untrue") and makes claims regarding the methodological soundness of research which are obviously subjective and which would not be assumed by readers to be universally accepted. The PCC did feel that

"the bald statement that it was a 'fact' that there were 'virtually no' studies of children adopted by gay couples was questionable"

however, the newspaper offered to publish letters worded by the PCC or themselves (but not the complainant) highlighting this, and the PCC felt this was sufficient as a resolution. The Commission cited the fact that the Mail was able to point to "some evidence in support of its position", specifically the paper by Morgan, as the reason why a printed clarification would not be appropriate in this case.

This adjudication is an interesting one and I look forward to being able to link to it online. It doesn't bode well for our complaints - for one the Commission appears to be treating all claims in opinion pieces as opinions, 'the fact is' seemingly going from being a paradigmatic factual claim to being a merely subjective one purely by virtue of the page it appears on. The Commission also appears to be viewing the ability to cite anything as a sufficient reason for accepting the robustness of a claim and marking the distinction between needing to publish a clarification and being able to bury a correction on the letters page.

In light of this, while I'm still hopeful that the Commission will see assertions of 'repeated academic studies' and 'an increasing weight of academic evidence' as inaccurate and misleading, I'm no longer confident. Hopefully we will have some news from them soon.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009


So I went back to the Commission pointing out that an old and partisan review study, something by Iain Duncan Smith and a single study provided by me didn't really constitute 'repeated studies' or 'an increasing weight of academic evidence'. They decided that this wasn't something that could be resolved between myself and the newspaper, so passed it over to the actual Commission judging panel to adjudicate on. They will now review the evidence provided by both sides to decide whether the Code has been breached. I feel a bit like the WI are weighing up the merits of my jam...

Monday, 1 June 2009

The PCC reply

The PCC have been in touch regarding the two complaints made so far. To summarise:
- The Mail has argued that the second Amanda quote is not about adoption per se, but about whether the best thing for children is to be brought up in the home of a married couple.
- The Mail has previously argued that the evidence for same-sex adoption being harmless is insignificant and inconclusive, so are in hard position to argue that there is evidence that married couples are better. On that basis, they're removing the 'backed by an increasing weight of academic evidence' bit of the quote from the website and annotating their internal files to show that a challenge was lodged against this claim.
- The Mail has not denied that other studies may disagree with its position.
- Throughout they have defended the right to express opinion in an opinion piece.

The PCC representative also suggested that, should this go to the Commission, they are unlikely to rule on the persuasiveness of the evidence on either side, but merely whether the Mail can justify a claim that 'repeated studies' back its position.

Various bits of this defence are untenable. We can, for instance, proudly stand behind the Mail's right to an opinion while still feeling that they shouldn't make claims about evidence which isn't there. The assertion that Amanda's second comment was not related to same-sex adoption, despite appearing in a paragraph discussing the attitudes of an adoption charity to same-sex adoption is also very questionable, and falls foul of their earlier claims to insignificant research into same-sex adoption in the same way as Amanda's first comment did. The claim that it has not denied that other studies find in favour of same-sex adoption doesn't really help with the misleading nature of the claims.

More pressing, however, is the fact that the Mail has laid claim to 'an increasing weight of academic evidence' and 'repeated studies' which I have not been able to find. The Mail have cited, as predicted, Patricia Morgan and, unexpectedly, Iain Duncan Smith. These do not constitute 'repeated studies' (Morgan is definitely a review piece, devoted mainly to undermining cherry-picked same-sex research, I doubt Duncan Smith was doing primary research), nor 'an increasing weight of academic evidence'.

I'm going to have a think, because removing the inaccurate claims from the online version is nice, although I'm not sure that this goes far enough. It doesn't correct the misconceptions picked up by readers of the original columns, and it doesn't prevent the Mail from repeating them the next time I'm not looking. The one worry would be that the PCC would look at Morgan and Duncan Smith and decide that its place is not to decide on the quality of the evidence, merely whether the Mail had any at all. That would risk giving the Mail a licence to repeat the claims with no come-back from the scientific community, which would not be ideal.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

So, those studies...

You will recall that we were basing our assertion that Amanda Platell was misleading and factually incorrect (twice) on a review by the American Psychological Association in 2005 on the existing literature on same-sex adoption which concluded:
"Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents."

We mentioned at the time the possibility that there may have been a paradigm shift in research since the publication of this report leading to a flurry of evidence contrary to this conclusion. You may have been concerned that you would complain to the PCC on the basis of information which turns out to be out of date.

It's a sensible concern, so let's resolve it together (check your tea-bag reserves now, this will take a while). Were there to be a shifting of academic plates leading to research findings of negative outcomes for adopted children of same-sex couples, we would expect to see papers published in peer-reviewed academic journals. So, if we looked at the electronic repositories of the major academic journal publishers for papers published on same-sex, homosexual, gay or lesbian adoption in the last 5 years, then sifted through the abstracts of the papers we found for relevant research, we would expect to find papers showing these negative outcomes.

Listed at the end of this post are the addresses of the electronic repositories for Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, Taylor and Francis/Routledge, Sage, Project MUSE (a collection of small, independent publishers), OUP, CUP and the Nature Publishing Group, plus the independently published Pediatrics, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and BMJ and for PubMed, which lists research funded by the US National Institutes of Health. Between them, these repositories cover nearly 8,000 academic journals in the medical and social sciences, humanities and professions. If we cannot find studies reporting negative outcomes for children adopted by same-sex couples here, we can be fairly sure that any there are do not have the support of mainstream academia.

I encourage you to do this at home. As a tip, save CUP and OUP for when you're in a good mood, because their websites are rubbish. Don't try Taylor and Francis' unless you have some time free either, they publish an endoscopy journal seemingly contributed to solely by a French author with the surname 'Gay'. Unless I'm doing things badly wrong, your findings should resemble this:
  • There has actually been fairly little new research in this area since the APA's 2005 report. This is not really surprising - why look at a question that has already been answered, particularly when there's the whole question of smoking in gay and lesbian communities to look at? (Seriously, there is lots of research on same-sex smoking.)
  • There are about nine pieces of new investigative research published across the journals surveyed, with 7 being broadly positive, one being a study by Cameron which reported higher incidences of homosexuality in adoptees of same-sex couples (so is neither positive nor negative and comes with the Paul Cameron health warning) and one which was negative.
  • There are about nine reviews of the existing literature, all of which conclude that there are no negative outcomes for children of same-sex couples.
The negative study is Sirota (2009) Adult Attachment Style Dimensions in Women Who Have Gay or Bisexual Fathers Archives of Psychiatric Nursing doi:10.1016/j.apnu.2008.08.005, which concluded that "Women with gay or bisexual fathers were significantly less comfortable with closeness and intimacy less able to trust and depend on others and experienced more anxiety in relationships than women with heterosexual fathers". This is an interesting finding which deserves attention, as it directly contradicts Wainright and Patterson (2008) Peer Relations Among Adolescents With Female Same-Sex Parents Developmental Psychology 44:117-126 (who found no difference between attachments for same-sex and different-sex adoptees when they were adolescents), as well as research on attachment with parents which shows no difference between family-types (e.g. Erich et al. (2009) An empirical analysis of factors affecting adolescent attachment in adoptive families with homosexual and straight parents Children and Youth Services Review 31:398-404).

It is worth noting, however, that one study, in addition to the 'no evidence' prior to May 2004 constitutes neither an 'increasing weight of academic evidence' nor 'repeated academic studies', even were it uncontested. Accepting this study as genuine and interesting, it does not change the opinion that Amanda was both misleading and factually inaccurate. It is also worth noting that 7 positive studies in the last five years do constitute and 'increasing weight of academic evidence' and 'repeated academic studies' contrary to Amanda's position, underscoring the misleading nature of her statements. Rather than there being increasing evidence of harm to children from same-sex adoption, what evidence there is becomes more anomalous and doubtful as time goes on.

If you weren't happy complaining to the PCC on the back of evidence from the APA in 2005, that evidence is the same today. Amanda is inaccurate and misleading, and her readers need to have her statements corrected.
Elsevier – Science Direct (http://www.sciencedirect.com/) [over 2,500 journals]
Springer – Springerlink (http://www.springerlink.com/home/main.mpx) [2099 journals]
Wiley – InterScience (http://www3.interscience.wiley.com) [1,870 journals]
Taylor and Francis/Routledge – Informaworld (http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/home~db=all) [900 journals]
Sage – Sage Online (http://online.sagepub.com/) [520 journals]
Project MUSE (http://muse.jhu.edu/) [400 journals]
CUP – Cambridge Journals online (http://journals.cambridge.org/action/login;jsessionid=252D3BAEEC8D14AC7216973F22A85F6D.tomcat1) [230 journals]
OUP – OUP Journals (http://www.oxfordjournals.org/) [200 journals]
Nature Publishing Group (http://www.nature.com/) [100 journals]
Palgrave McMillan (http://www.palgrave-journals.com/pal/index.html) [80 journals]
Pubmed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/)
Proceedings of the (US) Academy of Sciences (http://www.pnas.org/)
Pediatrics (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org)
BMJ (http://www.bmj.com/)

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Amanda Platell - closer, but still incorrect

This is a repost, as I realised I was lacking the crucial context which turned Amanda's comment from one about marriage into one about same-sex adoption. The quote is from "Equality? You must be joking! As watchdogs say it's OK to sneer at men (but not women) in adverts" (21st May), and fails on our previous tests of misleadingness and accuracy:

"Or how about the boss of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, David Holmes, who described as 'retarded homophobes' those who believe that heterosexual couples make the most suitable adoptive parents. This, despite the fact that most ordinary families recognise that a child fares best when it has a married mother and father in the home - a belief that is backed by repeated academic studies"

Show us the studies. Or, better still, show them to the PCC.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Your PCC Complaint and You

So, you've put in your complaint, what happens next?

The PCC aims, wherever possible, to resolve complaints through amicable compromise. In practice, this involves avoiding adjudicating itself wherever possible (here are the most recent stats on complaints: http://www.pcc.org.uk/statistics/101112_05.html) while the newspaper seeks to avoid publicly having to retreat from its position by offering a series of alternatives short of adjudication.

The first stage of this will be the PCC passing your complaint on to the newspaper for comment. Given that the newspaper knew it had to keep to the Code, but still printed misleading or inaccurate information in the first place, this comment is likely to be 'we don't think we've broken the Code'. You are then invited to comment on this, to see whether you now accept that your complaint was groundless. This is your opportunity to expand on your complaint, explaining in detail just where you think the newspaper went awry.

1. The quote was misleading

If we're playing safe, this is where we start with Amanda's quote. The quote, if we recall, was this:
"I just happen to believe that vulnerable children face the best possible life-chances when they are adopted by married heterosexual couples - a view backed by an increasing weight of academic evidence."

This is misleading primarily because it decontextualises the evidence in question - reading it as it is, you could reasonably suppose that the trend in the academic evidence was for findings supporting Amanda's view and that this position was continually getting stronger. If this is the case, we should be very interested in why it is so hard to find this evidence and why it doesn't seem to have persuaded any academic body, non-religious adoption charity or the Government. We can fairly challenge that this is not the case - in the APA paper previously cited, the conclusion read
"In summary, there is no evidence to suggest that lesbian women or gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of lesbian women or gay men is compromised relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents. Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents."

Unless this was very wrong, or a lot of water has passed under the bridge since 2005 (which the APA has not seen fit to acknowledge), Amanda's implication that the evidence against same-sex adoption is strong is a misleading one.

2. The claim is actually factually incorrect

If we're feeling a little braver, we can ask the Mail where it thinks this negative evidence is.

2.1 Patricia Morgan
At some point, it is likely that 'UK sociologist' Patricia Morgan will be introduced. Dr. Morgan wrote a report in 2002 called 'Children as Trophies' (http://www.christian.org.uk/pdfpublications/childrenastrophies.pdf) in which she reviewed available evidence at the time and found it wanting. As you may have guessed from the web address, this is not the strongest piece of academic research - it's a position paper from a special interest group who, it is clear from the foreword, were not inspired by a lusty desire for truth but more a confirmation of previously held beliefs. It is not peer-reviewed, is directly contradicted by the American Academy of Pediatrics in the same year, and was written not by a tenured academic by an employee of a think-tank (she worked for the Centre for Policy Studies from 1978-1989 and is currently with Civitas and the Institute for Economic Affairs. The internet also appears to suggest that at some point she was a visiting professor at the University of Buckingham, although not at the time of this paper). Arguably then, she is no more academic than any other wandering talking head or researcher. The status of her work as 'academic', particularly if the Mail offers the 2002 paper, can be questioned.

2.2 Paul Cameron
Paul Cameron is the one researcher I've come across who reliably finds that same-sex adoption is harmful. His work is critiqued here: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_cameron_sheet.html. Fun though it is, his research has been disowned by the academic community, as in this quote from the American Sociological Association:
"The American Sociological Association officially and publicly states that Paul Cameron is not a sociologist, and condemns his consistent misrepresentation of sociological research."
While not unprecedented, learned societies are not in the habit of excommunicating members of the academic community. The status of Paul Cameron's work as 'academic' can be questioned.

Beyond these two names, I'm not sure where this Amanda-supporting research is. I think it's probably fair that we ask, given its somewhat unexpected nature. If the Mail tells you, please post it as a comment, so we can all look into it.

From there you will hit another round of responses from the newspaper as they try to find support for their position and find a compromise to satisfy the PCC. This will probably start with the offer to annotate their files with your concern, so that the problem does not arise again (the first of the PCC's 'resolutions': http://www.pcc.org.uk/cases/index.html). Given that, at this point, the newspaper is likely to still be denying being in the wrong, such a solution is a poor resolution as the newspaper's annotation is unlikely to understand or reflect your objection. This innaccuracy needs to be corrected, which means a published letter of correction from yourself or a public adjudication by the PCC.

Please keep in touch via the comments. Unlike the Mail, we haven't got previous experience of complaining to the PCC, but by pooling our resources we should be a match for them.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Don't Get Mad, Get Accuracy - Complain to the PCC

The UK Daily Mail has rightly been concerned at the personal attacks that have been levelled at its columnists following their objection to the right of same-sex couples to adopt children. This blog exists for the sole purpose of preventing such unwarranted abuse by encouraging a more constructive approach to the newspaper's opposition to civil rights for all.

The following are true:
1. The evidence shows that gays and lesbians make as good parents as straight couples do. This is the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics (when it last looked in 2002), the American Psychological Association (since 2005), the British Association for Adoption and Fostering and the overwhelming weight of peer-reviewed research.
2. While the position is not unanimously held (almost no scientific position is held unanimously by the scientific community), the finding of equality is sufficiently robust and well supported across studies that we can be confident in it.
3. The Press Complaints Commission Code requires that newspapers clearly separate fact from opinion, and that they are factually accurate.
4. The UK Daily Mail regularly published op-ed pieces stating that gays and lesbians do not make as good parents as straight couples, and that the weight of academic evidence supports this.
5. The UK Daily Mail regularly encourages its readers to complain complaints bodies to protest at the broadcast of television shows which they have not seen.

On the basis of point four, many in the civil rights community have sought to attack the Daily Mail. This approach is short-sighted. Instead, point 5 should be our guide. In short, we shouldn't get mad, we should get accuracy by complaining to the PCC.

The movement starts with Amanda Platell's column of this morning ('Insults that betray the bigotry of gay zealots', Daily Mail, 16th May 2009), in which she states:
"I just happen to believe that vulnerable children face the best possible life-chances when they are adopted by married heterosexual couples - a view backed by an increasing weight of academic evidence"
Amanda is factually incorrect in claiming that this view is backed by and increasing weight of academic evidence - there is very little evidence and it tends to be pseudo-academic, published outside peer-reviewed journals and against the principles of unbiased investigation which inspire the academy. To use this to support her prejudices in this way misleads her readers and risks damaging the adoption prospects of children up and down the country.

If this makes you mad, get accuracy - complain to the PCC today.
Links and References:

The PCC - http://www.pcc.org.uk/cop/practice.html
The APA - http://www.apa.org/pi/parent.html
The AAP - http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/109/2/339
The BAAF - http://www.baaf.org.uk/media/releases/090507.shtml