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: 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' ( 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: 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': 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.

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