Showing posts with label Gay Scientist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay Scientist. Show all posts

May 20, 2015

Scientists Debunked Largest Anti Gay Study


When Social Science Research published a study called “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study” back in 2012, it sparked immediate controversy. The author, Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, examined a large, nationally representative data set of adults who were raised in various types of families, and came to the conclusion that adults who grew up in a household with a gay or lesbian parent (or both) were more likely to have been sexually abused, more likely to have attempted suicide, and more likely to have had a sexually transmitted diseases — among other negative outcomes — as compared to those who were members of intact biological families (IBF).
The study incited such a fierce response in part because it ran contrary to so much past research — since 2004, the American Psychological Association has held that there are no meaningful differences, from a child’s point of view, between having gay and straight parents — and in part because Regnerus used his academic perch to provide expert testimony against same-sex marriage, most notably in defense of the Michigan same-sex-marriage ban that was later struck down.
Researchers began picking away Regnerus’s methodology shortly after the study was published — among other criticisms, some claimed that the “children of gay and lesbian couples” in his study had actually, in many cases, spent a chunk of their childhood being raised in IBF settings. The Human Rights Campaign even set up a website,, devoted solely to highlighting perceived flaws in the study, and eventually Social Science Research, responding in part to pressure from activists and academics, published the results of an audit highlighting serious flaws with it.
Now, almost three years after the study was first released, two researchers have conducted what they say is the most comprehensive yet reevaluation of it: They’ve gone back to the raw data and reexamined — and, they say, fixed — every step of Regnerus’s analysis. Simon Cheng of the University of Connecticut and Brian Powell of Indiana University say that their results, published recently in the journal that ran the original study, show that Regnerus made extremely questionable assumptions and committed elementary “data-cleaning” mistakes. When these mistakes and assumptions are accounted for, they say, the number of meaningful differences observed between adults who grew up with gay and straight parents drops to just about zero.
“What we found was actually quite astonishing,” Powell told Science of Us. Many of the details here skew a bit toward the wonky side, but this table, perhaps, sums up Powell and Cheng’s problem with Regnerus’s approach most concisely:

The table accounts for all 236 of the adult children of gay parents Regnerus analyzed. What’s notable, as Cheng and Powell point out, is that about a third of the sample report having spent four years or less living with a gay parent. The authors note that one can quibble over what it means to be “raised” by a parent, but surely living with them a year or less doesn’t qualify, and surely living with them for four years is pushing it. And Regnerus isn’t claiming to be studying children who have a gay parent (or parents), anyway, but rather, in his own words, those who “were raised by” them. “A high proportion of the gay and lesbian families that he thought he was analyzing” didn’t actually fit in this category, said Cheng.

Regnerus also included a bunch of other questionable cases in his analysis, Cheng and Powell point out: folks whose responses to the survey items were nonsensical. There were nine of them — the 25-year-old guy who said he “was 7-feet 8-inches tall, weighed 88 pounds, was married 8 times and had 8 children,” for example, and another, apparently very delinquent respondent “who claims to have been arrested at age 1.” It’s standard practice to “clean up” data by removing these sorts of cases before doing any analysis — it’s one of the first skills one is taught when learning the basics of statistical analysis, in fact — and Regnerus failed to do so. These sorts of bizarro responses “happen with all surveys,” said Powell, but even a small handful of them can “have great meaning when you’re dealing with a very small subsample” like adults raised by gay parents.

I emailed Regnerus to see if he wanted to respond to Cheng and Powell’s criticism, and our correspondence was a bit strange. First, he said that “removing questionable cases does nothing to the original analytic conclusions, and the authors say so: ‘… these adjustments have minimal effect on the outcomes ... these corrections actually increase the number of significant differences …’” But those quotes are from the part of the paper where Cheng and Powell go through, one by one, the seven steps they took to correct the data — they’re saying that step two didn’t, on its own, change their results, not that fixing the data overall had minimal effects (a quick glance at the abstract makes it clear that the authors are arguing that mistakes and misclassifications by Regnerus did, in fact, lead him to questionable conclusions). When I pressed him on this a little, Regnerus replied, “My mistakes were limited to the inclusion of a handful of oddball cases,” adding, “I was very clear about how I classified respondents."
The problem is that Regnerus is trying to have it both ways. When he’s testifying in support of bans on same-sex marriage, he presents himself as someone who has studied the effects of “being raised by” a gay parent, and who has found that it can lead to sorry outcomes. But when nudged to confront his methodology, he shrugs and effectively says, Yeah, I counted someone who lived with their lesbian parent for less than a year as being raised by a gay parent. What of it?
Powell and Cheng, as is probably clear by now, don’t buy this. “If he were one of my students I’d make him redo the paper,” said Cheng.  

June 10, 2014

Can Machines Think? Gay Scientist Alan Turing asked that question in 1950

Portrait of Alan Turing from archive of papers relating to the development of computing at the National Physical Laboratory between the late 1940s and the early 1970s. Includes material on Pilot ACE, ALGOL, Alan Turing etc. 74 boxes + 1 envelope.  CREDIT: Science Museum, London/SSPL
Alan Turing from archive of papers relating to the development of computing at the National Physical Laboratory between the late 1940s and the early 1970s. (Science Museum, London/SSPL)
In 1950, famed London scientist Alan Turing, considered one of the fathers of artificial intelligence, published a paper that put forth that very question. But as quickly he asked the question, he called it “absurd.” The idea of thinking was too difficult to define. Instead, he devised a separate way to quantify mechanical “thinking.”
“I shall replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words,” he wrote in the study that some say represented the “beginning” of artificial intelligence. “The new form of the problem can be described in terms of a game which we call the ‘imitation game.’”
What he meant was: Can a computer trick a human into thinking it’s actually a fellow human? That question gave birth to the “Turing Test” 65 years ago.
This weekend, for the first time, a computer passed that test.
“Passing,” however, doesn’t mean it did it with flying colors. For a computer to pass the test, it must only dupe 30 percent of the human interrogators who converse with the computer for five minutes in a text conversation. In the test, it’s up to the humans to separate the machines from their fellow sentient beings throughout their five-minute inquisition. (Gizmodo has a pretty good breakdown of how the test works.)
This go-round, a Russian-made program, which disguised itself as a 13-year-old boy named Eugene Goostman from Odessa, Ukraine, bamboozled 33 percent of human questioners. Eugene was one of five supercomputers who entered the 2014 Turing Test.
“We are proud to declare that Alan Turing’s Test was passed for the first time on Saturday,” declared Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading, which organized the event at the Royal Society in London. “In the field of Artificial Intelligence there is no more iconic and controversial milestone than the Turing Test, when a computer convinces a sufficient number of interrogators into believing that it is not a machine but rather is a human.”
There is some cause for concern, however. For starters, convincing one-third of interrogators that you’re a teenager who’s speaking in a second language perhaps skews the test a bit. Was the computer that smart? Or was it a gimmick?
And then there is the concern that such technology can be used for cybercrime.
“The Test has implications for society today,” Warwick said in a university news release. “Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone, or even something, is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cybercrime. . . . It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true . . . when in fact it is not.”
Indeed, if the optimism of Eugene’s programmers is any guide, we may be headed for a scenario not dissimilar to “Her” — the 2013 blockbuster that depicted a complex man falling in love with his computer.
“Going forward we plan to make Eugene smarter,” Vaselov said, ”and continue working on improving what we refer to as ‘conversation logic.’ ”
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