1983 ISIS Survey

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The 1983 ISIS Survey was a survey conducted by the Institute for the Scientific Investigation of Sexuality, a Christian self-styled research organization that campaigns against LGBT rights, under the leadership of APA-expelled psychologist Paul Cameron, in an attempt to "expose" what Cameron felt were insidious going-ons among homosexuals. The survey asked a series of questions regarding sexual and social practices to 4340 people; only 65 of the people surveyed claimed to be homosexual/lesbian or bisexual. According to Cameron, his findings supported his hypothesis that homosexuality is a deviant lifestyle that encourages sexual perversion and crime. These results are inconsistent with scientific research on the subject, and have not been accepted by the scientific community because of Cameron's poor methodology and bias.

Cameron's study claimed to find that homosexuals were extremely promiscuous, that they engaged in sexual practices he found personally distasteful, and that they averaged a very short lifespan. While some research has found that gay men have more sexual partners than straight men (other research has not), Cameron's figures were over five times those found in other studies, and while some research has found that gay men do not live as long as straight men, this research is out of date due to the spread of safer sex practices and HIV treatments, and its authors have rejected its use for political purposes. Cameron's study also claimed to find that most mass murders and a disproportionate number of child molestations were committed by homosexuals, a claim which is not in any way supported by scientific research. Cameron also claimed that gay men and lesbians were far more likely than heterosexuals to contract sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. In reality, lesbians are far less likely than heterosexual women to contract STIs, and Cameron's statistics for gay men were fabricated or grossly inflated.

Cameron insisted that the survey's results were accurate, and went on publishing them in pamphlets he began to hand out after moving to Washington, D.C. in 1984 and setting up the Family Research Institute. These pamphlets are often purchased by or given to right-wing Christian and “family values” groups, who regard the information as accurate. Numerous anti-homosexual groups use the ISIS Survey as evidence of the unhealthiness of homosexuality or to discredit homosexual rights movements. Most famously, the ISIS Survey is often quoted by the ChildCare Action Project and Fred Phelps, both of whom insist that the study is accurate and unbiased.

Response[edit]

For the most part, mainstream scientists have paid very little attention to Cameron's studies, and thus extensive scientific analysis of the ISIS Survey have not been widely available. Dr. Gregory Herek, Ph.D., is among those who have analyzed Cameron's findings. Among the errors Dr. Herek encountered were:

  • Mischaracterized sample: "Although the Cameron group has claimed that theirs was a "national" sample and have repeatedly used their data to make generalizations about the entire population, the initial sampling frame consisted only of 7 municipalities"
  • Unacceptably low response rate: "the Cameron group's results cannot be considered representative of even the specific municipalities because the vast majority of their sample did not complete the survey."
  • Unreliable analyses due to small subsamples: "If the Cameron group's combined 1983-84 sample had been a random national sample (which it was not, as explained above), its size (N = 5,182 people) would have been large enough to permit estimates of population characteristics with only a small margin of error. Because their extremely low response rate rules out the possibility of making any population estimates on the basis of their data, however, this point is moot."
  • Questionable validity: "It included a large number of questions that dealt with highly sensitive aspects of sexuality, many of them presented in an extremely complicated format. This procedure raises concerns about respondent fatigue and item difficulty."
  • Biased interview procedures: "The Cameron group's reports gave no information about how interviewers were trained or supervised in the field."
  • Researcher's bias publicized during data collection: "One of the principal challenges of social research is that the individuals who are being studied can become aware of the researcher's expectations or goals, which can alter their behavior. For this reason, researchers do not communicate their expectations or hypotheses in advance to research participants. Nor do they bias participants' responses by suggesting that a particular answer is more correct or desirable than others. Contrary to this well-established norm, Paul Cameron publicly disclosed the survey's goals and his own political agenda in the local newspaper of at least one surveyed city (Omaha) while data collection was in process."

Herek's conclusion was that "an empirical study manifesting even one of these six weaknesses would be considered seriously flawed. In combination, the multiple methodological problems evident in the Cameron group's surveys mean that their results cannot even be considered a valid description of the specific group of individuals who returned the survey questionnaire."

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