Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Insure.com's Anti-Gay Article

Box Turtle Bulletin broke a story last week about a major insurance broker, insure.com, hosting anti-gay articles on its website. The articles feature regurgitated Paul Cameron statistics (you remember that quack, right?), claiming that gay men live a life that is 20 years shorter than straight men. One of the articles, called Top five ways to kill yourself and get away with it, is now off the site, which is a good thing because the article resembled a parody more than actual serious writing. The article, as you can probably guess, named being gay as the number 1 way to kill yourself and get away with it, and commented (somehow seriously) that gay men get away with paying life insurance premiums that are unfairly cheap since they die so young.

Astonishingly, Bob Bland, the Founder and CEO of insure.com is defending the Cameronesque article about shorter life spans for gays and has commented several times that he does not plan to take the article down. This is even after the guys over at Box Turtle Bulletin have sent him numerous emails pointing out the fallacy of the studies they are citing. Mr. Bland claims not to have a political agenda against gays, but it's hard to see that based on this hard headedness.

Even Dr. Warren Throckmorton, hardly a gay-rights advocate (but a seemingly good guy nonetheless), pointed out that the author of the insure.com article failed to mention that the authors of one of the studies he cites wrote an article after their study was released specifically detailing why the study should not be used for the very actuarial conclusions the insure.com attempts to make. Mr. Bland claims that his writing and editing staff plans to review the "research" used in the article in the next 4 weeks or so but until then, he plans to leave the article up and stand by Cameron's quackery (check my Cameron link above to see how absurd of a move this really is).

I wrote a letter of my own to Mr. Bland addressing the fallacies of Paul Cameron and the Vancouver HIV study the article on his site references but haven't heard back (hint: the Vancouver study is about gay men with HIV, and the article on insure.com extrapolates it to speak for all gay men...wow). I encourage all of you to do the same (his email address is on their website). Like I've said many times in the past, it's one thing to not be in favor of gay-rights, but to use blatantly false, incorrect, and misleading information to stir up anti-gay sentiment is quite another. Mr. Bland should certainly be shown the err of his ways on this one.


At 16/7/08 7:53 AM, Blogger Robert Bland said...

Here’s the entire November 15, 2007article at Insure.com on the possible link between homosexuality and mortality. It’s a life insurance article, one of 3,000 that we’e published since 1995.
Insure.com does not believe that this article contains factual errors or editorial bias and it clearly it acknowledges that critics have questions on the Cameron research. Insure.com has no political agenda. We’re also working on re-researching this topic and expect this to take up to 3-4 more weeks.

November 15, 2007

Gay men die 20 years younger
By Joseph White, Insure.com

It’s a loaded subject, but let’s get right down to it: gay men, on average, die significantly younger than the rest of the population. The scientific studies on the subject of gay morbidity and mortality have been intertwined with vociferous political influence from the outset. Either pro-gay or pro-traditional family institutions led most of the studies, and the results of each were criticized by the other.

The studies did not disagree that gay men were dying younger than most other people. Why? The majority of the morbidity stems from AIDS. But there is also a significant amount of drug use involved in many parts of the gay culture, as well as increased incidence of psychological illness, family instability and suicide. Still, the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS is the chief culprit, by far.

This spurs fierce debate. To unpack it all in clear terms, it’s best to go back to the beginning. Ten years ago, a group of pro-gay researchers published a report in the International Journal of Epidemiology claiming that gay men in Vancouver had a life expectancy 8-20 years shorter than average men.

The study was intended as a call to action for better HIV/AIDS health care, and to raise public awareness of the dangers of HIV. Many who read the study, however, understood it to categorize the gay lifestyle as inherently hazardous. The two camps would battle back and forth for some time.

In 2005, Dr. Paul Cameron, the President of the Family Research Institute, published a study in Psychological Reports that confirmed a 20-year life expectancy gap for actively gay men. Researchers performed the study by examining gay obituaries and comparing them with data from the Center for Disease Control. Both data sets put the average age of death for gay men about 20 years younger than average.

Immediately, critics objected to this study, claiming that only gay men who had died were included, which would skew the results toward shorter life expectancy. The numbers would only work out, according to critics, if every gay man died of AIDS, which is obviously a faulty premise.

So what’s our best estimate?

Four years after their original report, the producers of the Vancouver study sent a letter to the editor that was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The letter reproached groups who “suggest[ed] that gay and bisexual men live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and to others” as “homophobic groups… more interested in restricting the human rights of gay and bisexuals….”

In the same letter, the researchers reiterated their original claim, that a gay man in Vancouver had the same life expectancy as a Canadian man in 1870, 8-21 years shorter than the average male today.

Why such a large discrepancy?

The study left a large margin of error because it calculated according to three potential gay populations: 3%, 6% and 9%. If 3% of the male population were gay, they would average about 20 years shorter life expectancy; if 9% were gay, they could expect to die only 8 years earlier.

The percentage of gay population is difficult to ascertain exactly, but more recent estimates have shrunken further and further from the famous “1 in 10” offered by Alfred Kinsey in the 1950s.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates the gay population in America to be 8.8 million, which is 2.9% of the population. According to the pro-gay prognostication published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, this revised estimate would establish the life expectancy of gay males to be at least 20 years below average.

This classifies gay men with a graver risk of mortality than smokers and the obese—perhaps the highest mortality risk for any demographic its size. Still, no life insurance companies charge elevated rates to gay men. Then again, perhaps the issue is still too sensitive for such realistic evaluation.

At 16/7/08 10:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In reference to Mr. Bland's boiler-plate response in the above comment, saying that "critics have questions on the Cameron research" strikes me as similar to saying "some scientists have their doubts about cold fusion."

At 16/7/08 10:08 AM, Blogger Brady said...

Mr. Bland,

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm sorry to hear you feel that the article is not factually innaccurate. I may be repeating myself, but please consider the following points in your research over the next few weeks.

Also, I'd love to know why you quoted this article and not the other one, especially considering I already linked to this article. I'd love to see the other article as well, provided you stand behind that one as well.

Here goes:

1. The first sentence, claiming gay men die younger as a matter of absolute fact already shows an editorial bias, especially since the only two studies cited by this author are severely questionable. One of them done by discredited Paul Cameron, the other one noted by the researchers themselves that their study should never be used to reach such conclusions that the article reaches. Speaking of fact based on those sources shows an editorial bias. Let me be clear that these are not just studies that have critics (most studies do, and that's what you are implying here--that the Cameron study is just like most studies)- Cameron and this study have been soundly rebuked, not just critqued. The Vancouver study is a blatant case of misusing statistics to prove a point, even while the study's authors demanded this not happen. No editorial bias indeed.

2. Please research Paul Cameron and his history. As I mentioned in my email to you, Mr. Cameron has been discredited by the ASA, the APA, the CPA (Canadian) (basically the three largest sociological and psychological associations in North America), and by two state psychological associations. Using research from someone like that, especially the study this article cites, which has itself been discredited, is a bad first step. It's not enough to say he had critics. His work (and Mr. Cameron himself) was completely discredited.

3. As for the Vancouver study- please note that the study was done on gay men in Vancouver living with HIV. The study's authors even wrote a letter (referenced in your article) explaining that their findings could not and should not be extrapolated to the general population of gay men since it was only dealying with HIV+ men. For the author of your article to site the study and the follow up letter, yet not cite that portion is very poor judgement at best. Box Turtle Bulletin goes into all of this in more depth, as do their emails, and mine, to you.

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