‘If one asks individuals in the right group the right questions, the answers are very predictable’

Tacoma, WA–My recent co-authored column, Media Misreports Study: Stepdads Better than Dads? Not so Fast (Tacoma News-Tribune, 8/13/08), detailed the way the media has distorted a recent study about fathers. We wrote:

“Stepdads beat biological fathers in parenting, study says.’ “Stepdads do better than real dads in ‘fragile’ families.’ “Stepfathers make better parents.’ This is how dozens of major newspapers and media outlets are reporting a new study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family which compares stepfathers to biological fathers.
Conventional wisdom says that biological fathers are more committed to their children than stepfathers are to their stepchildren. While media accounts of the study claim that research contradicts this wisdom, a closer look at the study shows that this simply isn”t true…The dad vs. stepdad debate is no mere academic question, but instead an issue which has serious ramifications in family law. Advocates of sole or primary custody for mothers often insist that children do fine with ‘father-figures’ instead of their fathers.

An academic physician named PJ Balestrieri, MD wrote me an interesting letter about my column, social science research, and the way it can be bent and twisted. Balestrieri writes:

Thanks for pointing out the faults with this “study”.  I am an academic physician and can assure you that no such report (with the possible exception of anti-gun editorials in the New England Journal of Medicine) would ever be accepted by a peer reviewed journal in my, or any other medical, specialty.  To base a study on the mothers’ reports, mothers who are part of “troubled families”, is about as valid scientifically as basing a report on the ethical issues involved in killing mice on reports of one’s typical cat (if cats could make verbal reports), or basing a report on the nature of violent crimes on the “evidence” given by violent criminals.  If one asks individuals in the right group, the right questions, the answers are very predictable but nevertheless so biased as to be worthless. I have read many other reports which strongly support the fact that both stepfathers in such troubled homes as well as boyfriends are much more likely than a biological father to abuse the children in such families. Such reports not only make perfectly good sense but are so numerous that it would be very difficult to refute them, as this report attempts to do.  It is just one more piece of junk science intended to destroy the traditional family.  Anyone who knows anything about human nature and the fundamental structure of human society (and this is clear from literature going back to Aristotle in the 4th century BC) will realize, even if he lacks the critical skills to grasp the obvious faults of this so-called study, that its conclusions are both false and very harmful. It is clearly one more example of efforts by those who reject traditional values to discredit the traditional family. 

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