Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Franken Finds Focus on the Family Flub

You know, this is funny and all, but it also characterizes why Senator Al Franken (D-MN) is such a good public servant. He does the work. He looks into the studies in the testimony. And here, it turns out the Focus on the Family (surprise!) was blatantly lying about the facts, and it led to them getting called out in public.
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) took on a representative of the conservative group Focus on the Family for mis-characterizing a study on "nuclear families" at a hearing on a bill which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

"I actually checked it out," Franken said in reference to a study cited by Focus on the Family's Thomas Minnery at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

"Isn't it true, Mr. Minnery, that a married same-sex couple that has had or adopted kids would fall under the definition of a nuclear family in the study that you cite?" Franken asked.

"I think that the study, when it cites nuclear families would mean a family headed by a husband and wife," Minnery said.

"It doesn't," Franken said, getting laughs from the audience.

"The study defines a nuclear family as one or more children living with two parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents to all the children in the family," Franken continued. "And I frankly don't really know how we can trust the rest of your testimony if you are reading studies these ways."


Nicholas said...

As amusing as that moment was, Franken is wrong here. The study (available here: covered a period from 2001-2007. The only state where same-sex marriage existed during that period was Massachusetts, starting in 2004. Thus the total number of same-sex married couples included in this study would amount to no more than a rounding error.

David Schraub said...

The study authors say Franken was correct.

I think the critical point is that Minnery was trying to cite the study as providing a distinction against other types of families (e.g., married same-sex couples), but the study can't be used to support that because -- insofar as such families were around in the time period -- they would have been included under the metric of "nuclear families". The sort of slippage is a hallmark of anti-marriage-equality writers.

Nicholas said...

Who are you going to believe, the study authors or your own lying eyes? My point is that, by and large, such families did not exist during the period examined by the study. Obviously Minnery is a buffoon and the distinction he was trying to draw is illusory, but that doesn't make this study say what Franken was suggesting.

David Schraub said...

My own eyes, the study authors, and Senator Franken are all in accord. Your claim that Senator Franken was wrong is incorrect both technically (b/c of the Massachusetts couples) and in the context of the claim Minnery was citing the study f or.

Minnery was using the study to argue that children in heterosexual married families are better than those in (among others) homosexual married families. The study cannot be used for that claim: not only did it not compare gay versus straight married families against each other, but, as you admit, what (admittedly few) gay married couples there are would have been grouped under the metric of "nuclear families" that the study claims to be superior.

Nicholas said...

Yes, Minnery wants the reader of his testimony to draw a specific (and false) inference. But he didn't mischaracterize the study, Franken did. Franken: “[The study] says that nuclear families, not opposite sex married families, are associated with those positive outcomes.” From 2001-07 this is an all but meaningless distinction.

Now look at the portion of Minnery's testimony that Franken takes issue with: “children living in their own married biological or adoptive — with their own biological or adoptive mothers and fathers were generally healthier and happier, had better access to healthcare, less likely to suffer mild or severe emotional problems, did better in school, were protected from physical, emotional and sexual abuse and almost never live in poverty, compared with children in any other family form.”

This portion of Minnery's testimony is supported by the study he cited (even if the inference he wants the reader to draw isn't). During 2001-07, all but a statistically insignificant number of nuclear families (as defined by the study) involved opposite-sex marriages.

Again, on the substantive policy question at stake I am firmly in Franken's camp. I'd even go so far as to speculate that there are more recent studies that tend to support Franken's point. But if the question is whether this particular CDC study supports the narrow claim advanced by Minnery (sans inference), the answer is that it does and that you and Franken are wrong. I leave for another day the question of whether it's okay to be wrong if by doing so you can publicly humiliate your political opponents in the process.

David Schraub said...

I don't get this. You admit that Franken is technically right. You admit that Franken is also right with respect to the "inference" Minnery wants us to draw. Yet Franken is wrong because ... why? The "statistical insignificance" argument neither refutes the correctness of Franken's statement nor does it refute the correctness with respect to the inference.

It's bad enough that your picking nits, but you're picking nits badly.

Nicholas said...

There's really no need for insults. We have an honest disagreement. You say that "Focus on the Family (surprise!) was blatantly lying about the facts." I say that Minnery's claim is supported by the cited CDC study. We agree that the inference Minnery likely wants the reader to draw is false. I hope we further agree that a claim is not the same as an inference and that precision in argumentation is a good and useful thing.

David Schraub said...

The problem is that you're effectively making the argument that Franken was technically incorrect. But by your own admission, your objection is technically incorrect: there were gay married couples during the study, and they are part of the superior nuclear families the study refers to. Live by the technicality sword, die by the technicality sword.

And if move the debate beyond the barest of technical interpretations, Franken's obviously right too: Minnery was arguing that a nuclear family defined (by his own testimony) as a married husband and wife was superior to, among other family-types, homosexual married families. The study does not say that, and Minnery was wrong to assert (I don't even think it's really correct to argue it was even "implied" -- it was pretty direct) otherwise.

danweasel said...

"Minnery was arguing that a nuclear family defined (by his own testimony) as a married husband and wife was superior to, among other family-types, homosexual married families. The study does not say that"

Exactly. In fact, Nicholas, by your own argument, the study *can't* say that, since there wouldn't be any a statistically significant sample with regard to homosexual married families.

Frankly, the study doesn't even talk about the distinction in child-rearing between gay or straight married homes. So making that claim (or leading your readers to infer it) is simply false.