With the consultation about legalizing same-sex marriage already underway in Scotland and with the Westminster consultation about to start, the BBC is ratcheting up its support for the gay rights agenda with more distortion, hype, exaggeration and selective reporting.
The latest example of this is the coverage given to a new study recently published by the American Journal of Public Health on the alleged health benefits of same-sex marriage.
Aware of the tendency of the BBC to give an international platform to anything, however obscure, which might further its liberal agenda I decided to investigate further.
Under the provocative headline ‘Gay marriage “improves health”’ the BBC reports:
‘Legalising same-sex marriage may create a healthier environment for gay men, say US researchers. The number of visits by gay men to health clinics dropped significantly after same-sex unions were allowed in the state Massachusetts. This was regardless of whether the men were in a stable relationship, reported the American Journal of Public Health.’
These words are all most people will ever read as they are the only ones that will appear on CEEFAX.
However, on turning to the BBC webpage, we also see highlighted in large letters, a quote highlighted in a large font drop-in that originates from the Terence Higgins Trust, an organization which campaigns for gay rights:
‘It's no surprise that people who are treated as second class citizens tend to have low self esteem, which in turn makes them more likely to take risks. Whether this is drugs, alcohol abuse, or unsafe sex, treating gay men unequally has lasting repercussions for their health.’
There is no balancing quote from anyone else and this quote from a lobbying group is given equal authority to the study by the BBC although there is no evidence whatsoever given to support it.
So what about the article itself? What does it really say?
Now normally when journalists quote an article from a peer-reviewed medical journal it is customary to give the title of the article and a link to the original source.
But the unnamed BBC journalist who wrote this article has neglected to do so. Why?
The answer is not difficult to deduce. He/she hasn't actually read it!
The link at the bottom of the BBC piece to the American Journal of Public Health leads not to the article itself but rather to the home page of the journal. But I could not find the article in question in either the December or January journal contents lists. Nor was it available through PubMed where all published journal articles are listed.
However, the BBC does give a link to a Yahoo News article, which contains all the facts the BBC journalist has quoted and was clearly his primary source.
Now let me just spell that out.
This unnamed BBC journalist has written a report about an article which he has never seen, nor even read in abstract. In fact he has simply copied it from another secondary news source – Yahoo!
It took me less than a minute to find the original article in question on the American Journal of Public Health website. He (or she) had clearly made no effort even to look.
As it turns out the article is in a section titled ‘First Look’ with over 50 other articles that have been accepted for publication but not yet published in the paper edition of the journal. Its full title is ‘Effect of Same-Sex Marriage Laws on Health Care Use and Expenditures in Sexual Minority Men: A Quasi-Natural Experiment’
Only the abstract is accessible without subscription and reads as follows:
Objectives. We sought to determine whether health care use and expenditures among gay and bisexual men were reduced following the enactment of same-sex marriage laws in Massachusetts in 2003.
Methods. We used quasi-experimental, prospective data from 1211 sexual minority male patients in a community-based health center in Massachusetts.
Results. In the 12 months after the legalization of same-sex marriage, sexual minority men had a statistically significant decrease in medical care visits (mean = 5.00 vs mean = 4.67; P = .05; Cohen's d = 0.17), mental health care visits (mean = 24.72 vs mean = 22.20; P = .03; Cohen's d = 0.35), and mental health care costs (mean = $2442.28 vs mean = $2137.38; P = .01; Cohen's d = 0.41), compared with the 12 months before the law change. These effects were not modified by partnership status, indicating that the health effect of same-sex marriage laws was similar for partnered and nonpartnered men.
Conclusions. Policies that confer protections to same-sex couples may be effective in reducing health care use and costs among sexual minority men. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print December 15, 2011: e1-e7. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2011.300382)
So this is an article which looks at one year’s data from one US state and evaluates just three healthcare measures (medical care visits, mental health care visits and mental health care costs) which it finds are marginally decreased over the twelve month period after the law change.
This is as much as one can say without reviewing the full article but the abstract does nonetheless raise some very interesting questions.
Why, when the paper was published in 2011, were only the data for 2003 and 2004 reviewed? Was this decrease a one-off or part of a continuing trend? One rather suspects the former.
Was this one year trend mirrored in other states that had legalized same-sex marriage? How were potential confounding variables controlled for? (ie Was the observed effect apparent or real?)
Why were mental care health costs included but not medical care health costs? Why were these particular three measures of health chosen and not objective measures of specific diagnosed illnesses? Were other health indices measured?
These are just a few questions that would immediately spring to mind to anyone wanting to know what conclusions about the health effects of legalising same-sex marriage could reasonably be drawn.
The cautious conclusion in the abstract, ‘Policies that confer protections to same-sex couples may be effective in reducing health care use and costs among sexual minority men’ actually justifies neither the confident BBC headline ‘Gay marriage”improves health”’ nor the highly emotive Terence Higgins quote.
Rather the article itself appears to have been cherry-picked simply because its tentative conclusions provided some fodder for the campaign which could be sexed up into misleading headlines.
And I’m betting that gay rights activists, and sympathetic MPs, will be trotting out these headlines when the parliamentary debate comes along.
I have documented previously on this blog the way the BBC advances other social and political agendas by selectively reporting stories about euthanasia, abortion and stem cells.
This is apparently yet another area where we need to read far beyond the headlines and drop-ins to learn the real truth.
But sadly public policy is often built on such distortion, hype, exaggeration and selective reporting.