Experts say Dobson's Time column distorted their research to denounce same-sex parents

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Two researchers cited by Focus on the Family's James Dobson have both accused Dobson of misusing their research in a Time magazine guest column arguing that same-sex parenting is harmful to children.

Psychologist Carol Gilligan and Dr. Kyle Pruett, the two researchers cited by Focus on the Family chairman James C. Dobson in his December 12 (previously dated December 10) Time magazine guest column arguing that same-sex parenting is harmful to children, have both accused Dobson of misusing their research. As Media Matters for America previously noted, Dobson made unfounded assertions in the column about gay and lesbian parenting while appearing to distort "social-science evidence" to claim "that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father."

Indeed, as Media Matters noted at the time, Pruett had previously reportedly criticized people for "distorting his work" to advance their political agenda.

On December 14, Time.com posted an online rebuttal to Dobson, "Two Mommies or Two Daddies Will Do Fine, Thanks," written by Family Pride executive director Jennifer Chrisler, in which Chrisler noted that "when asked about his use of her research" Gilligan "stated emphatically that its inclusion constitutes 'a complete distortion of my work' and went on to say that there is nothing in her research that would support Dobson's stated conclusions." Additionally, on December 14, the weblog Truth Wins Out posted a letter that Gilligan reportedly sent to Dobson in which she accused Dobson of distorting her research:

I am writing to ask that you cease and desist from quoting my research in the future. I was mortified to learn that you had distorted my work this week in a guest column you wrote in Time Magazine. Not only did you take my research out of context, you did so without my knowledge to support discriminatory goals that I do not agree with. What you wrote was not truthful and I ask that you refrain from ever quoting me again and that you apologize for twisting my work.

[...]

Finally, there is nothing in my research that would lead you to draw the stated conclusions you did in the Time article. My work in no way suggests same-gender families are harmful to children or can't raise these children to be as healthy and well adjusted as those brought up in traditional households.

I trust that this will be the last time my work is cited by Focus on the Family.

Pruett also accused Dobson of "cherry-pick[ing]" his research. As Media Matters previously noted, Dobson cited Pruett's book Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child (Random House, 2001), to argue against same-sex child-rearing by asserting that children need a father because "[a] father, as a male parent, makes unique contributions to the task of parenting that a mother cannot emulate." As Truth Wins Out noted, responding to Dobson's column, Pruett stated:

I was startled and disappointed to see my work referenced in the current Time Magazine piece in which you opined that social science, such as mine, supports your convictions opposing lesbian and gay parenthood. I write now to insist that you not quote from my research in your media campaigns, personal or corporate, without previously securing my permission.

You cherry-picked a phrase to shore up highly (in my view) discriminatory purposes. This practice is condemned in real science, common though it may be in pseudo-science circles. There is nothing in my longitudinal research or any of my writings to support such conclusions. On page 134 of the book you site in your piece, I wrote, "What we do know is that there is no reason for concern about the development or psychological competence of children living with gay fathers. It is love that binds relationships, not sex."

Further, in his Time column, Dobson cited a 1996 Psychology Today article that discussed the "complex and unique phenomenon" of fatherhood and its "huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children" to assert that "gender matters -- perhaps nowhere more than in regard to child rearing." Yet that Psychology Today article focused on "fathering behavior" and did not address same-sex parenting. A 1999 Psychology Today article, "Making Over Mom & Dad," specifically addressed the effects of "lesbian motherhood" on their children. The article stated: "Many studies over many years have found that lesbian moms do just as good a job of raising their kids as heterosexual moms do: their children don't differ significantly on measures of intellectual development, gender identity, sexual orientation, peer group, or self-esteem."

From Dobson's December 12 Time column, "Two Mommies is One Too Many":

With all due respect to Cheney and her partner, Heather Poe, the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father. That is not to say Cheney and Poe will not love their child. But love alone is not enough to guarantee healthy growth and development. The two most loving women in the world cannot provide a daddy for a little boy -- any more than the two most loving men can be complete role models for a little girl.

The voices that argue otherwise tell us more about our politically correct culture than they do about what children really need. The fact remains that gender matters -- perhaps nowhere more than in regard to child rearing. The unique value of fathers has been explained by Dr. Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School in his book Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. Pruett says dads are critically important simply because "fathers do not mother." Psychology Today explained in 1996 that "fatherhood turns out to be a complex and unique phenomenon with huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children." A father, as a male parent, makes unique contributions to the task of parenting that a mother cannot emulate, and vice versa.

According to educational psychologist Carol Gilligan, mothers tend to stress sympathy, grace and care to their children, while fathers accent justice, fairness and duty. Moms give a child a sense of hopefulness; dads provide a sense of right and wrong and its consequences.

[...]

In raising these issues, Focus on the Family does not desire to harm or insult women such as Cheney and Poe. Rather, our conviction is that birth and adoption are the purview of married heterosexual couples. Traditional marriage is God's design for the family and is rooted in biblical truth. When that divine plan is implemented, children have the best opportunity to thrive. That's why public policy as it relates to families must be based not solely on the desires of adults but rather on the needs of children and what is best for society at large.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.