Parody of anti-gay pamphlets offers detailed, behind-the-scenes view of how liars misuse real citations

The Box Turtle Bulletin has put together a great parody of anti-gay, fear-mongering pamphlets. Entitled, "The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing the Myths", it includes important revelations about the heterosexuals and their plans for your children and our country. Here's a quick excerpt from a section that documents some of the depraved behaviors that heterosexuals are known to engage in:

... unsafe behavior is often compounded by drug use, which is an integral part of the heterosexual lifestyle. College students who engage in heterosexuality are 30% more likely to use marijuana than gay students, and they are nearly 40% more likely to use other drugs. (71) Among Redbook readers, 90% of heterosexual women admitted to initiating sex while under the influence of alcohol, and 30% had sex after smoking marijuana. For women under twenty, marijuana use before sex skyrocketed to 63%, with 45% of them using it often. (72)

Those numbered citations are important. In fact, this slim booklet contains more than 100. And it's not just part of the parody. Instead, author Jim Burroway uses these ostensibly unbiased sources of information as a way showing how people can use real information to corroborate a lie. Follow up on his citations at the end of The Heterosexual Agenda, and you'll find a breakdown of how, exactly, he contorted the cited source to fit his own goals.

For instance, consider these facts about how heterosexuals are always getting stoned and drunk before engaging in their filthy heterosexual encounters. Here's what Burroway had to say about it:

This study was a based on the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study (CAS), a randomsampled survey. But notice the phrase “those who engage in heterosexuality.” This is a very deliberate choice of words, and an alarm should go off whenever you see it. When anti-gay writers talk about people “who engaging in homosexuality”, they often include bisexuals, who may have been previously (or currently) heterosexually married, or they may have been essentially heterosexual but experimented once or twice with homosexuality at some point in their lives. All of this depends on the definitions used in the particular study. Many anti-gay writers exploit these inconsistent definitions, sometimes including bisexuals in their statistics for homosexuality, while other times including them with heterosexuals. This choice is typically done on a statistic-by-statistic basis, driven by which set of numbers will portray gays and lesbians in the worst light. For this study, the actual breakdown of marijuana use is: heterosexual, 19% (of 8816); homosexual, 14.6% (of 225); and bisexual, 33.3% (of 348). For other drug use: heterosexual, 7.1%; homosexual, 9.9%; and bisexual. 18%. As you can see, when you work from a paradigm that divides everyone along heterosexual and homosexual lines, you can make a huge difference based on how you deal with bisexuals.

Changing the context, removing the context, and generally cherry-picking the data that shows what you want it to show is a great way to make spurious claims look more legitimate. It's a tactic that's used in homophobic hate tracts, but it's not ONLY used in those places.

The value of Burroway's work goes far beyond the topic of sexuality and GBLTQ rights. If you want a better idea of how "authoritative" sources lie, this is a great place to start. It'll get you looking for the context and asking the right questions. In general, it's a great primer in learning how to be skeptical.

Read the full pamphlet, including Burroway's follow-up, "How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract in 15 Easy Steps."

Image: Rally to Restore Sanity - [Citation Needed], a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from jabella's photostream


  1. “…uses these ostensibly unbiased sources of information as a way showing how people can use real information to corroborate a lie.”

    Though it’s usually not a lie. Usually it’s bullshit, which, to paraphrase Harry Frankfurt, is way worse than a lie, because the speaker doesn’t care about the truth. They care about winning. As Frankfurt said, at least a liar knows what the truth is.

    1.  This is a good point. It’s not as though these tracts would use better scholarship if they had the facts on their side. They don’t really know or care whether they have the facts on their side, not in a way that involves good statistical/academic understanding.

      1. I’d say many who come to this kind of argument from a religious point of view feel they DO have the facts on their side – their holy book is an objectively true and accurate reflection of reality. If this is true, scientific studies not supporting their holy book are either flawed or misunderstood, or the understanding of the holy book is wrong (probably in that order). It’s probably a third level of thinking that’s even more dangerous than bullshit, where you feel science itself is full of bullshit and can only be understood or approached in the light of your holy book. You can feel free to cherry pick the data that supports your argument, because that’s the place where the truth has come out in spite of people’s efforts to obfuscate it. At some point in the future your view will be vindicated, because it’s objectively true (see start of argument, repeat).

  2. This type of obfuscation in the news has been pissing me off ever since I first learned statistics.

    All of the polls that seem to have no sample size, margin of error, or geographic location or sampling frequency.

    All the stories that say “researchers have found that…” but never cite studies or researchers.

    All the bullshit conclusions drawn from assumptions with no basis in the reported studies.

    All the overhyped breathless reporting about how something IS good or bad for you based only on one scientist’s opinion, while the scientific consensus is totally ignored.

    News reporting on science is utter garbage in my experience. And stat reporting is nearly always useless due to failure to disclose methods and sample groups and sizes

  3. For this study, the actual breakdown of marijuana use is: heterosexual, 19% (of 8816); homosexual, 14.6% (of 225); and bisexual, 33.3% (of 348). For other drug use: heterosexual, 7.1%; homosexual, 9.9%; and bisexual. 18%

    So bisexuals are the real menace to society?

      1. 19% + 14.6% = 33.6%, and 7.1% + 9.9% = 17%. So 33.3% and 18% seems in line.

        That’s how that works, right?

    or something…

  5. There is nothing in our mass culture that values the proper evaluation of purported facts. Nothing. Our government educational system does not teach critical thinking, it peddles the fashionable pedagogical philosophy of the moment, and textbooks. Our politics favor emotion over reason. People read something on the Internet and think it’s true. Slightly more intelligent people do a Google search and come up with a couple of references that reinforce what they already believe, think those references are true, and that their beliefs are therefore true. 

    Simply put: we have deluged people with information without providing them with the tools they need for discernment. Maintaining an even keel in this storm is extremely difficult. You can find reasonable-sounding support for anything you wish to believe, connect with like-minded people, and build an unassailable bubble. In the public square, establishing a common base of reason in order to have an actual discussion aimed at the truth, independent of individual prejudice, is next to impossible.

    Tom Wolfe once remarked that fascism is forever descending on America, but always seems to land in Europe. The developing global misinformation culture has eroded that distinction.

  6. Lilith and Eve, not some dudebro and Eve!

    Ugarit was full of hetero-sexual practices, and it fell. Now America is full of hetero-sexual practices, and the heterosexualists have set up camps to indoctrinate children.

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