Sex, Politics & Abuse of Statistics

By Michael Edmonds 11/03/2013

On Sunday the first Q + A programme for the year featured a lively debate between Louisa Wall and Colin Craig on the topic of same sex marriage and the Marriage Amendment Bill (transcript here)

This was followed by a panel discussion between Raymond Miller (political scientist), Josie Pagani (former Labour party candidate) and Ian Wishart (publisher). During this discussion Ian Wishart made the following statement:

“AIDS Foundation did a survey just a couple of years ago of New Zealand gay men. They found 77% can’t stay monogamous for more than six months.”

Ms Pagani quickly pointed out that it is unlikely that anyone who promiscuous, whether heterosexual or homosexual, would want to get married anyway, which is a good point. Even Mr Wishart’s own claims indicate that 23% of men are monogamous, therefore potential candidates for marriage.

However, one of the things a scientist (and one would also presume a good author/publisher) should always do when looking at a survey is to examine the parameters of the study to see what its’ purpose and limitations are. So I did a little research.

The only survey of New Zealand  gay men I could find was the Gay Auckland Periodic Sex Survey (GAPSS) which was carried out in 2008. It involved a sample of 1527 respondents who were surveyed at three different venues – the Big Gay Out day, at gay saunas and “sex on site” venues, or at gay bars.

Looking at this survey:

  1. It looks a subset of gay men (Mr Wishart may wish to believe that all gay men go to saunas, bars and/or the Big Gay Out but this is not true). Imagine if data on heterosexual behaviour were gathered from singles bars and swingers clubs – would it be representative of the larger population?
  2. I cannot find data in the survey where Mr Wishart derives his “77% can’t stay monogamous” from. There are figures showing that 29.7% have had only one partner in the last six months prior to the survey (and 4.6% had none). But where his 77% comes from I don’t know. I’ve also contacted those involved with carrying out the GAPSS study and they can’t work out where this has come from either.

Suffice to say, Ian Wishart has twisted the results of  important research to suit his political agenda. I also noticed he threw in the claim that

“57% are drug users regularly”

There was no such data in the 2008 GAPSS, however, some can be found in an older 2006 GAPSS survey, where 56.9% of respondents had used a recreational drug at least once in the previous 6 months. Whether this equates to regular use, is debatable. It is also worth reminding readers that the results of this survey come from a similar subset of gay men to the 2008 survey. While there is literature that shows that drug use in gay men is higher than in the general population, many researchers suggest that drug use is often used as a buffer against feelings of discrimination and isolation from society – it would be reasonable to expect that acceptance of gay marriage could alleviate such feelings and perhaps reduce drug use.

Despite Mr Wishart’s attempts to portray all gay men in a bad light by misrepresenting the GAPSS research,  there are gay couples who would make wonderful spouses and parents, just as there are some heterosexual couples who would not.  Decisions around gay marriage and gay adoption are best served by rational interpretation of relevant facts and empathy, not by misrepresenting studies or scare mongering.



0 Responses to “Sex, Politics & Abuse of Statistics”

  • I hesitate to support change at the moment because there are too many questionable assumptions and misrepresentations being made by both sides. Just the fact that it has become political and partisan means as in other forms of warfare, truth is the first casualty.