The Mark Foley scandal has afforded an opportunity for social conservatives to revive the old canard that gay men are unusually likely to be pedophiles, with the Family Research Council touting an old study by Timothy Dailey “Ph.D.” (in theology) purporting to show just this. Andrew Sullivan links a sound scholarly response which gives the Dailey study a good thrashing. The key point here is that child molesters are overwhelmingly male, and the rate at which their victims are also male is higher than the rate of homosexuality in the general population. If you don’t know anything about the psychology of sexuality, it’s apparently intuitive to call these men “homosexuals” and conclude that there’s a disproportionate amount of homosexual pedophilia. Of course, to recycle an analogy I’ve used earlier, this is a little like asking men who have sex with goats whether they’re boy goats or girl goats and drawing inferences about the goatfucker’s sexual orientation. Men who molest prepubescent children are almost never “homosexual” in the sense of “being attracted to men in general.”
Dailey is aware of this, and goes to some really spectacularly dishonest lengths to get around it. The debunking linked above covers a lot of this ground, but I ended up doing some further research when I was writing my piece on gay adoption. I could’ve done a whole separate article on Dailey’s mendacity, but much of that had to get cut, since it ran too far afield of the central topic. So now’s an opportunity to give a little taste of that.
Dailey tries to undermine the consensus that male-male pedophilia isn’t related to homosexuality in the broader sense by establishing that the general male homosexual population is attracted to younger partners than the male heterosexual population. (That’s in itself a suspicious move: Why resort to a proxy measure like this when there’s already ample data on the sexual orientation of child molesters?) He’s forced to be fairly selective in the research he cites in order to arrive at his desired conclusion. In several papers, for instance, he concedes that one of his main sources, the late sex researcher Kurt Freund, denies a general preference among gay men for younger partners. Dailey suggests relying instead on a study by Zebulon Silverthorne and Vernon Quinsey showing a preference among gay men for younger partners, “some as young as 15,” as Dailey stresses.
The problem is, I called Quinsey to see what he thought of Dailey’s interpretation of his findings. And Quinsey emphasized that his study made use of groups of photographs representing ranges of ages to test attraction, that the mean age for their youngest category was 18, and that “the only statistically valid conclusions that could be drawn concern these average ages.” Moreover, he noted that “we wondered in the paper whether the heterosexual men’s very high ratings of the 25-year female faces were an artifact of unusually attractive pictures in that category (there were some very pretty models) on the similar grounds that–data from a better controlled study show age preference gradients for homosexual males viewing men and heterosexual males viewing women.” That’s significant because Dailey’s avowed reason for preferring the Silverthorne-Quinsey study is his concern that selection bias had provided Freund with an unrepresentative sample skewed toward gay men with older age preferences. But what distinguishes the Quinsey-Silverthorne study and accounts for the age-preference gap it finds, Quinsey told me, is the unexpected (and, he suspects, perhaps idiosyncratic) “spike” in attraction to older women among heterosexual men. In other words, Dailey is trying to base his conclusion that homosexual preferences tend unusually young by relying on a study where there’s an unusual difference—but the difference is accounted for by how uncommonly old the women picked by heterosexuals were.
Keep in mind, that’s just one of the studies Dailey uses. It’s stunningly mendacious, but the study as a whole is so packed with footnotes that it’s likely to seem impressive to a casual reader who’s not going to dig into the research Dailey draws on.