The interim report of recent research, the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS) based in Melbourne University, has found no statistical difference between children of same-sex couples and the rest of the population on a range of indicators, and also found that children of same-sex couples did better than average for overall family cohesion and health.

This study has been uncritically reported by the media in Australia, and has also been picked up by news outlets such as the Huffington Post overseas. But how reliable is it really?

Sociologist from the University of Texas, Mark Regnerus, has pointed out many of the flaws in the study at the National Review. First, he quotes from the study’s methodology:

“Initial recruitment will involve convenience sampling and snowball recruitment techniques. . . . This will include advertisements and media releases in gay and lesbian press, flyers at gay and lesbian social and support groups, and investigator attendance at gay and lesbian community events. . . . Primarily recruitment will be through emails posted on gay and lesbian community email lists aimed at same-sex parenting. This will include, but not be limited to, Gay Dads Australia and the Rainbow Families Council of Victoria.”

Regnerus then points out why this is an issue:

…until social scientists decide to do the difficult, expensive work of locating gay parents through random, population-based sampling strategies — and ones that do not “give away” the primary research question(s) up front — we simply cannot know whether claims like “no differences” or “healthier and happier than” this or that group are true, valid, and on target. Why? Because nonrandom samples are not a representative reflection of the population as a whole, but rather an image of those who actively pursue participating in the study (for whatever reason, which may matter)…

… a random sample design is the gold standard in large-scale social science. And in a politically charged environment such as gay parenting, the public would do well to demand nothing less than the best-quality research designs. Snowball sampling — where motivated friends ask their own friends to participate — doesn’t cut it…

…its participants are likely very aware of the political import of the study topic, and an unknown number of them probably signed up for that very reason.

There are also many other valid criticisms which can be made of the ACHESS study. For example, over 80% of the same-sex parents in the study were women, so it does not sufficiently address the issue of children raised by two men. Furthermore, the study was only conducted over two years, meaning it could not address the long-term impacts on children of being denied a mother or a father.

Obviously, it is very hard to do a reliable study on such a complex issue as parenting, with all the  various factors that impact child well-being. But uncritical reporting by the media of very dubious studies such as ACHESS is totally inexcusable, especially when the well-being of a large number of children is involved.

The ideal that a child should have both a mother and a father is based on thousands of years of human experience, across almost all cultures and religions. No number of dubious, poorly designed studies can justify dismissing this.

Blaise Joseph is a third-year commerce student at the University of New South Wales with a strong interest in social policy. Blaise is originally from Canberra, the centre of politics and the public...