Nigerian graduate student, Chibuihem Stanley Amalaha of University of Lagos (UNILAG) claims to have scientifically proven that gay marriage is wrong. Really? Read on for my thoughts, and how this tenuously links into my blog's subject matter.
Every month, here at bitHeads, we raise money for what we call the Charity of the Month. I volunteered to organise things for the month of October and have chosen Actua as the benefactors of our efforts. Actua is a charity based in Ottawa that works to help fund science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs targeting under privileged youths across Canada. I take their mission to bolster science literacy to heart. So many of us have only a cursory understanding of what science even means let alone how to spot bad science. So, in the spirit of the bitHeads Charity of the Month for October, I bring you an amazingly bad piece of science.
First of all, I invite all of you to read about Mr. Chibuihem Stanley Amalaha's "research" as presented by This Day Live, but I will summarise it below for those who can't be bothered to read through the narcissistic and barely coherent ramblings found there in as I do my best (read, not trying THAT hard) to point out just how unscientific this "science" is.
Let me start with a bit near the end of the article. This is a quoted line from Dr. Henry Boyo, Department of Physics at UNILAG referring to Amalaha: "He conceptualised the idea of using sciences and mathematics to prove gay marriage wrong and we have worked it here. Some people make claims to religion but he went a step further to use science and mathematics to prove gay marriage wrong." It's evident throughout the piece that Amalaha didn't start from a null hypothesis to conclude, from his data, that gay marriage is wrong but rather, that he gathered data to prove his hypothesis that gay marriage is wrong. One should not start from what they are trying to prove and work their way backwards to justify that point of view, that's not science, that's ideological justification. Ok, now that we have that out of the way, how does Amalaha "prove" his hypothesis anyway? Oh, ho! Let's have a look see!
He takes a four pronged approach, combining all the scientific tools at his disposal : physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics. Yup, all the sciences! I'll attempt to summarise his thoughts as I comment on each. Physics and chemistry prove gay marriage is wrong because the same poles of two magnets repel each other and because acids react with bases but bases and acids don't react with themselves. I'm not joking, this is straight out of the article and are of course, complete non sequiturs. It's a huge assumption to equate the polarity of magnets or the duality of bases and acids to gender. This kind of 'A is kind of like B so A must follow the same rules as B' reasoning is supported by nothing more than assumptions and is more the realm of folklore than anything remotely scientific. The major error here isn't in noticing the similarity, but in assuming the similarity is significant rather that trying to falsify it to see if the link still holds up, which, I wager, it wouldn't. So, what of biology you ask? Surely something in biology could actually support his point, right? It's certainly more plausible. He doesn't, however, go looking for it and instead simply draws more meaningless comparisons. Hens don't hump hens and roosters (he uses the word cock, funny enough) don't hump roosters.... Oh! And you need opposite sexes to make babies. That's all the article quotes as his reasoning for claiming that biology proves gay marriage is wrong. This is a sort of appeal to nature, this idea that what is "natural" is, somehow, virtuous, which is a false assumption, of course. His argument further falls apart if we cast a wider net over the animal kingdom. Wikipedia has a couple of articles, in fact, on animal homosexual behaviour, including one that's just a big ass list of animals that have been observed bumping similar private parts. So, not only is the naturalistic argument completely irrelevant, it also seems to be way off base. And, yup, sperm plus egg equals baby, I guess I can't refute that one! But, of course, I don't need to as no one is arguing against the veracity that humans reproduce sexually which has nothing to do with whether engaging in sexual pleasuring with a member of the same sex is wrong or not. Which brings us to the mathematics. This one is the weakest, and since the other arguments have all the strength of a drenched Kleenex, you know I mean it's REALLY weak. It is, in fact, so stupendously weak that I won't even bother to try and paraphrase it here as even Amalaha himself has to make concessions in order to draw his flimsy link. It's enough to simply point out that, like the other justifications, this one is yet another non sequitur that tries to juxtapose completely unrelated concepts to add yet another crumbly brick to the shaky platform holding up his homophobic declarations.
Now that I've given you my thoughts on the meat of the article, let's highlight some red flags. Have fun looking for these the next time you encounter some dubious looking science reporting.:
- Starts from an ideological position and works backwards to support it.
- Good science uses well collected data from solid experimentation to form conclusions, not the other way around. Also, if an appeal to morality is made, then the moral terms will have to be defined as they pertain to the research. What does "wrong" mean in this context, for instance.
- Makes great efforts to place the "researcher" in a position of authority.
- There are no "authorities" in science. Do not confuse experts for authorities and remember that if an argument makes an appeal to authority, it is not a valid argument.
- No experimental procedures are outlined.
- Though media articles don't generally go into much depth as to the methodology of scientific studies, few credible ones skip the subject altogether. If there isn't even a mention of the experimental methods used or of whether or not the study was a preliminary one or a large scale study with conclusive results, then there's no reason to assume that any rigour was applied at all.
- And always keep an eye out for logical fallacies.
To conclude, it's really hard to criticise the research conducted here as the cited "experiments" seem to be little more than observations strung together with flimsy links to human behaviour or physiology. I really hope that Mr. Chibuihem Stanley Amalaha is hugely overstating the support he has received from the University of Lagos for his work as even being able to "find [his] publication on the notice board there" would seriously call into question the quality of his education and the credibility of the institution. A big part of me hopes this is a hoax, or the work of a sole delusional man.
This article stood out as a particularly heinous travesty posing as science, but much more subtle and equally unscrutinised examples grace the pages of local newspapers and websites all the time. Giving young people the tools to cast a critical eye on such claims and teaching them what good science is and how it applies to discovering ways to make the world a better, and less hateful place is a big part of why I have chosen to support Actua. So stay tuned for more info about upcoming fund raising events in October that will be open to the public, I promise there is going to be a gaming link!
Image from http://fyne.co.uk via Google