Generalizability FAIL

Today, the New York Times ran a story on same-sex couples and polyamory. Can you spot the gaping lapse in the author’s logic?   

New research at San Francisco State University reveals just how common open relationships are among gay men and lesbians in the Bay Area. The Gay Couples Study has followed 556 male couples for three years—about 50 percent of those surveyed have sex outside their relationships, with the knowledge and approval of their partners.That consent is key. “With straight people, it’s called affairs or cheating,” said Colleen Hoff, the study’s principal investigator, “but with gay people it does not have such negative connotations.”

The study also found open gay couples just as happy in their relationships as pairs in sexually exclusive unions, Dr. Hoff said. A different study, published in 1985, concluded that open gay relationships actually lasted longer.

The author says “New Research at San Fransisco State University reveals just how common open relationships are among gay men and women,” and cites the Gay Couple Survey’s findings to bolster their assertion. That is, they claim half of gay male and lesbian partnerships are open.

Now, this was surprising to me. It runs against the stereotype that women who couple with women value monogamy to a conspicuous degree. But then I reread the survey data:  

The Gay Couples Study has followed 556 male couples for three years…

So, apparently there were no lesbian couples in the study. But the author continues to discuss the study’s findings as if they apply to all same-sex couples. They bolster their argument by opening with an anecdote about one (1) pair of married women with an open relationship. But they have nothing to do with the thrust of the article, viz. the results of the Gay Couples Study; without those statistics, the article is a string of anecdotes wherein polyamorous couples give exposition to the workings of their relationships. That in-of-itself is something worthy of discussion. But by insinuating some of those relationships contribute to a statistical population they are not a part of is just misleading.

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