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Factoid Alert: Death Rates and Gay Men
February 01, 2002
Pat Buchanan peddles a discredited statistic about gay men

Returning vampire-like from the grave, another debunked factoid reared its head again recently. Pat Buchanan's syndicated column for Jan. 16 repeated the canard that, "A few years back, a survey of obituaries in the homosexual press found the average age of out-of-the-closet male homosexuals at death was 39 for those who had died of AIDS and 42 for the rest" ("Mainstreaming deviancy in California," Creators Syndicate).

This "survey" has been thoroughly discredited. It was quoted by former education secretary Bill Bennett on ABC television and in The Weekly Standard back in 1997 (Nov. 24) and came in for thorough investigations by Walter Olson of Slate and Andrew Sullivan of The New Republic. Sullivan discovered that its author, Paul Cameron, had been expelled from the American Psychological Association "for misrepresenting the findings of others and engaging in dubious research techniques".

Olson took a detailed look at the survey's supposed methodology. It consisted of a review of obituaries and news stories about deaths in gay newspapers at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

By doing so it necessarily ignored those gay men living healthily, those outside the scene covered by gay newspapers and included all forms of death, including accidental (which led to the ludicrous claim that lesbians are 300 times more likely to die in a car accident than other women). Nick Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute told Olson that "the method as you describe it is just ridiculous."

Owing to the AIDS epidemic, it is likely that gay men have a lower average life than other men. However, as Olson pointed out, non-infected gay men tend to have higher incomes and educational achievement than the average male, two factors closely correlated with enhanced life span.

Buchanan actually claimed that "Just as the correlation between heavy smoking and early death from emphysema, lung cancer and heart disease has been established beyond refutation, so too, has the link between male sodomy and a short life." Nothing could be further from the truth. Elevating prejudice to the status of data is no way to carry on a debate.

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