Academics around the world may be shaking their fists at the air, whingeing about today’s teenagers. A new study in the American Journal of Public Health reveals how teens are skewing the results of LGBT research by giving bogus answers.
Study author Joseph R. Cimpian, an economics professor at New York University, tells The Daily Beast he first learned of this issue when he realized a weirdly high percentage of survey respondents reported being gay and blind.
“What we found is that ‘gay’ kids are way more likely to be blind and to be deaf and to have three or more children of their own and all sorts of things,” he explains. “When you look at these data, you think, ‘This is ridiculous!’”
Alternatively, these so-called “mischievous responders” would also report being extremely tall and/or eating carrots four or more times a day.
“Clearly the kids are messing with us,” Cimpian concludes.
The professor and his colleagues have been using machine learning and supercomputers to statistically filter out the mischievous responders — a majority of whom, unsurprisingly, are teenage boys.
The results of this process suggest the disparity between straight and queer teens’ excessive alcohol and drug use are “not as big as the literature previously would have suggested,” Cimpian reports.
But the hoodwinking hasn’t affected the statistics about bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation among LGBT teens. “It actually shows that [the LGBT mental health disparity] is a very robust finding,” Cimpian explained.
The “mischievous responders” issue is a big problem — especially because these surveys have been used to shape public policy — but Cimpian observes that it’s hard to get teens to take their role in the research seriously.
“A lot of times when I even talk to fellow faculty members about this, they say things like, ‘Oh, I would have been the kid that you would call a mischievous responder,’” he says.
Or, as The Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen writes, “The allure of depicting yourself as a 10,000-foot-tall, carrot-chomping, gay cocaine addict may, for some youth, be too great to resist.”