Reader John M. sent in this link, so we make it three days in a row: another Times article which pretends to provide data insights but in fact just spins a story.
The first thing that bothered John was the title of the article. At first, I didn't know what he was talking about because the headline I saw was "Parenting by Gays More Common in the South, Census Shows". I was a little mystified. How can one object to a Census finding? Later, I discovered that the same article has an alternative title, as shown below:
Compare the header to the lede shown below the header. If Jacksonville were the South, and population size were hospitality, then well, the wine came from those grapes. Poring over the entire article, I could not find a single statistic from the Census that provides a direct measurement of "welcoming"-ness. It would be great to know the distribution of gay parents across the country, the proportion of gay households, survey results of gay people, and so on.
I'm not saying Ms. Tavernise did not have an engrossing human interest story on her hands. I just don't think she needs to drag Census data into the narrative. Doing so weakens the story because the data are not relevant.
One can summarize the whole story thus: Southern states (and using Florida as an example) have become more welcoming to gay families in recent years. Even some churches now welcome gay worshippers. These families still face barriers, such as economic hardship, lack of legal status, and awkward situations in which they lie about their sexual identities. Many of the gay parents have kids, often from their prior heterosexual marriages.
Whenever "data" appear, the narrative loses focus. For example:
Gay couples in Southern states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are more likely to be raising children than their counterparts on the West Coast, in New York and in New England.
The pattern, identified by Mr. Gates, is also notable because the families in this region defy the stereotype of a mainstream gay America that is white, affluent, urban and living in the Northeast or on the West Coast.
I think mainstream gay America is also stereotypically single so saying gay couples don't fit the stereotype is not telling us much. Besides, maybe Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are less white, less affluent and less urban than the Northeast or the West Coast, regardless of sexual orientation. None of these speak to Southern hospitality towards gays.
One particular statistic ought to be used more carefully:
About 32 percent of gay couples in Jacksonville are raising children, Mr. Gates said, citing the 2009 Census data, second only to San Antonio, where the rate is about 34 percent.
It's hard to know how high these numbers are without context. (For example, this report (PDF link) tells us that overall, 20 percent of gay couples in the U.S. have kids.) Does this show that gay couples in the South are more likely to raise kids? Or does this show that gay couples are less likely to be "out" in the South, and one of the main reasons for coming out is to get benefits for the kids?
The point is that a large proportion can be due to a large numerator or a small denominator.