NEWS17 October 2013

Specialist LGBT agency requests withdrawal of ‘misleading’ ONS data

Features Government UK

UK — A specialist consultancy working in the area of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) research has written to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to claim that the methodology used in its Integrated Household Survey has led to ‘dangerously’ inaccurate data on the prevalence of homosexuality and bisexuality in the UK.

According to data published by ONS in early October, 1.5% of adults in the UK identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

But research agency Out Now has suggested that the methodology used by ONS to gather this information could have led to this figure being too low. Out Now argues that this inaccuracy could be dangerous as it may lead to misreporting, as well as funding problems for organisations focused on the health of LGB people.

In the ONS survey, interview subjects were contacted at home by an interviewer and asked to say ‘stop’ when the response pertaining to their sexual orientation was mentioned. Out Now claims that the result of nearly 4% of the population selecting the ‘don’t know/ refusal’ option for this question is evidence of this approach being flawed.

“Does it not strike anyone at ONS as perhaps a bit ‘odd’ that this many people might not know their own sexual orientation?” said Ian Johnson, CEO of Out Now (pictured), in an extract from the letter written to ONS. “If we are therefore to conclude that these respondents are in fact refusing to divulge their sexuality – a not unreasonable assumption we contend, given the clumsy way in which respondents are expected in your research to ‘out’ themselves to a total stranger – then the only valid conclusion that your research ought to be able to make is: ‘Up to 4% of UK people prefer not to divulge their sexuality to a stranger when asked for an ONS research study’.”

Johnson argues that the ONS should adopt the approach used in the Yankelovich MONITOR study in the US in the early 1990s, whereby interviews were conducted in respondents’ living rooms and the question related to sexual orientation was not asked until the third visit, after a rapport had been established between interviewer and respondent. The question was asked using flip cards which were randomised so the interviewer could not know the response an individual had given for the question. In this study, just under 6% of the US population was found to identify themselves as ‘gay/ lesbian/ homosexual’.

“Now we either need to conclude that people in the USA are around five times more likely to be gay, lesbian or bisexual,” Johnson wrote, “or else we are left with the conclusion that Out Now has reached, which is that your survey is misleading, inaccurate and dangerous.”


1 Comment

9 years ago

He seems to put a reasonable and cogent argument.

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