Young “trolls” are skewing scientific surveys by claiming to be LGBTQ, according to a clever survey uncovering this bias presented in the American Journal of Public Health.
The study’s primary author, Joseph R. Cimpian, became suspicious while looking at the results of one report showing correlations that made little sense.
“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,” Cimpian said to The Daily Beast. “When you look at these data, you think, ‘This is ridiculous!’”
In the new study, researchers looked at the Youth Rise Behavior Survey. This study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is given to high school students.
Restricting their study to the 2015 YRBS, they focused on responses from states and districts who included questions on sexual identity and orientation. This gave them a data set of 72,641 males and 76,319 females to look at.
In examining the results from their test subjects, researchers looked at the relationship between those reporting as LGB — the study did not include transgender people — and other items on the survey that are otherwise unrelated.
“We would expect that no meaningful relationship exists between sexuality and the frequency with which an individual eats carrots, fruit, salads, or potatoes. Similarly, we expect that height, asthma, and dentist visits are not associated with sexuality,” reads the study.
“Thus, we would expect that a logistic regression predicting sexuality (LGBQ vs heterosexual) as a function of height, asthma, dentist visits, and eating habits would not predict sexuality. However, these predictor items share a common feature with sexuality on self-administered questionnaires—they all contain response options that some youths would find funny to answer affirmatively.”
The study continues, “A mischievous responder might find it funny to report that he eats carrots, fruit, potatoes, and salads each ‘four or more times a day’; is extremely tall; is unsure whether he has asthma; has never been to the dentist; and that he identifies as ‘gay,’ even if none of these is true for this individual in reality.”
The false responses were predominately from boys.
Sorting out these mischievous responses proved beneficial: By removing the 10% of so of responses that proved to be false — those who listed themselves as LGBQ and also were overly tall, ate an unusual amount of vegetables, and an odd number of dental visits — showed a big change in other parts of the YRBS survey.
Reports of cocaine and ecstasy use alone fell 28% by removing the suspect responses.
It is worth noting, too, that removing all mischievous reports did not significantly change the results when it came to suicidal ideation and bullying.
“Drug- and alcohol-use disparities were among those most affected by suspect data, whereas disparity estimates for being bullied, feeling sad or hopeless, and thinking about suicide were not noticeably affected by suspect cases,” reads the survey.