Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Archives of Sexual Behavior Reportedly Refuses to Retract Ex-gay Study

A very significant story was published today in The American Prospect, unfortunately buried in the middle of an introspective story by the writer of the piece. 


It's about Robert Spitzer's 'ex-gay' study. Dr Robert Spitzer is - today - an 80 year old retired psychiatrist whose area of specialisation was sex research. He was, for most of his academic life, affiliated with Columbia University in New York. Spitzer's work has been very influential, he is credited - among others - with having significant influence in the USA on the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness.  


Spitzer also published a study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that well and truly made him notorious both among gay activist as well as among the homophobes of the world. The study in question interviewed a sample of gay folks who had undergone 'reparative' therapy aimed at changing their sexual orientation. Spitzer concluded, based on those interviews, that some highly motivated gay people could change their sexual orientation. 


The study has been vigorously criticized over the years, not least because its claims are based on self-reporting of 'ex-gay' folks who usually came from cultural (not to say fanatically religious) contexts where homosexuality was highly frowned upon (that's probably putting it too mildly still). Now, for a gay evangelical Christian to claim after 'reparative therapy; they he or she ain't gay any longer is understandable, given that the homophobic ideology they're hoping to fit into doesn't allow them to be who they are to begin with. It's another story to buy such self-reporting. 


Here's the relevant bit from the American Prospect article. Spitzer is quoted as saying: In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are largely correct,” he said. “The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.” He said he spoke with the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior about writing a retraction, but the editor declined.' 


The study in question has been used for many years by anti-gay activists as evidence that homosexual people can change their sexual orientation - and that they're blameworthy if they don't try to do so, given that homosexuality is an 'abomination' or an 'objective disorder' (as one of the churches operating on my university campus will have it). 


I think it's remarkable that the journal that published Spitzer's original findings refuses him the right to publish a retraction notice. We know now from countless examples that self-reported 'ex-gays' turned out to be - surprise, surprise - current gays. 


Addendum: 5:40pm EST - Usually well-informed sources tell me that the Archives of Sexual Behavior does not recall Spitzer's reported request - but it's all off-the-record. This leads to the following questions: 1) Did Spitzer tell the truth in the interview? 2) Did Spitzer actually say what he is reported saying? 3) Is the off-the-record information from the Archives a true reflection of what happened? I certainly don't know.
Addendum: 07:08am EST -The Archives have finally gone on record on this matter.Check out their entirely sensible views on the matter here. Over to Dr Spitzer. 

1 comment:

  1. For those interested in what Zucker has to say about his conversation with Spitzer see http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fetishes-i-dont-get/201204/how-ex-ex-gay-study

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