Christopher H. Rosik, Ph.D.

Spitzer’s ‘retraction’ of his sexual orientation change study: what does it really mean?

Christopher H. Rosik, Ph.D.
By Christopher Rosik Ph.D.
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May 31, 2012 (NARTH.com) - A great deal of attention is currently being given to the recent “retraction” by Robert Spitzer, M.D., of his important study of sexual-orientation change (Spitzer, 2003a). The quotation marks around “retraction” are purposeful, for what has happened should not be characterized as a retraction. While this turn of events has now become a favorite talking point for those opposed to sexual orientation-change efforts (SOCE), the language of retraction reflects politically motivated speech rather than scientific analysis. What follows is intended to help those confused by Spitzer’s actions and the subsequent media feeding frenzy to understand what has really occurred. I have outlined below some key points that seem to have been lost in the partisan utilization of this turn of events.

1. Spitzer has not retracted his study. The proper term for what Spitzer has done is provided in the title to his recent letter of apology: He has reassessed his interpretation (Spitzer, 2012). It appears that he may have originally wished to retract the 2003 study, but the editor of the journal in which the study was published, Kenneth Zucker, Ph.D., denied this request. Zucker has been quoted regarding his exchange with Spitzer as observing:

You can retract data incorrectly analyzed; to do that, you publish an erratum. You can retract an article if the data were falsified-or the journal retracts it if the editor knows of it. As I understand it, he’s [Spitzer] just saying ten years later that he wants to retract his interpretation of the data. Well, we’d probably have to retract hundreds of scientific papers with regard to interpretation, and we don’t do that. (Dreger, 2012)

What Zucker is essentially saying is that there is nothing in the science of the study that warrants retraction, so all that is left for one to change is his interpretation of the findings, which is what Spitzer appears to have done.

2. Spitzer’s change of interpretation hinges on his new belief that reports of change in his research were not credible. Instead, he now asserts that participants’ accounts of change were “self-deception or outright lying” (Spitzer, 2012). In taking this position, Spitzer has aligned himself with original critics of the study. When the original study was published, peer commentaries about the study had been solicited and were published in the same issue. Among those who questioned the reliability of the self-reports of change were many familiar opponents of SOCE: A. Lee Beckstead, Helena Carlson, Kenneth Cohen, Ritch Savin-Williams, Gregory Herek, Bruce Rind, and Roger Worthington.

3. The case for the credibility of participants’ account of change still remains. Remember that nothing about the science of Spitzer’s research was flawed. Like all research pursuits, the methodology had limitations, but a reasonable case for accepting the validity of these accounts was made at the time, and still stands today. At the time his study was published, Spitzer (2003a) reported, “...there was a marked reduction on all change measures. This was not only on the three measures of overt behavior and sexual orientation self-identity…but also on the seven variables assessing sexual orientation itself” (p. 410). In addition, 119 of his sample of 200 participants reported achieving “Good Heterosexual Functioning,” which was defined in terms of increasing satisfaction in opposite sex sexual behaviors and decreased same-sex fantasy.

Among the peer commentaries that agreed with Spitzer’s original interpretation, Wakefield (2003) noted that, “...to assume without evidence that reports of changes must be deceptions begs the question of whether change sometimes occurs” (p. 457). Spitzer (2003b) himself responded to the critics by noting:

Therefore, the critics are correct in claiming that significant response bias could have been present but they certainly have not proved that it was present. They also did not point to anything in the study results that suggests response bias. I acknowledge that some response bias could certainly have occurred, but I find it hard to believe that it can explain all of the reported changes…Surely if bias were present, one would expect that subjects (as well as their spouses) would be motivated to give particularly glowing accounts of marital functioning. They did not. (p. 471)


It is curious that Spitzer’s (2012) apology seems to imply that he earlier claimed his research proved the efficacy of SOCE. As was understood at the time, the design of Spizter’s study ensured his research would not definitively prove that SOCE can be effective. Certainly it did not prove that all gays and lesbians can change their sexual orientation or that sexual orientation is simply a choice. The fact that some people inappropriately drew such conclusions appears to be a factor in Spitzer’s reassessment. Yet the fundamental interpretive question did and still does boil down to one of plausibility: Given the study limitations, is it plausible that some participants in SOCE reported actual change?

In spite of all the recent media hoopla, nothing has really changed regarding the interpretive choice one faces regarding the limitations of self-report in this study. Either all of the accounts across all of the measures of change across participant and spousal reports are self-deceptions and/or deliberate fabrications, or they suggest it is possible that some individuals actually do experience change in the dimensions of sexual orientation. Good people can disagree about which of these interpretive conclusions they favor, but assuredly it is not unscientific or unreasonable to continue to believe the study supports the plausibility of change.

4. There is an unspoken double standard in the reports of Spitzer’s reassessment. The probable influence of political and other non-scientific factors in how Spitzer’s reassessment is being portrayed can be seen in which interpretations of self-report data receive favored notoriety and which are relegated to unfavored exile. Yarhouse (2003) observed this lack of consistency at the time of the study:

Memory recall of this sort can be unreliable. To be fair, however, much of what we know about LGB experiences, including theories for the etiology of sexual orientation and studies of sexual identity development and synthesis, is based upon retrospective studies utilizing memory recall. Any time proponents of the biological hypothesis for the etiology of homosexuality cite the Bell et al. (1981) study they are referencing a study that utilized retrospective memory recall. The Shidlo and Schroeder (2002) study also relied upon memory recall and is subject to the same criticism. (p. 462).

Spitzer (2003b) had similar observations in defending his findings, implying that demand characteristics could have influenced the self-reports of participants in other related research:

This study had essentially the same design and a similar recruitment strategy of ex-gay subjects as in the Beckstead (2001) and Shidlo and Schroeder (2002) studies. This raises the question of why so very few of their subjects gave answers consistent with a change in sexual orientation whereas the majority of my subjects did. The possibility of researcher bias must be considered. (p. 471).


A triumphal embrace often accompanies self-report data that suggests harm from SOCE, the equivalence of gay and heterosexual parenting, and other foci that fit with the preferred narrative of gay activists. It is unfortunate but not surprising that reports of sexual-orientation change are subject to unrelenting skepticism while other self-report data such as that of Shidlo and Schroeder (2002) seem to be reified as universal fact even though they suffer from similar limitations. If Spitzer’s study is to be rejected for its use of self-report data, should not methodologically equivalent research against SOCE receive a similarly skeptical reception? While scientific fairness would seem to demand this, political interests clearly do not.

5. Personal and sociopolitical contexts may provide insights into Spitzer’s reassessment. I once spoke briefly with Dr. Spitzer by phone years ago following the publication of his research. He seemed to be a kind and compassionate man who exemplified the spirit of genuine scientific curiosity. No doubt he was grieved that some used his work to make unsupportable claims of SOCE efficacy and this may have resulted in unfulfilled expectations by some gay and lesbian consumers. Yet it is certainly possible that other needs beyond his concern for human welfare were at play in his apology.

It is hard to imagine the fall from professional grace that Spitzer took due to this study. In a very short period of time, his status within his profession changed from that of a heroic pioneer of gay rights to that of an unwitting mouthpiece for practitioners of SOCE, whom many of his colleagues deem morally reprehensible. Before and after the study was published, Spitzer confirmed that he was getting a high volume of hate mail and anger directed at him (Spitzer, 2003b; Vonholdt, 2000). A decade of being hammered by your friends, colleagues, and the gay community that once revered you would surely take a toll on any of us.

Spitzer currently suffers from Parkinson’s disease and is in the twilight of his life, which makes it understandable that he would reflect on what sort of legacy he wants to leave. Hero or villain, icon or pariah-which legacy would anyone prefer to have? I can not say for sure that these non-scientific considerations influenced Spitzer’s decision to “retract” his study, but I can say that it is hard for me to conceive how they would not. Spitzer likely knows infinitely more gay and lesbian persons than he does individuals who report change in sexual orientation. This may have made it difficult for him to see that in trying to atone for the harm gay men and lesbians in his professional network claimed resulted from the study, he simultaneously caused harm to participants in his study who experienced change and now are told they were deceived or lying. All of this serves to underscore how personal and subjective the practice of social scientific discourse can be when the subject matter is entangled in a major sociopolitical debate.

Conclusion
       
A purely scientific approach to the limitations of Spitzer’s research would be to conduct more rigorous outcome research, something that he along with others have been calling for all along (Spitzer, 2003a, 2003b; Jones, Rosik, Williams, & Byrd, 2010). Even the APA Task Force’s Report on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation (American Psychological Association, 2009) issued a call for such studies to be undertaken. Unfortunately, the reality appears to be that the APA and other institutions in a position to fund and conduct outcome research on SOCE in conjunction with NARTH and other SOCE practitioners have no real interest in doing so. They have nothing to gain by such research, as outcomes unfavorable to SOCE would not meaningfully change their current skepticism, while outcomes favorable to SOCE would be a public relations and public policy disaster for them.

I doubt that Spitzer would “retract” his assessment of the likelihood that needed follow up studies would be conducted (Spitzer, 2003b):

Given the cost and complexity of such a study and the current view in the mental health professions of the benefits and risks of reorientation therapy, such a study is not going to happen in the near future. This is unfortunate because of the real questions raised, albeit admittedly not resolved, by this study (p. 472).


So instead of more and better research on SOCE, we find activists and their supporters in the media pouncing on a change of interpretation in an effort to preempt legitimate scientific debate. Nuance, context, and balanced analysis all be damned. What seems to be foremost is the use of Spitzer’s reassessment to bludgeon SOCE supporters into submission and silence. Is it really far-fetched to suspect science is being held hostage to political agendas here?

I sincerely hope that this brief analysis helps clarify what did and did not happen when Spitzer “retracted” his earlier study. No new scientific finding was discovered that discredited SOCE. No egregious methodological flaw was identified. The same arguments forwarded in favor or against the study a decade ago still stand. Legitimate debate about the study’s significance can and should still take place. Nothing has changed other than Spitzer has revised his earlier interpretation for what are likely to be a host of understandable but inherently non-scientific reasons. This is his right to do, but let no one tell you that in doing so he has discredited his research or alternative interpretations more favorable to those who report change in their same-sex attractions and behavior.

References

American Psychological Association (2009). Report of the APA task force on appropriate therapeutic responses to sexual orientation. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf

Beckstead, A. L. (2001). Cures versus choice: Agendas in sexual reorientation therapy. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 5(3/4), 87-115.

Bell, A. P., Weinberg, M. S., & Hammersmith, S. K. (1981). Sexual preference: Its development in
men and women. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Dreger, A. (2012, April 11). How to ex an “ex-gay” study. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://psychologytoday.com/blog/fetishes-i-dont-get/201204/how-ex-ex-gay-study

Jones, S. L., Rosik, C. H., Williams, R. N., & Byrd, A. D. (2010). A Scientific, Conceptual, and Ethical Critique of the Report of the APA Task Force on Sexual Orientation. The General Psychologist, 45(2), 7-18. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/divisions/div1/news/fall2010/Fall%202010%20TGP.pdf

Shidlo, A., & Schroeder, M. (2002). Changing sexual orientation: A consumers’ report. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33, 249-259.

Spitzer, R. L. (2003a). Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation? 200 participants reporting a change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(5), 403-417.

Spitzer, R. L. (2003b). Reply: Study results should not be dismissed and justify further research on the efficacy of sexual reorientation therapy. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(5), 469-472.

Spitzer, R. L. (2012). Spitzer reassesses his 2003 study of reparative therapy of homosexuality [Letter to the editor]. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10508-012-9966-y

Wakefield, J. C. (2003). Sexual reorientation therapy: Is it ever ethical? Can it ever change sexual orientation? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(5), p. 457-459.

Vonholdt, C. R. (2001). Interview with Robert L. Spitzer: Homosexuality and the reality of change. Bulletin of the German Institute for Youth and Society, 1, 33-36. Retrieved from http://www.dijg.de/english/homosexuality-reality-of-change/

Yarhouse, M. A. (2003). How Spitzer’s study gives a voice to the disenfranchised within a minority group. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(5), 462-463.

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Lisa Bourne

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Pressure mounts as Catholic Relief Services fails to act on VP in gay ‘marriage’

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By Lisa Bourne
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Rick Estridge, Catholic Relief Services' Vice President of Overseas Finance, is in a same-sex "marriage," public records show. Twitter

BALTIMORE, MD, April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Nearly a week after news broke that a Catholic Relief Services vice president had contracted a homosexual “marriage” while also publicly promoting homosexuality on social media in conflict with Church teaching, the US Bishops international relief agency has taken no apparent steps to address the matter and is also not talking.

CRS Vice President of Overseas Finance Rick Estridge entered into a homosexual “marriage” in Maryland the same month in 2013 that he was promoted by CRS to vice president, public records show.

Despite repeated efforts at a response, CRS has not acknowledged LifeSiteNews’ inquiries during the week. And the agency told ChurchMilitant.com Thursday that no action had been taken beyond discussion of the situation and CRS would have no further comment.

"Nothing has changed,” CRS Senior Manager for Communications Tom said. “No further statement will be made."

LifeSiteNews first contacted CRS for a response prior to the April 20 release of the report and did not receive a reply, however Estridge’s Facebook and LinkeIn profiles were then removed just prior to the report’s release.

CRS also did not acknowledge LifeSiteNews’ follow-up inquiry later in the week.

“Having an executive who publicly celebrates a moral abomination shows the ineffectiveness of CRS' Catholic identity training,” Lepanto Institute President Michael Hichborn told LifeSiteNews. “How many others who hate Catholic moral teaching work at CRS?”

CRS did admit it was aware Estridge was in a “same-sex civil marriage” to Catholic News Agency (CNA) Monday afternoon, and confirmed he was VP of Overseas Finance and had been with CRS for 16 years.

“At this point we are in deliberations on this matter,” Price told CNA that day.

ChurchMilitant.com also reported that according to its sources, it was a well-known fact at CRS headquarters in Baltimore that Estridge was in a homosexual “marriage.” 

“There is no way CRS didn't know one of its executives entered into a mock-marriage until we broke the story,” Hichborn said. “The implication is clear; CRS top brass had no problem with having an executive so deliberately flouting Catholic moral teaching.”

“The big question is,” Hichborn continued, “what other morally repugnant matters is CRS comfortable with?”

While the wait continues for the Bishops’ relief organization to address the matter, those behind the report and other critics of prior instances of CRS involvement in programs and groups that violate Church principles continue to call for a thorough and independent review of the agency programs and personnel.

“How long should it take to call an employee into your office, tell him that his behavior is incompatible with the mission of the organization, and ask for his resignation?” asked Population Research Institute President Steven Mosher. “About thirty minutes, I would say.”

“The Catholic identity of CRS is at stake,” Hichborn stated. “If CRS does nothing, then there is no way faithful Catholics can trust the integrity of CRS's programs or desire to make its Catholicity preeminent.” 

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Thousands of marriage activists gathered in D.C. June 19, 2014 for the 2nd March for Marriage. Dustin Siggins / LifeSiteNews.com
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WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- At noon on Saturday, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and dozens of cosponsors, coalition partners, and speakers will launch the third annual March for Marriage. Thousands of people are expected to take place in this important event to show the support real marriage has among the American people.

As the sole media sponsor of the March, LifeSiteNews is proud to exclusively livestream the March. Click here to see the rally at noon Eastern Time near the U.S. Capitol, and the March to the Supreme Court at 1:00 Eastern Time.

And don't forget to pray that God's Will is done on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court hears arguments about marriage!

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Hillary Clinton: ‘Religious beliefs’ against abortion ‘have to be changed’

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By Ben Johnson

NEW YORK CITY, April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Speaking to an influential gathering in New York City on Thursday, Hillary Clinton declared that “religious beliefs” that condemn "reproductive rights," “have to be changed.”

“Yes, we've cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health,” Hillary told the Women in the World Summit yesterday.

Liberal politicians use “reproductive health” as a blanket term that includes abortion. However, Hillary's reference echoes National Organization for Women (NOW) president Terry O’Neill's op-ed from last May that called abortion “an essential measure to prevent the heartbreak of infant mortality.”

The Democratic presidential hopeful added that governments should throw the power of state coercion behind the effort to redefine traditional religious dogmas.

“Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources, and political will,” she said. “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”

The line received rousing applause at the feminist conference, hosted in Manhattan's Lincoln Center by Tina Brown.

She also cited religious-based objections to the HHS mandate, funding Planned Parenthood, and the homosexual and transgender agenda as obstacles that the government must defeat.

“America moves ahead when all women are guaranteed the right to make their own health care choices, not when those choices are taken away by an employer like Hobby Lobby,” she said. The Supreme Court ruled last year that closely held corporations had the right to opt out of the provision of ObamaCare requiring them to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization to employees with no co-pay – a mandate that violates the teachings of the Catholic Church and other Christian bodies.

Clinton lamented that “there are those who offer themselves as leaders...who would defund the country's leading provider of family planning,” Planned Parenthood, “and want to let health insurance companies once again charge women just because of our gender.”

“We move forward when gay and transgender women are embraced...not fired from good jobs because of who they love or who they are,” she added.

It is not the first time the former first lady had said that liberal social policies should displace religious views. In a December 2011 speech in Geneva, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said perhaps the “most challenging issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens.” These objections, she said, are “not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation.”

While opinions on homosexuality are “still evolving,” in time “we came to learn that no [religious] practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us.”

Her views, if outside the American political mainstream, have been supported by the United Nations. The UN Population Fund stated in its 2012 annual report that religious objections to abortion-inducing drugs had to be overcome. According to the UNFPA report, “‘duty-bearers’ (governments and others)” have a responsibility to assure that all forms of contraception – including sterilization and abortion-inducing ‘emergency contraception’ – are viewed as acceptable – “But if they are not acceptable for cultural, religious or other reasons, they will not be used.”

Two years later, the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of the Child instructed the Vatican last February that the Catholic Church should amend canon law “relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services may be permitted.”

At Thursday's speech, Hillary called the legal, state-enforced implementation of feminist politics “the great unfinished business of the 21st century,” which must be accomplished “not just for women but for everyone — and not just in far away countries but right here in the United States.”

“These are not just women's fights. These have to be America's fights and the world's fights,” she said. “There's still much to be done in our own country, much more to be done around the world, but I'm confident and optimistic that if we get to work, we will get it done together.”

American critics called Clinton's suggestion that a nation founded upon freedom of religion begin using state force to change religious practices unprecedented.

“Never before have we seen a presidential candidate be this bold about directly confronting the Catholic Church's teachings on abortion,” said Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.

“In one sense, this shows just how extreme the pro-abortion caucus actually is,” Ed Morrissey writes at HotAir.com. “Running for president on the basis of promising to use the power of government to change 'deep seated cultural codes [and] religious beliefs' might be the most honest progressive slogan in history.”

He hoped that, now that she had called for governments to change religious doctrines, “voters will now see the real Hillary Clinton, the one who dismisses their faith just the same as Obama did, and this time publicly rather than in a private fundraiser.”

Donohue asked Hillary “to take the next step and tell us exactly what she plans to do about delivering on her pledge. Not only would practicing Catholics like to know, so would Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and all those who value life from conception to natural death.”

You may watch Hillary's speech below.

Her comments on religion begin at approximately 9:00. 

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