September 18th, 2007
Dr. Stanton Jones, co-author of Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, responded to my preliminary review in the comments. I wanted to elevate his comments to another post for visibility and to start a new comment thread. I’d like to thank Dr. Jones for sharing his thoughts. I ask that all commenters treat the subject matter with similar civility. Thank you.
Dear Mr. Burroway and the readers of the Box Turtle Bulletin:
Some brief reflections on your review (with a quick added note that we will not be responding much in this type of format; the demands are simply too great):
1. Above all else, thank you for a substantive and thoughtful preliminary review that actually engages the factual, scientific and intellectual issues of the study instead of engaging in the types of character assassination and other negative tactics of some commentators. While I obviously disagree with your conclusion that “we’re still left waiting for that definitive breakthrough ex-gay study. I don’t think this one is it,” you have nevertheless made clear the grounds on which you have made this judgment, have discussed those grounds rationally, and those grounds are areas of legitimate debate.
2. There seems to be considerable confusion about the book not being available until October. The book is in fact available now; it was released the same day as the paper presentation in Nashville. Quite a number of your questions are answered in the full book presentation; the paper is a sampling of the findings, with an emphasis in the paper (admittedly) on the clearer findings that led us to our conclusions. Now to four substantive issues you raise:
3. Psychophysiological measurement: You ask about our failure to use MRI technology. First, we report in this paper and book on the data gathered up to two years ago, and the MRI technology was unavailable then. Second, even today I would not use it. The “No Lie MRI” appears to be just the latest hyped and unproven version of the hope for a foolproof lie detector. A recent New Yorker article by Margaret Talbot (“Duped: Can Brain Scans Uncover Lies?,” July 2, 2007) presents a readable and thorough discussion of just how overly-hyped and poorly validated this new technology is. There is inadequate scientific basis to believe the “No Lie MRI” would be a suitable measure for our subjects.
4. Retention: You put quite a bit of emphasis on our drop-outs and chided our efforts to contact and assess drop-outs without benefit of reading our account of this in the book. You particularly compare us unfavorably to the Add Health Study. Remember that the Add Health Study was a study of adolescents with parental approval, so those researchers were remarkably advantaged in terms of being able to track down missing participants through their families. We had no such advantage with an adult population. We went to extreme lengths to keep people in the study, involving multiple pleas and contacts including those through families and friends, and, when we had contact information at all, with personal calls and pleas from me. At some point, you must respect people’s wishes not to be contacted. We remain proud of our retention rate in the study.
5. Representativeness of sample: You say “I think at least one demographic variable they provided [i.e., age] is ample evidence that their sample is not representative.” To the best of my knowledge, there is only one study that can come close to the claim of getting a representative sample in this area, and that is the Bailey, Dunne, & Martin Australian twin study (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2000) that concluded that genetic factors were not a statistically significant contributor to causation; this is a great sample because it was an exhaustive sample of every twin born in Australia! (Update: Dr. Jones has more on the Australian twin study here.) At some level, the ultimate representativeness of all other samples is debatable. The evidence you cite in your dismissal is a good example of our difficulty: You state your impression that Exodus conferences draw a younger crowd while our sample age is older, and that therefore that we have a bad sample. But you have provided no justification that your impressions of Exodus conference ages are valid, nor stated the bases for your inference that conference attenders are in turn representative of those who seek help in local Exodus ministries. We do acknowledge that we cannot prove the representativeness of our sample, but have numerous reasons, cited in the book, for why we think we got something like a representative sample. And one final note: samples have to be adequate to the task of the study, and we discuss in the book the reasons why the sample is adequate to test an absolute hypothesis (that change is impossible) and a strong hypothesis (that the change attempt is often and decisively harmful).
6. Truly prospective: We explicitly discuss in the book the implications of including the Phase 2 group. I would soften your criticism of the retrospective implications of this group, because in contrast to the Spitzer study where subjects could be looking back over many years or decades to remember their prior experience, our Phase 2 group were looking back into their immediate past. More importantly, however, it is vital to note that while the average changes noted were less strong for the Phase 1 group, Phase 1 subjects were proportionally represented in all of our success categories, so an easy dismissal of significant changes in this group is simply not possible.
Again, it was a delight to read a thoughtful review of our study. No study is perfect. To argue that ours is the strongest study yet done in this area is not the same as to argue that it is exemplary or perfect. It is a stronger study than any available, one particularly suited to the hypotheses investigated.
Stanton L. Jones
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