August 7th, 2009
The National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) has issued a press release in response to the American Psychological Association’s Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses To Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts. That APA resolution concludes that there is “no evidence” that therapy to change sexual orientation actually works, and calls on therapists to refrain from promising otherwise. NARTH didn’t like that one bit:
NARTH appreciates that the APA stressed the importance of faith and religious diversity. Unfortunately, however, the report reflects a very strong confirmation bias; that is, the task force reflected virtually no ideological diversity. No APA member who offers reorientation therapy was allowed to join the task force. In fact, one can make the case that every member of the task force can be classified as an activist. They selected and interpreted studies that fit within their innate and immutable view. For example, they omitted the Jones and Yarhouse study, the Karten study, and only gave cursory attention to the Spitzer study. Had the task force been more neutral in their approach, they could have arrived at only one conclusion: homosexuality is not invariable fixed in all people, and some people can and do change, not just in terms of behavior and identity but in core features of sexual orientation such as fantasy and attractions.
This is pretty rich. First, NARTH complains that the APA Task Force engaged in “a very strong confirmation bias” and gives a definition for conformation bias that is completely wrong. This is what confirmation bias really is:
In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.
Confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias and represents an error of inductive inference toward confirmation of the hypothesis under study.
Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis.
NARTH instead offered a definition for confirmation bias that has nothing to do with confirmation bias, and everything to do with launching an ad hominem attack against the APA’s Task Force members.
But the charge that the APA Task Force engaged in confirmation bias is even more laughable considering the wholesale confirmation biases evident in NARTH’s own pre-emptive report on conversion therapy. We have already provided evidence that NARTH carefully selected studies for their report based on purported successful outcomes, while omitting studies which ran counter to their pre-determined hypothesis. That, of course, is the very definition of confirmation bias. And in trying to find as much evidence to support their position as possible, they hoovered virtually every confirming “study” they could find regardless of scientific merit, including unpublished dissertations, non-peer reviewed books, (specifically, the Jones and Yarhouse book and the Karten dissertation they pointed to in their press release), pop-psychology paperbacks — you name it.
They even referenced the 1979 Masters and Johnson book Homosexuality in Perspective. This is how NARTH’s report described that book:
In Masters and Johnson’s (1979) treatment of 90 homosexuals, a 28.4 percent failure rate was reported six years after treatment. Masters and Johnson chose to report failure rather than success rates to avoid vague, inaccurate concepts of success; however, by implication, more than 70 percent of their patients achieved some degree of success toward their self-identified goal of diminishing unwanted homosexuality and developing their heterosexual potential.
Of course, the most important thing that we now know about the Masters and Johnson book is that it was faked. There were no records for any of those reported patients and their supposed success stories. Co-author Virginia Johnson was later so embarrassed by it, she referred to it as a “bad book.”
The APA Task Force, in sharp contrast to the NARTH report authors, established a very rigorous criteria to determine what studies they would review before reviewing them. That criteria was this (PDF: 1,092KB/136 pages, see page 9):
Initially, we reviewed our charge and defined necessary bodies of scientific and professional literature to review to meet that charge. In light of our charge to review the 1997 resolution, we concluded that the most important task was to review the existing scientific literature on treatment outcomes of sexual orientation change efforts.
We also concluded that a review of research before 1997 as well as since 1997 was necessary to provide a complete and thorough evaluation of the scientific literature. Thus, we conducted a review of the available empirical research on treatment efficacy and results published in English from 1960 on and also used common databases such as PsycINFO and Medline, as well as other databases such as ATLA Religion Database, LexisNexis, Social Work Abstracts, and Sociological Abstracts, to review evidence regarding harm and benefit from sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). The literature review for other areas of the report was also drawn from these databases and included lay sources such as GoogleScholar and material found through Internet searches.
…The task force received comments from the public, professionals, and other organizations and read all comments received. We also welcomed submission of material from the interested public, mental health professionals, organizations, and scholarly communities. All nominated individuals who were not selected for the task force were invited to submit suggestions for articles and other material for the task force to review. We reviewed all material received. Finally, APA staff met with interested parties to understand their concerns.
In other words, the APA Task Force defined the criteria before hand and reviewed every study that met that criteria, studies that purported to show change in sexual orientation, and studies which showed failures to change — including many studies that NARTH pretended never existed.
Conversely, there’s no evidence that NARTH’s review was in any way systematic. Given the studies that we know NARTH omitted, we know there was nothing systematic about their approach other than to confirm their predetermined outcome. And given the fraudulent material they did include — as well as the abundance of material that never met the scientific gold standard of having been peer-reviewed — it is clear that NARTH’s report is the very definition of confirmation bias. And their press release is the very definition of irony.
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