Researcher Apologizes for Flawed Ex-Gay Study

Jim Burroway

April 25th, 2012

Robert Spitzer, who recently retracted his landmark 2001 study claiming to “prove” that people who underwent ex-gay therapy could change their sexual orientation, issued an apology to the gay community. He also acknowledged that his study suffered from what he called a “fatal flaw”: “The simple fact is that there was no way to determine if the subject’s accounts of change were valid.”

Those statements were included in a letter to Dr. Kenneth Zucker, the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behaviorwhich published the study in 2003. (An earlier version of the study had been presented before a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in 2001. It was press accounts of that 2001 presentation which garnered nationwide attention.) In the letter obtained by Truth Wins Out and posted on their web site today, Spizer wrote:

I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some “highly motivated” individuals.

David Waite

April 25th, 2012

I salute Robert Spitzer’s attempt to make amends for his scientifically fatally flawed listening-to-the-choir which masqueraded as research. I pointed out its flaw to friends at the time it was first publicized, puzzled that a scientist I had respected could so completely disavow the early work which made his professional reputation, while simultaneously destroying his credibility as a researcher with a study whose parameters wouldn’t have been accepted from an undergraduate by the student’s professors.

As an old man, I recognize a possible desire to face a nearing death bed with a cleaned up record. In that spirit of understanding I accept (as far as I have any right to do so) his apology and conditionally endorse its apparent sincerety.

My “conditional” is down to what was left out of that apology. I looked in vain for this sentence: “Lastly, I apologize to the loved ones of any gay individual who committed suicide, directly or indirectly as a result of my flawed study being used to justify the practice of unsuccessful reparative therapy on them.”

Perhaps it is another of the ways my early religious upbringing limits my generosity of mind and spirit; perhaps my lack is inherent to my nature irrespective of nurture: For me a 95% mea culpa is never completely sufficient, particularly if it overlooks the most egregious part of the harm done.


April 25th, 2012

I will forgive him as soon as all the state constitutional amendments that were added with the help of his “research” are retracted. Perhaps their are mythology groups that will get on that right after Sunday crackers.


April 26th, 2012

Actually the study never claimed to prove change so your first sentence is erroneous. The study only claimed to provide how individuals *describe* their experience in reparative therapy.

It is not the study, but rather those who misappropriated it, who said it offered proof.

Jim Burroway

April 26th, 2012

What the study claimed was this, in the abstract:

Thus, there is evidence that change in sexual orientation following some form of reparative therapy does occur in some gay men and lesbians.

From the body of the study:

P413: Finally, real change in sexual orientation seems plausible (again, at least to the author) as the participants used change strategies commonly effective in psychotherapy (Mahoney, 1991). For example, participants often developed a narrative linking childhood or family experiences to current problems, received support from a group or individual, used thought stopping, and avoided situations that triggered homosexual feelings.


P414: Critics of reparative therapy assert that the claims of success in changing sexual orientation are limited to anecdotal reports of individuals who have had the reparative therapy, or of therapists who provide such therapy. This study, with the database available to other researchers, clearly goes beyond anecdotal information and provides evidence that reparative therapy is sometimes successful.

[From Robert Spitzer, “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, no. 5 (Oct 2003): 403-417.]

Spitzer went much farther than stopping at how individuals described their experience. He said their descriptions were accurate, that they weren’t lying, and that they really did change, and devoted some half-dozen paragraphs to that argument. He now disavows that argument.

I’m not sure what you mean by “it is not a study.” It was a study of 200 people, and it fits the profile of other studies published not just in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, but hundreds of other journals as well. Our criticism was never that it was not a study, but that it was a deeply flawed one.


April 26th, 2012

Such a tepid apology for the incredible amount of damage his endeavor caused.

Career professional through and through.


April 26th, 2012

I stand corrected. Thanks for the info. I am confused then by Spitzer’s statement that he changed the research question from proof to description . . .


April 26th, 2012

So – when some homophobe uses the derogatory remarks that so many people have directed at Dr. Spitzer to justify homophobia

will you hold yourselves accountable?

We get irate when some bigot takes the Michael Swifts; “gay manifesto”, misrepresents or exaggerates it, and uses it to condemn homosexuals. By the lack of logic so many are employing regarding Dr. Spitzer’s study, Michael Swift is responsible for all the ways his words have been misused.

And when some homophobe uses the essays here, like “The Heterosexual Agenda” – to foment further abuse of GLBTQ people, will Jim apologize?

Jim Burroway

April 26th, 2012


You’re not making any sense. The issue wasn’t that “homophobes,” as you call them, misrepresented Spitzer’s study and that’s why he apologized (although some anti-gay people did misrepresent his study). The issue was that Spitzer’s very poorly constructed study which Spitzer himself tried to spin into something the data did not and could not say. That’s why Spitzer apologized.

As for Swift (and me), he has nothing to apologize for. One can’t apologize for the misbehavior of others.

Priya Lynn

April 26th, 2012

Dante said “Michael Swift is responsible for all the ways his words have been misused.”.

No he isn’t. He specified at the beginning of his writing that it was satire, he’s not responsible for dishonest bigots pretending it was serious, heartfelt and excluding his disclaimer when they reproduced it.


April 26th, 2012

“You’re not making any sense. ”

Nice empty dismissal.

I expected Jim and Priya to make excuses for their double standard – and that’s what they did.

“One can’t apologize for the misbehavior of others.”

Oh the irony.


April 26th, 2012

I think the issue is one of intent. I think the study failed as a result of lax standards, not because it was an intentional attempt to harm the gay community. That doesn’t lessen the harm done, but it does inform my willingness to forgive, and what I expect of this person when he makes an apology.

Should he have known better? Yes, he should have. Did he intentionally set out to have this impact? I really don’t think so. Did he feel that his career had possibly been unbalanced precisely because of his impact in the 70’s in removing homosexuality as a disorder, and perhaps wanted to put in some work that maybe supported how he sees himself (more balanced, not an activist)? I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

It’s all very sad, and he should never have waited this long. That said, as a former research scientist, let me remind everyone here how extremely rare it is to have someone come out and not only disown, but apologize for their previous research. Usually, they fight tooth and nail (including sabotaging other researchers grants and publications, etc.) before they’ll ever admit an error of the nature he admits here: a poorly constructed study that failed in the basics of scientific rigor.

His adminition comes at a very high price, professionally. I appreciate it for it’s intent.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.


Latest Posts

The Things You Learn from the Internet

"The Intel On This Wasn't 100 Percent"

From Fake News To Real Bullets: This Is The New Normal

NC Gov McCrory Throws In The Towel

Colorado Store Manager Verbally Attacks "Faggot That Voted For Hillary" In Front of 4-Year-Old Son

Associated Press Updates "Alt-Right" Usage Guide

A Challenge for Blue Bubble Democrats

Baptist Churches in Dallas, Austin Expelled Over LGBT-Affirming Stance

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.