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Mormon Ex-Gay Group Still Cites Retracted Ex-Gay Study

Jim Burroway

May 29th, 2012

For more than eleven years, ex-gay groups across the country depended on Columbia University’s Robert Spitzer’s 2001 ex-gay study to justify their programs to turn gay people straight. Spitzer’s study purportedly “proved” that with a great deal of effort, some people could change their sexual orientation, and it was a huge boon to the ex-gay movement. Now that Spitzer has officially withdrawn the study because of its numerous flaws, ex-gay organizations are being left in the lurch. But Evergreen International, the Mormon ex-gay group, continues to defend the study:

David Pruden, executive director of Salt Lake City-based Evergreen International, is sticking with the study’s initial conclusions — even though the author, Robert L. Spitzer, is backing away from them. Pruden told The Salt Lake Tribune the group has no plans to remove Spitzer’s initial research from its website.

Spitzer “defended his methods for 10 years. To suggest that his feeling ‘sorry’ somehow changes the data in any way is totally unscientific,” Pruden wrote in an email to The Tribune. “Science is not about the researcher’s feelings one way or the other. Good science asks a question, sets up a research process and then the data leads where the data leads.”

Pruden is being far less than honest in this assessment. It’s true that good science asks questions, sets up a research process, and then follows the data wherever the data leads. But that is only true when all three parts come together using sound methods. Spitzer’s ex-gay study fell apart on the middle, most important part. As Spitzer explained in his letter retracting his study now online at the Archives of Sexual Behavior (PDF: 1 page/110KB):

The Fatal Flaw in the Study: There Was No Way to Judge the Credibility of Subject Reports of Change in Sexual Orientation
I offered several (unconvincing) reasons why it was reasonable to assume that the participants’ reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying. But the simple factis that there was no way to determine if the participants’ accounts of change were valid.

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.

Pruden would have us believe that Spitzer was “feeling sorry” for letting the gay community down. He is, but the reasons for his apology go much deeper to the study’s unscientific methods which led to “unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy.” That fact was so important that he chose to highlight the study’s “fatal flaw” as a boldfaced header to this section of his letter.

When Spitzer’s study appeared in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2003, the journal took the unusual step of publishing 26 “peer commentaries,” many of which examined the study’s numerous flaws and argued that it didn’t deserve to be published. Last week, The New York Times revealed that the study did not undergo an independent, blind peer review where the author’s name is removed before the study is passed to other knowledgeable professionals for suggestions and comments — the normal route for publication in peer-reviewed journals. Because Spitzer was (and still is) one of the giants in psychiatry — he is largely responsible for the removal of homosexuality from the APA’s list of mental disorders in 1973 — Archives editor Kenneth J. Zucker gave his study special treatment.

That is, in effect, the only reason we’ve been talking about this study for the past decade. It wasn’t the study’s scientific merits — there was none. Spitzer’s peers have said so for a decade and now even he admits it. But don’t count on the ex-gay industry letting go of this study without a fight.

Comments

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Steve
May 29th, 2012 | LINK

Of course he has to make it about subjective feelings, because he can’t admit that the methodology is fundamentally flawed and the data thus worthless.

Concluding that past scientific results are wrong and adjusting conclusions is indeed very scientific. It’s a critical result of the scientific method.

Reed
May 29th, 2012 | LINK

Given the history of the LDS view on the spiritual worthiness of African Americans to participate fully and equally in the church (1970s), I’d say this is par for the course.

Rick
May 29th, 2012 | LINK

It is an industry based on denial. It does not surprise me that they are really good at it. Their very survival depends on it.

Michael Bussee
May 29th, 2012 | LINK

Unlike Evergreen, it seems that Exodus has deleted all references to the Spitzer study from the Exodus website. BTW: All references to NARTH, Nicolosi and Reparative therapy have also been deleted.

About Spitzer, Exodus told NPR that “studies come and go” — but they are nevertheless grateful to Spitzer for the free publicity they received about their views of homosexuality and the Bible.

Exodus has not explained why they no longer cite Spitzer — nor have they apologized for using his study to mislead the public about sexual orientation change. Also, no official word about why they dumped NARTH.

Gregory Peterson
May 29th, 2012 | LINK

As I remember the study, it didn’t say that one can change one’s sexual orientation from exclusively same-sex to exclusively other-sex, but that some highly committed individuals can apparently nudge their orientation more towards the heterosexual side of a sexual continuum scale.

So, if my memory serves, the religious right was exaggerating the study’s conclusions. Which really was, as with all smallish studies: More research is needed.

Timothy Kincaid
May 29th, 2012 | LINK

Michael,

We all asked Exodus to disassociate with NARTH. They have done so.

We all asked Exodus to stop claiming “change is possible”. They have done so.

We all asked Exodus to tell the truth about reorientation. If one accepts “99.9% don’t change”, then they have done so.

I hope that our continued criticism for “not explaining” and “not apologizing” doesn’t discourage others from also doing what we request. At some point we have to recognize that we must reward positive movement.

And if our constant response to positive change is always “yeah, but here’s what you didn’t do” then it begins to seem like our goal is not really changing their bad behavior, but making them look bad instead.

cowboy
May 29th, 2012 | LINK

When someone clings onto something, when it is found to be not true, then he must be obsessed, illogical, irrational, or, in other words: crazy. It would suggest maybe this someone (Pruden) needs to heal thyself.

Hunter
May 29th, 2012 | LINK

Pruden’s defense is exactly backward: Spitzer didn’t repudiate the study because it offended the gay community, he apologized to the gay community because the study was so badly flawed and he published it anyway.

And reading his comment again, it’s at least dishonest, and more than a little self-serving.

Soren456
May 29th, 2012 | LINK

To admit that the study is not credible is to blow a gigantic hole in their theology. They have neither the integrity nor the means to allow that. So the study will remain credible.

Michael Bussee
May 29th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy: I will take you words to heart. I certainly don’t want to discourage Exodus from becoming increasingly honest with the public.

StraightGrandmother
May 29th, 2012 | LINK

Well said Timothy.

David L Rattigan
May 30th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, the problem is that Alan Chambers and Exodus continue to speak out of both sides of their mouth. Sure, everyone leapt on his statement that 99.9% hadn’t changed. “Exodus president says gays don’t change after all!” Big deal — when other ex-gays started saying, “But he actually meant gays DO change orientation, just not completely,” he applauded it. (He confirmed it here, even saying explicitly he hadn’t changed his beliefs, but “some nuance” had changed.

He also got all huggy with Justin Lee at the GCN conference and made a big show of recognizing him as a “brother in Christ” who loved the Lord just as he did. When his followers denounced it, he said he just meant that “once saved, always saved” — so basically, God still loves gay people like Justin, even if they’ve disowned him, stopped talking to him and sinned against him. So much for “We’re Christians, all of us. We may have diverging viewpoints … but the thing that brings us together, the thing that causes us to even want to have this dialogue, or need to have this dialogue, is the fact that we all love Jesus. We all serve him. We serve the very same God and believe very different things.”

This doublespeak has been Alan’s consistent pattern, as we’ve documented at XGW extensively, and I’m sure you’ve documented here at BTB. He’s still doing it with these latest changes. He’s trying to play all sides, as usual, and with a handful of people, it seems to be working.

Timothy Kincaid
May 30th, 2012 | LINK

Michael,

I may be too optimistic, but I think the change is driven by genuine spiritual growth and maturity.

I have a slightly different take on Exodus; I see them as victims of the same people who attack us. The difference is that Exodus thought they were friends and brothers in Christ. But they were just being used.

I think that some there, including Alan, are recognizing the insincerity of politicians posing as Christians who were all buddy-buddy when they wanted to trot out Exodus to back up some anti-gay piece of legislation but were nowhere to be found when Exodus wanted churches to be supportive of their same-sex attracted youth and stop the slurs and meanness. I think the betrayal has caused them to question a lot of presumptions and that the change we see is the result of open eyes rather than public display.

In other words, I think they are doing organizationally what you did personally. They may not end up at the same place, but their heart is changing and they are moving in a direction of growth with sincerity and integrity (and probably will have setbacks and hiccups along the way).

I could be entirely wrong about this, but that’s what I see. I think we both hope I’m right.

Timothy Kincaid
May 30th, 2012 | LINK

David R,

I think the nuance in the explanation you linked is neither inconsistent with the findings nor hostile.

While I don’t see a change in orientation occurring, some gay men are able to experience some opposite sex attraction (i don’t seem to be one of them). This is no secret.

I don’t doubt that Exodus allows some participants to be more open to that possibility.

So long as they are not claiming that they get rid of opposite sex attractions and admit that heterosexual increase is statistically minimal, then I have no complaint.

My issue isn’t that that mirror my thinking, but that they be honest in expressing their own.

Priya Lynn
May 30th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy said “While I don’t see a change in orientation occurring, some gay men are able to experience some opposite sex attraction (i don’t seem to be one of them). This is no secret.”.

A far, far more likely explanation is not that men with no attraction to women developed some, but that bisexual men who are mainly attracted to men concentrated on their weaker attraction to women. There is absolutely no evidence attempts to change orientation have resulted in any shift in attractions whatsoever.

Timothy Kincaid
May 30th, 2012 | LINK

Priya Lynn,

It may be a matter of semantics. Whether they were

a. men who only thought that they were completely 100% gay but really had some untapped bisexuality, or

b. men who were 100% gay and developed some small measure of bisexuality

probably doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, does it?

Priya Lynn
May 30th, 2012 | LINK

I don’t think semantics has anything to do with it Timothy. Either a person has some bisexuality or they don’t, there is no such thing as “untapped bisexuality” unless by that you mean a bisexual man who has never had sex with a woman. I really doubt any man thinks he’s 100% gay but actually has some attraction to women.

The difference is in the situation you postulate a person has changed complete same sex attraction into a measure of bisexuality whereas in the situation I postulate there has been no change whatsoever in attraction.

If one grants Alan Chambers that they’ve succeeded to even a small degree in changing some people’s sexual attractions then that permits him to waffle and take back his statment that 99.9% have not changed and say he really meant 99.9% have not changed completely but that many have changed sexual orientation from a little to a lot.

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