Here’s my latest video. A great deal has been said about the Spitzer Study but much of it is difficult to understand for people unfamiliar with the ex-gay movement. The purpose of this video is to examine the methodological flaws of the Spitzer Study and highlight how the study is being abused and misinterpreted by anti-gay political groups.
Transcript after the jump.
In May of 2012 Dr. Robert Spitzer formally renounced and apologized for his now infamous study on ex-gay therapy. However this hasn’t stopped anti-gay groups from continuing to cite, abuse and misinterpret the study.
Because of that continuing abuse of the study, this film, originally created in 2007 remains as relevant as ever.
Over thee decades ago, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, or the DSM shown here. Yet to this day, a small number of mental health professionals and religious groups still claim they can “cure” gay people of their homosexual orientation using a technique commonly called conversion or reparative therapy. People who are in the process of trying to change their sexual orientation, and some of those who claim they had, call themselves “ex-gays.”
In December of 1998 the American Psychiatric Association or APA went even farther and declared there is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of reparative therapy.
In the 1973 Dr. Robert Spitzer a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University served on the APA’s task force on nomenclature which recommended that APA’s Board of Trustees remove homosexuality from the DSM. Two and a half decades after that historic decision, Dr. Spitzer took note of how stigmatized the ex-gay movement had become and became intrigued by the question of whether such therapy had any efficacy.
At the APA’s 2001 National Convention, Spitzer presented prelimiary results of a study in which he interviewed 200 people by telephone who claim to have achieved at least some shift in their sexual orientation through ex-gay programs. Based on Spitzer’s criteria, only applicants who claimed success in conversion programs were eligible to participate in the study. However, Spitzer himself admitted such cases were extremely rare. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, “I suspect the vast majority of gay people would be unable to alter by much a firmly established homosexual orientation.”
Despite worrisome methodological flaws, and because of its politically charged subject matter, Spitzer’s study made national headlines. News coverage quickly turned away from discussing the study’s validity and focused instead on its political implications, giving the anti-gay activists a platform from which they could declare homosexuality was not a valid way of life as homosexuality could now be “cured.”
ExGayWatch presents The Spitzer Study: Methodological Flaws And Abuse In Anti-Gay Politics
Let’s start by looking at exactly who participated in the study. All of this information you’re about to see comes right out of the study itself. And to his credit, Spitzer has been very straightforward about the limitations of his study.
Where did Spitzer find his study participants? Forty-three percent were referred by religious based conversion ministries such as Exodus International, 23% were referred by an association of conversion therapists called NARTH, and 34% were referred by other therapists, counselors or by other people who had participated in the study.
As for religious affiliation, 81% were Protestant, 8% Catholic, 7% Mormon and 3% Jewish. In other words, 96% were Christian.
Ninety-five percent of the participants were Caucasian and would look very similar to the people in this group photo used by Exodus International in their brochures.
Dr. Spitzer also reported, “the majority of participants (78 percent) had publicly spoken in favor of efforts to change homosexual orientation, often at their church.” Also, “nineteen percent of the participants were mental health professionals or directors of ex-gay ministries.”
Among that 19% of study participants was a paid professional ex-gay, Exodus president Alan Chambers. Alan Chambers, who at times claims there are “thousands” of ex-gays, and at other times “hundreds of thousands” of ex-gays.
In 2006 The White House invited this same Alan Chambers, along with James Dobson, to a press conference where President Bush announced his support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Another Spitzer study participant was Randy Thomas, Exodus’ membership director who regularly serves as its political lobbyist.
The Spitzer would not be published in a peer reviewed journal until 2003, when it appeared in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The Archives also published twenty-six commentaries on Spitzer’s study by a range of experts. Here’s some of what they had to say:
“Spitzer selected a unique group of subjects who were decidedly invested in demonstrating the possibility and benefits of reparative therapy. This one fatal flaw seriously diminishes the internal and external validity of his study and necessarily precludes the very conclusions Spitzer offered.” (Cohen, Kenneth M. & Savin-Williams, Ritch C. (2003) Peer Review Commentary: “Are Converts to Be Believed? Assessing Sexual Orientation ‘Conversions’” Archives of Sexual Behavior 32 (5): 427-449)
“Simply locating people who claim to have changed does not provide convincing data. It would be possible to locate people who claim and sincerely believe any number of phenomena that are not easily verifiable empirically and about which many professionals are skeptical.” (Hill, Craig A. & DiClementi, Jeannie D. (2003) Peer Review Commentary: “Methodological Limitations Do Not Justify the Claim That Same-Sex Attraction Changed Through Reparative Therapy” Archives of Sexual Behavior 32(5): 440-442.)
A phenomena that is not easily verifiable empirically and about which many professionals are skepticak… like, oh, let’s say – the Loch Ness Monster.
Picture if you will an imaginary researcher, I’ll call him Dr. Spritzer. And one day Dr. Spritzer set out to do a scientific study on the Loch Ness Monster. For that study the doctor interviewed only people who believe Nessie exists and claim to have seen him. Not only that, but almost a quarter of the people Dr. Spritzer interviewed worked at the local tourism bureau. And of course everyone loves a good story about Nessie so lots of newspapers reported on the study even if it wasn’t very accurate or reliable…
I think you get my point.
Another concerning aspect of Spitzer’s study was his method for gathering data which consisted of a mere 45 minute telephone interview with each participant. Participants who were married also completed a short written survey sent by mail. In other words, Spitzer never met his participants face to face, and relied entirely on self reporting from participants – many of whom who had built their livelihoods of ex-gay groups. Lawrence Hartman, former president of the APA wrote:
“Spitzer relies wholly on self-reporting and on one 45-minute telephone interview, which is understandably convenient and cheap, but allows rather easy evasion, distortion, and lies.” (Hartmann, Lawrence. (2003) Peer Review Commentary: “Too Flawed: Don’t Publish.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 32 (5): 436-438.)
Wayne Besen, gay activist and author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, wrote in his book:
“Despite our insistence, Spitzer elected not to use physical evidence to corroborate the ex-gay testimonies. I asked him why he had refused to use either the polygraph or the penile plethysmograph on his subjects. According to Spitzer, “there was no way he could get his subjects to submit to such tests.” It never seemed to dawn on Spitzer that these individuals were doggedly avoiding these truth-detecting instruments because they were not telling the truth.” (Besen, Wayne. Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.)
We’ve established how unreliable the Spitzer study is. Surely no religious organization promoting morality and proclaiming God’s perfect and absolute truth would want anything to do with it. Let’s take Focus on the Family for example. I’m sure they’ve got standards for studies they’ll accept.
In the DVD titled “Why Not Gay Marriage” put out by Focus on the Family, senior policy analyst Glenn Stanton attacks studies favoring gay parenting on the basis that such studies were conducted over too short a period of time and too narrow in scope:
Social sciences need two things in order to come to a sure, definitive conclusion. It needs a large population of people to study, and it needs a very, very long time to study that large population over to see the impact.
Glenn here sure makes it sound like Focus has high scientific standards and no doubt would avoid associating with the Spitzer study, which, after all, was conducted over a year and a half period and only included 200 participants who were almost exclusively white and Christian. And based on Spitzer’s criteria, only people who had successfully changed their sexuality were even eligible to participate in the study.
Really, do you think we’d be making this video if anti-gay groups considered the moral implications of misrepresenting and distorting this study?
And it’s not just Focus on the Family that cites the Spitzer study in its war against equality for gay Americans. Here are some screen shots from the websites of various groups which cite the study.
- Focus on the Family
- The Traditional Values Coalition
- The American Family Association
- The Center for Reclaiming America for Christ
- Family Research Council
- Concerned Women for America’s Culture and Family Institute
- Idaho Values Alliance
- Nebraska Family Council
- The Illinois Family Institute
- Protect Marriage Illinois
- PFOX Parents and Friends of ExGays and Gays
- Exodus International
- National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality
Now let’s look at exactly how the Spitzer study is used by these groups. Remember, the Spitzer study is nothing more than a collection of interviews with 200 people who claim to have achieved change. Spitzer freely admits it was never meant to measure the overall success rate of ex-gay programs.
Yet here is Focus on the Family’s explanation of how homosexuality is treatable and preventable, James Dobson himself cites the Spitzer study.
As I’ve explained, the study is nothing more than a tiny group of people who self-reported change, yet anti-gay activists rarely presents it as such. Rather these anti-gay groups are applying those expectations of change on all gay people who they claim “can be set free.”
The Spitzer study is being cited in opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a law that would protect gay Americans from being fired from their jobs just for being gay. And most recently it’s being used in campaigns for state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.
How in the world does a telephone interview of two hundred people progress to passing anti-gay constitutional amendments? What does Spitzer himself think of his study being used for political oppression?
Let’s do a quick review and then see what he has to say:
- Spitzer released his study which, despite some serious flaws, was immediately picked up by the media because of its politically charged subject matter.
- The vast majority of people who took the study were referred by their former therapist ,and almost a quarter were ex-gay-for-pay including some political lobbyists.
- Spitzer could have used a lie detector but instead only used the phone.
- Despite its flaws, a slew of anti-gay organizations have used the study in their war on the civil rights of gay people, all, I should add, against the will of Robert Spitzer.
Here’s what Spitzer had to say for himself in the Wall Street Journal:
“My study concluded with an important caveat: that it should not be used to justify a denial of civil rights to homosexuals, or as support for coercive treatment. I did not conclude that all gays should try to change, or even that they would be better off if they did. However, to my horror, some of the media reported the study as an attempt to show that homosexuality is a choice, and that substantial change is possible for any homosexual who decides to make the effort.” (Spitzer, Robert. Commentary: “Psychiatry and Homosexuality” Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2001)
[End of Transcript]
Update: Prologue added on May 29, 2012. Google Video replaced by HD Youtube version.