BIG News: How to Ex an "Ex-Gay" Study! Dr. Robert Spitzer study renounced
Not one mainstream organization of medical andmental health professionalshas found any evidence to support so-called “ex-gay” therapy; in fact, the evidence they have found suggests that it can actually be harmful to patients.
Gabriel Arana has just published an excellent
first-person account of so-called “reparative” therapy of
sexual orientation in The American Prospect. I highly
recommend “My So-Called Ex-Gay Life.” It’s a
beautiful account of the horrific damage that can be done to a young gay man or
lesbian who is subject to claims that he or she is mentally ill or defective by
virtue of being homosexual.
In reading the article,
though, something struck me as off. So I checked it, and sure enough, it’s off.
But then in 2003, Spitzer published an article in the Archives of
Sexual Behavior that purported to show that reparative therapy
“worked” much of the time. The abstract of Spitzer’s 2003 article reported,
“The majority of participants gave reports of change from a predominantly or
exclusively homosexual orientation before therapy to a predominantly or
exclusively heterosexual orientation.”
Now, in his just-published article, Arana says that
Spitzer told him “he spoke with the editor of the Archives of Sexual
Behavior about writing a retraction [of Spitzer’s 2003 article], but
the editor declined. (Repeated attempts to contact the journal went unanswered.)”
This is the thing that struck me as off. I know the
Editor of Archives, Ken Zucker, and I know from my own experience publishing in Archives that
Zucker is not one to shy away from
controversial back-and-forths. It didn’t sound right to me that Zucker would
publish such a politically incorrect article only to then suppress a
politically correct revision of it by the author himself.
So I asked Zucker to tell me, for the record, what
happened. Zucker began by explaining to me that he and Spitzer go back over 25
years in terms of professional association, even publishing an article
together, so it’s not as if they are strangers. Zucker had accepted Spitzer’s
2003 article only on the basis that it pass peer review and then be open to
commentaries, so that it could be openly criticized by those who might
disagree. In fact, Spitzer’s 2003 article went through numerous rounds of
review, and was then published with 26 commentaries, to which Spitzer formally
responded (as required in the “target article” system).
A few months ago, Zucker told me, Spitzer had called
Zucker wanting to talk about the latest DSM revision. During that call,
according to Zucker, Spitzer “made some reference to regretting having done or
publishing the study, and he said he wanted to retract it. My recollection of
the conversation was something like this: I said, ‘I’m not sure what you want
to retract, Bob. You didn’t falsify the data. You didn’t commit egregious
statistical errors in analyzing the data. You didn’t make up the data. There
were various commentaries on your paper, some positive, some negative, some in
between. So the only thing that you seem to want to retract is your
interpretation of the data, and lots of people have already criticized you for
interpretation, methodological issues, etc.’”
Zucker went on: “Did he ask me whether, if he submitted a
letter to the editor, I would say no? No. I didn’t say no, I didn’t say yes. I
basically think that, in the conversation, I was pushing back in terms of what
exactly he wanted to say.” In other words, Zucker was trying to get Spitzer to
articulate exactly what he wanted to say now, publicly, about his 2003 article.
“And that was the end of the conversation.
Now had Spitzer a week later submitted a letter to the
editor saying ‘I no longer agree with my own interpretations of the data,’
would I have published it? Of course. Why not?”Which is exactly what I said to
myself when I was reading Arana’s article: Why would Zucker not be perfectly
happy to publish such a letter from Spitzer? To be frank, it would only bring
attention to the journal and make science look the way scientists like it to
look: open to revision.
What about Arana’s claim
that “attempts to contact the journal went unanswered”?
Zucker told me that Arana “called me on March 27, but
I’ve been out of town most of the last two weeks, and I’ve not yet called back
a lot of people. He only called me once and left one message. I think the
journalist should have made a more concerted effort to reach me, by email. If
he had emailed, which he didn’t, he would have gotten an automated message that
said I was out of town. And it would have given him my cell phone number. In
the internet era, you can find anyone’s email address within a few minutes.”
Zucker concluded, “If Spitzer wants to submit a letter
that says he no longer believes his interpretation of his own data, that’s
fine. I’ll publish it.”
retraction? Well, the problem with that is that Spitzer’s change of
heart about the interpretation of his data is not normally the kind of thing
that causes an editor to expunge the scientific record. Said Zucker to me, “You
can retract data incorrectly analyzed; to do that, you publish an erratum. You
can retract an article if the data were falsified—or the journal retracts it if
the editor knows of it. As I understand it, he’s just saying ten years later
that he wants to retract his interpretation of the data. Well, we’d probably
have to retract hundreds of scientific papers with regard to re-interpretation,
and we don’t do that.”
All Spitzer has to do is put in writing that he no longer
believes what he said about the interpretation of his data, and Zucker will
publish his revision.
And here’s the thing:
Spitzer is a real scholar. He ought to know that you don’t retract an article,
or otherwise formally revise an article, with a casual phone call. If you want
to change something in your publication record, you write to the editor to
state what you want done, and why.