Monday, May 28, 2012

Reparative Therapy Study Author Renounces His Work

Those committed to reparative therapy frequently point to the one published study that tried to suggest such therapy may have an effect.  This study, published by Dr. Robert Spitzer in 2003, interviewed 200 gay men and women who reported some "minimal change" in their sexual orientation lasting 5 years since reparative therapy. Now, the New York Times is reporting that Dr. Spitzer recently renounced the study (see here or here) .

They study's methodology was so problematic, it is stunning it was published.  First, the sample was entirely self-selected (i.e. people who had undergone reparative therapy and wanted to participate could volunteer), including ex-gay political advocates. This means the people who participated may have simply been those particularly motivated to convince themselves or others they were not gay, or those particularly motivated to believe reparative therapy works, or those of more ambiguous sexual orientation to begin with, etc.  (Even among this population, the changes reported were limited!) There was no random assignment to a therapy group and a control group, which is the hallmark of a proper experiment.

Worse, the study relied entirely on retrospective self-report: participants were asked, for example, how often they had desired someone of the same sex in the year before therapy--which was years prior at the time of the interview--and how much they had desired it in the past year. There is no guarantee whatsoever about the accuracy of their memories, or even that they were reporting the truth, which is particularly problematic amongst those so motivated to report change.

So, it is interesting to hear  that Dr. Spitzer himself has recently admitted to these problems and renounced the study.  Hopefully this study can be laid to rest in public discourse.


G*3 said...

> Hopefully this study can be laid to rest in public discourse.

You mean like how the anti-vaccers have all disappeared since it was found that the doctor who did the studies the movement is based on faked his results?

JewishGadfly said...

Ha, I didn't say it's a particularly realistic hope.