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I believe I owe the gay community an apology
May 18, 2012 5:22 PM   Subscribe

“I believe I owe the gay community an apology.” -- Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, considered by some to be the father of modern psychiatry, recants a poorly conceived 2003 investigation that supported the use of so-called reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality for people strongly motivated to change.
posted by slater (29 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
A gentleman and a scholar.
posted by 256 at 5:30 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


He was able to look back and not be blinded by pride, something which is distinctly lacking in certain scientists in every field.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:03 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thank you for pointing out when acamedicians (yes, that is an appropriate title) roll back studies. It happens, though not in really public ways, often.
This article also illustrates the difficulty with science. It is still a human endeavor, and we bring our frailties right along with us.
Nevertheless, bravo!
posted by mfu at 6:07 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


He was able to look back and not be blinded by pride, something which is distinctly lacking in certain scientists in every field most of humanity
posted by squorch at 6:07 PM on May 18, 2012 [15 favorites]


Someone recently pointed out to me that looking back at the long history of failures in science, any kind of science, isn't evidence of science's weakness, but of its strength. What other form of human endeavor admits its mistakes and rearranges itself in their light, sometimes quite radically?

It wasn't that long ago that all of psychiatry considered homosexuality a disease. Now that belief itself is, rightly, considered a mental illness by most.
posted by Fnarf at 6:11 PM on May 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Legacy is a heckuva motivator.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:16 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


What other form of human endeavor admits its mistakes and rearranges itself in their light, sometimes quite radically?

Religion will also admit its mistakes and radically rearrange itself to enshrine those mistakes as dogma.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:17 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Legacy is a heckuva motivator.

Which is why I'd rather these people recant their view than go to their graves still on the record as spouting them. Maybe he was motivated by his impending death to do the right thing, but the important thing is that he did do the right thing. Every jackass from here on out who wants to cite his earlier work will have to prevaricate their way around his later repudiation of it. This is an unequivocally good thing.
posted by Panjandrum at 6:24 PM on May 18, 2012 [19 favorites]


Good for him. And cynicism aside, if we give up on the idea of human change and growth (no matter what the motivation) then we might as well just give up, period.
posted by jonmc at 6:25 PM on May 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


I feel like a dick for thinking this because Sptizer's clearly putting the good of others above his pride, but the publication of that study did far more damage than an apology can erase. If I recall correctly, that study is basically what gives reparative therapy a leg to stand on. Without it, it wouldn't have the pretense of legitimacy.

What other form of human endeavor admits its mistakes and rearranges itself in their light, sometimes quite radically?

For better or worse, that's sort of what attracts me to Catholicism. Or at least the idea of Catholicism, rather than the reality.
posted by hoyland at 7:29 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I didn't see it mentioned in the article, but I'm pretty sure his article hasn't been retracted. The editor's argument was that it there wasn't anything wrong with his study, at least in terms of fraud, and the published responses had thoroughly highlighted all of the flaws in his methodology and conclusion. The editor did note that Spitzer hadn't written his own letter, which they would happy to publish. I hope he gets around to that, minor as it seems, these types of studies are like the living dead if you don't kill them with a clean headshot.
posted by PJLandis at 7:35 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good for him for both for examining the question of whether there are effective ways of influencing sexual orientation and for reflecting on and publicly pointing out the problems with assuming self-reporting reflects the truth.
posted by namespan at 7:43 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The article links to this "leaked" draft letter of apology by Spitzer. It largely apologizes for the harm he now perceives his study as having caused.
posted by TreeRooster at 7:53 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


What other form of human endeavor admits its mistakes and rearranges itself in their light, sometimes quite radically?

The law.
posted by Dasein at 8:18 PM on May 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


the publication of that study did far more damage than an apology can erase

Probably rather limited damage in and of itself. The notion that it even matters whether it's possible to influence orientation is what's done most of the damage (and will do even more damage in the probable enough event that someday there may be a way, so it's probably best to get around the idea that it's ok to abuse/deny employment/domestic arrangements/etc independent of whether or not there's any element of choice).

And it's not like many of the religious people/organizations that seized on the study were just sitting around for someone to examine thing scientifically; many if not most of those will basically just accept whatever validates the position they already had and reject anything that doesn't. The study doesn't have much effect there.

There's one place it might have had some real negative impact: the set of individuals who decided that it was important to themselves to try to change their orientation but found themselves unable to do so despite being told it was possible.

But again, here I think the real problem has a lot more to do with the judgment than the idea of choice. If we're going to accept the idea that it's ok to judge failures to make changes in personal matters, then any science of human nature that's going to undertake questions about "the idea of human change", to borrow jonmc's phrase, is going to have a boatload of related hazards there.
posted by namespan at 8:23 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It wasn't that long ago that all of psychiatry considered homosexuality a disease.

That's actually an important part of the article.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 8:26 PM on May 18, 2012


Legacy is a heckuva motivator.

So is moral character, Blazecock Pileon.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:36 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Truth wins out.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:06 AM on May 19, 2012


By almost any measure, in short, the study failed the test of scientific rigor that Dr. Spitzer himself was so instrumental in enforcing for so many years...

It took 11 years for him to admit it publicly.


I have very little good feeling about this, and so will just pull out what Spitzer thinks is his most important mistake:

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 subject’s reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying. But the simple fact is that there was no way to determine if the subject’s accounts of change were valid.

Duh.
posted by mediareport at 5:18 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and:

The paper did not go through the usual peer-review process
posted by mediareport at 5:19 AM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow, I remember when this paper came out. Around the same time, Focus on the Family brought their "ex-gay" roadshow, "love won out", to Toronto and I was involved in organizing a counter-rally in front of the conference centre. One of the proudest moments of my short career as an activist.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:59 AM on May 19, 2012


Spitzer and Beenie Man should go bowling together. They both need to do a lot of work to repair the damage they have done in the world.
posted by kuppajava at 7:23 AM on May 19, 2012


If you really judge people by the metric of net impact, presumably you'll note the significant good done for gay rights by Spitzer on your score-sheet too. This is someone who made a huge mistake, with real consquences, but I'm really not sure how comparing him to a man who spewed quite horrificly hate-filled obscenities for money adds anything at all to this discussion.
posted by howfar at 8:05 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


if we give up on the idea of human change and growth (no matter what the motivation) then we might as well just give up, period.

Yeah, that's probably also what the pastoral counselors said...
posted by sour cream at 8:07 AM on May 19, 2012


This is someone who made a huge mistake, with real consquences, but I'm really not sure how comparing him to a man who spewed quite horrificly hate-filled obscenities for money adds anything at all to this discussion.

If you had read the linked article, you would have found that more than a few influential musicians, including Jay-Z, have evolved their positions on gay rights in the past short while.

I think this is hugely important. Such artists put a lot into the popular culture, and therefore influence the casual mindset of the general populace both directly and indirectly.

Yes, they're a different kind of important to the struggle for equality than having the man who pushed to have homosexuality removed as a disease from the DSM and who then released a truly flawed and damaging study of so-called ex-gays and is now recanting that study... But they also have power to create change. And moving toward freedom and equality, no matter how it is done, is the end goal we all have in sight.
posted by hippybear at 8:15 AM on May 19, 2012


I had read the article, that's why I used the past tense. The clues are there, if you apply your literacy to the problem.
posted by howfar at 11:01 AM on May 19, 2012


I don't disagree with you, by the way, hippybear, I disagree with what I take to be kuppajava's implication that there is some utilitarian calculus that people must get on the right side of before repentance can be accepted. I do, however, feel, that given the cynicism people seem to be expressing about Beenie Man's current motivations, attempting to use him as a comparator for Spitzer is likely nothing more than a mean minded little smear.
posted by howfar at 11:11 AM on May 19, 2012


Duh.

Clearly, you're cut from a different cloth than the likes of Spitzer. He's only able to discover errors on sustained reflection, you just don't make mistakes like ever assuming individual narratives are reliable in the first place.
posted by namespan at 2:02 PM on May 19, 2012


Death bed conversion? Or someone who learned from his mistakes?
posted by Fizz at 6:03 AM on May 21, 2012


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