Saturday, April 14, 2012

Famous shrink regrets published study

The NY Daily News reports:
Psychiatrist retracts infamous study claiming gay people can turn straight through therapy
This is based on this article in the leftist magazine American Prospect:
In 1973, Columbia professor and prominent psychiatrist Robert Spitzer had led the effort to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness. Four years after Stonewall, it was a landmark event for the gay-rights movement. But 28 years later, Spitzer released a study that asserted change in one’s sexual orientation was possible. Based on 200 interviews with ex-gay patients—the largest sample amassed—the study did not make any claims about the success rate of ex-gay therapy. But Spitzer concluded that, at least for a highly select group of motivated individuals, it worked. ...

Spitzer said that he was proud of having been instrumental in removing homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. Now 80 and retired, he was afraid that the 2001 study would tarnish his legacy and perhaps hurt others. He said that failed attempts to rid oneself of homosexual attractions “can be quite harmful.” He has, though, no doubts about the 1973 fight over the classification of homosexuality.
Okay, but let's not pretend that any science is involved. Wikipedia says Robert Spitzer is called arguably the most influential psychiatrist of the 20th century. That 1973 decision was a political vote of the psychiatrists, with 58% voting for the change, after the changes were pushed by some closeted gay psychiatrists. I guess Spitzer now thinks people citing his 2001 study might tarnish his legacy, but that does not say anything about whether it correctly reported those interviews.

Steven Pinker is sold on homosexuality being innate, and writes in The Better Angels of Our Nature:
Homosexuality, by the way, is one of the few examples of a nature-nurture debate in which the politically correct position is "nature". If homosexuality is innate, according to the common understanding, then people don't choose to be gay and hence can't be criticized for their lifestyle; nor could they convert the children in their classrooms or Boy Scout troops if they wanted to. [p.448]
This is not science. It is politics. If it were really scientific then there would be some standards that apply whether the politically correct position is nature or nurture.

For example, if there is evidence that homosexuality is innate, tell us how that evidence compares to that for schizophrenia, alcoholism, religiousness, IQ, criminality, height, etc. If homosexuality is difficult to change in therapy, tell us how that difficulty compares to therapy to change other behaviors and beliefs. By removing homosexuality from the DSM-II, the shrinks have removed themselves from being in the business of saying who is or is not a homosexual, so they cannot possibly say whether it is innate or changeable. Some shrinks have claimed that gay therapies don't work very well, but of course none of their therapies work very well, so such statements are meaningless without some context.

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