The gay activist blog Truth Wins Out (TWO) has apparently been working closely with Robert Spitzer and claims to have a letter he wrote to Dr. Kenneth Zucker, editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior. It is being reported that Spitzer, in addition to regretting how he previously interpreted his findings on whether sexual orientation can change, is now offering an apology to the gay community:
I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some “highly motivated” individuals.
This seems to be a natural extension of Spitzer’s recent expressed regret about how he interpreted his findings and particularly about how others have used his study.
The TWO web site is interesting though. There is a press release informing folks about the apology and then a notice that various groups should remove any reference to Spitzer’s study from their web sites.
Organizations that continue to cite Spitzer’s repudiated study, such as PFOX, Focus on the Family, and NARTH, are being dishonest and blatantly misleading their followers,” said Wayne Besen, Executive Director of Truth Wins Out. “By failing to expeditiously remove references to the Spitzer study, these groups are showing themselves to be completely devoid of character and integrity.
I am not going to defend how any one group is using Spitzer’s research, but this is such an odd declaration to make. Spitzer may regret how he has interpreted his findings or how others have used his findings, but he does not own the sole interpretation of his research. If that were the case, wouldn’t that be an interesting development? If the only legitimate interpretation of a scientific study was the interpretation held by the primary researcher? The reality is that others may also read his research and come to different conclusions, just as they did when many critics disagreed with Spitzer’s initial interpretation of his work. It may be informative to someone visiting an organization’s web site to know Spitzer’s current feelings of regret, but organizations do not have to agree with him.
There are still many people trying to make sense of Spitzer’s change of heart. The most frequently cited rationale people have brought to my attention is the pressure he must feel from various activist groups. That pressure is real. I remember him saying when his study was first presented that several people called for his job at Columbia, and his coauthor did not want to be listed on the presentation or publication of the study. But the “activist pressure” theory may or may not be a contributing factor.
The second most frequently cited rationale I’ve heard is that of legacy – not wanting to end a distinguished career on this study. That is another consideration. The study was certainly a departure for him. Again, it may or may not be a contributing factor.
When I spoke with him at the time of his initial presentation of the data and during the filming of the DVD I Do Exist, he often referenced the believability of the people he interviewed, as well as confirmation in some cases from spouses and the way in which people did not provide accounts of dramatic or categorical change, which is what he thought he would hear if people were trying to make a political point about change. That may be part of what he is saying today: they were believable accounts, but he did not have an objective way to assess those claims, and he only had a rating scale that (if I recall directly) he created (a scale from 1 to 100). Today he seems to be saying that that is not sufficient reason to believe others can expect to change sexual orientation if they enter reorientation therapy. Further, he feels regret if others thought it was sufficient reason and attempted change because of it.
At the end of the day, only Spitzer knows his reasons. Some will applaud him and obviously agree with him. Others will not; others will see these other explanations as plausible.
In any case, those who continue to offer reorientation therapy are going to need to collaborate with researchers to conduct well-designed studies to support the claim that it is effective and not harmful. That was the case when Spitzer held his initial interpretation of his study, and it is still the case today.