New Spitzer Interview

The sponsoring organization that made this video is trying to ge more mileage out of Robert Spitzer’s change of heart regarding his 2001 study (later published in Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2003). In this interview, Spitzer shares several thoughts that range from how he responded to his own doubts about the study to whether others should show a video of Spitzer talking about his study initially.

It is difficult to know what to say about this interview, but let me offer a few thoughts:

Citing the study. On the question of whether others should cite the study, I can appreciate Spitzer’s desire that others not cite the study, but that is beyond any researcher. The findings are what they are, limitations and all. And many people have pointed out the limitations of the study (see the original publication in ASB and the 20+ commentators). As the editor of ASB noted, retractions and regrets are two different things.

“Seeding” the study. A comment is made by the narrator on how a reparative therapist “seeded” the study with his clients. That sounds more like a design issue for Spitzer. If the researcher solicited participants from reparative therapists, then I don’t see the issue with a reparative therapist informing his patients of the study. If the therapist had been conducting the study, then we would be having a different discussion about how best to obtain a sample.

Past interviews. I don’t think I’ve seen these other videos of Spitzer talking about his study previously (with the exception of the I Do Exist DVD from Throckmorton). Is it wrong or unethical to show those videos? I think it wise that if the videos are shown to acknowledge that the researcher has had a change of heart toward his initial interpretation of the findings.

Closing declarations. This was probably the most interesting part of the interview for me. I’m not sure what to make of Spitzer’s claims toward the end of the interview. These include that those who advance ex-gay therapy are “full of hatred of homosexuality”; that any attempt to change is “misguided”; that orientation “cannot be changed”; and that efforts to change will be “disappointing” and “can be harmful.” Where to begin?

There are no doubt people who hold a great deal of hatred toward homosexuals, but is it true that those who provide such therapy are full of this hatred? I know that that is the developing narrative, but is it true? Is the offering of such therapy (or assistance in the form of ministry) an act of hatred toward homosexuals? Although I do not provide reparative therapy, I know some people who do, and I am quite familiar with the various Christian ministries that exist, and I find this kind of declaration fails to grasp the motivations some people have who pursue such therapy (as well as the motivations of those who provide such therapy). Without some evidence to support the charge, it comes off as rather unscientific as stated.

The claim toward the end of the interview that sexual orientation “cannot be changed” is particularly interesting given Spitzer’s change of heart regarding the methods of his own study. It is one thing to admit growing doubts about whether the design was adequate to support the initial conclusion that in some cases sexual orientation can change, but it is quite another thing to declare that orientation cannot change. Presumably this is coming from the same study that was not of adequate design to support the claim of change. If a researcher concludes that the design is poor, and it cannot prove success, then that study cannot disprove success or prove failure.