Thursday, October 11, 2007

The sniping

Despite my general skepticism of "ex-gay" therapies, the one reason I will always defend them qualifiedly is that the attacks on them from the pro-gay people are so devoid of merit, so self-serving, so hypocritical, so self-righteous that ... one shudders.

For example, here is an execrable rant by Truth Wins Out and its leader Wayne Besen, released the same day as the study was, i.e., before it could have possible to digest it if one's motives were truly scholarly or scientific. Here are the problems:
  1. there is no "Pat Robertson University," a phrase used repeatedly, indicating that Besen's is really motivated by prejudice and a desire to demonize. Plus "pray away the gay" is sound-bite lingo that has nothing to do with anything. (Aren't liberals supposed to be the intelligent discerning ones, with conservatives the knee-jerk simplifiers?);
  2. the researchers did in fact do a bit more than "telephone professional ex-gay lobbyists and ministers from Exodus International and ask them if they had 'changed'." And not a few told them they had not;
  3. A series of quotes attempting to show that Yarhouse and Jones have beliefs pertaining to homosexuality is nothing but a vulgar attempt at anathematization, at declaring Christians ritually impure, as if Besen or Truth Wins Out don't have beliefs;
  4. "Any 'ex-gay' study that does not include physical components that measure truth are essentially meaningless ... It is folly to suggest that telephone interviews can be considered genuine research." Really?
Warren Trockmorton quickly pointed out that the very most-prominent study used to "prove" that "anti-gay therapy" has harmed people had exactly the same (if not worse) methodological shortcomings as Jones and Yarhouse did -- personally interested parties; an explicitly stated desire to prove a thesis at the start; sponsorship by an agenda-driven lobby group; soliciting participants through non-random organizations where members self-select according to one side of the issue being studied.

In an article for Planet Out from the Advocate (in which the story was folded into a sex-abuse charge against an ex-gay former leader), Besen continued his attack, with this claim:
"Exodus should be embarrassed that even their hand-picked participants in this hoax of a study showed such a meager success rate."
One suspects that if Jones and Yarhouse had claimed a higher success rate, this would have been chalked up to their "hand-picked sample." A serious person with scholarly motives can attack a study for having a hand-picked sample, or for showing little success, but hardly both (the teeth of the former charge presupposes a high success rate). There is no doubt that samples for this sort of study are not random, but they cannot be because no therapy in principle can ever work if the subject resists the therapy or thinks his condition is a good thing to have. You will always need a motivated and "primed" population.

Further, what would Besen consider an acceptable success rate. Keep in mind that psychiatry is largely unsuccessful when it cannot chemically mess with the brain. The standard has to be compatible with the success rate for similar non-drug therapies, otherwise the carping sniping is merely equivalent to noting that Ted Williams didn't get a hit about 2/3 of the time. Jones and Yarhouse anticipated this objection, by showing that the success rate was comparable to "results shown in a recent, reputable study of drug therapy for depression."

Then Besen continued:
"It was created to suit their political agenda, which is spreading myth that if one person can change, anyone can change."
Is there no lie to which gay propagandists will not stoop? This is simply a lie. L-I-E. The studiers quite specifically say the very opposite, as I cited in the post below, in the quote about the four-minute mile. And this was supported by their acknowledged figures -- some people even embraced the gay lifestyle. If anything Jones and Yarhouse's "point" is the mirror image -- debunking the myth, spread by gay propagandists, that absolutely nobody can ever change (which is nonsense that nobody who gives the matter a second thought can believe).

In other words, Besen is just drooling.

The Washington Blade had an article that was somewhat more reasonable, though it "led with the reaction" rather than the facts (and wasted column inches on Besen). But most of the criticisms were from someone sober, if biased, and the researchers were even quoted rebutting some of them.
Sociologist Christine Robinson, a professor at James Madison University who focuses on social control of deviance and sociology of sexualities, said she has two major concerns about the study, which she has not yet read. The first is that some will abuse its findings and the second is the methodology.
“The authors are right to say that one limitation … is the lack of independent/objective measures of sexual attraction beyond self-reports,” Robinson wrote in an e-mail. “This is a major weakness of the study. In addition, and even more problematic to me, is that the study is being touted as evidence to counteract the claim that reorientation therapies are not inherently harmful, but the study doesn’t examine reorientation therapies of Exodus ministries.”
At the Throckmorton link I give above, Robinson expands on what she means by it, and she apparently told the Blade that what concerns her is "how this study, like Robert Spitzer’s study a few years ago, will be used in the culture wars over homosexuality. I’m concerned that ... this study will be misused to shame people into seeking out ex-gay therapy."

I'm glad she's acknowledging what really counts. Not what a study actually says, but its use in the culture war. One rather suspects that if it showed no change was ever possible, then its use in the culture war would perturb Robinson rather less. And Throckmorton quickly points out the double standards regnant in pro-gay discourse.

The Blade continues:
Critics note that anything that relies on an individual’s perception is not scientifically sound. Some “ex-gay survivors,” say they convinced themselves, at times, they were straight but later acknowledged those feelings as wishful thinking.
The double standard noted above about anti-ex-gay studies is not only here presented again, but done so even more baldly in consecutive sentences. If relying on an individual's perception is not scientifically sound, then not only does practically every study on sexuality fail, but so does the testimony of "ex-gay survivors" because that is merely their perception and self-presentation (albeit their current, and thus privileged, one).

This points to why, at the end of the day, I doubt that the scientific study of "sexual orientation" is even possible in principle. The very category "sexual orientation" is suspect, as something the slips away from objective measurement or scientific definition. Even if one weren't to go as far as I do and dismiss sexual orientation as mere reified discourse, there can be doubt that it is not separable from self-understanding and self-consciousness. As such, an innocent subject-object relationship -- no observer bias, no confirmation bias, no expectancy effects, no observer effect -- is simply not an option in principle. Add in such other problems as deformation professionnelle (accepting the conventions of a profession), the impossibility of random sampling, and the impossibility of objectively measuring sexual response in a moral way, and it's simply hard to take the "unscientific" charge seriously, even if it's true.

In fact, the level of scrutiny given to the ex-gay studies is itself a perfect example of one such particular example of confirmation bias -- the Tolstoy Syndrome.

1 comment:

Rick said...

I have always wondered why Joe Nicolosi hasn't referred to Hooker's standards of scientific proof to justify his assertions about the effectiveness of Reparative Therapy. If Hooker's standards of proof were good enough for her, the NIMH at the time, and the gay lobby, it should be good enough for Joe. In which case, the gay lobby doesn't have an evidentiary leg to stand on in objecting to the effectiveness of RT.