Thursday, August 18, 2005

A Diamond at APA

The American Psychological Assocation convention is in Washington this week, and I'm at it. Today was "awards" day, when the different divisions presented awards to distinguished researchers, and then the recipients gave lectures. So I got to see some of the greats -- Ed Diener, Dan Schacter, Robert Sternberg, Richard Nisbett. Very inspiring, each one of them, each representing decades and decades of rigorous research into some aspect of human behavior.

The Boyd McCandless Young Scientist Award went to Lisa Diamond, PhD, of the University of Utah, who for the past ten years has been studying fluctuations in sexual identity over time. She has followed a cohort of women who were selected in 1995 and have been interviewed every two years since, about their sexual behavior and self-labeling. These women were selected because they did not see themselves as typical heterosexuals, and she reported on the ways that the labels they apply to themselves -- lesbian, bisexual, unlabeled, or heterosexual -- fluctuated over the years. Most of the sample had changed their self-assigned label at least once in the ten years. These changes have numerous explanations, and the lecture was fascinating.

Afterwards, I talked with her in the hallway. I asked her what she thought about "ex-gays." She said that, living in Utah, she has had contact with men who tell her they "just can't be gay," their Mormon religion doesn't allow it, and they must find a way to change. She expressed sympathy for them, but also noted that the data "absolutely does not support" the idea that they can change their sexual orientation. She seemed adamant as she explained that there is simply no research to support the PFOX-type recommendation that gay guys can go to a shrink and turn The Gay off. I wish I could describe her facial expression as she considered this topic, you do get the feeling that this is a big pain in the patoot (as my wife says in polite company) to real researchers in this field.

The convention so far has been very interesting, I must say. I hadn't expected quite the level of luminaries that we had today -- I subscribe to four or five psychology journals, but -- and I was talking with somebody else who said this, too -- it is definitely easier to learn about a vast research paradigm by sitting in a room watching a PowerPoint slide-show, with the researcher pointing to it and explaining what you're supposed to notice, than reading the whole series of journal articles, with their tables of numbers and graphs and references you need to look up. Guess you get lazy in your old age; I don't have quite the motivation to know everything, as in graduate school.

Well, Arlo Guthrie is performing at the convention right now, but ... I just saw him a year or two ago, so I'm going to miss it and catch up with some email.

Expect light blogging from me over the next week, OK?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim K. writes of meeting Lisa Diamond, Phd.,

She expressed sympathy for them, but also noted that the data "absolutely does not support" the idea that they can change their sexual orientation.

"Absolutely"? Wow, that sounds alot like someone that is positing a religious idea or principle, and is unwilling or unable to look at or consider the possibility that they might just be wrong.

"Absolutely"? Even those that clearly self-identify as bisexual? Since I was formerly LDS, and had lived in Utah (in a place called derisively "Happy Valley") I think I understand the mindset from that area. LDS Church members are found of saying things like, "I know the Church (always meaning the LDS Church) is true beyond a shadow of a doubt" and "I know the Book of Mormon is true". I guess I am a little surprised that she would make scientific like pronouncements on an area that is admittedly in an area dealing with a good deal of fluidity, that is human sexuality.

Maybe it is the water...

Orin Ryssman
Fort Collins, CO

August 18, 2005 7:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Orin: I respect the point you are trying to make. However, read the words Jim wrote that you quoted: "the data 'absolutely does not support' the idea that they can change their sexual orientation." Dr. Diamond does not, however, say that people "absolutely" cannot change their sexual orientation -- whether or not she personally believes that to be the case.

This distinction may seem picky, but it's important. Yes, the use of the word "absolutely" does make it sound like a "religious idea or principle," but the difference here is that Dr. Diamond is referring to peer-reviewed scientific studies and the data culled from them. You seem to be confusing this with an assertion based solely on ideology.

I appreciate your admission that there is uncertainty in what many people think they "know" as a result of their religions; I wish the leaders of CRC would admit that, as well. Precisely because of this uncertainty, it is vital that in our public schools, we present the best knowledge out there, and not try to cloud it with purely ideological claims on the truth. What's our standard for the best knowledge? Well, peer-reviewed scientific data is a necessary starting point.

By the way, regarding your comment about bisexuality: Bisexual people generally claim to be attracted to both genders or either gender, some simultaneously, others at different times. I do not know or know of one bisexually identified person who claims to have "changed" their sexual orientation.

Nevertheless, it's a question that remains to be answered "absolutely," which is why scientists study it. And when study after study after study keeps reinforcing one conclusion, I think it becomes pretty clear which knowledge we should be equipping our students with. (The same, of course, can be said about the evolution vs. "intelligent design" debate; refer to Jim's linked Onion article to see the "absolutist" argument taken to the extreme.)


August 18, 2005 8:44 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Thanks for helping out, ~L. This was an informal conversation in the convention center. The word "absolutely" does not appear in the scientific literature. I was tempted to correct her quote to say "the data do not ..." but decided to repeat it as she said it.

There are people studying sexual and romantic behavior in a serious way, and have been for a long time. They manipulate independent variables, measure dependent variables, and draw inferences from carefully collected data, which are then discussed by reviewers and editors. If the results pass that grueling test, they are published into the literature, where another round of debate erupts, as competing researchers re-test the conditions to see if there are errors in the method or if the results have been misinterpreted in some way. Maybe a different hypothesis can be tested, which explains the results better. If the findings stand up to that test, then they will be aggregated into some kind of theoretical structure, which will be used to explain a collection of findings in a more general way. This theory, too, will be challenged by investigators who think they have a better way to put the results together... and so it goes.

No evidence has been found, anywhere in this process which we call science, to support any of the junk that the PFOX type folks are trying to convince the world of. That's all she's saying.


August 18, 2005 9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record, I think the proposition that reparative therapy can change the sexual orientation of a homosexual is highly problematic. Complicating this though are the contemporary political prejudices of our day which can keep us from looking at other possibilities.

Just read an interesting article in the Washington Post on Intelligent Design, found here,

I think the end of the article had a most interesting quote,

A former professor of Sternberg's says the researcher has an intellectual penchant for going against the system. Sternberg does not deny it.

"I loathe careerism and the herd mentality," he said. "I really think that objective truth can be discovered and that popular opinion and consensus thinking does more to obscure than to reveal."

I could not agree more.

Orin Ryssman
Fort Collins, CO

August 19, 2005 3:47 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Orin, the question is whether that editor sent the paper to competent and appropriate reviewers, and whether they actually did say to accept the paper. Normally you have a few choices: accept, accept with minor changes, revise and resubmit, or reject. Most journals, I think, have an acceptance rate well below fifty perecent -- almost all authors have to make at least a few small changes. Then the revised paper is re-sent to the reviewers for their approval.

The editor's role is to select good reviewers and to evaluate their responses. It is possible that a review is based on some personal issues, for instance, or that one reviewer has a unique or unusual view on a particular topic, or that the reviewer turns out not to be competent for this particular paper.

From the article you linked, it sounds like he says the reviewers found a lot of problems with the paper, but at least one of them believed it was appropriate to have the discussion of ID in the scientific literature. Well, the idea is not to block this topic from the literature, the idea is to publish excellent papers -- so it would not mean a lot if somebody said, hey, we should be able to talk about this. Were the problems addressed? Did the reviewers really say this ws an excellent paper? Since review is anonymous, we might never know.


August 19, 2005 7:59 AM  

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