Monday, February 05, 2007

New Video on the Spitzer Study

The "Spitzer study" is the one and only peer-reviewed piece of research that can be interpreted to suggest that therapy can change a person's sexual orientation from gay to straight. Spitzer set out to find people who said they had changed, narrowed down his list, and asked a smaller number of them some questions over the phone, concluding that some of them had actually changed.

As far as I know, this is a completely unique form of social science research. The two classic research forms are the survey and the experiment, and variations on those. In the survey, you select a sample of respondents to represent the population that you want to make inferences about. Through careful sampling and weighting, and careful attention to details of the measurement situation, it is possible to make accurate estimates of a population value through inference from your sample.

The Spitzer study is not a survey. It did not attempt to estimate the number of people who can change, it only went through a large number of people to see if any of them were convincing.

In an experiment, subjects are randomly assigned to receive one treatment or another. Because differences between groups are random, and because random variation is well understood as a probabilistic phenomenon, it is possible to analytically assess whether the experimental manipulation caused a change in a measured outcome.

The Spitzer study is not an experiment. He didn't manipulate anything, there was no independent variable, and no attempt to discover causation.

Spitzer appears to have come up with this method himself. His reasoning seems to have been that, if sexual orientation can change through therapy, then he should be able to find someone who this has happened to. And after interviewing thousands of people, he found a few who convinced him that they had actually changed. This is a nice reasonable way to satisfy your curiosity about something, but I'm not really sure how it got past a journal's reviewers.

Dan Gonzales at ExGay Watch has produced a new video discussing the Spitzer study. You can see it at Google Video. It's about twelve minutes long, which is too long to go on YouTube in one piece. The video walks you through the study, discussing how it was done and what it really means.

There are two terms that are mentioned in the video, which I'd like to underline. These are internal validity and external validity.

Social scientists work with many kinds of issues in scientific validity, and these two are considered very important.

Internal validity asks the question, were the effects observed in an experiment actually caused by the manipulation? Because Spitzer's study is not an experiment, the question of internal validity for this study would be: is the researcher measuring what he thinks he is measuring? It is a clear and important question in this study: was the "change in sexual orientation" that Spitzer reported really a change in sexual orientation, or was there some other reason the respondent would try to convince the researcher that they had changed? Let's just say that self-report is very unreliable, and there are lots of reasons his respondents might be motivated to exaggerate their "change."

External validity has to do with the generalizability of a finding. This is where both surveys and experiments have well-studied statistical properties that let you place, for instance, margins of error around population estimates, or confidence intervals, or do significance testing. Spitzer's study doesn't allow any of that. He simply went out to try to find if there was anybody who could convince him that they had changed their sexual orientation.

This video is nicely produced. It is a non-technical discussion of the study and some of its issues, just to get the topic on the table. Go ahead, pour yourself a cup of coffee and click on the link.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robert, I'm so sorry about your mom. I've been mom-less myself for almost five years now, after losing my mother very slowly to Alzheimer's Disease, and I am very familiar with the terrifying, loving, aching, fulfilling role we take on when our parents need us to parent them.

I'm glad your mother is doing better. Let's hope for continued progress. I'm holding you both in the light.

February 05, 2007 2:36 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Sorry, don't mean to be off topic here but I wanted to drop in a local news tip...

Haggard says he's not gay

...which to be honest made me laugh and say out loud, " just like having sex with another man". The other thought was the Seinfeld punchline...need I say which one?

Here's the URL,

Just passing it along, thinking some might find it of interest.

It might hit 60 degrees here today!

February 06, 2007 11:21 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Orin, that is an interesting comment that Haggard has made, and your reaction is interesting too -- I take it you don't exactly believe him.

This comes down the the question of that strange component called "identity" or "self-identification." He's not gay because he says he's not gay. He's turned on by men, and has thrown away his whole family and career to go do meth and have sex with a gay hooker, but because he does not see himself as a gay man, he isn't one.

This logic opens the door for people to identify themselves as "ex-gay," when they are ... well, anybody would say they're just plain gay.

I don't follow Seinfeld, but if you meant the punchline I'm thinking of, it wouldn't have been on network TV!


February 06, 2007 11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I tell you, if Mike and others involved in Exodus and various religions want to see themselves as essentially sinful, I would advise them against it, but I have no problem with them judging themselves that way. I do have a problem when Regina, Theresa, John, Anonymous and all those others begin to point out other people's sinfulness. I realize I carp on this, but I refer them to Romans 2:1-4. It's very clear."

First of all, Robert, you've brought up Romans 2 and while I can understand your argument (not saying I agree with it), it's really a stretch to say: "It's very clear"

Secondly, no one is trying to "point out other people's sinfulness". You have confused judging behaviors and inclinations with judging individuals. Orthodox Christian doctrine is that all are sinners. Everyone must decide what behaviors and attitudes are morally correct but no one has the standing to say they are better than anyone else. Still, we have to make moral decisions and teach the next generation moral principles.

February 06, 2007 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't follow Seinfeld, but if you meant the punchline I'm thinking of, it wouldn't have been on network TV!"

Jim, you're a lunatic.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

February 06, 2007 11:40 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

Yes, I read that Haggard is completely heterosexual according to one of the ministers working with him. "That is something he discovered" I see- so having same sex relations does not mean Haggard is homosexual. I totally understand the opposition now- you can have same sex relationships if some minister says you are not gay(or you are a minister yourself)- you are also not gay. So that is what "Ex-gay" is- you are gay- you just say you are not. Does a minister always have to be involved? or will a crap "therapist" like Richard Cohen who cuddles his male patients have an equal stamp of approval out there in the crazy people world?

February 06, 2007 12:29 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

I am moving my reply to the blog entry on Ted Haggard...

February 07, 2007 6:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Here's the text of Romans 1:32-2:1.

"1:32 Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things."

To further this discussion:

What do you think the "therefore" in 2:1 means? Because of what, therefore what?

What does one have "no excuse" for in 2:1?

Also, what is 1:28 saying that it is not only wrong to do but also wrong to approve of others doing?

February 09, 2007 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice design of blog.

August 13, 2007 3:25 PM  

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