Lisa Diamond: NARTH distorts my research

Today’s Salt Lake City Tribune published an article which brings the private feud between University of Utah professor Lisa Diamond and the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) into public view. Diamond went on camera for Wayne Besen in October to complain about NARTH’s use of her research but this article brings the dispute out of the advocacy realm and into the Salt Lake City community. An added significance of the SLC Tribune raising this issue is the presence of NARTH’s Dean Byrd and Dave Pruden in Salt Lake City.

The article begins:

A national group that advocates “treatment” of homosexuality is being criticized for allegedly distorting a Utah researcher’s work to advance the theory that people choose their sexual orientation – a controversial notion rejected by mainstream psychology.

To be sure, at least one NARTH document I have reviewed does use Diamond’s research to mislead readers, but I do not think NARTH as an organization promotes the idea that sexual orientation is a conscious choice. Rather, the reparative notion is that same-sex attraction derives from faulty parenting and not conscious choice.

I suspect the position paper on female homosexuality I critiqued is at issue when reporter Brian Maffly writes:

Lisa Diamond, a University of Utah psychologist whose sexual identity studies suggest a degree of “fluidity” in the sexual preferences of women, said in an interview Tuesday that the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH, misrepresents her findings. Position papers, some penned by NARTH president A. Dean Byrd, an adjunct professor in the U.’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, point to Diamond’s research as evidence that gays’ sexual orientation can be straightened out through treatment – much to Diamond’s dismay.

The NARTH position paper on female homosexuality says this about Diamond’s work in a section on the “Fluidity of Homosexuality Attraction.”

These findings support the research of Dr. Lisa Diamond who concluded, “Sexual identity was far from fixed in women who aren’t exclusively heterosexual.” After following 80 non-heterosexual young women (lesbian, bisexual and unlabeled) over a two-year period, Dr. Diamond found that half of the women “reported multiple changes in sexual identity, and nearly one fourth of lesbians pursued sexual contact with men.”

The NARTH author confuses matters by first saying,

As mentioned, many researchers attest to the reality of female sexual fluidity. This does not directly translate into proof that any woman can easily change or alter her same sex attraction.

However, following the Diamond reference is a statement that twists the concept of spontaneous sexual fluidity for some women in a way that has Diamond upset.

The degree to which a woman can or will experience change will be uniquely determined based on her history and motivation to do so.

This is a non-sequitur. While fluidity has been described over time by research participants, the cause for the fluidity is an open question. The research identified by the NARTH “fact sheet” does not allow this conclusion. We have no idea for any given woman why change occurs. Diamond correctly criticizes NARTH for misusing her work in this way. Maffly continues,

Diamond, who has never met [NARTH president Dean] Byrd, said in an interview that NARTH “cherry picks” findings or references from her work that appear to support their position.

NARTH’s responds as has become typical. They claim they are just interpreting the data differently.

[NARTH founder and past-president, Joe] Nicolosi did not respond to an interview request and Byrd claimed he did not know why Diamond, a fellow U. faculty member, took umbrage with NARTH’s citation of her work.

“NARTH’s view is that people can adapt any way they want and there is freedom of choice,” Byrd says. “If it says ‘fluidity’ it says ‘fluidity.’ How you interpret it is something else.”

The reporter Maffly can be forgiven for his opening lines about NARTH promoting choice given Byrd’s way of discussing the matter. I suspect Byrd means choice of behaviors. Whatever he means by freedom to choose, he is wrong to say there is no guidance from Diamond’s research about how to interpret ‘fluidity.’ A review of her most recent book, Sexual Fluidity, makes clear that some of the women retained their same-sex attraction while discovering opposite-sex attraction. Some women actively fought the change of attraction but resigned themselves to heterosexuality. Her work does not support the statement about change being associated with history or motivation.

UPDATE – 8/31/09: The Salt Lake City Tribune article has been archived and is not available at that link now. Here is a newswire article on the same topic. A UPI story is for some reason archived on this Moldova gateway.

Also, here is an example where NARTH members misused Michael Bailey’s research.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Michael Bussee

    You shouldn’t bash NARTH, Dr. T. Are you perfect? Don’t you realize that NARTH has helped some people?

  • Marty

    Whoa whoa whoa. Talk about “misleading!” Dr. T, are you a kettle or a pot? 😉

    To wit:

    As mentioned, many researchers attest to the reality of female sexual fluidity. This does not directly translate into proof that any woman can easily change or alter her same sex attraction.

    However, following the Diamond reference is a statement that twists the concept of spontaneous sexual fluidity for some women in a way that has Diamond upset.

    The degree to which a woman can or will experience change will be uniquely determined based on her history and motivation to do so.

    This is not the case. Your comment is incorrect, and misleading. Here’s how:

    Your statement “following the Diamond reference is a statement that twists the concept …” implies that the following comment is a direct response/conclusion to the Diamond quote, when indeed it is not. There are 4 doctors with quoted research here, and the “statement that twists” follows that of Dr. Kristine Falco, not Dr. Diamonds as you imply.

    Taking all 4 research items together, as they are presented, it is certainly fair to conclude as NARTH has:

    It does however confirm that sexual feeling and behaviors are not absolutely immutable or unchangeable.

    Which just happens to be the sentence between the two you quoted. The statement you replaced it with is misleading, at best.

    Diamond may not approve of the conclusion drawn from her research, but nobody is misleading anyone into thinking that the conclusion was hers.

    Cheers!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Marty – Neither kettle nor pot.

    If NARTH had left off this sentence,

    The degree to which a woman can or will experience change will be uniquely determined based on her history and motivation to do so.

    they would have been on safer ground. The NARTH “fact sheet” attempts to build a case for fluidity and provides several references on point. However, it does not follow that fluidity derives from history and/or motivation. It may, but nothing in the references cited lead to that conclusion. And for the person who prays earnestly and follows her workbook and goes to meetings yet without change, this sentence is a huge shame inducer.

    RE: your last point, NARTH does mislead readers into thinking that the conclusion is based in part on her work. Why cite her work if NARTH did not want readers to be influenced by it?

  • Mary

    A person’s work or research can be used in application to other treatments they do not support. Unfortunately, I also read some of Diamond’s work and get out of it things she would wish I did not.

    That is too bad. When the research shows potential for other uses – it will be used. Sort of like the post it fiasco, or the velcro debacle. Things which were intended for one purpose were put to good use for another.

    No doubt, Diamond does not support NARTH nor the interpretation it made of her research.

    And I am glad the NARTH has read her research and sees value in it.

  • Marty

    NARTH does mislead readers into thinking that the conclusion is based in part on her work. Why cite her work if NARTH did not want readers to be influenced by it?

    But it’s not misleading. NARTH’s conclusion IS based in part on her work. But it’s NARTH’s conclusion — not hers. I find nothing in the PDF that would lead anyone to think the conclusion was hers.

    She may disagree with the conclusion, which is fine. But the only thing I find misleading is your blog post, which makes it appear that NARTH is attributing their conclusion to her. No honest reading of the fact sheet could reach that determination.

  • Evan

    There is one BIG difference between Lisa Diamond and Narth: she uses scientific methods to prove her points.

  • Mary

    Either way… what conclusions are drwan from research and their applications may not be to the researchers liking or political views. That’s science.

  • Evan

    @Mary

    Many lesbian and gay researchers play by the rules just to prove what they are interested in. Lisa Diamond is interested in proving that (even straight) women’s sexuality doesn’t flow into one direction and that it happens no matter what they will, Narth is interested in emphasising that they can choose which part of their fluidity to pursue and that that becomes experience (history) and influences what they become. So why not Narth distort Lisa Diamond’s findings, if they’re both biased but one is fighting with science and the other with values? Can she get down from the pedestal of scientific objectivity and talk values? Nope, that would put her on a par with the other folks, when she wants to lecture people on “what really is” instead of “what it should be.” They’re both talking about the same thing, but stressing different things, according to their bias. My 2 cents.

  • Mary

    Evan,

    I have ordered her book and will respond when reading is completed.

    While many gays and lesbians play by the rules, there are many that do not.

    We will have to agree to disagree here?

    The book should arrive by the 19th???

  • Mary

    Evan,

    Yes, I would agree that they both have bias – no doubt. I’ve rarely read antyhing by an author who did not promote his or her own bias.

    In a statment she provided to someone (I forget where – but maybe it can be found on YouTube) she said she made every attempt to present her research in a way that could not be used in any other way than how she wanted it to be used.

    That’s a lot of effort to to close up any other varying opinions or perspectives. If everyone were truly interested in science they would evaluate the analysis of others and engage in discussion rather than bashing the other guy for seeing something else.

  • Mary

    I’m just wondering, doesn’t it follow that our past experiences and our current or future desires will design how we will or will not change – for everything in our lives, not just sexuality?

    Is change just spontaneous? Is that what Diamond is saying???

  • http://www.amwilliams.com Alan Williams

    Just to let you all know, Byrd continues to misquote Diamond in the first book put out by the LDS-based Foundation for Attraction Research, the 2009 book Where to Turn and How to Help: Understanding Same-sex Attraction. He agrees with some of the people on this thread that Diamond is simply not wanting her data to be reinterpreted by others. But consider the following:

    [Byrd on page 157 of Where to Turn]:

    …[W]hy all the interest in proving that homosexuality is hardwired…? Perhaps [Simon] LeVay [who did the 1991 studies on the hypothalami of gay men] has the answer. He noted that “people who think that gays and lesbians are ‘born that way’ are more likely to support gay rights.”

    LeVay’s conclusion finds support from lesbian psychologist Lisa Diamond, who noted that “it may be for now, the safest route to advocate for lesbian/gay/bisexual rights is to keep propagating a deterministic model: sexual minorities are born that way and can never be otherwise. If this is an easier route to acceptance (which may in fact be the case), is it really so bad that it is inaccurate?”

    (Diamond, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008]: 257).

    Byrd fails to include Diamond’s answer to her own question in her very next sentence in her book:

    [I]n the long run, yes [it is bad], particularly because women are systematically disenfranchised by this approach.

    The fact that Byrd does not include this answer when it was immediately following is a sign of deliberate misquotation, not simply a “reinterpretation.” To get to people’s points on this thread about “interpretation of data,” science versus values, obviously, as one can see by the statement above, Diamond has strong values regarding the disenfranchisement of women.

    Given that Byrd’s research is about eradicating anything but the heterosexual, he cannot possibly find an ally in Diamond. But this is no excuse for leaving out her moralism, for partially quoting her to make her seem duplicitous or morally empty. Byrd points out that “over 50%” of scholars working sexuality research are gay, which he believes leads to bias — which may very well be the case — but his bias is not enough to explain away his behavior here.

    Also, worth thinking about is that this is not simply a question about sexuality, but also a discussion about gender, given that Byrd couldn’t follow Diamond to her moralistic ground anyway because of the place of women in LDS culture. “Sexual fluidity” in women, for Byrd, is only a “good” thing if the lesbian becomes hetero: a wife, a mother, with little ecclesiastical power. The accepted lesbian, either celibate or with a partner, puts into question male-only ordination, because the “male-female” pairing as a balance of power would be untenable. I agree with the assessment on this site (not on this thread, but on one of the Mansfield/Byrd posts) that the LDS faith is more bent on “change of orientation” because of its theology of compulsory heterosexuality.

    I do not think this gender-sexuality relationship is so strong in other conservative faiths, which offer gay/lesbians an “out” in the form of “a lifetime of celibacy.” Mansfield says Mormonism offers this, too, and LDS leaders have in recent years hinted at gays being “fixed” in the next life, but I don’t think Mansfield recognizes how much damage a bunch of celibates-for-life in Mormon culture does (particularly celibate females). In other words, I can see where Byrd is coming from, his “cultural realism” regarding Mansfield being “cynical” with regard to “the whole,” even as I also see where Mansfield is coming from in terms of “scientific realism” in terms of “the individual.” FYI, the fact that Mansfield is recently engaged [to a woman] might be telling of the cultural pressure in Mormonism to marry, have sex and make babies regardless of individual sexual variation.

  • Pat

    To say that change isn’t or that we don’t know that change is relative to a person’s motivation and desire to do so when it comes to our feelings and behaviors is what you call DEEP DENIAL. There’s ABSOLUTELY NO QUESTION that if a person is motivative enough they can change their behaviors, and when they change their behaviors and feelings…it happens every day.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

      Pat – Hope you feel better. There are quite a few people whose experience is contrary to your confidence. A few folks I know personally told me just as confidently that they had changed only to tell me a year or more later that they had not changed.