Facts and Fiction in the Jonah Case: Spitzer’s Retraction

In November, 2012 on behalf of several former clients of  Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (formerly Homosexuality), the Southern Poverty Law Center initiated a complaint in New Jersey (Ferguson et al v. JONAH). The complaint seeks damages under New Jersey’s consumer protection laws and challenges JONAH’s claims to be able to help people change sexual orientation.

In support of JONAH, Michelle Cretella, a pediatrician, filed an amicus brief with various claims regarding sexual reorientation. There are many glaring problems with this brief. I hope to examine several of them over the coming days, including her selective citation of my work.

A huge problem for NARTH has been Robert Spitzer’s retraction of his 2001 study on sexual reorientation, and Cretella briefly addresses Spitzer’s recent statements:

cretellaamicus1

I hope Cretella does not do pediatrics as she suggests doing sexual reorientation. For her patients’ sake, I hope she relies on new studies and takes into account all relevant studies to inform her advice. On sexual orientation, there have been several important studies about sexual orientation since 2001 which are relevant.

And then regarding Zucker and the publication of a retraction: This is misleading. In Zucker’s journal, Spitzer did publish a letter to the editor which apologized for what he now believes are erroneous conclusions.  Regarding Zucker’s reasons for not doing something in addition to Spitzer’s letter, I will let him speak for himself. In a widely published May 20, 2012 email, Zucker stated:

Dear Colleagues:

1. As some of you know, Robert Spitzer has recently expressed his reservations/regret/remorse about the study he published in Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2003, in which he interviewed 200 men and women who had sought out some variant of “reparative therapy” to deal with their unwanted homoerotic attractions, desires, etc. This was first reported on in an article in American Prospect and then went viral the way all good things should do in the post-modern era…the story even reached the front page of the New York Times in an article by Ben Carey and then an Editorial in the NYT.

2. Because there is a lot of interest in the original study, the author’s regret, etc., I have asked the publisher to give open access to the original Spitzer article, the 26 peer commentaries that followed it, Spitzer’s reply, my Editorial that introduced the “target” article, and Spitzer’s recent Letter to the Editor in which he expresses his reappraisal of the study. The open access period will be for 2 months, where anyone from Australia to Zimbabwe can download these papers for free. I am grateful for this kind gesture on the publisher’s part.

3. I have one suggestion: read the Discussion of the original Spitzer article and the 26 peer commentaries.

Feel free to pass this message on to colleagues and relevant listservs.

Best regards

Ken Zucker, Ph.D.

Editor, Archives of Sexual Behavior

Cretella implies that Zucker took a stand on Spitzer’s original conclusions regarding change. Rather, Zucker honored Bob Spitzer’s request to publish a letter and made the original work available.

Cretella also cites my literature reviews from 1998 and 2002 but does not include my more recent views. I will address this in a future post.

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  • Lynn David

    Staying a decade or more behind the times in scientific thought has always been a feature set of those who vehemently oppose homosexuality or gay people. Eventually, you’d think it would all catch up with them.

    • William Birch

      Well stated! Agreed entirely.

    • looking forward

      As much as I can tell the ones that are really behind the times are those that are still pushing the “born gay” myth as actual science and refuse to even consider that there are other factors at play hear that are far more influential in the development of an identity than ones genes. Just because you might think science has moved in the direction that seems to favor your belief system that does not make it so. Your opposition to those who do not believe that all that is “gay” necessarily leads to happiness is more a reflection of your own inability to catch up.

      • Boo

        Does the name “Baghdad Bob” mean anything to you?

        • looking forward

          not at all.

          • Boo

            That doesn’t surprise me.

      • ken

        “As much as I can tell the ones that are really behind the times are those that are still pushing the “born gay” myth as actual science and refuse to even consider that there are other factors at play”

        the people I see who do bring up this argument most often are anti-gay activists who are setting up straw-man arguments. The reputable researchers recognize there are a variety of factors (known and unknown) that determine a person’s orientation. However, they also recognize biological factors (not just genetics) play a strong part in it.

  • Lynn David

    Staying a decade or more behind the times in scientific thought has always been a feature set of those who vehemently oppose homosexuality or gay people. Eventually, you’d think it would all catch up with them.

  • ken

    Are you planning on filing your own amicus brief Warren?

  • Peter Ould

    Is there a link for this archive?

  • Warren
  • StraightGrandmother

    Dr. Throckmorton, could you do me a favor? Could you contact Dr. Zucker and ask him if these articles can be permanently made available for free? I never knew about this back in May 2012. And since this is going to be ongoin,g always cited in these Court Cases, maybe the publisher would do Society a GREAT Service by just permanently making it available for free. Scholars already have access through subscriptions through their learning institutions, it is simply the “little people” like me who is shut out of access because of the costs needed.

    This is a HUGE Social Issue, they would really be doing a public service if they would just leave this one set of articles out there for free. For us little people who are involved in the public discussion just in our homes and communities. And you have young people growing up, maybe their parents are on NARTH, and they would need these other set of articles from Archives of Sexual Behavior to make informed opinions.

  • Ann

    On sexual orientation, there have been several important studies about sexual orientation since 2001 which are relevant.

    Dr. Throckmorton,

    Are these studies leading the medical, psychological, and scientific communities any closer to a credible conclusion regarding orientations? Also, is there any update on the testing for the role of epigenetics that was going to be done?

  • Zoe Brain

    The amicus brief omits the actual citations, it just gives numbers. Is there a list somewhere?

  • Patrocles

    May I translate Zucker’s statement into plain speech?

    “People, read the discussion of the original Spitzer article and the 26 peer commentaries. You’ll find that Spitzer’s original study was never seen as groundbreaking, but it wasn’t scandalously bad either. If he now feels he has to “retract” it, his reasons are more emotional (“regret”, “remorse”) than rational.”

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

      Pat – What you should claim is: Let me read Zucker’s mind and tell you that he means what I think he means.


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