…bad consequences follow. Forbes traces the problems with the most authoritative “we can cure the gay out of you” study:
[Dr. Robert L.] Spitzer now looks back with regret and critically dismantles his work, but the truth is that his study wasn’t credible from the beginning. It only assumed a veneer of credibility because it was stamped with the imprimatur of his profession.
In his recantation of the study, he says that it contained at least two fatal flaws: the self reports from those he surveyed were not verifiable, and he didn’t include a control group of men and women who didn’t undergo the therapy for comparison. Self reports are notoriously unreliable….
For many years before his paper on reparative therapy, Spitzer had conducted studies that evaluated the efficacy of self-reporting as a tool to assess a variety of personality disorders and depression. He was a noted expert on the development of diagnostic questionnaires and other assessment measures, and his work was influential in determining whether an assessment method was valuable or should be discarded.
This wasn’t just anyone claiming that the self reports were valid, it was one of the most highly regarded diagnostic assessment experts in the world.
Reading the study now, I’m sure Spitzer is embarrassed by its flaws. Not only did he rely on self reports, but he conducted the participant interviews by phone, which escalates unreliability to the doesn’t-pass-the-laugh-test level. By phone, researchers aren’t able to evaluate essential non-verbal cues that might cast doubts on verbal responses.
The original researcher has recanted, asked his study be withdrawn and written an apology.