Mark Yarhouse on the Spitzer Retraction

Interesting Stuff.

People  are asking me about Robert Spitzer’s reported desire to retract his study of 200 people who claimed to have experience change of their sexual orientation. It is unclear what people want me to say. When I first read his reported exchange with Gabriel Arana, I reflected on what I know about retracting studies. Research is typically retracted for gross errors or deception, as when data has been fabricated, for example. I had not seen anyone addressing this, however. All of the blogs and reports were on Spitzer’s desire to make a retraction (or whether he was feeling pressure to do so or whether he was protecting his legacy, etc.) but not on what constitutes or warrants a retraction. I’ll get back to this in a moment.

So we may or may not see a retraction in the formal sense of the word. I don’t know how much it matters. In the blogosphere, where folks on both sides of this particular debate take shots at one another, what constitutes grounds for a retraction will likely be lost on those who want to use Spitzer’s “change” to support their position. It was the case when Spitzer interpreted his data one way; it appears that way with Spitzer interpreting his data another way. (Although, as I suggested from the outset, Spitzer may be interpreting his data in much the same way he did originally–as when he first presented his findings at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in 2001: as evidence that the people he interviewed believed they had experienced change of orientation.)

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