Mark Yarhouse on the Spitzer Retraction
PeopleÂ are asking me about Robert Spitzerâ€™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 reportedÂ exchangeÂ 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 Spitzerâ€™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. Iâ€™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 donâ€™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 Spitzerâ€™s â€œchangeâ€ 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 originallyâ€“as when he first presented his findings at the American Psychiatric Associationâ€™s annual meeting in 2001: as evidence that the people he interviewed believed they had experienced change of orientation.)