Response to Part 2 of Dr. Patrick M. Chapman’s Review of “Ex-Gays”, posted on Ex-Gay Watch, November, 2007, by Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse.
Response to “Part 2: A Focus on the Results — Examining if Change is Possible”
Here in Part 2 Dr. Chapman’s criticisms turn more severe. First he asserts that ours is not a long term study. Again, his logic is questionable, and the problem of incomplete citation of our argument is significant. Chapman says “In the opening chapter Jones and Yarhouse honestly and correctly state this study cannot establish if long-term, permanent and enduring change occurs because that would require a long-term study (p. 17).” What we actually say on page 17 is that “this study will not establish that permanent, enduring change has occurred; only a very long-term study can demonstrate that.” Our point was not that our study was not a long-term study, nor that our study was inadequate to produce evidence suggesting that change was not impossible. Our point instead was that if you want to show that change is permanent, then logically you have to study subjects throughout their lifespans to death to insure the change was permanent. So our study cannot show that change is permanent, but even so a three to four year span of time is scientifically meaningful and qualifies as “long term.”
Chapman’s subsequent criticisms share a common characteristic that must be noted: Chapman imagines that he blunts our argument that change is possible for some by pointing out contrary pieces of isolated evidence that change did not happen for certain people or did not happen in certain ways he considers important. Science, in contrast, operates by examining all relevant data for trends, and then applies that data to the evaluation of hypotheses.
Our hypothesis regarding change was that “change is impossible.” The relevant data for falsification of that hypothesis is evidence that change is possible for some. Imagine the argument that “it is impossible to sustain life through heart transplant operations.” A scientist studies 100 heart transplants, and finds one year post-operation that 67% of transplant patients are still alive. Does the death of 33% constitute evidence in support of the argument “it is impossible to sustain life through heart transplant operations”? Of course not: If heart transplants are not supposed to help people, then the relevant data is data that falsifies the hypothesis, i.e., evidence of people surviving. Chapman’s selective citation of our data is the equivalent of focusing on the negative cases in this example. This is explicit, as Chapman argues that our conclusion that change is possible for some “is unwarranted because . . .” and then cites a series of evidences of incomplete change.
It was very surprising for Chapman to build the core of his argument around selectively citing the 3 tables (7.4 through 7.6; pp. 239-240) that show no change (which we openly admit) while completely ignoring the other tables on the related variables that show significant change (7.1 through 7.3; pp. 238-239) AND while completely ignoring all of the other variables measured (the balance of Chapter 7) on which statistically significant change and effect sizes ranging from small to large were demonstrated. It was in response to the broader pattern of evidence that we concluded that “change is possible for some” again and again through the book. Chapman says that “This study is littered with biased and sloppy scholarship,” but actually provides no evidence of this. Chapman and others who want to engage this work fairly need to respond to the overall pattern of our findings which, in contrast to the hypothesis that “change is impossible,” found many statistically significant changes and meaningful effect sizes on almost all of the measures of sexual orientation. How can an exclusive focus on those few instances where statistically significant change was not found be justified?
Chapman then turns to a rebuttal of our qualitative categorization of outcomes, focusing first on those we termed “Success: Conversion.” His core complaint is that some of these individuals report various forms of recurring homosexual attraction even as they also report satisfying heterosexual adjustment. Should individuals who report any sort of continuing homosexual attraction be considered to have changed? We discuss this matter throughout the book, but focus on it on pages 235-237 and 373-374, concluding that it is an unreasonable standard to deny that an individual has changed significantly if they experience any residual of homosexual desire. Chapman takes the stance that any signal of homosexual attraction indicates full and enduring homosexual orientation; this strikes us as a naïve and dichotomous understanding of sexual orientation. Further, such standards are not applied to other efforts at psychological change, and we believe they cannot and would not be so applied. Marital couples continue to struggle with conflict; persons with addictions continue to experience cravings. Put differently, the same sorts of standards that recognize significant change with other psychological patterns that are the subject of change attempts should hold for the area of sexual orientation as well.
Chapman then dismisses our conclusions about those who experienced a decrease in the potency of their homosexual desires and were able to embrace chastity, and who themselves considered this a successful outcome to the change process. Chapman suggests that we “accept asexuality as a functional opposite of homosexuality. Based on the depression analogy it appears that Jones and Yarhouse would declare a person ‘healed’ from depression if they ceased to have any and all emotions, for the person would no longer be intensely and persistently sad. I suspect the psychological community would define success in other ways.”
This is an important argument, to which we would respond in two ways. First, these individuals did not find themselves to be either devoid of all emotion entirely nor to be utterly asexual in the sense of being emotionally dead. Instead, their common testimony was of experiencing a diminishing of unwanted, powerful same-sex attractions, and that that decrease enhanced their experiences of satisfying emotional and relational connections with God and with other persons in non-erotic relationships. These people typically felt themselves more emotionally alive and healthy as a result of experiencing a decrease in homosexual attraction. Second, we must ask who has the authority to deny these individuals the opportunity to make their own choices about what they find satisfying in life? These individuals regard their adjustment to be successful; is Chapman positioned to assert his view of their lives over theirs? Yes, some of the subjects reported experiences discordant with their desires and hopes for complete change. But these individuals (except for the one who retracted his claim to change) did not see these experiences as negating the reality of positive change in their lives.
Chapman’s concluding paragraph deserves careful attention. We quote him, and then comment on each of his challenges:
- “Despite explicitly stating that this study cannot demonstrate whether long-lasting change is possible. . .” As stated above, this is NOT what we said. What we said was that our study could not prove change was permanent.
- “despite admitting that individuals in ex-gay ministries misreport their condition . . .” This is NOT what we said. Rather, we report in the book how some Exodus ministries urge their clients to reject the notion that their same-sex attractions mean that their identity is that of a homosexual person.
- “despite knowing that previous testimonies of change were untrue . . .” Rather, we recognize that some previous testimonies of change have proven to be untrue.
- “despite knowing that one of their own ‘Success: Conversion’ participants later recanted his proclaimed ‘conversion’ to heterosexuality. . .” As we say in the book, we report the data as it presents itself, as the experience of one person does not invalidate that of another. The experience of change of Alan Chambers, President of Exodus, does not invalidate Dr. Chapman’s experience that he did not change, and it is for this reason that we insist that the implication of our research is that change appears possible for some, specifically that “change is not impossible” (p. 365), and that our data does not prove “that everyone (or anyone) can change” (p. 372).
- “despite the fact that ‘Success: Conversion’ and ‘Success: Chastity’ participants retain a homosexual orientation (using Jones and Yarhouse’s own definition). . . ” Chapman has inadequate basis for this claim. He selectively picks counter-examples to the evidence of significant change, and ignores the direct evidence of change such as the reported changes summarized in the bar graph on page 296.
Given Chapman’s selective engagement with the data of our study—specifically by focusing only on a series of small slices of the results congruent with his skepticism about change—he responds incredulously to the fact that “the authors claim that homosexual orientation is changeable! Clearly their conclusion is not consistent with the evidence.” In contrast, Dr. Chapman; you appear to have reached your conclusion that our evidence proves that change is impossible by selective engagement with only those pieces of evidence that fit your conclusion. We, in contrast, engaged all of the data as a whole.
Following the organization of the original series, the final part of the response will address a focus on the results, examining if is is harmful (covered in the last part of Chapman’s critique).