Crank Science Alert

Box Turtle Bulletin has been tracking the latest ex-gay study that purports to show a 30-50% efficacy in making homosexuals into heterosexuals through the Exodus ex-gay ministry.

Initial problems with the study which went to a Christian publisher rather than peer review - the authors Stanton L. Jones and Mark Yarhouse (of Regent University have an interesting history in this field:

Jones and Yarhouse have collaborated at least three times before. They wrote "The Use, Misuse and Abuse of Science in the Ecclesiastical Homosexuality Debates," which appeared in the 2000 anthology Homosexuality, Science, and the "Plain Sense" of Scripture (edited by David L Balch and published by Eerdmans). That chapter was based largely on an earlier article they wrote for the Christian Scholar's Review in 1997 titled "Science and the Ecclesiastical Homosexuality Debates." They also contributed a chapter titled "The Homosexual Client" in the 1997 anthology Christian Counseling Ethics (edited by R.K. Sanders and published by InterVarsity).

Already some red flags indicating this study might have some biases. What about some of the results?

Well, it's published as a book, so most of what we've learned so far has been second hand, but unimpressive.

It appears that the study was over four years and included 98 people who were referred by various Exodus ministries.

  • 33 people reported change in the desired manner (from gay at time 1 in the heterosexual direction at time 3)
  • 29 reported no change
  • 8 reported change in the undesired direction
  • 3 were unsure how to describe their experience of change

and 25 people discontinued participation in the study during that time. The study also reports:

  • Success: Conversion - There were subjects who reported that they felt their change to be successful and reported substantial reduction in homosexual desire and addition of heterosexual attraction and functioning at Time 3. 15% met these criteria.
  • Success: Chastity - These people experienced satisfactory reductions in homosexual desire and were living chaste lives. 23% were in this category.
  • Continuing - These persons experienced only modest change in the desired direction but expressed commitment to continue. 29% were in this category.
  • No-response - These people experienced no change and were conflicted about the future even though they had not given up. 15% were here.
  • Failure (from their perspective): Confused - No change reported and had given up but did not label themselves gay. 4% were in this group
  • Failure: Gay identity - No change, no pursuit and had come as gay. 8% were in this category.

Assuming that these are percentages of the 73 participants who made it to the fourth year, this would break out as follows:

  • Success: Conversion - 11
  • Success: Chastity - 17
  • Continuing - 21
  • No-response - 11
  • Failure: Confused - 3
  • Failure: Gay identity - 6

With four people left unaccounted for.

Of those criteria it sounds like only about 11% actually experienced some kind of change in their sexuality. Whether or not they're just creating new Larry Craig's would take further study, but maybe there's another hint?

Christianity Today provides further clarification on those eleven successes.

Most of the individuals who reported that they were heterosexual at Time 3 did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and did not report heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated. ... We believe the individuals who presented themselves as heterosexual success stories at Time 3 are heterosexual in some meaningful but complicated sense of the term.

Wow, even the 11% that were somehow converted don't sound very heterosexual. It sounds like at best, this study shows they can create deep-seated confusion in about 11% of individuals, chastity or ambivalence in another 30%, and total failure in the overwhelming majority.

Rather than continuing to devote time to this idiocy, I think it's about time these so-called researchers should accept that homosexuality is natural, it's part of the continuum of human sexual behaviors, and at best all you can do is create confusion by trying to force people to behave contrary to their nature.

And how long before some fake family "values" organization decides this is an overwhelming victory? Proof that homosexuality is a choice?

Excellent job from Box Turtle Bulletin in keeping tabs on this crank science.

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Those who claimed successful conversion knew what the desired response was and that they might be penalized (no pun intended) if they gave the wrong response. And still the percentage of "success" is unimpressive.

Wonder how many willing admitted to being homosexual in the first place? Bet most of them were like Ted Haggard and professed to be straight until they were caught in their lies.

This study seems to describe a perfect way to use guilt and coercion to create self-loathing closet homosexuals. I suppose that I should be thankfull that their "success" rate is so low.

Indeed, I wonder if Ted Haggard would submit himself to this kind of "therapy" and come through "converted"?

Actually, there are two other big complications I see which make this study look even more worthless:

1. The 25 people who dropped out of the study. These people should all be properly considered failures (unless some of them dropped due to completely unrelated issues), but instead they aren't counted in the final statistics at all. The statistics for success should be made from the "intent to treat" group, not the subgroup that participated to the end. The way they did it creates an unfair bias towards success.

2. The concept of bisexuality is never brought up. It's quite likely that some members of the study were in fact bisexual instead of homosexual (well, it's likely more of a continuum than three discreet groups). This would make it quite easy to convince them to be attracted to the opposite gender - it's already in their nature, after all. Since the study didn't require that they not have any attraction at all to members of the same gender to be considered a success, any bisexual in the group is pretty much an automatic success.

Wow. There's a potentially *huge* potential for self-report bias in the direction of saying "Yes, it worked! Hallelujuah! Now my friends and family and church will love me again!." And then there's the also-enormous bias that people in these programs are people who wanted to be, or appear straight in the first place. And yet, they only had an 11% success rate. That's freaking astounding. I don't think the cognitive behaviorists out there would be much impressed with their methods, whatever the hell they are.

They probably have higher success rates with your average personalit disorders than with this, and would be at least *trying* to account for malingering.

9That's "personality disorder" in English.)

I have long wondered what kind of people enter ex-gay programs like Exodus. Most, if not all, ex-gay programs, like Exodus, are run by conservative fundamentalist christians. I believe that the people who enter these programs were raised in fundamentalist christian families where homosexuality was taught to be sinful, unnatural, indecent, and downright disgusting. I have a strong feeling that people who were raised in liberal, accepting families and communities are a small number of the programs' clientele.
I am also skeptical about how the study itself was done. What were the questions like? Who administered the questionnaires? And who selected the sample? Surely Exodus has had more "patients" than the 98 in the study. Like Paul Cameron's studies this study stinks even before it is unwrapped.

Wow, that's amazing. Presumably all of these people, on entering the study, trully hated themselves enough to want to be 'cured' of their homosexuality, yet even with that they only managed to convince 11% that they weren't gay.

Mostly it just makes me angry, both for the people who are being promised a cure and at the society that makes these people think they need a cure.