Lifesitenews and confirmation bias
Warren Throckmorton, PhDWarren Throckmorton, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at Grove City College (PA). He co-founded the Golden Rule Pledge which advocates bullying prevention in evangelical churches. His academic articles have been published by journals of the American Psychological Association and he is past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He is the author with fellow Grove City College professor, Michael Coulter, of the book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President. Over 200 newspapers have published his columns. He can be reached at email@example.com.
- 2010 Mar 24
Yesterday, Lifesitenews published an article complaining about me. Many of the complaints are recycled from Peter LaBarbera's website and a OneNewsNow article. I addressed those criticisms here and here. Mark Yarhouse also did so on the SIT Framework website. Beyond rehashing LaBarbera's issues, I think the article reflects poorly on Lifesitenews. Let's start with their characterization of how my peers have been reacting to my work. Reporter Matthew Hoffman wrote:
Throckmorton's defection from the ex-gay movement has been met with condemnation by Evangelicals. "Though he works for an evangelical institution, Pennsylvania-based Grove City College, which advertises itself on faith-based websites as ‘authentically Christian,' Warren promotes a new, morally neutral paradigm on homosexuality that affirms people's ‘Sexual Identity' according to their feelings (and comfort level with same)," laments Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH).
Evangelicals? Let's count how many condemning evangelicals are quoted by LSN. If you count Michael Glatze, two people are quoted as complaining about my views, the other one being Peter LaBarbera. My reason for hedging on Glatze is that he began his ex-gay journey as a member of the LDS church and is listed as an "Executive Assistant" at the Buddhist inspired Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado, which, according to an article written by Glatze in 2009, is a welcoming place for gays and lesbians.
Rather than reporting some broad evangelical condemnation of my work, the article repeats the criticisms of Peter LaBarbera. I noted to Mr. Hoffman when I declined his interview (more about that shortly), that I am on the National Advisory Board for the American Association of Christian Counselors (as is Mark Yarhouse) and that they paid Mark and me to present a half-day workshop at the 2007 conference on how to apply the sexual identity therapy framework. By any definition, the AACC would be considered an evangelical organization. Mr. Hoffman says that I am under fire from evangelicals and yet only quotes one, maybe two. At the same time, he ignored evidence that my views are promoted within a much larger, more mainstream evangelical organization (not to mention several others he could have consulted).
As an aside, it is curious that Mr. LaBarbera has not included the AACC in his crusade. The AACC still promotes the SITF via the tapes they sell of the pre-conference workshop. The SITF was featured in the AACC magazine in 2007 via an invited article by Mark Yarhouse. Perhaps, the AACC will be next.
When I declined the interview, I pointed out to Mr. Hoffman that the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) also claims to value client self-determination. I sent Mr. Hoffman a link to my recent post, "Is NARTH the next target?" which notes that Joseph Nicolosi says, on the NARTH website, that he provides gay affirmative therapy to some of his clients. NARTH is mentioned favorably at least 46 times on Peter LaBarbera's website. I also sent a link to a YouTube video where Dr. Nicolosi says this about his practice:
The therapeutic approach is always positive. In fact, to be honest with you we never tell our clients not to have homosexual activity. If they want to do it, let them do it. It's up to them. Our job is to help them understand what they learned from it. When a client comes in to me and says, ‘I had gay sex last night.' My only question to him is, ‘What was going on with you just before you decided to act out? What was your psychological state of mind that made you want…?' That's where the lesson is. So we don't tell clients not to act out. They can act out, but every time they do act out, it's an opportunity to learn something about themselves.
Given that Mr. Hoffman mentions my movement away from NARTH's emphasis on reorientation, it would have reasonable and responsible for him to mention that NARTH holds to a view of client self-determination that is arguably more permissive than my own. For instance, in the SITF, if a client seeks celibacy or monogamy, we advocate working with clients to avoid contexts which could elicit undesired behavior.
Mr. Hoffman is correct that I changed my mind about an interview with him, but failed to completely describe the circumstances, saying
After agreeing to an email interview with LifeSiteNews, Dr. Throckmorton refused to answer the questions submitted, claiming they were "slanted." The questions sent to Dr. Throckmorton, are available at this link.
In fact, I declined his original request. After thinking it over, I asked to see the questions he wanted to ask. I did not agree to an interview although he may have thought that I did since I asked to see the questions. Once I read the questions, which he posted, I decided there was little chance for a fair representation of my views. For instance, I asked Mr. Hoffman how he formed this question (#3 in his list):
3. In a recent article you defended the thesis that sexual orientation is biologically determined in the womb, by hormonal deficiencies. Do you now believe that homosexual orientation is immutable?
I wrote to ask where I "defended the thesis that sexual orientation is biologically determined in the womb, by hormonal deficiencies." He then wrote back citing this article in Uganda's The Independent and quoted this section:
However, we do not know this to be the case. Most researchers around the world agree that there is no consensus about the causes of any given person's sexual orientation. While it seems unlikely that there is one biological or genetic cause for all homosexuals, there are data which suggest that genetic and hormonal factors during pre-natal development have some impact on our desires, in different ways for different people.
In the email, Mr. Hoffman explained:
Perhaps I overstated your position slightly. You are suggesting apparently that hormonal and genetic factors in the womb contribute to the phenomenon. Please consider my question amended to that effect.
I believe he did more than slightly overstate my position. His original question slanted my plainly stated views. That was enough for me to stick with my decision not to do an interview.
Currently, LSN is lamenting exclusion from a mainstream Catholic news source, Zenit. I know nothing of the specific issues but it relates to criticisms of LSN's reporting. I can say after this experience, that I will not accept what I read there at face value. Perhaps in the zeal to promote a certain point of view, LSN's reporting is skewed in a manner which concerns more mainstream outlets. Here are some tips. If you are going to advance a thesis, call it an op-ed, don't present it as news. If you make a generalization about a trend or a group, interview more than one person from the group you are characterizing. If you want to have sources trust you, then do not slant or misrepresent their views. Follow up on aspects of a story that may lead you away from your preconceived ideas - avoid confirmation bias.