July 25, 2013

Questioning a critic's credibility

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, July 25, 2013

Questioning a critic's credibility

In my Apologia column "Is promoting same-sex sex wise?" (The Carillon, May 30, 2013), I argue that there is considerable evidence for thinking that serious health problems are associated with homosexual sex, more than with heterosexual sex, and so, for the sake of seeking truth as well as the well-being of those who have same-sex attractions, I conclude that further investigation is needed.

In a recent letter to the editor (The Carillon, July 18, 2013), Aaron Hildebrandt claims that my concerns about health issues associated with same-sex sex are "absolutely false." Hildebrandt also attempts to cast doubt onto my arguments by pointing to sources he takes to be the majority consensus view in the scientific community, a consensus he claims contradicts the evidence I set out. Hildebrandt thereby accuses me of spreading misinformation and promoting harm to LGBTQ people.

With all due respect to Mr. Hildebrandt, I believe that his claims and accusation are mistaken.

Space permits me to deal with only one example of faulty reasoning in Hildebrandt's letter, but this should suffice to reasonably question Hildebrandt's credibility.

One of the sources to which I appeal in my column is the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a U.S.-based organization of psychologists and counselors who help people overcome unwanted same-sex attractions. In response, Hildebrandt lists his preferred source—the American Psychological Association (APA)—which dismisses the legitimacy of NARTH's work.

We should concede to Hildebrandt that the APA is a large and influential organization whereas NARTH isn't. But, if we investigate further (which Hildebrandt doesn't), it becomes clear that Hildebrandt's appeal to the APA as a scientific authority faces two debilitating difficulties.

First, that there is a majority consensus in the scientific community doesn't automatically mean that the minority is mistaken. Think of Copernicus and Galileo. In fact, think of the whole history of science.

Often, as history shows, a scientific minority's arguments have a better handle on truth. Lesson: Even in the face of a major scientific consensus, we should encourage further investigation—in the name of good science.

Second, the alleged majority APA consensus in psychology to which Hildebrandt so confidently appeals is fractured and dubious.

Consider Jeffrey Satinover's book Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Baker 1996). Satinover—a psychiatrist educated at MIT, Harvard, and U of Texas—reports on the well-known infringement of political ideology into the scientific investigation of homosexuality during the 1970s and up to the 1990s.

Consider, too, psychologists Rogers Wright and Nicholas Cummings' more recent book Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm (Routledge 2005). In this collection of essays, various highly respected psychologists argue that in the scientific and professional world of psychology "special interest groups have used faulty—even false—science to promote political agendas."

Interestingly, Cummings is a past president of the APA, is a champion of lesbian and gay rights, and was a keynote speaker at the 2011 NARTH conference—yes, a NARTH conference. It turns out that Cummings is more supportive of NARTH than the APA!

Cummings says the following in an interview with NARTH: "The APA has permitted political correctness to triumph over science, clinical knowledge and professional integrity. The public can no longer trust organized psychology to speak from evidence rather than from what it regards to be politically correct."

Cummings adds: "At the present time the governance of the APA is vested in an elitist group of 200 psychologists who rotate themselves in a kind of 'musical chairs' throughout all the various offices, boards, committees, and the Council of Representatives. The vast majority of the 100,000 members are essentially disenfranchised." (See http://narth.com/docs/cummings.html.)

Surely, these are significant remarks from a former president of the APA, enough to cast at least some reasonable doubt onto the scientific authority of the APA.

In my column "Is promoting same-sex sex wise?" I point to various health concerns associated with same-sex sex and I conclude, modestly, that we should investigate further. I think Hildebrandt's naïve embrace of the APA as a scientific authority that plays a crucial role in rendering my concerns "absolutely false" serves as additional support for my conclusion.

I am confident that Hildebrandt wants what's best for LGBTQ people. I want this, too, contrary to what Hildebrandt's mistaken claims and accusation suggest. Therefore, I urge Hildebrandt (and the rest of us) to think carefully and seek truth—and engage in further investigation.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University CollegeThe views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

NOTE: I have recently been informed that Mr. Hildebrandt has set out an extended critique of my column "Is promoting same-sex sex wise?" at his website. Apparently, Hildebrandt's letter to The Carillon is merely the tip of an ice berg. Because Hildebrandt continues to present serious charges against me personally and professionally, I will soon be setting out an extended critique of Hildebrandt's extended critique. Stay tuned. ... My extended critique of Hildebrandt's extended critique is now available: "A Critical Review of a Critic's Work".

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