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Journal retracts 1951 paper on homosexuality conversion therapy

UPDATED

Concluded gay people are too uncooperative

A psychiatry journal has retracted a 1951 paper on homosexuality and psychotherapy, but not for the usual reasons such as flawed data or plagiarism.

In this case, it seems largely due to the fact that the author of the paper, Benjamin Glover, said conversion therapy attempts for gay people failed because they were uncooperative. Glover taught psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Regardless of one’s view on the efficacy or morality of conversion therapy, it’s not particularly groundbreaking or offensive to conclude that a therapeutic approach failed because the population studied proved uncooperative.

But it’s 2020, so it has to be offensive to someone. In this case, John Talbott, the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. The journal published Glover’s paper, titled “Observations on Homosexuality Among College Students.” Talbott is also a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland.

Talbott told The College Fix via email on Tuesday he had reached out to the publisher of the journal about providing a copy of the 1951 paper, which is currently behind a paywall.

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The retraction notice came after Simon LeVay, a neuroscientist who studied sexuality, asked Talbott to look into the matter, according to the retraction notice posted by the journal.

Talbott said in the retraction notice (erroneous commas are original):

As an editor of scientific journals for more than 50 years, I have witnessed the changes brought about by scientific discovery (, that peptic ulcers are caused by bacteria, not worries) as well as societal advances (, same sex marriage). But journals like this one, published papers in the past reflecting many other beliefs we find abhorrent today, such as those on eugenics, the disabled, women, Blacks, sexual problems, and yes, sexuality.

LeVay told the Wisconsin State Journal he has no plans to seek a purge of other papers.

The newspaper said:

For LeVay, the point of requesting the retraction was to bring the paper to light and perhaps start a larger, educational discussion. He said he has no plans to embark on a crusade of purging decades-old and deeply flawed papers from the annals of scientific history.

(LeVay contacted The Fix via email after publication and challenged the characterization of the reason why he asked for the paper’s retraction. He refused twice a request to provide an original quote to The Fix but instead instructed The Fix to quote from his comments in the journal. However, the publisher requires paid permission to take excerpts beyond several sentences. The link to a paywalled version of LeVay’s commentary can be read here).

But it’s not clear Talbott is opposed to a purge within the journal, which is now almost 150 years-old.

The note in the upcoming December 2020 publication also says the article “is but one that deserves a relook, reappraisal, and perhaps retraction. I invite your responses,” appearing to invite more scrutiny and wokeness to scrub through the archives to find more papers for retraction.

“I don’t think scientific journals should be spared examination of what they have published in the past,” Talbott said via email to The Fix, confirming that he wants people to suggest other papers to look at for retraction.

It’s even possible that LeVay, who published a 1991 study that found that the brain structure of gay men differs from that of straight men, will some day find himself under the microscope that he built.

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Editor’s note: Simon LeVay contacted The Fix and disputed the characterization of his issue with the 1951 paper. However, LeVay agreed with an assessment by student paper The Daily Cardinal that characterized Glover’s thesis that gay people were too uncooperative to complete conversion therapy. LeVay’s commentary quotes Glover’s comments on the “lassitude and inertia” of gay people in explaining the failure of the therapy.  This article has been updated to include the outreach from LeVay and a link to his commentary.

IMAGE: Syda Productions/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author
Matt is assistant editor for The College Fix. He previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he also wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and a M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.