Friday, April 24, 2009

New York Times: "Gay Conversion" Debate from Masters and Johnson Biography

Faked Evidence of “Gay Conversion”?

By JOHN TIERNEY

Did Masters & Johnson fake their evidence that they’d successfully “converted” more than 70 percent of men and women who were dissatisfied with their homosexuality? That claim was made in the 1979 book, “Homosexuality in Perspective,” by William Masters and Virginia Johnson. But it’s questioned in Thomas Maier’s new biography of the sexologists, “Masters of Sex.”

Mr. Maier summarizes his doubts in Scientific American, explaining that doubts about validity of the case studies arose among the staff at the Masters and Johnson clinic before the publication of the 1979 book:

Most staffers never met any of the conversion cases during the study period of 1968 through 1977. . . . Clinic staffer Lynn Strenkofsky, who organized patient schedules during this period, says she never dealt with any conversion cases. Marshall and Peggy Shearer, perhaps the clinic’s most experienced therapy team in the early 1970s, says they never treated homosexuals and heard virtually nothing about conversion therapy.

When the clinic’s top associate, Robert Kolodny, asked to see the files and to hear the tape-recordings of these “storybook” cases, Masters refused to show them to him. Kolodny—who had never seen any conversion cases himself—began to suspect some, if not all, of the conversion cases were not entirely true. When he pressed Masters, it became ever clearer to him that these were at best composite case studies made into single ideal narratives, and at worst they were fabricated.

Eventually Kolodny approached Virginia Johnson privately to express his alarm. She, too, held similar suspicions about Masters’ conversion theory, though publicly she supported him. The prospect of public embarrassment, of being exposed as a fraud, greatly upset Johnson, a self-educated therapist who didn’t have a college degree and depended largely on her husband’s medical expertise.

With Johnson’s approval, Kolodny spoke to their publisher about a delay, but it came too late in the process.”That was a bad book,” Johnson recalled decades later. Johnson said she favored a rewriting and revision of the whole book “to fit within the existing [medical] literature,” and feared that Bill simply didn’t know what he was talking about. At worst, she said, “Bill was being creative in those days” in the compiling of the “gay conversion” case studies.

Does “being creative” mean “making it up”? Dr. Masters continued to defend the evidence until his death, but Mr. Maiers says the success of the “gay conversion” therapy has never been proved.