Few psychiatrists apologize, or have their regrets appear on the front page of the New York Times-- above the fold no less. But Dr. Robert Spitzer is rightly described as a giant of modern psychiatry. He has made news many times by taking controversial stands against prevailing opinions. In the 70’s he was instrumental in fighting the psychiatric establishment in order to have homosexuality delisted as a diagnosed mental illness in the DSM manual. He had listened to homosexual protesters, reconsidered and restudied the question.
In the late 90’s he listened to another group of ‘ex-gay’ advocates who claimed to have been changed, or cured by ‘reparative therapies.’ So Robert Spitzer was open minded enough to do his own study (surprisingly poorly designed,) using self-report telephone interviews. Against all advice he published the study’s results that gave credence to the claims for reparative therapy.
Once again Spitzer was attacked by his colleagues. But this time he also saw his research used in virulent anti-gay campaigns. Others judged the study as flawed and used to harm individuals. Today at 80, although quite ill, he feels morally impelled to publicly retract, repent and apologize to the gay community. He courageously admits that his critics were correct.
Anyone who is open minded and courageously challenges their own crowd’s consensus deserves high praise. I know Bob Spitzer is the real thing because he once asked me to give the pro-life feminist case to his unanimously pro abortion secular friends and colleagues. It was another ‘throw her to the lions’ event, but Spitzer for one, actually listened to my arguments.
I also understand his present need to apologize for an intellectual lapse. In conversation before the talk at his house I quoted some pro life article I had just read, stating that abortion was listed in the DSM as a potential cause of post traumatic stress disorder. But, shamefully, I had not checked this ‘fact.’ Spitzer corrected my error, even tactfully allowing that maybe abortion should be listed in the future. I was completely mortified, vowing that I would never, ever, again be guilty of carelessly misstating evidence, especially not for my own position.
I maintain that in debate you should correctly state your opponent’s position-- to his or her satisfaction. Then you can show how and why you judge your own position to be more valid. Isn’t this the rule of fidelity to the Truth that preserves western civilization? Humble self correction and apology are also vital signs of virtuous commitments to truth. Congratulations to Robert Spitzer. Do we know of other examples, in or out of the church?