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Monday, June 19, 2006

Military "Intelligence" About Homosexuality

The same Pentagon that has coddled American soldiers who assault injured American soldiers during wartime has some mental health news for us: homosexuality is a mental disorder:

A Pentagon document classifies homosexuality as a mental disorder, decades after mental health experts abandoned that position.

The document outlines retirement or other discharge policies for service members with physical disabilities, and in a section on defects lists homosexuality alongside mental retardation and personality disorders.

[ . . . ]

The document, called a Defense Department Instruction, was condemned by medical professionals, members of Congress and other experts, including the American Psychiatric Association [“APA”].

[ . . . ]

"Based on scientific and medical evidence the APA declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973 -- a position shared by all other major health and mental health organizations based on their own review of the science," James H. Scully Jr., head of the psychiatric association, said in a letter to the Defense Department's top doctor earlier this month.

There were 726 military members discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy during the budget year that ended last Sept. 30. That marked the first year since 2001 that the total had increased. The number of discharges had declined each year since it peaked at 1,227 in 2001, and had fallen to 653 in 2004.

“You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts,” former U.N. Ambassador and U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said.  I suppose the Pentagon could say this “mental disorder” questions is an “opinion,” but when it’s rejecting the medical establishment’s long-settled opinion, it’s pretty much making it up as it goes along, unable to distinguish a certain part of its anatomy from its elbow.

ps:  My apologies for my recent absence from blogging (not that the proletariat really were up in arms about a Moss-less PrawfsBlawg); it was due to a combination of (a) cranking hard to draft an article and -- more pathetically – (b) my annoyance at TypePad when I lost a draft of an amazingly long post weeks ago.  I decided to grow up and get over (b), but as Colbert would say: “TypePad: You’re on notice!

Posted by Scott on June 19, 2006 at 09:47 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Current Affairs, Law and Politics | Permalink


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Scott, thanks so much for your post on this. It's important that somebody expose the lunatic fringe at the Pentagon and elsewhere who are trying, systematically, to make gays and lesbians second class citizens...or even worse, non-citizens incapable of even being counted mentally fit members of a citizenry.

As a gay man, all I can say to Ron and the rest is: why do you hate us? why can't you just get on with your own life and leave others alone? what harm are we causing? wouldn't the world be better served, thousands of times over, if you took your energies from this issue and actually addressed something important, like global hunger, a lack of medicines in the third world, literacy campaigns, or any of a thousand charities waiting for help?

There's only a few reasons why the whole "gay rights" question is even an issue. First is ignorance--and that, to me, is an excuse only for those lacking basic education and any experience of gay people. The second, and far more disturbing, is the willingness of people like Karl Rove and George Bush to exploit the ignorance of others and pretend that gay people pose some sort of threat.

In a few decades, this won't even be an issue in the civilized world. But the Republicans, just as they now go to civil rights prayer breakfasts, will just as unctuously profess their concern for the latest disenfranchised minority, and I hope someone around then calls them on it.

Posted by: Anon24 | Jun 21, 2006 9:34:36 AM

Scott: Evolution of *macroorganisms* is the fundamental assumption of all of the CDC's work. Or are you going to say that when humans become more or less susceptible to a disease due to natural selection, that's not evolution? Because it is.

Maybe I just had my knee jerk because you said micro, which makes me think of the creationist canards about "microevolution," a term of their own devising with no scientific meaning.

Posted by: Eh Nonymous | Jun 20, 2006 5:58:54 PM

Paul, thanks for your comments. My comments were not directed at the specific issue of homosexuality (though Scott from the start made all sorts of assumptions as to my views on homosexuality), but at what I viewed as the broader point of Scott's post - that if an association of experts in a field adopt some position by majority vote (!), then it is forever off the table and policymakers may not make their own judgment based on dissenting views. My later post about past expert opinion on global cooling and whether dissenting views among experts are legitimate was to show that expert are not infallible, even in their areas of expertise - indeed, Scott should concede this point because presumably he thinks the APA was wrong before it eliminated homosexuality from its list of disorders! (Scott, in 1970, would you have similarly criticized a government agency for treating homosexuality as normal even though it was listed in the DSM?) If professional associations could somehow make policy decisions illegitimate through their taking a position on an issue relevant to their field, lobbying of the type we witnessed in the 1970's of the APA by gay rights groups will be the new front in campaigning.

As to possible ideological "seepage" into purportedly neutral experts, including those in the hard sciences, see this recent post by Stuart Buck: http://stuartbuck.blogspot.com/2006/06/empiricism.html


A while back, I suggested that liberals are on average no more empirically minded -- or shall we say, "reality-based" -- than are conservatives. It's just that liberals and conservatives tend to be empirically minded about different things.

In reading the book Stumbling On Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert, I came across his description of a study on this point:
In one study, volunteers were asked to evaluate two pieces of scientific research on the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent. They were shown one research study that used the "between-states technique" (which involved comparing the crime rates of states that had capital punishment with the crime rates of states that did not) and one research study that used the "within-states technique" (which involved comparing the crime rates of a single state before and after it instituted or outlawed capital punishment).

For half the volunteers, the between-states study concluded that capital punishment was effective and the within-states study concluded it was not. For the other half of the volunteers, these conclusions were reversed. The results showed that volunteers favored whichever technique produced the conclusion that verified their own personal political ideologies. When the within-states technique produced an unfavorable conclusion, volunteers immediately recognized that within-states comparisons are worthless because factors such as employment and income vary over time, and thus crime rates in one decade (the 1980s) can't be compared with crime rates in another decade (the 1990s). But when the between-states technique produced an unfavorable conclusion, volunteers immediately recognized that between-states comparisons are worthless because factors such as employment and income vary with geography, and thus crime rates in one place (Alabama) can't be compared with crime rates in another place (Massachusetts).

Clearly, volunteers set the methodological bar higher for studies that disconfirmed their favored conclusions.
The study is this: C. G. Lord, L. Ross, and M. R. Leper, "Biased Assimilation and Attitude Polarization: The Effects of Prior Theories on Subsequently Considered Evidence," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37:2098-109 (1979).

Gilbert adds this endnote: "It is no consolation that in subsequent studies, both established scientists and scientists in training showed the same tendency to favor techniques that produced favored conclusions. See J. J. Koehler, 'The Influence of Prior Beliefs on Scientific Judgments of Evidence Quality,' Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 56: 28-55 (1993)."

posted by Stuart Buck at 9:21 PM

Posted by: Ron | Jun 20, 2006 5:58:11 PM

This is a very interesting little debate. It's possible Ron is raising his arguments as a stalking horse for a broader normative point about gayness, but he doesn't say so and I'm willing to assume otherwise. Is it really such a contentious point to suggest that that the DSM debate was as politically and normatively charged as it was scientific? Whether or not all debates over science are politically charged, and I don't think they are, and whether or not all debates over the policy implications of science are politically charged (and many are), surely many debates over social science are politically charged, and I don't think the DSM debate is necessarily an exception. The DSM is a classic site for debates over whether particular "disorders" are real in some independent sense, or just social constructions, and what the effect is of classifying them as disorders or not.

However, what I don't get from Ron's comments is a sense of: whether he also believes the earlier classification of homosexuality as a disorder was also an essentially social and/or political phenomenon rather than a reliable diagnosis; why we should rely only on the 1974 debate, and not on any consensus that has formed in the relevant scientific community since then -- surely we are not reduced to looking only at the first mover in the debate forever after; and what foundation the Pentagon could have had for classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, particularly as the article suggests the department is inconsistent on this point.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jun 20, 2006 4:58:02 PM

Ron, you and the Bush administration (which sides with you on global warming and homosexuality, it seems) are entitled to the view that because scientific opinions and predictions have changed course over the years, we can freely ignore the best scientific conclusions available today.

I bet you accept some other medical and scientific discoveries, however. E.g.: Have you or your children (if any) been vaccinated, even though there is a non-scientific community fearing that vaccinations are harmful? Do you believe the nuclear power industry's assertions that nuclear plants are safe? (Incidentally, just so I'm not asking personal questions I wouldn't answer myself: my answer would be "yes" to all.) If you accept these and other med/sci developments, then it sure looks like you're picking and choosing which med/sci developments you like based on your personal preferences.

In short, nobody really rejects science; people just reject the science whose conclusions they don't like. The Bush admin has avoided using the word "evolution" on certain gov't science websites -- even though "evolution" of microorganisms is the premise of a good deal of the CDC's work. It's hypocrisy, relying on a scientific principle when it's necessary but then denying it when it's inconvenient.

Posted by: Scott Moss | Jun 20, 2006 3:46:22 PM

A side note on global warming and "experts" - were the voluminous experts in the 1970's who warned of all the evidence of an oncoming ice age to be blindly followed? Were those who did nor follow the advice of these experts mere corporate shills or ignoramuses? Your mistake is in ascribing base political motives to those who disagree with you but refusing to acknowledge the inevitable seepage of one's political views into all spheres - the experts you favor are no more immune to ideology than those you disdain:

30 years ago the fashionable panic was about global cooling. The New York Times (Aug. 14, 1975) reported "many signs" that "Earth may be heading for another ice age." Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned about "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation." "Continued rapid cooling of the Earth" (Global Ecology, 1971) could herald "a full-blown 10,000-year ice age" (Science, March 1, 1975). The Christian Science Monitor reported (Aug. 27, 1974) that Nebraska's armadillos were retreating south from the cooling.


Posted by: Ron | Jun 20, 2006 3:34:48 PM

Wikipedia's entry on the DSM (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DSM-IV) also mentions the political pressure put on the APA that led to its reversal (to me, the issue here is whether deference is due to an action that is purportedly based on expertise but highly influenced by other considerations):

Among the most noted examples of controversial diagnoses is the classifying in the DSM-II of homosexuality as a mental disorder, a classification that was removed by vote of the APA in 1973 after three years of various gay activists groups demonstrating at APA meetings.

Posted by: Ron | Jun 20, 2006 3:23:55 PM

it is common knowledge that the APA changed the DSM by majority vote after political pressure - do you challenge that? I'd be interested in any evidence you have. As to "Dr. Zur,"I just found the first website that stated that fact (as to your assertions about that website's views on homosexuality, I dare say that it is unclear whether the site was categorizing the classification of homosexuality as a disorder or its declassification as problematic - in fact, the tenor of the site seems to be dismissive of DSM classification in general).

However, here is a piece from Slate (http://www.slate.com/id/3138/)backing up the assertion that the APA just took a majority vote of its members, regardless of their area of expertise, on the issue (presumably you can't ignore the facts here and attack the author):

In 1974, after a series of heated and embarrassingly public quarrels on the topic, the APA decided to resolve the question of whether or not homosexuality should be called a mental disorder by means of a ballot mailed out to its members. The majority of those responding felt that homosexuality was not a mental disorder, and the APA accordingly removed it from the DSM's next published edition. This incident was unusual, and yet not so very different from the APA's standard modus operandi. Each edition of the DSM is the product of arguments, negotiations, and compromises.

Posted by: Ron | Jun 20, 2006 3:16:25 PM

Ron -- Congrats on digging deep into the bench of obscure psych "professionals" to find a guy who's upset he no longer has professional backing for slandering gays and lesbians as crazies. I checked out the website you linked; "Dr. Zur" isn't selling himself as an expert on homosexuality or ... well, on much of anything psych-related, it seems. Here's his racket (from the "Hire Dr. Zur" link on his page):

"Since 1990, Dr. Zur has trained thousands of psychotherapists across the United States on issues of ethics, dual relationships, supervision and how to build a thriving private practice outside managed care."

"For a negotiated fee Dr. Zur will teach the workshop/s at a designated location in your area."

I could go on, but I think the dead horse is dead. I hate to waste time on this, but you and Dr. Zur are like the anti-global warming crowd: yo have a political point to make (e.g., "there's no global warming," or "gays are deranged"), so you scour the roster of unaccomplished "experts" and find a a barely-credentialed hack with no apparent expertise in the field (but he has a PhD!) to say what you want. I think that sort of hackery has to be called what it is.

Posted by: Scott Moss | Jun 20, 2006 2:57:26 PM

Given the controversial history of the APA removing homosexuality from its list of disorders after intense political pressure, what binding effect could it possibly have on governmental decisionmakers? Can any group of professionals somehow bind the government to any position it adopts when it is arguably "captured" by a focused interest group?

This quote ws pulled from a website critical of the DSM's prior classification as a disorder:

One telling example is the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. Homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder in the DSM until 1974, when gay activists demonstrated in front of the American Psychiatric Association Convention. The APA's 1974 vote showed 5,854 members supporting and 3,810 opposing the disorder's removal from the manual. At that time, the American Psychiatric Association made headlines by announcing that it had decided homosexuality was no longer a mental illness. Voting on what constitutes mental illness is truly bizarre and, needless to say, is political and unscientific.
External political pressure can result, apparently, in the inclusion of a diagnostic category. For example, PTSD was included in the DSM-III as a result of massive lobbying on its behalf by Vietnam vets and their supporters. Prior to that, PTSD sufferers were routinely diagnosed with character disorders.


Posted by: Ron | Jun 20, 2006 2:38:03 PM

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