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An infamous article linking homosexuality with molestation got its own data wrong
An "Expression of Editorial Concern" has been added to the article, more than 20 years after it was first published
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In 2001, the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior published an article titled “Comparative Data of Childhood and Adolescence Molestation in Heterosexual and Homosexual Persons.” The short piece—it was only seven pages—was published by Marie E. Tomeo, Donald I. Templer, Susan Anderson & Debra Kotler, all associated with the California School of Professional Psychology. They attempted to see if there was a connection between “childhood molestation” and homosexuality.
As so many gay people could tell you, those two things aren’t linked. There’s also the whole disconnect between when you first have same-sex attraction and when you might identify as gay, which could be much later in life. But whatever the concerns, the article concluded that there was definitely something going on:
In research with 942 nonclinical adult participants, gay men and lesbian women reported a significantly higher rate of childhood molestation than did heterosexual men and women. Forty-six percent of the homosexual men in contrast to 7% of the heterosexual men reported homosexual molestation. Twenty-two percent of lesbian women in contrast to 1% of heterosexual women reported homosexual molestation…
It was the sort of result that played right into the hands of anti-LGBTQ activists. It bolstered their claim that being gay was the result of something that happened to you, not simply who you were. It fed into the idea that gay men are predators, eager to groom children who will eventually turn gay. The Christian hate group Family Research Council even published a piece in 2007 spreading anti-LGBTQ misinformation that cited the article in its defense.
Google Scholar says the original article has been cited 182 times.
Even Joe Rogan cited the article in defense of the lie it was promoting:
That link at the bottom goes directly to the 2001 Tomeo article.
The point is: This article had lasting power and did lasting damage.
But a little over two weeks ago, on February 24, the Archives of Sexual Behavior added an update to the piece. It came in the form of an “Editorial Expression of Concern.”
The concern, the editors wrote, involved some data in the original piece.
Look at this chart from the 2001 article:
It says that 68% of the gay men who took part in the survey were openly gay before getting molested. 62% of lesbians were similarly out before they were victims of abuse. In other words, most of the participants said being victims of molestation did not have any effect on their sexual orientation. They were gay before and they were gay after.
And yet this is what the authors wrote in the conclusion:
Sixty-eight percent of the present homosexual male participants and 38% of the present homosexual female participants (68 and 36%, respectively, if including just the homosexual fair participants) did not identify as homosexual until after the molestation. This suggests that if molestation resulted in homosexuality, this phenomenon occurs in a greater proportion of male homosexuals.
That conclusion was precisely the opposite of what the table showed. Somehow, the peer reviewers never caught that, nor did the editors.
But now, the editors say this:
Readers are urged to take caution when interpreting the content and conclusions of this article. The Editor has been unable to find current email addresses for any of the authors in order to clarify and correct the article.
Well, that’s convenient…
Wait, it gets worse.
The note also points out that this article was drawn from a dissertation written by one of the co-authors, Marie E. Tomeo. But in that original dissertation, Tomeo wrote that 68% of the men “were molested before self-identification as homosexual” (emphasis mine)… which is also the opposite of what the table shows. She made the same mistake when talking about women.
Finally, the note points out there’s another table in the original piece where the math is wrong all over the place:
In Table III, in the column, “Molested by men,” the 6.7% value should be 5.8% (12/205). The 45.5% value should be 45.1% (56/124). The 24.3% value should be 24.1% (111/460); the 29.3% value should be 28.7% (44/153). In the column, “Molested by women,” the 16.4% value should be 16.1% (20/124).
This is a paper that failed a basic division test, yet it was lauded by conservatives who used it as evidence for why homosexuality is a choice and the result of something traumatic.
Obviously, adding an editors’ note to a 20-year-old paper isn’t going to make waves like the original paper did. People don’t check for corrections after the fact. Misinformation travels faster than the truth ever will.
But all of this raises another question: If the conclusions of the article were this flawed, because the data was misinterpreted this badly, why isn’t the whole paper being retracted? Why just append a note that very few people will ever read?
That’s what psychology professor Warren Throckmorton wants to know.
In 2009, he wrote a blog post about the problems with the original paper. He said he and his colleague noticed the problem three years earlier and contacted co-author Donald Templer about it as he was the advisor to Tomeo at the time. (Side note: Templer also dabbles in white supremacy!) He was unable to get in touch with her. (She seems to have vanished!) Throckmorton also wrote to the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior but didn’t hear back.
Throckmorton (correctly) wrote in 2009 that the entire article was not worth citing:
The bottom line is that the study should not be cited until a follow up correction can be made. The main results—gays report more abuse than straights—may indeed be correct, given the similarity to past studies. However, I do not believe any inferences about causation should be made. Without the actual surveys, there is no way a reader can figure out the results from the journal article and/or the dissertation.
Now, on his new Substack The Throckmorton Initiative, he wonders if his inquiries were what prompted the recent editors’ note. They don’t mention him, but their corrections match his earlier concerns… almost identically. It’s bizarre that they make no mention of what triggered the initial concerns other than to cite “a reader” who goes unnamed. It’s a strange oversight especially given the stakes of this particular correction.
Separate from that, however, is the fact that the original article is effectively worthless because its conclusions don’t even match its own data. Even the publication admits that now. No one should cite it. Anyone who does, much like its authors, didn’t do their research.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)