Stanton Jones comments on AP sexual orientation cause article

As suspected, Stan Jones was mischaracterized by Lindsay Tanner’s article on genetic contributions to homosexuality. He wrote this explanation to me in an email earlier this evening and is reproduced with his permission.

Regarding Lindsay Tanner’s Associated Press story titled: Study Seeks Genetic Links to Being Gay and elsewhere:

It is unfortunate when through misunderstandings or miscommunications we do not recognize our own views in press reports. Such is the case here. Ms. Tanner describes my views about the genetic research going on in Chicago in the following way:

“Jones said [1] his results suggest biology plays only a minor role in sexual orientation, and [2] that researchers seeking genetic clues generally have a pro-gay agenda that will produce biased results.”

This is extremely disconcerting, as both clauses (my numbers added) in this sentence are misunderstandings of what I was trying to express to Ms. Tanner in my interview with her three weeks ago.

First [1], I did not say that our results from our recently released study of change in sexual orientation indicate low biological or genetic contribution to causation of homosexual orientation. I tried to express to her that the results of our study, in my opinion, say nothing about causation of homosexual orientation. In fact, my memory is that I complained about a conservative columnist who had, based on rumors about our study, declared (erroneously) that our study proved that homosexual orientation is a choice. Apart from our recently released study, however, my read of the scientific literature on causation, expressed in print in a number of places for the last 15 years, is that biology likely does play a role in causation, though less of a role than the man-on-the-street thinks (“it’s like eye color”). So I did make cautious comments about biological causation, but she seemed to draw the conclusion that I was speaking from the results of our study, which I was not.

Causation is likely multivariate and idiosyncratic, including biological factors. I actually applauded good research on the various factors that contribute to the etiology of sexual orientation, and expressed positive anticipation of hearing of the results of this genetic study. I expressed one particular concern about this particular genetic study based on accounts I had read in the media as follows:

That by this study concentrating on pre/self-selected subpopulations selected for higher probabilities of biological factors in causation, the importance of biological factors for the whole population of homosexual persons may be exaggerated because of the uncertain relationship of the study’s subpopulations to that broader population.

Second [2], I emphasized in my interview with Tanner that a lot of good science is done by gay and gay-affirming researchers, and that we hoped to be treated with the same respect that we hoped we demonstrated to good researchers regardless of their ideological leanings. Obviously, however, the values of the researcher interpreters influence where you go with the interpretations of the findings. My concern in this area is that implications of our research be drawn cautiously and with circumspection. Several of the comments in the article itself indicate the way people are willing to jump forward with interpretations of the implications of research.

In Dr. Sanders’s response in the article to my views as represented through Ms. Tanner, he said “We do not have a predetermined point we are trying to prove. . . . We are trying to pry some of nature’s secrets loose with respect to a fundamental human trait.” Anyone who reads our book will find that we also did not have a predetermined point we were trying to prove. We had met people who claimed to have changed, but were open to findings that this change was frequent or infrequent, and also that claimed change was transitory and unsatisfyingly complicated for the participants. Our commitment was and is to reporting straightforwardly what our research population reported to us. Good science can never result when people are trying to create sermon illustrations for pre-determined positions.

Information about the book in question, Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Sexual Orientation Change (InterVarsity Press), is available at the IVPress website. Click on the “AACC Address” link for a 13-page paper summary of the study.

Stanton L. Jones

Provost and Professor of Psychology

Wheaton College