Francis Collins rebukes the American College of Pediatricians: A closer look

Friday, I reported that Francis Collins released a strongly worded statement on the website of the National Institute of Health denouncing the Facts About Youth website. The website is a project of the American College of Pediatricians, a small conservative group of health and mental health professionals. For references, here again is the statement:

Statement from NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., in Response to the American College of Pediatricians

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.


April 15, 2010

“It is disturbing for me to see special interest groups distort my scientific observations to make a point against homosexuality.  The American College of Pediatricians pulled language out of context from a book I wrote in 2006 to support an ideology that can cause unnecessary anguish and encourage prejudice. The information they present is misleading and incorrect, and it is particularly troubling that they are distributing it in a way that will confuse school children and their parents.”

 Now consider the way the ACPEDS used his statements to promote “the ideology that can cause unnecessary anguish and encourage prejudice.” Here is the reference to Dr. Collins’ book, The Language of God, in the context created by the ACPEDS:

In dealing with adolescents experiencing same-sex attraction, it is essential to understand there is no scientific evidence that an individual is born “gay” or “transgender.” Instead, the best available research points to multiple factors – primarily social and familial – that predispose children and adolescents to homosexual attraction and/or gender confusion.  It is also critical to understand that these conditions can respond well to therapy.5Dr. Francis Collins, former Director of the Genome Project, has stated that while homosexuality may be genetically influenced, it is “… not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations.” He also states [that] “…the prominent role[s] of individual free will choices [has] a profound effect on us.” 6

Note the position of Dr. Collins’ statements. They are used as the justification for views which he does not hold but they are placed in such a way that a reader might associate those views with Collins. Just before the Collins’ quote comes two suspicious propositions. First:

the best available research points to multiple factors – primarily social and familial – that predispose children and adolescents to homosexual attraction and/or gender confusion.

And second:

It is also critical to understand that these conditions can respond well to therapy.

First, it is important to note that when Collins speaks of free will choices in his book, he is not referring to homosexuality specifically. In his book, he discusses genetics and intelligence and antisocial behavior among other traits. By referring to free will, he was not saying in his book that people can choose to change homosexual attraction by means of therapy.  

The statements from Collins about genetic factors predisposing a person to homosexuality and the general importance of free will seem to be placed in such a way as to parallel the ACPEDS’ views that family and social factors are “primary” and the view that the “conditions can respond well to therapy.” Now, these two views are highly speculative. Family and social factors have only weak relationships to homosexuality with little evidence that homosexual attraction can be erased via therapy.

The causative factors related to homosexuality are not clear but lack of an strong genetic association does not lead to the conclusion that any of the factors are alterable. Collins stated as much to Exgaywatch and me in September, 2008:

The evidence we have at present strongly supports the proposition that there are hereditary factors in male homosexuality — the observation that an identical twin of a male homosexual has approximately a 20% likelihood of also being gay points to this conclusion, since that is 10 times the population incidence. But the fact that the answer is not 100% also suggests that other factors besides DNA must be involved. That certainly doesn’t imply, however, that those other undefined factors are inherently alterable. (emphasis mine)

The consensus now is that pre-natal factors are not a complete explanation for homosexuality. Other factors may be involved. However, we cannot assume that those factors, whatever they are, are preventable or once set, alterable. Even if, for some people, the attractions may be alterable, no one can predict to what degree or what experiences might be potent. The ACPEDS could note that many religious people choose to live in contrast to their desires but they should not spin things to paint an incomplete, and therefore, misleading picture. At this point, I believe they would do well to take this cue from Francis Collins that the website is misleading and take it down.