Dr. Mehmet Oz’s November 28th, 2012 episode is bringing him grief due to its investigation of so-called “Ex-Gay” therapies, techniques designed to help someone change his or her sexual orientation from gay to straight.
On the episode were Julie Hamilton, a representative of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (or NARTH), as well as the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), who said later that they were not aware that NARTH would be represented, and that they would not have participated had they known.
NARTH’s claim that individuals can change their sexual orientation was one of the main topics of my recent talk for the Bay Area Skeptics, and the scientific community (The American Psychology Association, the American Psychiatric Association, The National Association of Social Workers, among many others) strongly condemn these practices as ineffective, unsupported by scientific evidence, and potentially dangerous. Nevertheless, NARTH and its adherents (many of whom self-describe as “ex-gay”) insist that such change is possible.
Although I have yet to see the episode, my fear is that it may fall into the category of Normative Social Influence, “the influence of other people that leads us to conform in order to be liked and accepted by them.” This phenomenon is created, for instance, when well meaning health advocates cause an increase in teen smoking by talking to teens about the prevalence of the problem; by sending the message that “a lot of people in your group are doing this,” they can inadvertently increase conformity to the perceived group norm. This can also happen when groups such as NARTH are spotlighted on television programs, even in an attempt to “bring attention to the problem,” or “have a simple discussion of both sides of the issue.”
To his credit, Dr. Oz posted a response to complaints by GLSEN and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), stating that he was “overwhelmed by the pain of individuals hurt by the experience,” and that “After listening to both sides of the issue and after reviewing the available medical data, I agree with the established medical consensus. I have not found enough published data supporting positive results with gay reparative therapy, and I have concerns about the potentially dangerous effects when the therapy fails…”