Make No Mistake: A Call for the Official Retraction of Rekers & Lovaas (1974)

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Make No Mistake: A Call for the Official Retraction of Rekers & Lovaas (1974) and Rekers (1977)

To the Dr. Linda LeBlanc, Editor in Chief of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA), to the Editorial Board of JABA, and to the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (SEAB):

The undersigned, a diverse group of Behavior Analysis Professionals, assert that an Expression of Concern is not an act of due diligence, and call for the official retraction of both Rekers & Lovaas (1974) Behavioral Treatment of Deviant Sex-Role Behaviors in a Male Child as well as Rekers (1977) Atypical Gender Development and Psychosocial Adjustment, as they meet retraction guidelines (COPE, 2019) of publishing unethical research.

We were disheartened to see an Expression of Concern which shows more concern for the reputation of the field of behavior analysis than for the harms caused by the publication addressed (Rekers & Lovaas, 1974) and the subsequent publication not addressed (Rekers, 1977).

Dr. LeBlanc and SEAB’s Expression of Concern was issued, noting that “The criteria for retraction are primarily based on clear and defensible evidence of scientific misconduct, falsification or fabrication of data, or clear ethics violation. By today’s standards and in light of our current scientific knowledge, the study would be considered unethical and would not be published in JABA. However, the available evidence does not make it clear that the original study was unethical by the standards of that day” (LeBlanc, 2020), however the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE, 2019) guidelines cited do not specify that the ethical norms at the time of research must be applied, and for the editorial board of SEAB to choose to do so is harmful and sets a negative precedence for our field. We call upon the editorial board of SEAB to formally acknowledge current ethical standards of research and to choose to retract both papers based upon the harms they have caused and may continue to cause. In a field with an ethical obligation to rely on scientific knowledge (BACB, 2014), and in which practice I directly informed by research literature, to fail to publish a retraction is to fail to take a stand against replication an extension of this work in both research and practice.

The Expression of Concern itself contains harms, and we also call upon the editorial board of SEAB to utilize the assistance of subject mater experts for work outside their scope. LeBlanc cites the harm of outsiders having a mistaken impression of our field and our ties to conversion therapy. It is no mistake.

The editorial board of SEAB fails to demonstrate an understanding of the historical conflation of gender and sexuality, fail to understand or acknowledge the existence of gender (not just sexuality) conversion therapy, and fail to understand the responsibility of the field for describing and legitimizing an effective technology for harm. We call upon the editorial board of SEAB to understand and acknowledge a standard of ethics rooted in doing no harm, independent of cultural contingencies which pay cause ethical practice to fall into or out of favor, and to acknowledge that the behavior of the researchers was and would remain unethical, even without “present societal changes” of social affirmation of gender self-determination.

With High Regard and Belief in Our Collective Power to Do Better,

Upswing Advocates, Beautiful Humans, and Behavior Analysis Professionals Everywhere

***Edited 10/26/2020 to better reflect the decision of SEAB's board as a whole (and not solely Dr. LeBlanc's) to fail to retract these articles. 

The full editorial board of SEAB can be viewed here:
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/page/journal/19383703/homepage/editorialboard.html