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1951 paper on homosexuality retracted

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, a neuropsychiatric journal established in 1874, has announced the retraction of a scientific article published almost 70 years ago. Presented in 1948 at a psychiatric association event and published in the journal in 1951, the paper describes observations of the behavior of homosexual students who received psychological assistance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, by Benjamin Glover, a professor of psychology at the institution. In the article, Glover describes the students as “a parody and a paradox in emotions” and says that they are “a continual tragedy of failure to find sexual gratification.” He goes on to say that the gay students are “devoted to their loves with an expressed passion; yet they have little if any feeling for their parents and I doubt that they would be upset if death or severe illness were to involve them.” In another extract, he says: “There is a narcissistic selfishness in their disregard for people as a whole, no nationalist or patriotic feeling, a general disdain of the social values of law, religion, and the betterment of mankind.”

The journal’s editor, John Talbot, described Glover’s views as “beliefs we find abhorrent today,” but noted that this was not an isolated case and that many periodicals published articles on similarly unacceptable concepts at the time, such as eugenics. He thus decided that Glover’s article, with the retraction notice, will remain in the journal’s archives for its historical value. Anticipating accusations that he was judging the researcher without considering the knowledge available at the time, the journal also published an editorial by neuroscientist Simon LeVay, who is renowned for his studies on the biological and behavioral origins of homosexuality. It was LeVay who asked for the article to be retracted.

In the text, he explained that it being a different era is not enough to explain Benjamin Glover’s prejudice. LeVay recognizes that other authors of the time, such as Edmund Bergler, who published the book Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life?, shared the same beliefs. But he points out that in contrast, several other researchers took a more scientific and objective approach. “In 1958, for example, psychiatrist Mathew Ross and medical student Fred Mendelsohn published a study of 133 homosexual students undergoing psychotherapy at the student health service of the University of California, Los Angeles, and a control group of heterosexual students. Unlike Glover, the authors expressed no negative opinions about the homosexual students, made little effort to change their sexual orientation, and found that homosexual and heterosexual students were similar in many ways and equally receptive to psychotherapy,” wrote LeVay.

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