Social Significance and the Centrality of Human Beings: A Response to “Editor’s Note: Societal changes and expression of concern about Rekers and Lovaas’ (1974) Behavioral Treatment of Deviant Sex-Role Behaviors in a Male Child”


In 1974, Rekers and Lovaas published an article in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) entitled “Behavioral Treatment of Deviant Sex-Role Behaviors in a Male Child,” wherein the authors coached a gender-non-conforming child’s parents to ignore and physically abuse that child when he engaged in gender-non-conforming behaviors. In October 2020, the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (SEAB) and JABA’s editor-in-chief Dr. Linda LeBlanc published a Statement of Concern regarding Rekers and Lovaas (1974), which described some concerns regarding the paper and then provided justification for the journal’s decision to not retract this paper. In this current response, I describe criticisms of JABA’s rationale for not retracting this paper. I note that the criteria used to determine retraction by SEAB and LeBlanc (2020) were not applied in the manner suggested by official retraction guidelines. I describe contemporaneous criticisms of the Rekers and Lovaas (1974) paper (i.e., Winkler ,1977; Nordyke et al., 1977) which were written by a set of authors that included Donald Baer, one of the foundational figures in applied behavior analysis (ABA). I describe the active discussion within the psychological sciences at the time of publication to depathologize homosexuality. I criticize the 2020 Statement of Concern’s focus on damage to the field of ABA as opposed to the harm done to Kirk, and question errors of commission and omission made by SEAB and LeBlanc in the 2020 Statement of Concern. I end with an argument that Rekers and Lovaas (1974) should be retracted from JABA.