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Being depressed (or gay) is not all in your genes.
June 1, 2008 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Cheer Up Emo Kid! Writer Ekaterina Sedia argues that the lack of a consistent definition of homosexuality, conflation of sexual orientation and gender, conflation of heritability and inherited, conflation of correlation with causation, conflation of biology and genetics, non-random recruitment for twin studies, and other factors make the argument for a genetic basis for homosexuality and other complex human behaviors "not only misguided, [but] downright foolish."
posted by joannemerriam (61 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
The assertion of a genetic basis for sexual orientation is linked to the desire for a silver-bullet argument against those who would seek to discriminate against homosexuals. If sexuality actually has a genetic basis, that's fine with me, but if it isn't genetic -- even if it's 100% "free will," whatever that's supposed to mean -- other people's sexual choices are still 100% fine with me.

I've never understood the impulse to regulate who other people love.

I'm pretty sure one of the revolutions in the next few decades will be a relaxing of the artificial binary "gay" and "straight" and movement towards more flexible and variable notions of sexuality.
posted by gerryblog at 7:43 AM on June 1, 2008 [14 favorites]


Why the conflation of sexual orientation with emo? Sort of gets things off on the wrong foot.
posted by The Straightener at 8:00 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


the lack of a consistent definition of homosexuality

I'm pretty much okay with an incredibly inconsistent and vague understanding. The obsession with identifying and classifying has put an enormous weight on our young people at a time in their lives when they should feel free to explore.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 8:00 AM on June 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


Why the conflation of sexual orientation with emo? Sort of gets things off on the wrong foot.

It's because, like, emo kids are TOTALLY GAY, know what I mean?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:04 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure one of the revolutions in the next few decades will be a relaxing of the artificial binary "gay" and "straight" and movement towards more flexible and variable notions of sexuality.

It's already happened on Torchwood.

That said, we'll probably always have some binary, because we have two genders, and there are some people who are truly gay or straight - that is, they are not at all attracted to one gender, and some may even be adversive (sexually) to one gender, while the rest are somewhere in between (being attracted or capable of being attracted to both genders, but not necessarily equally).
posted by jb at 8:06 AM on June 1, 2008


we have two genders

In this culture, maybe.
posted by owhydididoit at 8:08 AM on June 1, 2008


I was gonna say, I was with you about emos until you hit the homosexuality stuff....what the hell?

That being said, emo-ism is "not only misguided, [but] downright foolish."
posted by nevercalm at 8:08 AM on June 1, 2008


<>em Untold sums of money have been spent on research designed to demonstrate that complex human behaviors, be they alcoholism, depression, schizophrenia or even homosexuality (which, tellingly, has been mostly studied in the same manner as the aforementioned mental health conditions) are genetically predetermined or, at the very least, have a genetic component, and considering the investment, the results to date are slim to nonexistent. em>

Sorry, I refuse to read another annoying word of this stuff. (First 12 words above are causing a red mist to descend, then the next few are even worse...).

The catch-all inclusiveness of "are genetically predetermined or, at the very least, have a genetic component"... is too much!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:09 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is not a good article and paying any heed to it is not only misguided, but foolish.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:12 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, she asserts all that, but I'm not sure she makes much of a scientific argument. She offers "references" into the literature, but no footnotes on her specific statements of fact. She's a fantasy/sci-fi writer, and her page says she teaches botany at an unnamed "state liberal arts college" - does she have any scientific credentials?

I'm not disputing her assertions, but I'm suspicious of amateur science on controversial topics.
posted by nicwolff at 8:16 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't forget, of course, the conflation (or confusion, at least) of "genetic" with "congenital".

I'm also not a big fan of the "silver bullet" argument against discrimination. It's more important that discrimination is wrong than why people seem to prefer one sex over the other. Because in the long run, the fact that it's a choice, congenital, genetic, or whatever is your preferred explanation will only lead to some people proposing a "solution" to the "problem". All that will change is what the solution is: therapy, maternal interventions ("Let's adjust mom's hormone levels"), or genetic screening.
posted by djfiander at 8:18 AM on June 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


I've never understood the impulse to regulate who other people love.

Back in the day, in this case Old Testament times, it was advantageous to grow the population of your culture - this is part of the reason the Abrahamic religions are dominant, and you still see many churches rejecting birth control. So the homosexuality taboo was a successful strategy in a cultural evolution sense, forcing everyone to spend their sexual energies in a reproductive fashion. You see a lot of this: the sin of Onan was birth control, and Levirate marriage helps ensure that if a man dies childless his wife will still produce offspring.

There's one perspective.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:20 AM on June 1, 2008


It's because, like, emo kids are TOTALLY GAYLAME, know what I mean?
Fixed that for you.
posted by jonmc at 8:22 AM on June 1, 2008


Hmmm. I think that most personality characteristics are part -nurture, part-nature. I can't imagine homosexuality (at least for men) being 100% choice, because who the hell would choose to be gay as a teen? "Hey kid, you're going to get your ass kicked for the next few years, and then be discriminated against for the rest of your life. Sound like fun?"
posted by Afroblanco at 8:30 AM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


You know you have to earn the opportunity to explore your heterosexuality.
posted by nervousfritz at 8:32 AM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's true that "blaming" it on the genes is a great way to get out of the whole religious sin mindset - after all, if you're born that way ... but it's also an excellent lead-in for those pre-natal gene modifications. "Make sure your kid isn't a QUEER, just pay another ten bucks and ask for the No Mo' HoMo package while you're getting his eyes blued up!" The emphasis on genetics as a cause has been, I think, a good short-term strategy but a poor one for the long haul. Nobody seems quite sympathetic enough about genetics to stop making all of those freaking gay marriage bans.

Unfortunately, the author left out how completely non-Mendelian human genetics can be. I'm not just talking about dominance and suppression, or even partial penetration - homo sapiens has fewer genes than predicted. It's pretty clear that more of them than we expected are doing double duty, perhaps even triple duty. No more simple pea plants, where height is independently assorted from, say, pod color. Instead, that yellow pod gene might also add a bit of height. You couldn't even split it up into a simple additive equation, like X% genetic, Y% maternal affect, Z% environment, and the rest is free will. No, they'd have annoying non-linear effects all mashing them together.

Should we ever care to (and have the magical ability to) sort this all out, it might mean that some 5% of your sexual orientation may be linked to the way you like your peanut butter (creamy, chunky, or not at all). I doubt we'd ever find out until we either had enormous simulators capable of building proteins out of strands of DNA in RAM, then somehow determine how all of these proteins (grab a ten, throw a large number of zeros behind it) would interact in a virtual brain ... or until we have a bunch of infants raised by robots, which raises ethical implications of its own (although perhaps the robots might not make the class vote little Timmy off the island).

However, to throw the genetic baby out with the "science is hard" bathwater is just the equivalent of pitching your hands into the air and saying, "I don't get it, let's stop looking." We do know of complex behaviors in both humans and animals that have some genetic component, such as Prader-Willi and compulsive eating. Just because we don't get it now and that such things are a political hot potato does not mean that the entire concept is foolish.
posted by adipocere at 8:38 AM on June 1, 2008 [10 favorites]


This is the worst-framed FPP I've seen in a while that wasn't about the election.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:39 AM on June 1, 2008


Hey guys! I had this awesome idea. I clicked on the link that leads to the topic of this post. The title of which is:

Cheer Up Emo Kid: Being Depressed (or Gay) is Not All in Your Genes

I thought this might be helpful information to have as we discuss the article about which this post is.
posted by hilatron at 8:56 AM on June 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


it might mean that some 5% of your sexual orientation may be linked to the way you like your peanut butter (creamy, chunky, or not at all).

I'm thinkin'...

(no, too easy)
posted by jonmc at 9:06 AM on June 1, 2008


Ekaterina G. Sedia, PhD. Dissertation title:
The effects of lichens and mosses on vascular plants,
soil microbial activity and nutrient cycling of the
New Jersey Pinelands.

posted by the Real Dan at 9:17 AM on June 1, 2008


I read this arrticle to my daughter, a semi-emo. Her response: Whatever.
posted by Postroad at 9:20 AM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what the title of her dissertation has to do with anything. Yes, she's a botanist. Plants have genes, too. She's clearly trained as a biologist and teaches biology and her essay here, though brief and written for the layperson, reflects modern biological understanding of the complex relationship of genetics, development, and environment.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:37 AM on June 1, 2008


- does she have any scientific credentials?

The title of this article is unfortunate, but she is making a good argument about the insufficiency of twin studies to prove genetic determinism for behavior X, and the spin that media will inevitably give studies of this kind.

She presents genetic theories of heritability to demonstrate how these studies point to genetic causes for behavior, but fail to fully account for effects we know to be important, based on those genetic theories.

adipocere, thanks for your writing, I would add that

It is important to mention that I am not arguing that homosexuality or any other sexual orientation is chosen (although it can be), but rather that any simple explanation, such as a gene on X-chromosome, is likely to be at the very least incomplete.

And I thought the most interesting part of the article, and why i will spread it around, was the description of how heteronormativity can effect "objective" scientific research.

Search for biological basis of homosexuality started back when it was still considered a disease to be "cured."

...This lack of definition [for homosexuality] led to an interesting situation where a male rat treated with feminizing hormones and behaved as a female rat, posturing for coitus, was considered homosexual, but a male rat that mounted this homosexual male was not.

posted by eustatic at 10:02 AM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't understand the idea that if sexual orientation is a choice, then it would be ok to discriminate against it. Religion is a choice, but people generally have legal protections against religious discrimination. Sexual orientation is irrelevant to most daily interactions with people and thus it is silly for it to be a significant factor in choosing people for whatever purpose (whether it is choice an employee or a renter or whatever).

This does make me thing of an interesting story from a female friend. She was looking for a roommate and posted an ad asking for a straight female or gay male to live with (because she wanted a roommate who she wouldn't have an sexual opportunities with). She got a lot of mail calling her a bigot because she mentioned sexual orientation, even though it is generally accepted that it would be ok for her to just ask for a female roommate (with the same underlying motivation of avoiding sexual tension).
posted by recursion at 10:12 AM on June 1, 2008


Why the conflation of sexual orientation with emo? Sort of gets things off on the wrong foot.
posted by The Straightener at 8:00 AM on June 1 [+] [!]


Eponystericalish?
posted by Kibbutz at 10:48 AM on June 1, 2008


does she have any scientific credentials?

Don't know, but I bet she could recognize an ad hominem argument.
posted by gimonca at 10:54 AM on June 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


who the hell would choose to be gay as a teen? "Hey kid, you're going to get your ass kicked for the next few years, and then be discriminated against for the rest of your life. Sound like fun?"

Hence the phenomena in which I can't even COUNT how many people I've met who used to be married with kids, and who came out of the closet either just before, during, or just after their divorce.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 11:08 AM on June 1, 2008


forcing everyone to spend their sexual energies in a reproductive fashion

now there's a historically ignorant conclusion.

other people's sexual choices are still 100% fine with me

a stunning piece of self-delusion, that.

the impulse to regulate who other people love.

you do understand that loving and fucking are separate things, no? and that the practice of referencing one as if it were the other is simply wishful thinking?
posted by quonsar at 11:17 AM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


now there's a historically ignorant conclusion.

Back it up or it doesn't count. The veneration of having, fucking, and impregnating a wife as the socially acceptable male role with other choices subject to various disapprovals and taboos would certainly seem to me to encourage reproduction. I'm not claiming that the early Jews eliminated homosexuality in their people, but just look at the post right above yours.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:25 AM on June 1, 2008


That article is a curious amalgam of specious generalizations and unexplained scientific vocabulary, the inclusion of which seems to be an attempt to disarm critics in a general readership. Because her generalizations are so overbroad and clearly slanted, I do not feel compelled to fact-check the jargon.
posted by digaman at 11:36 AM on June 1, 2008


You know who else thought homosexuality was a result of genetic impurity?

Gotta say, I'm with Sedia on this. There's really no net positive to be gained from searching for a cause, genetic or otherwise, of sexuality that supposedly "deviates" from a supposed "norm." What can anyone do with the answer, if it is found? "Well, now we can finally stamp that out." Yeah, no thanks.

It's just something that happens, that exists, that is, everywhere, always. Let's just accept that and move on.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:38 AM on June 1, 2008


>>If sexuality actually has a genetic basis, that's fine with me, but if it isn't genetic -- even if it's 100% "free will," whatever that's supposed to mean -- other people's sexual choices are still 100% fine with me.
>a stunning piece of self-delusion, that.


Huhn?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:58 AM on June 1, 2008


we have two genders

In this culture, maybe.
posted by owhydididoit at 11:08 AM on June 1 [+] [!]


Very good point, but you would agree that humans have two biological sexes (some fairly rare medical conditions aside), which would push for a more binary cultural understanding of gender. Some cultures don't have a completely binary cultural gender (including, increasingly, our own), but still most people in these societies fit into one of two main genders.
posted by jb at 12:11 PM on June 1, 2008


quite frankly, she would have to cite a LOT more than 10 sources for me to believe her. you can't write a piece which is meant to wholesale debunk great swaths of research without illustrating that you've read, analyzed, compared etc. that research.

also, her essay is really poorly edited (whole words/phrases left out). does not work to instill confidence in what she writes.

and i, too, question her credentials. yes, her PhD may have been in botanical genetic work, but that is quite a ways away from human behavioral genetic work. IMO, she doesn't have the standing to question the research. just the facile way she lumps all these different conditions together (from homosexuality to schitzophrenia...uh, what???), illustrates to me that she's, at best, being sloppy.
posted by CitizenD at 12:29 PM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Homosexuality and schizophrenia are both speculated to have genetic, developmental, and environmental components and are commonly discussed at the same time among scientists discussing such things. Attempts to find "the schizophrenia gene" have failed just as surely as those to find "the gay gene" and most researchers now agree that genetics alone does not lead to schizophrenia. Here are the google results for "genetics vs environmental schizophrenia but if you really want me to I can find you scientific articles--if you have access to Web Of Science or some such you can find them yourself.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:53 PM on June 1, 2008


Also, all genetics work is essentially identical in the lab--take some samples, do some cloning, do some PCR, sequence, etc. In the end compare phenotype and genotype. Fruit flies to plants to people, it's all pretty much the same.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:55 PM on June 1, 2008


CitizenD: Believe her what? That there might be people that are not 100% programmed one way or the other? Or both ways as it may be.

This queerbychoice identified mefite sure hopes they never find that holy grail 'gay gene' and start to test everybody and their dog for it. I mean, if I have it all is fine and my fellow queers can point and laugh at me, but what if I don't have it? What are they going to do to me? Re-education camp? Summary execution?

/hyperbole
posted by ZeroAmbition at 1:21 PM on June 1, 2008


As an out homosexual who believes that the discussions of sexual orientation are absurdly reductive, I have no problem whatsoever in the search for the genetic underpinnings of sexuality. The more knowledge the better, and genetics is such a young field, most of what is to be discovered there is still unknown. May the research continue.
posted by digaman at 1:29 PM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


sorry, "*binary discussions"
posted by digaman at 1:29 PM on June 1, 2008


Some inaccuracies in the article.

Most of of Ms. Sedia opinionated opinions seem derived from old scientific methods. I do not think (my opinion) that there is a reputable scientific journal that would publish a paper with a guesswork assignment to monozygotic or dizygotic twin when a simple DNA test would correctly distinguish between the two.

I did not particularly like her "without much proof" statements, especially when related to schizophrenia. Perhaps initially it was so, but evidence of a familial genetic component to this disease has been steadily mounting in the last twenty years, not in the old Mendelian sense of one gene one disease, but in the broader sense of multigene epigenetic component. The solid data accumulated through the years by many scientists that permits a genetic counselor to say that, if you have a first degree relative with schizophrenia, your chance of having the disease increases tenfold, was obtained doing real, as opposite to fuzzy, science.

Ms. Sedia heritability argument is also specious: for a general phenotype as height the argument is valid. For other phenotypes it is not: if my Down syndrome phenotype is due to having a t(21;21) translocation in addition to my normal chromosome 21, the heritability is 100%, absolutely, no fuzziness, no need to modify G or V.
posted by francesca too at 1:34 PM on June 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


but you would agree that humans have two biological sexes (some fairly rare medical conditions aside)

Actually, 1 in 2000 infants are born with genitals that are, to some degree, intersexed. It's possibly even more common than that. Many of these "deformities" are "corrected" immediately after birth, so the child's personality or sexual identity is not determined. Usually, a child never discovers that they received any such procedure.

I don't know if that's what you consider fairly rare, but I think it's a far higher number than people tend to think; families tend to keep these matters under wraps for obvious reasons, which means it's an issue that is under-appreciated in our society.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 1:38 PM on June 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


In my comments above, I should have distinguished between sex, gender (cultural or personal identification) and sexual orientation - we have two biological sexes (with some notable exceptions), most cultures have two genders as cultural constructs (with some flexibility and a few cases of cultures with more than two genders, though the past in Europe and Asia tends to be more strictly binary in their gender roles), while personal identity of gender is much more varied, and sexual orientation which isn't really binary, but does tend to have two "poles" because of the binary nature of biological sex (in that people tend to be attracted to the male sex, to the female sex, though there are many who are attracted to both in varying degrees or neither).

I just don't think we will lose those two poles in sexual orientation, because there are people who (for whatever biological/environmental/etc reason) are strongly (or exclusively) oriented to be attracted to only one biological sex. (This is the bit about the bisexual utopia that is the future in Torchwood which isn't really believable.)
posted by jb at 1:40 PM on June 1, 2008


There are many things that are "genetic" but are still stigmatizing. Black people are "genetically" black. Fat people (many of them) are "genetically" fat. Red-haired people are "genetically" red-haired. Saying that sexual orientation is, at least in part, inborn (based on "genes" or some other biologically ascribed thing) has nothing to do with stigma. Being gay will always be stigmatized in the same way having Down's Syndrome will be stigmatizing. Sucks, but true.

The point about biology is simply that being gay is GENERALLY not a choice and in the face of horrific, deadly consequences for homosexuality in many cultures, the mere fact that anybody (well, any man) would pursue sex with someone of the same sex MUST evidence a basis beyond that person's "choice." If it's not "genetic," then it's something else, but it's not "choice." We must never lose sight of this fact--and for men, it's a fact--in the face of this silly and unnecessary "debate" on genetics and semantics.

Onward. My partner and I are celebrating 13 years together today (thank you, thank you), and it might shock some young queers and wannabe queers, but debating about our sexual orientation is not something we do anymore. We know who we are, we know what we like, we know what we don't like, and we have every smidgen as much of a right as straight people do to not have to theorise about it.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:46 PM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


[NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] - That is exactly what I was talking about when I qualified my statement. It is rare, compared to being gay, for instance.

Also, many of those born with intersexed genitals actually have a clear biological sex - in that they have testes or ovaries, and when they develop, they often develop as male or female. There are other medical conditions, such as Turner syndrome, where the biological sex does not fall into a male-female dichotemy, but again, these are rare enough that they aren't going to change the basic way our sexual orientation is shaped.

My point was that I think that people who think that sexuality will lose its basic two foci must be bisexual. I happen to be bisexual myself, but I live with someone who is straight adversive (that is, not only not attracted to the same sex, but actually turned off) despite being gay positive, and I have known other people who were similarly exclusively gay. We don't know why orientation happens, but I think that because of our two basic biological sexes (with, as I said, occasional exceptions, which are not unknown but rare enough not to shake the shape) and the apparently involuntary orientation of many (thought not all) people, we will continue to see two poles to sexuality, with a lot of people in between.
posted by jb at 1:49 PM on June 1, 2008


Her claim that the schizophrenia genetic research was done in places where people were sterilized for being schizophrenic is also off the wall. Yes, involuntary sterilization of people considered "unfit" for various reasons did occur in the US until shockingly recently (70s?)-- but there's plenty of schizophrenia genetics research in the 00's alone.

few scientists have these nature v. nurture arguments any more-- the agreement is that it's nature via nurture as genes unfold differently depending on the environment.
posted by Maias at 2:50 PM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


does she have any scientific credentials?

Don't know, but I bet she could recognize an ad hominem argument.


Or would she just beg the question?

Given the amount of "I'm making this up as I go along science" that appears on the web; the controversy surrounding this topic; and the complexity of biostatistical anything (Some other company plowing several million into a badly designed clinical study is something you hear about all the time in the wonderful world of pharmaceutical development. And you pray it's never your company/project.) I don't think it's an ad hominem to ask if there is any reason to seriously consider the author's argument as valid.

Arguing that "reductionist genetics is a failure ergo there is no genetic basis for homosexuality" seems analogous to arguing that, since there is no "look just like your mother" gene, there is no genetic reason my friend's daughter looks like a younger version of her.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:30 PM on June 1, 2008


you do understand that loving and fucking are separate things, no?

And you do understand that sexual attraction is an important part of most loving relationships, no?
posted by me & my monkey at 3:56 PM on June 1, 2008


And you do understand that sexual attraction is an important part of most loving relationships, no?

I'm not on the SomethingAwful forums but I see enough stuff quoted from there that that's unintentionally hilarious.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:00 PM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


I still haven't figured out how you would know if someone was gay or straight. Seriously.
All day, every day, I do things that have little or nothing to do with who I am and what I want - it's call living in society and having a job. Far as I know, my bumping of naughty bits is not under outside influence, but I can tell you right here and now that I have done a lot of dating out of a vague sense of obligation to single friends who were hard up, my sainted mother, the world in general, and fear of not getting in any during my dotage.

And I have some nice times on the sly.

Maybe I'm a hard-core fuzzy les who years to dress up like Counselor Troy in a hampster suit underneath it all. Tell me how my actions to date or PET scans could prove or disprove this.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:15 PM on June 1, 2008


And you do understand that sexual attraction is an important part of most loving relationships, no?

A FEW loving relationships. i've never wanted to fuck my mom, or my brothers, MOST of my cousins, close friends, in fact, the number of people i love is greater by far than the number of people i'm sexually attracted to.
posted by quonsar at 8:25 PM on June 1, 2008


For those who are curious, she teaches at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Here's her directory entry.
posted by dd42 at 9:10 PM on June 1, 2008


Oops - that's not a direct link to her entry. Try typing her name to find it.
posted by dd42 at 9:12 PM on June 1, 2008


I guess I didn't feel it necessary to clarify, but I meant loving relationships outside one's own family. God help us all if you ever have a life partner, I guess. Do trolls even reproduce?
posted by me & my monkey at 9:59 PM on June 1, 2008


I think her case against the twin studies is particularly weak, there is significant evidence that there is in fact a genetic basis for not only homosexuality but many other human behaviors. It is not entirely genetic, but genetics does play a large part, with many scientists putting somewhere around 50/50 for both "nature" and "nurture". A cop out perhaps, but probably the most realistic picture we are going to get.

The criticisms she mentions, recruitment through gay magazines, small sample size, and error in self-report between MZ and DZ twins have been addressed by follow up studies, for instance the same authors conducted a survey in Australia of 5,000 twins not recruited through any gay magazine and found the same as before. Here is another article which goes through more of the studies in an approachable manner and here is a journal review of the recent literature if you are so inclined and have research access.
posted by sophist at 11:27 PM on June 1, 2008


I think my problem with the article is that it's trying to cover too much in one go. You could easily write three or four separate articles about the current evidence for a genetic basis of homosexuality, the problems with the methodology of early studies, and the social issues that arise when you look at the genetic basis of homosexuality, and in trying to do the whole lot in one go I don't find it that persuasive or interesting.

There's some discussion of the article here on the editor's Livejournal, including some comments from the author. And the guidelines for querying Clarkesworld for non-fction articles are here, if anyone thinks they can do a better article.
posted by penguinliz at 5:26 AM on June 2, 2008


Oops! Strike out "in addition to my normal chromosome 21" . in my comment above.

My old boss, Dr. Rodman Seely, who was a pioneer in the field of cytogenetics in the state of Oklahoma, told me this hearthbreaking story about a woman who had a Down syndrome baby before the advent of amniocentesis and routine chromosome studies. Genetic counselors at that time thought that the risk of having a second child with Down syndrome was minimal. She took the risk and had a second baby, who also had trisomy 21. After karyotyping the mother chromosomes, she was found to have a de novo t(21;21) translocation: all her children would be born with Down syndrome.

Sorry about the error: Dr. Seely would fire me if he read the comment!
posted by francesca too at 6:42 AM on June 2, 2008


There's really no net positive to be gained from searching for a cause, genetic or otherwise, of sexuality that supposedly "deviates" from a supposed "norm."

I think it sadly funny when the quote marks start exactly where the portrayal of other people's motives diverges from those people's own understanding.

Seriously, here we have a set of genes that may be influencing their organism not to pass them on directly. Really? How come? Taken at face value, and in light of our contemporary model of evolution (the 'selfish gene'* model), that seems like exactly the sort of maladapted** genome that would be selected out of existence.

So there must be something subtler going on. Maybe it's a pure accident of the genes. Maybe it's a side effect of something else that is usually adaptive enough to make up for it. Maybe it's a positive adaptation in its own right, for reasons that have not yet been clearly explained. Whatever it is, by the time we understand it, we're going to know a heck of a lot of interesting new things about individuals' and populations' genetics, ontogeny, and behavior. Why exactly would that not be a worthwhile research program? Merely because you're afraid of its second- or third-hand connection to 'the violence inherent in the system'? 'Help, help! I'm bein' repressed!'***


This poster is one of those religious/philosophical wackjobs who inexplicably believe both that there is a free will inherently more potent than genetic or environmental inclination, and that it is often more moral/ethical to wilfully oppose those inclinations than not. And he still wholeheartedly supports scientific research into the biological bases of sexuality.

Footnotes:
*Note that quotation marks used with actual quote.
**Note to would-be trolls: When I say 'maladapted', 'adaptive', 'positive' etc., I mean for the survival of that organism's own genome, and not anything else.
***Okay, here I confess I'm putting words in your mouth. But they're still actual quotes!

posted by eritain at 1:24 PM on June 2, 2008


Do trolls even reproduce?

no, they drag lines behind boats hoping a fish will bite, and your misuse of the term in this context reveals the presence of a certain degree of moisture behind your auditory receptacles, newb.
posted by quonsar at 1:31 PM on June 2, 2008


Taken at face value, and in light of our contemporary model of evolution (the 'selfish gene'* model), that seems like exactly the sort of maladapted** genome that would be selected out of existence.

The genome of bees, as one example, has evolved such that the vast majority of individual bees are not only influenced against, but incapable of, passing on their genes.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:38 PM on June 2, 2008


Sigh. Not a geneticist, but I do work on the genetics of complex diseases as both an epidemiologist and statistician. What that has taught me is that almost all complex expressions of genetics are the complex, non-linear interplay between genes, epigenetics, and environment (broadly rendered, as in what you eat, breathe, drink, and marinate in, including in utero, and lifestyle choices made, like exercising, singing, art, mathematics, etc.). Studies of identical twins showing that even something like cancer is not highly correlated between two people with identical genomes quickly convinced me that without a precise understanding of the environmental exposures no detailed study of genes will ever yield the answers. So almost nothing about us is "genetically" or "environmentally" determined except for a few physical traits and single-gene diseases. Almost everything else about us is an amazingly complicated result of some intricate chemistry, quantum mechanics, and luck.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:02 PM on June 2, 2008


"quite frankly, she would have to cite a LOT more than 10 sources for me to believe her. you can't write a piece which is meant to wholesale debunk great swaths of research without illustrating that you've read, analyzed, compared etc. that research.

Straw man.

also, her essay is really poorly edited (whole words/phrases left out). does not work to instill confidence in what she writes.

She uses capital letters and doesn't write like a texting tween.

and i, too, question her credentials. yes, her PhD may have been in botanical genetic work, but that is quite a ways away from human behavioral genetic work. IMO, she doesn't have the standing to question the research. just the facile way she lumps all these different conditions together (from homosexuality to schitzophrenia...uh, what???), illustrates to me that she's, at best, being sloppy."

She doesn't have the standing to point out fairly obvious criticisms that are often elided in popular press representations of genetic studies? Anyone with a high-school biology class under their belt should be able to note that heritability isn't independent from environmental factors.

"Arguing that "reductionist genetics is a failure ergo there is no genetic basis for homosexuality" seems analogous to arguing that, since there is no "look just like your mother" gene, there is no genetic reason my friend's daughter looks like a younger version of her."

Good thing she's not arguing that then, because then you'd really have gotten her. She's saying that current research is insufficient to make a convincing case from. Sophist's links do the most in refuting her, and even that's not proof yet of anything more than a correlative cloud.
posted by klangklangston at 3:20 PM on June 2, 2008


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