Science journalism: Let's talk about sex
August 13, 2012 4:46 AM   Subscribe

Evolutionary biologists and neuroscientists are often interested in variations in animal sexual behaviour — and particularly relationships between animals of the same sex. How did such traits evolve, and what are their functions and biological bases? Although worthwhile, such research can fuel some of the most licentious scientific reporting in both the mainstream media and specialized publications — titillating prose that wildly misinterprets the research and its implications for human behaviour.

Six examples of how journal articles dealing with research on sexual behaviour in animals have been covered in the media.

1| Benefits of female mimicry to snakes
-She-male Garter Snakes: Some Like It Hot: “Male garter snakes can mimic females and drive dozens of other guys to wriggle over them. The force behind this deluded orgy may not be sex, though.” -Science News

2| The ram as a model for behavioral neuroendocrinology
-Brokeback Mutton “Gay rams don't act girly. They're just as gay in the wild.” -Washington Post
-Gay sheep may help explain biology of homosexuals “Gay sheep that mate only with other rams have different brain structures from 'straight' sheep, a finding that may shed light on human sexuality.” -Reuters
-Yep, They're Gay “Another small but fascinating finding: all gay rams are butch.” -TIME

3| The sensory circuitry for sexual attraction in C. elegans males
-Sexual Orientation Is Genetic In Worms, Study Says “The sexual preferences of nematode worms can be changed by flipping a genetic master switch in their brains.” -National Geographic

4| Female-limited polymorphism in the copulatory organ of a traumatically inseminating insect
-Bug sexual warfare drives gender bender “Females are retaliating by imitating males.” & “For these females, perhaps it's a stark choice between dressing as a male, or dressing their wounds.” -Nature News

5| Testing multiple hypotheses for the maintenance of male homosexual copulatory behaviour in flour beetles
-How gay sex can produce offspring “Homosexual activity might, for example, help males practise for straight sex.” -New Scientist

6| Successful same-sex pairing in Laysan albatross
-Lesbian albatrosses, gay giraffes and some very open-minded penguins. So, can animals really be gay? “Many of the albatrosses appear to be, well ... gay.” -Daily Mail
-The love that daren't squawk its name: when animals come out of the closet “Young would never use the phrase 'straight couples'. And she is adamantly against calling the other birds 'lesbians' too.”
posted by Blasdelb (3 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Looks like the main link is paywalled, sadly. -- taz

"Of course, journalists should be allowed to use crafty wordsmanship to engage public interest. But suggestive or lewd reporting is a problem: for scientists, because their work is misrepresented; for sexual minority groups, because it equates their existence to an illness; and for society, because the articles feed negative stereotypes. In a world in which discrimination against sexual minority groups remains common, scientists should present their work objectively, and do all they can to avoid its misappropriation and misuse."
posted by Blasdelb at 4:49 AM on August 13, 2012

But, but, the paywalls....
posted by girandole at 6:44 AM on August 13, 2012

Maybe it's a test. Blasdelb thinks that we won't actually try clicking on the real research (which we can't read) because we'll be too distracted by the licentious scientific reporting in the non-scientific media.
posted by kisch mokusch at 6:48 AM on August 13, 2012

« Older If I could turn back the boats I'd give them all...   |   Polygonal Portraiture Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments