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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 29, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 18
'Gay gene' study makes no such conclusion
Arts & Entertainment
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'Gay gene' study makes no such conclusion

Editor: I don't know where Shaun Knittel picked up the idea for his article ('Half of all people carry 'gay gene' one study suggests,') but the study in question makes no such conclusion.

Prof. Chaladze's article concerns his playing around with computer models because he is wondering how come there are so many gay men if gay men have so few children. There are many things problematic with his research design. But Knittel has seemed to misunderstand - this article ends with a hypothesis, not a conclusion: 'male homosexuality can be maintained in a population at low and stable frequencies if roughly more than half of the females and half of the males are carriers of genes that predispose the male to homosexuality.' It could be 'maintained' by other methods as well, of course.

First of all, it has never been proven that there is such a thing as a 'gay gene, ' although Chaladze seems to take it as fact. Indeed, the SGN has published a piece I did many years ago debunking the early research claiming such 'proof.'

Second, the numbers regarding the prevalence of homosexuality for Chaladze to feed into his computer models is very squishy. In a well-researched population such as the U.S., estimates range from 3-10%; one can only imagine that for most other societies (such as in the Republic of Georgia) we have absolutely no idea whatsoever what the incidence of queerness is. A 300% variation in input to a computer model surely leaves the output very inaccurate. This is referred to as 'stable'? Over how long a period of time? How does he know?

Finally, the concept of 'gay' originated to describe actions/behaviors, not to characterize complex human beings (although we all use the term as a shorthand). As most of your male readers will be able to attest, many 'straight' guys have had gay sex. Non-genetic ('environmental') factors certainly affect human sexual behavior as well (e.g., prisons, sexually fluid college campus cliques, etc). I wonder what Chaladze's definition of a gay guy actually is.

Although lawyers have gone to court and won important gay rights victories using briefs which include genetic and essentialist arguments, and while there are many gay people who have 'always known,' we still have no clear proof that there is a genetic basis to queerness (pity the poor bisexuals whose genomes must be in frequent upheaval). Your picture caption 'Studies have identified a genetic link between a person and their sexuality' is just not true (it is attributed to 'Alamy,' a company that sells stock photos, not one that claims to know anything about genetics).

I urge the SGN to tread a bit more lightly around this topic.

Phil Bereano
(for what it's worth,
Prof. Emeritus, UW,
in the field of Technology
and Public Policy)

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