27 June 2006

Today's Junk Science Brought to You By Canada

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

You've probably read about a recent study that links having older brothers to being gay:
Having one or more older brothers boosts the likelihood of a boy growing up to be gay — an effect due not to social factors, but biological events that occur in their mother's womb, according to a study published today.

In an analysis of 905 men and their siblings, Canadian psychologist Anthony Bogaert found no evidence that social interactions among family members played a role in determining whether a man was gay or straight.

We all probably expect the reactionary right to come out swinging against this study, right? (And they'd probably find some justification in doing so, because this seems a lot like one of those "correlation=causality" deals.) But those interested in gender theory should have every bit as much interest in it, I think. The implication here is that cathexis has roots that are primarily biological, which introduces a lot of problems for people who conceptualize sexuality as a socially constructed attribute of humanity.

According to the LA Times article I quote above, "Canadian psychologist Anthony Bogaert found no evidence that social interactions among family members played a role in determining whether a man was gay or straight." This sentence sets off so many warning buzzers in my head that I feel like I just dropped acid. How is it at all possible to dissect every piece of a family's social interaction and then quantify whether any of these pieces could possibly have contributed to development of nonheterosexual sexualities?!

As you probably could have guessed, these psychologists haven't got a clue what (if any) biological mechanism is causing this. However, queer theorists will be troubled (or, knowing them, delighted) by one possible answer: "women's bodies react to male fetuses' proteins as foreign, making antibodies to fight them." As more and more male fetuses are born, the antibodies grow stronger and stronger. In other words, the gay male body is a pathology.

The study has a sample size of a little over 900, which isn't too bad... until you realize how tiny the research findings really are. The article says,
The so-called fraternal birth order effect is small: Each older brother increases the chances by 33%. Assuming the base rate of homosexuality among men is 2%, it would take 11 older brothers to give the next son about a 50-50 chance of being gay.
It seems a bit hasty to use less than a thousand Canadian gays to come to this conclusion.

Regardless, if we assume the data are correct, the first older brother increases the chances of siblings being gay from 2% by 33% to make it 2.66%. The next brother makes it 3.5%. The next makes it 4.7%. So 4.7% of younger siblings in big families (4 or more children) become gay. I don't know if any of you have experience with being in a large family, but from my own observations, I don't think there'd need to be a biological reason for a younger sibling in such a family to fail to comply with sociocultural norms (I'm not arguing that it's intentional; I'm just saying that it wouldn't surprise me if these kiddos had their cathexes severely displaced as a result of their family's abnormal social infrastructure).

That's about all I've got to say about this, except to deplore that the press makes such a big (albeit superficial) deal about these things one day and moves on to something else the next. That's all.

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