Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Lesbian brains redux

UPDATED UPDATE: Comments are open. Dr. ER, actually *being* a scientist, wants to see the original article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and I think she's even gonna cough up $10 for a two-day pass to read it. I love my wife.


One of the researchers in the lesbian brains study, widely reported yesterday and today, apparently is taking issue with the way it was reported.

This link has the story: Read it all here.

Below is a piece about the researcher's complaint. It's pretty brainy. Dr. ER has two degrees in brains. I've asked her to read both and respond inm the comments. They will be closed until she's had time to read and think about it.

By Robert Knight

© 2006

A new and widely reported Swedish study that suggests that lesbians respond differently from heterosexual women when exposed to sex hormones has been seriously misinterpreted, one of the researchers says.

The Associated Press story noted that a similar study was done last year on men, and that with the new female study, "the findings add weight to the idea that homosexuality has a physical basis and is not learned behavior."

In response to an e-mail inquiry from Grove City College Professor of Psychology Dr. Warren Throckmorton, researcher Dr. Ivanka Savic of the Stockholm Brain Institute said of the AP interpretation of her work, "This is incorrect and not stated in the paper."

The study was published in the May 9, 2006, edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, although the link to the piece was not available at the academy's website as of yesterday.

The AP report was carried widely in major newspapers and on television and radio. Most reports cited the study as more "evidence" for a genetic or biological cause for homosexuality without noting that no credible study suggesting direct biological causes has ever been replicated and that many have been refuted.

The Swedish study merely found that lesbians respond differently, not that their brains were hardwired that way before any sexual activity. Recent brain research also shows that brain patterns may emerge in response to certain activities.

"It's reasonable to believe that prior sexual behavior would predict future sexual responses," Throckmorton said.

Here is Monday's posting on Dr. Throckmorton's blogsite. In italics is the e-mail he sent to Dr. Ivanka Savic about the study of lesbians' response to putative pheromones. Her responses to each of his queries follows in capital block letters:

Dr. Savic:

The Associated Press story came out today about your study and I think they have reported it incorrectly.

First I am wondering if you can help me understand things more clearly. I am enclosing a link to the AP report:

First, in the report the reporter writes: "It's a finding that adds weight to the idea that homosexuality has a physical underpinning and is not learned behavior."


As I understand your article in PNAS, you specifically offer learning as a hypothesis for your findings. Isn't this true? I believe the reporter is misleading on that point.


Second, the AP report says: "In lesbians, both male and female hormones were processed the same, in the basic odor processing circuits, Savic and her team reported." I understand that the study did show that AND (male condition) was processed akin to other odors by lesbians. But wasn't there also some hypothalamic processing of EST (female condition) by lesbians?


It was weaker and apparently not in the anterior hypothalamus but didn't you also find dorsomedial and paraventricular hypothalamic activation? So it would be inaccurate, would it not, to say "both male and female hormones were processed the same?"



Dr. Throckmorton told Concerned Women for America's Culture & Family Institute yesterday that he had just sent the correspondence to Associated Press yesterday morning and was in dialogue with a reporter about it.

A common flaw in interpreting "gay gene" studies is the supposition that supposed differences in the brain are genetic in origin rather than the result of behavioral change.

Dr. Savic "did not want to create the impression that the study proves sexual response is not learned. In fact, [the Swedish research team] seems pretty open to plausible interpretations. However, at present, from this study, nothing definitive can be concluded," Throckmorton said.

The trend in research suggesting the idea that homosexuality is inborn began in 1991, with the publication in the journal Science about differences in the hypothalamus portion of the brain. Authored by Salk Research Institute's Dr. Simon LeVay, it became a media sensation.

LeVay evaluated the brains from the corpses of 35 men – 19 homosexuals and 16 alleged heterosexuals – and found that a set of nodules in the hypothalamus was generally larger in the "straight" men than in the homosexual men. However, LeVay noted many exceptions to the finding, and later admitted that he had no way of determining the "sexual orientation" of the heterosexual sample, six of whom were white men from the San Francisco Bay area who had died of AIDS-related causes. He said he designated the "heterosexual" sample as such because most people are straight. He also issued this warning after the media declared his study as proof that people are born "gay":

It's important to stress what I didn't find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn't show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain ... Since I looked at adult brains, we don't know if the differences I found were there at birth, or if they appeared later.

Similarly, all the subjects in the Swedish study were sexually experienced, Throckmorton noted. So any differences could have developed as a result of exposure to certain behaviors rather than constitute evidence of cause.

For more information on the claims of "gay gene" research, see the Culture & Family Institute Special Report "Born or Bred: Science Does Not Support the Claim that Homosexuality Is Genetic."

ER here: Let it never be said that I, like so many extremists on both sides of most issues, use ONLY research and journalism that supports my preconceived ideas!

The fact is I don't KNOW some things. And I think the humility that can come with ignorance, not the hubris that can come with knowledge, is most important in interpreting Scripture -- as well as in just learning how to get along with people different than ourselves.


The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences does not have an article in their May 9th edition in which Ivanka Savik is an author. The AP may have an embargoed copy; I'm not able to locate her research in the May 9th edition. Before I pay the 10 bucks, I want to make sure I'm going to find the original article and the research. Sure is odd to me that the article isn't there.
The plot thickens.
My BS detector is starting to go off.

1. It looks The AP reporter gave the journalist's usual quick read to a complex scientific article and made a false assumption.

2. To trumpet that as an effort to "promote the homosexual agenda," or whatever, is overkill. The AP has no homosexual, or other, agenda -- not even to "show a profit" necessarily, for crying out loud, since it's a cooperative.

In the meantime, enquiring minds DO want to know whassup. ...
Did a double-check (OU has full access to the Proceedings of the Nat'l Academy of Sciences) and so just to verify, there is not only no article by Savic in the May 9 issue, but there doesn't appear to have been an article on the topic of pheremones since the 2005 one on homosexual men.

In this case, it doesn't appear to be an embargo--there are plenty of other articles listed, and I could get full text to them all.

If it turns out to be *next* week's issue (a sloppy mistake by AP, if that's the case), I'm happy to send along the text of the article so that y'all don't have to pay for access.
Hmm. And again, I say, hmmmm.
Throckmorton himself is an interesting case. He's a professor of Psych at Grove City College. This is the Grove City College of Title IX fame. So to paint it as "Conservative" is an understatement. Throckmorton is a man with a dog in this hunt, so it is not suprizing that he would re-act so quickly to something that hasn't been published yet. Indeed Throckmorton must have access to an advance copy in that even he says that the article was embargoed until 5pm on May 7th, and yet he was writting about on his blog prior to that time:

Throckmorton is an vocal advocate of sexual-reorientation change (not to be confused with Reparative Therapy). In one of his recent papers he states his beliefs:
"At present, I believe that same-sex attractions arise much in the same way preferences for musical styles, food preferences and activity inclinations occur: through an interaction of temperament and environment. All such preferences are judged as good, neutral or bad based on moral, religious and practical considerations."

It may be simplestic to compare homosexuality to ulcers, but I remember being told from the pulpit that Christians should never have ulcers, because ulcers came from environmental stress and a true believer would not have that kind of stress. Now we take anti-biotics to kill the bacteria that cause ulcers. I had ulcers for 18 years. All I had to do to render that long term sin of mine extinct was take some pills. Things change.
Agreed, ER, that the AP probably doesn't have an agenda in the same sense that an individual newspaper might. But AP reporters and editors -- or any reporters and editors -- you know as well as I do how common agendas can be at that micro level.

Journalists sometimes see what they want to see in a story -- the facts of said story be damned.
ER said:
"It looks The AP reporter gave the journalist's usual quick read to a complex scientific article and made a false assumption"
Nick said:
"Journalists sometimes see what they want to see in a story -- the facts of said story be damned."

Wow, I wonder if Randolph E. Schmid, the AP Science writter with several thousand bylines on science to his name will be hurt by you guys doubting his ability not to mention integrity?
This guy really ought to be investigated. After all, a shit load of science articles on many subjects appearing in almost all the newspapers in America has been written by him in recent years. Hell, he may be a one man conspiracy, you reckon? (can you have a one man conspiracy?)
Oh, yes and his quoted back up source is probably in on it too.
(Ah, that makes two, it is a conspriracy.)
As usual, drlobojo provides excellent insight to a story behind a story.

And Nick, I think because YOU used to stake out agendas in the news business that you think it's common. It does happen. But it is not common -- at least in this part of the country. And hell's bells, if it DOES happen in the Oklahoma or Texas, the bias is to the RIGHT.
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Well, I will be watching American Idol, not Larry King. And Kiki, thanks for the offer of the full text; if it does turn up in the next issue, I'll take you up on that! I will, however, reserve comment on the science until I can actually read the research -- that's for you, ER, I know you want my take, but this here gal goes with primary sources :-)
That "alleged heterosexuals" was a nice turn of phrase; almost bordering on editorializing, but not quite.
Uh-yeah. It's hard to write about science, especially in the journalistic manner, which requires some sort of clearly elucidated conclusion to be reached from the facts presented.
Science, of course, ain't like that, and what you learn today, and what it seems to mean, may very well change completely with the emergence of new data.
Fascinating stuff, ER.
Watching Mary Cheney and listening to her about how accepting her parents are and even the President and the first lady reinforces my conclusions that this anti-gay thing from this administration is nothing more than a coldly calculated political wedge shoved between the american people for personal advantage of those in power. It is not a matter of principle to them. It is simply good politics. Just a good ploy created by the high priest of hate, father Carl Rove. Lee Atwater would be so proud of GW and Carl.
Before Christmas the worm will turn.
Glad to hear a report. We were Idolizing.
Maybe you're right, ER, but I did work in Palm Springs, where among 10 middle managers there was only 1 who liked dudes -- even though four of the group were women.

There was a lot of agenda-izing in that newsroom ... on the theory that they were advancing what was "good" for the community (and not just on the editorial page).
But don't you think they reflected the values of the Palm Springs community, mainly? Maybe not.

And isn;t that the ideal for a newsroom? To at once reflect trhe values of the surrounding community, and challenge the status quo?

Here's a loosely related question? Could the "narrow way" of faith be relative? In San Fran, wouldn't a fundamentlaist Baptist churhc be the "narrow way," and might it not serve a purpose as a witness against the extremes of that community?

Might a liberal church in Oklahoma City -- all two or three of them -- represent the "narrow way" in this right-wing redneck town, for the same purpose>

Just a coupla thoughts.
How about this possibility, ER?

Is it possible that this "Savik" is a total construct and the whole story is fake?

That would be a powerful propaganda tool if you wanted to embarass people who look for scientific evidence that proves for sure that Homosexuality IS a choice or a learned behavior...

Publish a phony story, let it make the rounds, and then loudly and publicly disprove it.

It would continue to be quoted for years if it got very popular, and every time anyone mentioned the subject at all, you could point to the discredited story and claim that you have discredited the assertion.

I am curious about something else...

Has "Ivanka Savik" ever published anything else anywhere, or was this her Journalistic Debut?

Good question Tug, but cynic that I be, I looked her up first thing to see what she had done before.
She is real and was involved in the "male" half of this study in 2005.
She does seem to have a very narrow focus on what she is doing. Very "scientist" like. Just the facts jack type woman.
Here is who she is:

More likely there was some editorial or technical glitch that pushed the paper into the next issue.
Tug, I do admire yer conspiracy theories, especially this one, because I've been thinking the same thing! (Call the press!)

But I think drlobojo is probably right. Kiki will let us know next week!
Someone with an agenda (or a lack of critical thinking) probably sent a synopsis to the AP reporter who wrote from that, not going to the primary source material. Everyone in the media nowadays knows there are very, very few reporters who have the luxury of taking the time for extensive research on anything resembling breaking news -- particularly wire service reporters. The ones with the luxury of time are few and far between, and either work for magazines or major newspapers with budgets that allow them to take the time for that while others cover the breaking news.
In fact, there may be a PR department for the media conglomerate that publishes the magazine/journal, and the person assigned to do a synopsis didn't vet it before it went to -- perhaps selected members of -- the media.
Anon speaks truth.
Actually, on second thought: the WorldNetDaily story is probably hooey. That is a weird "news" source.
The study is flawed.

Lesbian brains have to be flawed, since I am gorgeous, sexy and desirable, and lesbians don't want me.

Ergo, they're inferior....
Clearly! Hey, Carl!
If you want to know what the study says, then read the study for yourself. It's the only way to go. You should not rely onwhat sone lay (and possibly lame) AP reporter thinks the study says. It is true that you may not grasp fully all the authors' conclusions unless you have some modest background in the subject matter and possibly statistics, but it's a damn site better than the kind of sloppy work that the lay press usually does when it comes to medical/psychological studies.

And phhhttt on Mary Cheney. Assuming that the good doctor is correct (as is usually the case when I read his comments here) then she allowed herself, I believe knowingly, to be used in the most heinous and cynical fashion. And if that's the case, then she has no right whatsover to refer to Kerry or Edwards as a "slimeball". That would be a clear case of the pot calling the kettle slimy.
Howdy, RSB.

Gettin' ahold of the study is what we're talkin' about. Yer right.

As for Ms. Cheney: Maybe she's more of a daddy's girl that anything?
Maybe save your money instead of getting hold of the study. Read the AP story closely and I think you will see that the author of the story does not make the "wrong" conclusion as referenced in that WorldNetDaily thing you posted -- but is paraphrasing a quote that follows this "conclusion." The quote is from a brain expert at a Canadian university, not associated with the study, who may not have been qualified to make the comment that she did. AP reporter was doing his job -- getting a quote from an outside source that has knowlege of the general subject matter but was not attached to the study itself.
AP-Lesbian Brains, CLARIFICATION,140
Clarification: Lesbian Brains story
Eds: Members who used BC-Lesbian Brains of May 8 may wish to use
the following, which clarifies a section of the story dealing with
individuals perception of pheromones.
WASHINGTON (AP) - In a story May 8, The Associated Press
reported on the perceptions of lesbian women and heterosexual men
and women when sniffing chemicals derived from human hormones. That
report was based on a chart in a research study which indicated
different perceptions of the chemicals, such as pleasantness,
familiarity and irritability.
While there were differences in how the brains of homosexual and
heterosexual participants reacted to the chemicals, the story
should also have included the conclusion that indicated differences
in individual perceptions were not statistically significant.
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