A pack of lies: the tale of the gay sheep

From The Next Hurrah, via Language Log:

In summary, the news article in the Times regarding attempts to cure sheep of faggery were… well, let’s be polite, and call them dramatic exaggerations with little to no basis in fact.

The second thing to notice is the way the reporters got nearly every fact wrong. Most glaring is the subhead of the article itself: “Experiments that claim to ‘cure’ homosexual rams.” Well, let’s see — is that what the experimenters claim? Halfway through the piece, they cite Roselli: “[The researchers] insist the work is not aimed at “curing” homosexuality.” But the article not only asserts that this is, in fact, their aim, but that they have achieved it: “By varying the hormone levels, mainly by injecting hormones into the brain, [the scientists] have had “considerable success” in altering the rams’ sexuality…” Let’s check that one out, shall we? First, let’s check the scientific literature. Here’s the abstract from that Endocrine paper: “Prenatal ATD exposure did not interfere with defeminization of adult sexual partner preferences, receptive behavior, or the LH surge mechanism.” And here’s Roselli, by email: “What is so frustrating is that articles like this pit the scientist against the activist and then pretend to present a “balanced” account. They also don’t understand the science and perpetrate a lot of misinformation and outright lies, like the line that we have had “considerable success” in altering rams’ sexuality – where did this come from? I never claimed this and never published anything to suggest it.”


In fact, it is clear that the Times deliberately misrepresented the truth. They say, “The tests on gay sheep are the latest in a long line of experiments seeking to alter the sexuality of humans and animals” (never mind the researchers already made clear that is not their aim) and then they cite two other examples of research in the field: one is a study from 1991 (although the Times cites it as 2002) and the other is an East Berlin scientist from the 1960s. One wonders why the Times picked these two examples, and chose to skip over Catherine Dulac’s landmark 2002 Science paper in which she discovered that changing a single pheromone receptor caused male mice to make (gay) love instead of war; the detailed work in fruit flies showing that a single gene can make males or females gay; or other sexual behavior studies like the major one on prairie voles a few years back showing a particular hormone determines how faithful they are to their mates or the studies just coming out recently about how the stickleback fish picks a mate. These are not obscure studies — on the contrary, the genetics of behavior (and sexual behavior in particular) is one of the major frontiers of biology today, and these studies are all being conducted at the top institutes and published in the top-tier journals. Funny that the reporters didn’t mention them.

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