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Sunday, September 10, 2006


Washington Times Op-ed

In today's Washington Times, our (with Gary Welton) op-ed "Does Birth Order Determine Sexual Orientation?" is printed.

Did you notice the "Ex-Taliban" headline in the sidebar? :-)

I don't know if I've mentioned this in any previous blogs but I have 3 older brothers. But, before someone concludes that this supports that 'mother thing' where her body fights off the foreign male genes...I need to mention that I also have 3 YOUNGER brothers. And all 6 are 'flaming heterosexuals'!

Having grown up in that very macho environment full of Marines and athletes, I'm strongly persuaded that peer and sibling pressures are the more likely 'causes' of a predisposition to homosexuality. What they say, do, like, don't like, etc. sends constant messages to the one that doesn't say, do, like or don't like the same things. My differences were mainly in the area of being non-agressive, non-competitive and pacifistic. And I was more into music and reading while they were more into sports and avoiding schoolwork. I was oriented towards resolving differences through dialogue; they were more inclined to resolve them through fighting.

And my peers at school and in the neighborhood were much the same; TV and movie imagery of males also seemed to support the same. I believe we constantly unconsciously process our everyday interactions and,especially in our early years, develop our sense of self from this information.
Warren, I realise you've seized on the B&B study; but there has been no discussion from you about several flaws.

1) B&B have no idea what the sexual orientation is. Quite apart from these being 12-17 year olds, these kids were not asked about sexual orientation. A condition placed on the funding for the study was was that no such question would be asked. B&B used a proxy. A bad one IMO. They did not ask after "same sex attraction", and you should not claim that they did.

2) the proxy they used is not even stable across age groups. Run the numbers.

3) B&B also do not know what the relational status of the twin's genes are. They went off appearance -- fraught with inaccuracy.

4) Really badly, the conclusion they made "Our results support the hypothesis that less gendered socialization in early childhood and preadolescence shapes subsequent same-sex romantic attraction" is completely unwarranted.

B&B have no idea what the socialization of early childhood was. It wasn't even asked after. They made a gross "theoretical" leap at that point. A mystifying one. They didn't even have a proxy measure of the childhood socialization, they had nothing.

We've had a look over the past weeks, and have failed to find any other example where this survey has been used for this type of purpose.

I am a little bemused why two sociologists would attempt a biological stretch from a sociological survey, but the strengths of the survey in the latter regard and the weakness in the former probably go a long way to explaining why no biology-based researcher has bothered with it.

My own best guess is that the data is simply not hard enough for someone with a biology background, and it would not have been published in one of their peer journals.

But I forget. Your point isn't about the B&B study, or it's problems, really. I'd probably be more inclined to a conspiracy theory too... if I didn't realsise that one was released at a major conference that has reporters in attendance, and the other was quietly published, unannounced, in a journal. Like the thousands of other studies quietly published in journals, it was simply not noticed. In my experience, newspaper reporters don't read many research journals...

Good thing is, Bearman and Bruckner have obviously got a bit more media savvy over the past few years. They certainly hit the jackpot with their study showing that virginity pledges do not work :)

(Note that was their second attempt too. The 2001 virginity study also failed to garner much attention. Ahh, publishing research is such a quirky business...)
I am aware of the flaws in the study. Many of the criticisms can and have been raised regarding all studies of sexual attraction/orientation. Here are a couple of reactions:

B&B say they asked about SSA here: "For the present study, same-sex romantic attraction was based on the question: "Have you ever
had a romantic attraction to a female (male)?" Both in-home surveys used ACASI technology
(Audio computer-assisted self-administered interviewing) for sensitive questions about sexual
and non-normative behavior, including the question about same-sex romantic attraction. ACASI
technology has been shown to yield more accurate responses to sensitive questions than standard
interview technique (Turner et al. 1998). The proportion of adolescents reporting a same-sex
relationship or homosexual activity is small in this sample (3.4 % and 0.84 % respectively).
Consequently, we focus on same-sex romantic attraction.

Furthermore, as you can see here they say they asked about homosexual activity and relationships. Whether they were supposed to or not, they say they did.

You might pick nits over romantic attraction versus asking if the attraction was sexual. I am willing to assume for the vast majority of kids answering the survey, these mean the same thing.

Here is where I will agree. Multiple measures are nearly always better than single measures for a multifaceted construct such as sexual orientation. B&B used a single measure but I would argue in contrast to you that romantic attraction is highly associated with same-sex behavior and identity and may even be considered the foundation for the latter two. But, agreed, RA/SSA is not orientation.

Correct, they infer the socialization hypothesis from their finding that boys from OSA twin pairs reported RA twice as much as other categories and then disappeared if an older brother was present (another strike against that feared and hostile older brother idea). This is pretty much what Bogaert did as well. He set up a condition to justify an inference from group differences (gay men with biological brothers versus non-biological brothers). He did not ask the participants about socialization or relationship factors in their histories.

Twin registry studies are preferable but other twin studies have also used appearance.

Regarding the publicity, they released it in the same manner as the virginity pledge studies. They anticipated controversy but received none. My views of the media are not just informed by the reaction to this study but to what I have seen over the last several years on this beat.

To sum for now, there are flaws in this study but there are strong points as well. My view is that the flaws are similar to other similar studies and that my bottom line position is that we don't know very much.

What is a consistent finding across investigators and methods is that gender nonconformity associates strongly and linearly with adult orientation and explains much variance. Bem says it probably explains all same-sex attraction. I am not willing to go even that far.

I think that the scenario Ed described would be hard to assess on a wide scale without a boat load of grant money. However, my hunch is that the basic Bemian scenario that he painted is replicated frequently (though not universally).
Great Op-Ed, Warren.

I believe your right about both studies having their strength and weaknesses. Neither study can truly give us a complete picture.

Your discussion about gender non-conformity (GNC) has really got me thinking...is it the GNC that leads to being gay, or is being gay the fundamental bedrock which leads to GNC? Kind of a chicken and egg situation I guess.

My reply (as of today) would be: why can't both be true? That is, why can't we have some people who due to whatever intra utero events, are born gay, and thus have non-gender conforming traits? At the same token, why can't we have kids who were perhaps born with a more sensitive (not homosexuality per se) temperament, and thus cause them to undergo the Daryl Bem pathway of turning out gay?

My guess is that anything is possible. we simply very little about anything.

Craig: I don't think the research allows us to rule much out. Although I believe Bem's work with Bailey's twin data (Archives of Sexual Beh., 2000) make the genetic relationship idea look less probable. However, I am a multi-pathway thinker on this and do not believe we can rule out a direct path for some with the data we have. Nothing proves it but we cannot completely falsify it either.
By the way...I think you ought to comment on this...i'm not too sure about the reasoning here...u be the judge.

----------Bearman and Bruckner's Incredible Findings

By Timothy Kincaid

The past few years have given us several reports that suggest a pre-natal basis for sexual orientation. Such studies have included observations about gay people such as brain activity in response to possible pheromones, disproportionate incidence of left-handedness, and the elimination of social factors from the fraternal birth order effect. They have also included observations of others such as mothers of some gay men displaying rare single deactivated chromosomes and hypothalamus variances in the brains of same-sex attracted rams.

Viewed collectively, while there has not yet been determined any single “cause” which determines whether orientation will be towards the same or opposite sex, these studies all support the theory that much of that determination is made prior to birth.

It must be disheartening to hold to the notion that sexual orientation is developed after birth and can be directed. While nurture – that subset of environmental factors that can be controlled – cannot be ruled out of the equation at this time, there seems to be very little of late that supports this hypothesis.

What then can be done if one supports ex-gay efforts and feels that popular opinion is being swayed falsely into believing that gay people are “born that way”? One option could be to dredge up a study from 2001 and claim that it casts doubt on the Fraternal Birth Order Effect (FBOE) and suggest that media bias kept it from being widely reported.

This is what Dr. Warren Throckmorton and his associate Gary Welton have done in an op-ed published in the Washington Times. Throckmorton, a champion of ex-gay efforts, and Welton both are on the faculty of the socially conservative Grove City College and until recently Throckmorton was an advisor for PFOX, an organization that lobbies against including protections for gay kids in school anti-bullying programs. They discuss a paper by Drs. Bearman and Bruckner which found a correlation between adolescent declarations of romantic attraction and opposite sex twins.

Throckmorton and Welton’s article serves to make three points: 1) to claim that media bias was responsible for extensive coverage of FBOA and no coverage of Bearman and Bruckner’s paper, 2) to suggest that socialization vastly outweighs biological influences on sexual orientation, and 3) to use Bearman and Bruckner to discredit Bogaert’s observations about the FBOE. I will now discuss these three points.

Media Bias

Throckmorton may have some basis to support his claim that the media unfairly ignored the study. It may well be that reporters had little interest in a paper that seemed to disagree with the trend in observations or that did not reflect their personal viewpoints.

However, that does not explain why conservative news sources did not mention this paper. And surely no one would make the claim that even within the spectrum of mainstream media there are not those who would delight in a report that would reject support for “born gay” hypotheses. Perhaps a better explanation may be that the publication of the paper was ineffective.

B&B’s Study Supporting Socialization

Bearman and Bruckner are not without credentials in the world of social science. They were, after all, the same researchers who determined that teens who take virginity pledges were less likely to use protection or get tested for STDs when they broke those pledges (as 88% did). To be fair, this report was harshly criticized by conservative media and their methodology was brought into question.

But how did they do on the same-sex attraction study?

The study was based on results of questions asked of students in grades 7 through 12 in 1994-95 and 1996. For the study, same-sex romantic attraction was based on the question: “Have you ever had a romantic attraction to a female (male)?” The results were:

* 9.4% of males reported same-sex attraction
* 16.8% of males with a female twin reported same-sex attraction

They found that the only factor they observed which had any correlation with increased likelihood of same-sex attraction was a female twin. From this they decide that since the socialization of males who have a female twin that is distinct from the socialization of other males (a bold leap) therefore it is socialization that makes a young man's heart go out to another.

But wait. Go back and look at the numbers.

Can that be right? Are Throckmorton and Welton championing a study that claims that 9.4% of teens are same-sex attracted?

And surely if 16.8% of guys with a female twin were gay, wouldn’t someone notice?

Well the answer could be ummm, no. A clue is found in the disclaimer about their methodology:

The proportion of adolescents reporting a same-sex relationship or homosexual activity is small in this sample (3.4% and 0.84% respectively). Consequently, we focus on same-sex romantic attraction.

If we take their statement at face value, we would have to believe that 3.4% of high-schoolers in the late 90’s had been in a same-sex relationship – but 75% of them had not had sex. This seems to me to be both too high and too low.

Considering that the CDC report suggests that only about 2.8% of 25 to 29 year old men identify as gay and only about 0.9% identify as bisexual in 2003, B&B would have us believe that 92% of them were in same-sex relationships in high school. I’m sure you will forgive me if I suggest that there may be a significant flaw in how B&B analyzed the data.

Perhaps I’m reading their results incorrectly. But it seems to me that either their samples were woefully unrepresentative, their methods of obtaining answers were seriously flawed, or their interpretation of their results completely missed the boat.

In all likelihood what was being reported by the kids was probably something much different than what you or I would identify as “same-sex attraction”.

Dismissing Dr. Bogaert's Research

Dr. Anthony Bogaert reported in 1996 that the likelihood of homosexual orientation increases for each older brother a man has. Nurture advocates spun this to suggest that the presence of older brothers in the home resulted in an environment that contributed to the younger child being feminized.

Bogaert repeated his work, this time observing the presence of step-siblings or the absence of natural siblings. His conclusion was that the presence or absence of step or natural siblings was not correlative and that the only observance was with the number of previous male siblings to have passed through the mothers womb.

The B&B study took place between the two studies and purports to disprove the first. In fact, it goes so far as to claim the opposite.

Among male opposite-sex twins, the proportion reporting a same-sex romantic attraction is twice as high among those without older brothers (18.7%) than among those with older brothers (8.8%).

In other words, as Dr. Throckmorton indicates in his article,

In direct contradiction to the FBOE, Drs. Bearman and Bruckner found this caveat: The opposite-sex twin effect was eliminated by the presence of an older brother.

Bogaert’s findings and those of Bearman and Bruckner are contradictory. They cannot both be right. Bogaert says older brothers increase the likelihood of homosexuality. Bearman and Bruckner say older brothers decrease the likelihood.

But, then again, Bearman and Bruckner also say that one fifth of adolescent males with a female twin and no older brothers are same-sex attracted. And that would indeed make a great headline if it were true.

The problem with the B&B paper is that it requires suspension of disbelief. To accept that they showed support for socialization as an etiology for sexual orientation, you have also to accept that 10% of males are gay. To believe that it casts serious doubt on Bogaert, you also have to believe that 17% of guys with a female twin are gay.

As Bearman and Bruckner wrote in their own report,

The findings presented in this paper… stand in marked contrast to most previous research in a number of respects.

Sadly, that didn’t encourage them to question their results. Nor did is slow Throckmorton and Welton from suggesting that it had merit.

The gentlemen from Grove City end their op-ed with a question

Why does one study that finds a weak sibling relationship and speculates a biological effect get worldwide attention while another study that finds a weak sibling relationship but no evidence for a biological effect is completely ignored?

Perhaps the best answer to that is one that I’m to polite to write.
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