Thursday, May 12, 2005

More moral leadership, less bad science 

MSNBC has an AP report that makes a huge deal out of a study that purports to show that brain responses are different in gay and straight men. We'll start with a look at the story's claims (they don't all stand up), then try to understand why AP and MSNBC felt this merited such spin and publicity (can you say agenda), and finish with a look at what has led the media to this pablum-pumping point (this part is the tragedy).

First the story:

The brains of homosexual men respond more like those of women when reacting to a chemical derived from the male sex hormone, new evidence of physical differences related to sexual orientation.
The story goes on to give some interpretation of what this result might mean:

Biological basis to sexual orientation?

In the Swedish study, when sniffing a chemical from testosterone, the male hormone, portions of the brains involved in sexual activity were activated in gay men and straight women, but not in straight men, the researchers found.

When they sniffed smells like cedar or lavender, all of the subjects brains reacted only in the olfactory regions that handles smells.

The result clearly shows a biological involvement in sexual orientation, said Sandra Witelson, an expert on brain anatomy and sexual orientation at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
So AP summarizes this study as showing a "biological involvement in sexual orientation,"

Unfortunately, such a conclusion is premature at best. It relies on a quote solicited from the prestigious DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Ontario -- which hopes to someday be one of the top two or three medical schools in Canada -- rather than present the conclusions of the study itself. To see what's wrong, let's look at a non-AP source, which does present the conclusions of Dr. Savic:

Alternatively, Savic's finding may be just a consequence of straight and gay men using their brains in different ways.

"We cannot tell if the different pattern is cause or effect," Savic said. "The study does not give any answer to these crucial questions."

But the technique may provide an answer, Hamer noted, if it is applied to people of different ages to see when in life the different pattern of response develops.
Dr. Savic has not concluded whether the study shows built-in brain structure cause homosexuality, or whether some factors related to homosexuality cause changes in the brain. Clearly, these views inconvenience reporters who understand the research better than the researchers themselves do. Dr. Savic is willing to wait, why aren't the reporters? What's the rush? Are they worried President Bush and his Falwell Friends have already picked next Tuesday as "National, Round up Gays and Ship them to Guantanamo, Day"? Hmmm, don't answer that, they might really think that.

This leads us to the next question. Is it really that important? Why not just leave the story open-ended, waiting for future research, as Dr. Savic does?

Well, because without the reporter's conclusion, this story doesn't make the paper. Sure, this is fascinating stuff, but is it going to lead to miraculous, new treatments for testosterone poisoning? Doubtful. It's got no angle. But if it is further proof that gays smell things differently because that is how God made them, then the story gets a free pass from the bouncer to jump ahead in line, right to the front page, where it fits in quite nicely at the special table reserved for "Proving Homosexuality is not a Choice".

For many Americans, the issue hinges on the question of whether homosexuality is a choice or an innate characteristic with which people are born.

Advocates of gay rights say sexual orientation, like race or disability, can’t be changed, and therefore homosexuals should be protected like any other minority group. Opponents argue that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice that shouldn’t be rewarded.
Sadly, it seems proponents of gay rights believe they won't carry the day unless they win a bar bet over biology, by any means necessary.

That brings us to the tragedy. It appears that the (left-leaning) media has lost faith in the morality of its position, and argues now based on biology, thus binding itself in the trap of needing certain scientific outcomes to validate their position. What happened to supporting gay rights simply because it is the right thing to do? Marchers in Alabama didn't carry newspapers announcing phony scientific results of racial studies. They inspired America to change through the courage of their conviction.

Consider this: what will happen to gay rights if all the chips now riding on the biological bet are lost? After all, you can only get away with phony science for so long.

At the risk of losing readership, or of gaining a lot of angry comments, I will say that I support many gay rights (including partnership rights), regardless of whether it is a lifestye choice or a genetic necessity. And those I oppose (partnership rights being called marriage, for instance), I oppose regardless of the scientific results.

So please, stop the bad science. Stop the media distortion. Can we bring the arguments back to what is right or wrong? Or has the Left so given up on the morality of its convictions that it can't? The Left may say it has instead given up on the Right's moral convictions, but if so, they should know bogus science won't change the opposition's values.

I know the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, even an abomination in the jargon. I do not argue that we should white-out parts of the Bible and pencil in "not a sin" instead. However, we should remember there are many sins, some products of human nature and biology, and some simply defects of character. The sinners are still human beings who deserve fair treatment and compassion, life-style choices or not.

Just because the left oozes compassion to a fault, doesn't mean compassion is a fault.
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