Last fall, a biochemist and scientific research consultant from New Zealand, Neil Whitehead, co-author with his wife of My Genes Made Me Do It, was in the United States to give a presentation at NARTH on some research he’s done regarding genetic contribution to homosexuality—primarily through twin studies. His wife, Briar, is the author of Craving for Love: Relationship Addiction, Homosexuality, and the God Who Heals.

While Dr. Whitehead was in the US, he was invited to come to Salt Lake City to give a fireside presentation—an abbreviation of his NARTH presentation—sponsored by Evergreen International, which I attended. In some of the discussions on here about the etiology of homosexuality, some of the info he presented kept coming to mind, and I wanted to be able to see a copy of his slide show to re-examine his stats. A copy of that slide show is now online.

Dr. Whitehead also maintains a website on the subject.

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57 comments

  1. avatar

    Ryan

    I watched the slideshow. Those have got to be some of the smallest occurrence numbers I’ve ever seen in an attempted scientific report.

    The overall assertion I interpreted: “We don’t know what causes gayness. So you weren’t born gay.”

    Isn’t there a very basic logical fallacy in conclusions like this?

    I know several gay brother pairings. Myself and my partner both have gay siblings. If there are no biological or societal factors leading to homosexuality as this slide show tries to profess, and it’s all just “chance” – then we’d be a rare occurrence. We’re not though. So toss me all the misleading wordy debates you can dream up. The ant-gay-rights groups out there have just as much reason to deny homosexualty from birth as the pro-rights crowd have to try and prove it.

    Until we find something certain, I’ll go with the simplest, most likely option. Occam’s razor and all that.

    Peace.

  2. avatar

    So, after reviewing these slides of Dr. Whitehead, I’ve learned that I am “random”. I am a “chance” occurance. Thus, because I’m random or because I’m the way I am by chance (neither biologically or environmentally driven) but just “cosi'” as Italians would say, I should desire to change such a haphazard event. In some sense, I’ve never been convinced that I am “born this way”, while I’ve also never been convinced that my environment has “made me this way”. So, I can understand the random nature of this because it does feel random in my case. You can stack up the evidence any way you like, and I don’t “fit” the mold to the tee either way.

    The born-this-way argument wants so desperately to place blame on the uncontrollable. The environmental / behavioral argument wants to place blame on someone or something that can and should be changed. I don’t blame anyone or anything on why I am the way I am (though it would be conveinent to do so).

    Then, if this theory of randomness as Dr. Whitehead so clearly articulates, makes sense – why do I feel so bothered by it all? Why do I feel empty inside with this conclusion? How come I feel no peace or sense of relief? Why does randomness (though completely out of my control – and therefore not my “fault”) make me still feel guilty of something?

  3. avatar

    The thing, though, Ryan, is that you’ve mis-stated his conclusion so as to make it a logical fallacy. What he said was that twin studies—which, when done with numbers as large as the Australian registry in particular, show the general trends, rather than individual circumstance–have shown that whatever the ultimate or individual influencing factors, genes to not play the role that seems to be thought within the popular imagination.

    So, again, to restate: “Whatever the factors influencing homosexual orientation, which we ultimately don’t know, we do know that genes do not play much of a role–and whatever role they do play, it is weak, indirect, and random.”

    I’ve stated this before, but Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project, speculated that the concordance is probably around 20%–larger than what these Twin Registry numbers are showing (both studies by gay researchers), but not nearly as large as the numbers Bailey got in his first study, which had huge sampling errors and was the one paraded in the media. That sample was collected by recruiting twins from gay and lesbian associations, and by advertisements. And remember, too, that it was Bailey, an openly gay man who is trying to find and demonstrate genetic contribution, who got the much lower numbers in later studies–not an antagonist. When Bailey did these follow-up studies with much lower number and much more reliable sampling, it was left completely untouched by media. Collins suggests that genes may play some small predisposing role, but they are in no way determinative.

    This is not “anti-gay-rights” stuff. It’s simply the science. And Whitehead is one of the more moderate voices out there. If you remember, he defended the integrity of Bailey’s work, saying that there can’t be much bias because of peer review.

  4. avatar

    Beck, I think there’s an important point with this that should not be missed: “you” are not any more random or different than the next person. What makes each of us human, and what makes each of us the unique individuals that we are, is a very complex interaction of lots of things. And our sexuality, a small part of who we are (though an important part), also seems to be a complex interaction of lots of things. The point he’s making here is that this one piece of the equation—the genetic contribution—is likely much smaller, and much more indirect and random, than some would like to think.

  5. avatar

    Ryan

    ?Whatever the factors influencing homosexual orientation, which we ultimately don?t know, we do know that genes do not play much of a role?and whatever role they do play, it is weak, indirect, and random.?

    Did you miss the slides that said, “So, am I born gay? .. NO!”

    ?

  6. avatar
  7. avatar

    Okay, playa. There’s no such thing as “simple science.” But there is science, and all the evidence at this point doesn’t support anything near substantial genetic contribution to a same-sex orientation.

  8. avatar

    -L-

    I love a good academic slide show with purple and pink DNA as the background, and pudgy little animated characters illustrating the science. Boosts my confidence, fo’ sho’. ;-)

    There are several things in this that seem, well, wrong. But, to be fair, a slide show is not the same as a paper that carefully and more explicitly goes through the reasoning. There could be a lot of narrative left out of this, but as it is, it’s not a stellar piece of science, imho.

    As for the central point, though (in relation to Ryan’s comments), I would summarize as this: “If gays were born gay, there would be high concordance in twin studies.” There is not high concordance. Modus tolens, and voila: logical conclusion that gays aren’t born gay. Simple, yes, and probably true.

  9. avatar

    Ryan (#5):

    Yes, I saw the slide. The statement that anyone is “born gay” is too simplistic to have credibility in any scientific discussion, and particularly with so little support from genetic research. So, without the gene support, if one is to be “born gay”—i.e., determined from the womb to have a homosexual orientation, no matter what other circumstances are present in his life—my assumption is that more research would have to be done to understand prenatal factors. But I don’t see how, with the same genes and same fetal environment, that twin concordance could remain so low.

    Two points: first, this slide show was only the backbone of his presentation. Concerning L’s comment, and it was intended to be a brief summation of the work that’s laid out more fully in his book. You can actually download it from his website, if you want to read more thorough explanation and reasoning of the present data.

    Second, my suspicion is that the truth is going to be found somewhere in the middle. I don’t doubt there there’s biological factors involved. Nor do I doubt that the genetic contribution can be significant, even if indirect—for example, his analogy of the pregnant 15-yo. Genes didn’t cause her to be pregnant, but if she was fertile and beautiful by her culture’s standards, then there was certainly an indirect genetic contribution to her pregnancy. This resonates with the theory of Darryl Bem, another gay psychologist and Columbia researcher, with his “exotic becomes erotic” notion. It’s been a year or so since I’ve read his stuff, but if I remember correctly, he holds that orientation is more of a psycho-emotional response but that it’s indirectly affected by temperment–which evidence does seem to show as having much stronger genetic contribution.

    That was kind of wordy so it may or may not make any sense.

    The point is that anyone, from either side of the divide, who wants to simplify the argument into a “born gay” or it was all your relationship with mother-father simply isn’t going to be given any credibility in any serious scholarly discussion. The complexity of the discussion isn’t conducive to soundbites, and that seems to be what most people are getting—again, on both sides.

  10. avatar

    Here is what Dr. Bill Bradshaw, professor at BYU and a former mission president reported recently on this subject. He wrote this as part of a review on “In Quiet Desperation” which may be found on our website http://www.LDSResources.info

    “There is a vast body of evidence from empirical scientific studies supporting the conclusion that biological processes, especially those operating prenatally to regulate the sexual differentiation of the brain, influence a person’s sexual orientation. These data have been derived from a variety of disciplines including genetics, biochemistry, and neurobiology. …It is also important to note that when genetic studies demonstrate that there is some component of the variability in sexual orientation not directly attributable to genes, and therefore “environmental,” this does not necessarily refer to influences, such as social interactions, outside the individual. Such influences could well be biological (for example, hormonal influences that operate within the environment of the individual, but are derived from, and exert their effects upon the genetic constitution of that person, and hence are epigenetic). The fact that no single unified theory can as yet explain all of the data, and that the responsible processes are probably not the same in gay men and lesbians, does not diminish the fact that the biological evidence is compelling. Space here does not permit the citation of the voluminous scientific information. Instead, we invite the reader to carefully examine the data, beginning with review articles that summarize the results of the various studies. These are summarized at http://members.aol.com/slevay/page22.html as well as in the articles listed in this footnote.3 ”

    He calls the biological evidence “compelling” and I trust him. I don’t think we should be fooled into some other conclusion because someone has relooked at a small part of these data (on twins) and produced somewhat different results than previously reported.

  11. avatar

    Did my comment just now get caught by the spam filter?

  12. avatar

    Yeah, they did. They’re now posted…

  13. avatar

    -L-

    Dr. Bradshaw is a nice enough fellow, but I don’t just trust his appeal to Levay’s authority. “Vast body of evidence” and “Space here does not permit” are fine enough when there isn’t an ongoing bitterly divisive dispute between warring activist parties being discussed, but otherwise it’s just laughable. Here‘s some additional commentary on LeVay and the biological data.

  14. avatar

    So, let’s suppose there’s strong biological influence, prenatally or otherwise. If we grant this “compelling” evidence to Bradshaw, what I find curious is the aversion to giving any credence to the psycho-emotional or socio-relational evidence that has also been presented; he reduces environment to hormones. Why the strong need to present a biologically determined homosexuality? Does he not see any credibility in these other presented evidences?

    Plus, the fact that Bradshaw has a partnered gay son doesn’t tend to lend to confidence in him presenting a reasonably unbiased view here. That’s not a commentary on the quality of his character or sincerity, but I can’t imagine it not coloring his motive or his reading of the evidence in some way.

    What I would really like is to listen in on a discussion where scholars in these fields such as Bradshaw, Whitehead, and others who aren’t too emotionally, politically, or religiously tied to any certain outcome (is it possible?) sit down and, in the spirit of true academic exploration, sort through and discuss all the various evidences and their merit—including what further questions need to be asked, or studies replicated, in order for each piece of evidence to be “compelling.” For example, Whitehead pointed out that with subsequent research, about a third of the factors people have pointed to as evidence of the innateness of SSA—much of the original and follow-up research both being by openly gay scientists—have shown earlier assumptions to be in error.

  15. avatar

    -L-

    From the LeVay page Ron linked:

    One early study did report a near-100% concordance rate for male monozygotic twins (Kallmann 1952). More recent studies have come up with much lower figures, but have generally reported higher concordance rates for monozygotic than for dizygotic twins, consistent with a genetic influence on sexual orientation. In one study the concordance rate was 52% for male monozygotic twins compared with 22% for male dizygotic twins (Bailey and Pillard 1995). A comparable study of female twins came up with concordances of 48% and 16% respectively (Bailey, Pillard et al. 1993).

    From the Whitehead slideshow in the post:

    Bailey et al.
    (adults):
    Males 11% Females 14%
    ? Bearman and Brueckner
    (adolescents) :
    Males 7% Females 5%

    About 4 independent
    large twin studies now
    are consistent with it.
    None is inconsistent
    with it. Large changes
    in this result will not
    happen.

    Now. Does this clarify what I was trying to say about being wary of the data and who is doing the presenting? Notice how LeVay mentions the newer studies (presumably larger) without citing them or the findings? Notice how Whitehead doesn’t mention the earlier findings at all?

  16. avatar

    Ryan

    I had noticed that as well, -L-. The only “Bailey et al.” research I found listed the 52% monozygotic (identical twin) concordance rate, with the 11% dizygotic concordance rate.

    Which paints Whitehead as a deceiver caught red handed, or he made an ugly mistake with the data, or there’s a newer Bailey twin study I haven’t seen yet.

  17. avatar

    -L-

    Woah. Hold on there, buckaroo. It might not be so dramatic as all that. I think there’s a pretty good possibility the man didn’t publish a book with wholesale verifiable lies in it (like cooked up scientific papers).

    I imagine that the latest data is the data Whitehead is mentioning (and LeVay acknowledges without giving it any credibility since it disagrees with his position so starkly). It’s pretty typical to put in the latest data (or the strongest) on a topic. But it’s probably a good idea to put in the earlier data when it’s so different, too.

  18. avatar

    Ryan, I can’t find the numbers you’re looking at. The only 52% concordance I’m aware of for monozygotic twins had a corresponding 22% for the dizygotic twins. From LeVay’s website, he’s listed those numbers as being from 1995. Perhaps you’re looking at something different?

    The study by Bailey et al. using the Australian twin registry—with 11% male and 14% female concordance for monozygotic twins—was from 2000. The other adolescent study Whitehead mentioned by Bearman and Brueckner using a Minnesota Registry was in 2002. And that got even lower numbers (males 7%; females 5%), but it’s a qualitatively different sample as it’s dealing with adolescents, and Whitehead included a graph showing a quite wide spread of age of first homosexual attraction. Plus, even when some youth do experience same-sex attractions, they often don’t have the maturity to recognize or address what it is they are feeling.

  19. avatar

    L

    Dr. Bradshaw cites other evidence besides LeVay if you want to consult the number 3 footnote cited in my brief quote from the complete article from which this was excerpted. Furthermore, Bradshaw has another longer article with more references in the professional section of our site. “Laughable” is not really a fair way to characterize his work. I agree with Tito that a sit down discussion with some key experts would be very helpful. Bradshaw, however, seems to feel the biological evidence is much stronger than suggested by Whitehead. I’m biased, but I’d go with Bradshaw. :) Besides I don’t feel that recent Church statements provide much support for environmental or parental causes of SGA. To me things are strongly tipping toward biological factors which include but are not limited to genetic factors.

  20. avatar

    “I don?t feel that recent Church statements provide much support for environmental or parental causes of SGA. To me things are strongly tipping toward biological factors which include but are not limited to genetic factors.”

    Ron, I think the Church is rightly stepping out of the discussion of etiology and leaving scientific discussion to scientists—not making some unspoken gesture toward biologic or any other etiological theory. Perhaps you’re reading too much into recent statements by Church leaders who have have opted not to opine on causality. If it were scientifically shown that biological factors had zero influence on homosexuality, that all influencing factors were psychodynamic with a 100% reorientation success (and I don’t expect science will ever show this; it’s a hypothetical), I would still think it right that the Church step completely out of the discussion, leaving it to science and to professionals. The Church’s responsibility is to witness of Christ and preach repentance, not to commentate on theories and therapeutic modalities.

  21. avatar

    Ron, I think the Church is rightly stepping out of the discussion of etiology and leaving scientific discussion to scientists?not making some unspoken gesture toward biologic or any other etiological theory.

    Which is one of the smartest things they’ve done to date. I personally think they need more distance from Evergreen as well. It’s hard for people not to see that as a puppet insitution of the Church, what with all the GA’s et. al. floating about…

  22. avatar

    -L-

    Actually, Ron, it’s not so much Bradshaw’s work that is laughable as the appeal to “trust” his authority on the topic (or LeVay’s), something he himself discourages. He suggests we review the data for ourselves, and I think that’s good advice. It took me about 5 minutes to find the disingenous presentation of information from LeVay mentioned above. I also had forgotten Bradshaw has a gay son (which is relevant, but not necessarily a problem). As for Bradshaw himself, he was one of my favorite professors, so no disrespect to him was intended.

  23. avatar

    -L-

    So, I got around to looking at the two other resources listed in Bradshaw’s footnote. Neither was particularly helpful. The first said, “Based on the data summarized in this review, it should be clear that sexual orientation is influenced by biological factors to some degree.” A point I don’t think most people dispute, including Dr. Whitehead. The second asserted, “Genetic evidence suggests a heritable component and putative gene loci on the X chromosome.” This is a little more aggressive of a stance, but putative ain’t quite the same as having a gene to point at. And “heritable”? Here’s what Francis Collins said about that: “there is an inescapable component of heritability to many human behavioral traits. For virtually none of them is heredity ever close to predictive.” So, I don’t think there’s anything there that really contradicts what Whitehead is saying (despite that what he’s saying is over-the-top).

  24. avatar

    J

    Now, if we could just find some monozygotic twins raised separately and see what the concordance is . . .

  25. avatar

    Let me be clear. I am not speaking in favor of some single gene cause for homosexuality. I am not “looking for some gene to point at.” What Bradshaw says is that the BIOLOGICAL evidence is “compelling.” That includes all such evidence and my understanding is that the genetic part is just a small part of that total.

    I agree that the Church is very clearly stepping back and not taking a position on nature or nurture. Elder Oaks a year ago said this.

    “The Church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction. Those are scientific questions—those are things the Church doesn’t have a position on.”

    Nevertheless, I say stepping back because here is what Dean Byrd was able to include in his 1999 Ensign article.

    “What is clear is that homosexuality results from an interaction of social, biological, and psychological factors. These factors may include temperament, personality traits, sexual abuse, familial factors, and treatment by one?s peers.”

    Notice the “familial factors” and the other things Byrd wants to include in this?

    But this is from the new Church pamphlet:

    Page 10

    “Do not blame anyone–not yourself, not your parents, not God–for problems not fully understood in this life.”

    and later on the same page….

    “…Some people have been abused during the early years of life or have engaged in sexual experimentation at a young age. If this has happened to you, please understand that abuse by others or youthful experiences should not create a present sense of guilt, unworthiness, or rejection by God or His Church. Innocent mischief early in life does not predispose a youth toward same gender attrraction as an adult.”

    I see a huge difference between this recent statement from the Church and the attitude of some like Byrd who think sexual abuse, personality, temperment, and family are the main causes of homosexuality and until recently were able to get their views supported in the Ensign.

    For those who really don’t like the idea that biology largely explains this, what do you want to believe??? Do you like the idea that it is sexual abuse, personality, temperment, family factors and treatment by one’s peers???

  26. avatar

    -L-

    Who here doesn’t acknowledge that biology plays a part? Not me, and I don’t think Dr. Whitehead. The issue is Dr. Whitehead’s position, which it seems to me you’ve downplayed unfairly.

  27. avatar

    What I want to believe, Ron, is the truth. And I’m open to the truth. What I want to know is what is fact, what is legitimate evidence, and what is grasping at straws. Sometimes I wonder if those like Bradshaw—who 1) may feel some stake in some certain outcome because of the biases inherent in having an openly gay and partnered son (which he’s not often very forthcoming about, making me even more suspicious), and 2) being a biologist such that biology frames the lenses of everything they see or do, and being unable to step out of that paradigm to look at the questions from other angles and through the lenses of other disciplines (I feel the same way about certain psychologists)—are open to other evidence that may lead to a fuller understanding of the truth.

    At this point in my life, I’m at peace in such a way that I don’t want or need the truth to be anything other than what it is. To get to this point, though, it wasn’t addressing biological factors that helped me to find peace (aside from the gospel peace I already felt; I think those are different); it was exploring and addressing some of my own psychological and emotional dynamics, and there are some of those I feel very strongly played some role, if not a significant one (though I think it was significant), in influencing the development of same-sex attraction. Let me be clear here: I’m talking about my story. But I do know enough other men who feel the same about similar issues within their own dynamics, and who have grown a great deal when addressing some of those issues, such that SSA has become a non-issue in their life, that it’s really difficult for me to swallow the rhetoric of those who want to place it all squarely on the shoulders of biology—be it a genetic component or otherwise. I think there is enough evidence to support some psycho-emotional, socio-relational contribution in many (or even most) individuals that to not give it at least a fair and open-minded hearing in court as a piece of the larger picture (and more than just the psychological damage resulting from a homophobic and hateful society) reeks of ignorance, prejudice, or agenda. Perhaps what’s really broken is my sense of smell, and that’s entirely possible—but that’s often what I smell.

  28. avatar

    To return to the question of Whitehead’s work. I may not have given a fair hearing before but I have now. I have been looking at what he said more carefully this morning. Whitehead concludes there is a concordance rate of about 10% in twin studies and he quotes Michel Bailey as providing numbers consistent with that. I’ve spent about two hours on Bailey’s website at Northwestern and read his 2000 study on his work with the Austrailian twin study. It is called Genetic and Environmental Influences on Sexual Orientation and its Correlates in an Australian Twin Sample. Bailey, Dunn and Martin were able to get responses from 4901 persons (about 500 male twin pairs and about 1000 female twin pairs) and some singles of a twin pair. The concordance numbers do not match with what Whitehead reports.

    Bailey in that article is very clear in suggesting that homosexuality runs in families and the concordance rates he reports run from 20-37.5%. He talks about several genetic principles that may account for these rates and that reinforce family inheritance of homosexuality. He says the sample was too small to be totally accurate (even though apparently is is the largest possible because of lack of cooperation in other twin registries). He says that these numbers are lower than other twin studies which apparently had more biased samples. Bailey is apparently heterosexual.

    Bailey believes, based on the following interview, very differently about the results of his research than Whitehead does. I am inclined to believe Bailey understands his work better than Whitehead. Here is what Bailey said in an interview in 2002.

    ************
    Question: For close to a decade, we’ve been hearing about a possible “gay gene.” When one identical twin is homosexual, is the other one (whose genes are identical) usually homosexual, too?

    Answer (Bailey): We don’t really know. I have done the best studies on this question, but they have necessary flaws. Unfortunately, you can’t compel people to participate in research, much less to give honest answers. My best guess is that a gay man’s identical twin has a probability of about 20-25 percent of also being gay. Which means that most are straight. Still, 20-25 percent is much higher than the population rate.

    Also, people need to realize that differences between identical twins can be caused by biological environmental factors as well as social environmental factors. In fact, I strongly suspect that identical twins who differ in their sexual orientation usually do so for biological reasons (particularly among males).

    *************

    I find Bailey’s report to be very consistent with what Dr. Bradshaw has placed on our web site. So far I don’t have very much confidence in Whitehead’s analysis of the situation.

    It is clear that gender non-conforming behavior as a child and familial genetics have a substantial impact on homosexuality. These are both considered familial influences and both may be influenced by hereditary. I conclude that most scientists are agreed on this, and I don’t believe this is what Whitehead is saying.

    What we can say with some certainty is that both environment and heredity have an influence. I don’t think it is defensible to claim our birth (born that way) has no impact. Isn’t that what Whitehead is saying???

  29. avatar

    Ron, this is exactly why I’d like to see these folks sit together and hash it out. I wouldn’t put a slide presentation on the same level of a research report when it comes to explaning the details of where all the numbers come from and what they mean. I do remember Whitehead expounding a bit, but I don’t remember the details. In addition, different numbers can come from different models of concordance. For example, the 20% figure that Francis Collins came up with is the proband concordance, while Dr. Whitehead offered a pairwise concordance.

    So, what to we know at this point? We have a pretty good idea from various academics that the figure isn’t likely over 25%, and it could very well be as low as 11%. The later research certainly has it below the original 52% Bailey had and that the media loved. And where to we go from here? Unless Bailey has some research to show why he “strongly suspects” biological environmental factors are somehow more likely than social environmental factors, there’s really nothing to talk about there.

    Also, Ron, I would suggest that going to Bailey’s website to reread a study on the genetic contribution (which still confirms reasonably low numbers) isn’t the same thing as giving a fair hearing to the arguments providing evidence of psycho-emotional and socio-relational factors.

    With reasonable data on genetic contribution, continued research might best serve us now by giving unbiased (not really possible, but we can try, right?) consideration to the interaction and balance of biopsychosocial factors, rather than simply trying to prove that people are “born that way.”

  30. avatar

    Tito

    I do agree it would be nice if they all would sit down together and agree on their numbers, but I don’t see any real confusion when Bailey consistently reports the number is 20-25%. His data support that it is at least that much.

    You said,

    **************
    “Also, Ron, I would suggest that going to Bailey?s website to reread a study on the genetic contribution (which still confirms reasonably low numbers) isn?t the same thing as giving a fair hearing to the arguments providing evidence of psycho-emotional and socio-relational factors.”
    **********

    I carefully viewed the Whitehead data you posted here AND then, when he cited Bailey’s work, went to Bailey’s web site.

    Could you be suggesting that I have not read widely among the proponents of “psycho-emotional and socio-relational factors?” I have listened carefully to presentations on those theories and worked my way through books, articles, web sites and I’ve been doing that for about 20 years. I’ve read and heard 1000s of pages and heard 1000s of words about such theories. :)

    Here is the problem. When Whitehead cites Bailey’s work, we hear the concordance rate is 11%. When I read Bailey’s own article the concordance rate for male twins ranges from 20% to 37.5%. You describe that as “low numbers” but the prevalence in the general population of men is 3%. Therefore, when Bailey in an interview cites the lower number (as a careful scientist does) from his huge Australian twin study (“20-25%” of a “gay man’s identical twins” are likely to be gay he says), that is 7-8 times higher prevalence than in the general population and as Bailey strongly concludes it is evidence of a hereditary factor that runs in families. Furthermore, the 37% figure is 12 times the prevalence in the general population. I would not call that “low.”

    But here is what Rich Wyler, one founder of “Journey into Manhood” says on his CD I picked up at the Evergreen Conference last week.

    “The idea that anything like a gay gene or biological cause has been found is a complete myth promulgated by gay activists and a sympathetic media. While evidence of a genetic or biological cause is quite weak, evidence for developmental causes has remained consistent for decades.” (band 2 at 5 min)

    Is that a fair, honest statement? I think not.

    Wyler on the same band….quotes some men who believe various developmental causes explain their SGA.

    “I realized I was looking for a father figure to meet my need for a loving dad.”

    “I want to overcome the wounds from sexual abuse by other males in my youth.”

    The problem here is that there are huge studies which show the prevalence of “looking for a father figure” and “sexual abuse” to be the same in the heterosexual population as in the gay population. Sure it helps someone to address issues like that. It also helps heterosexuals. But since the prevalence appears to be the same in both groups it is hard to claim those reasons are the root cause of homosexuality.

    I believe that is why the new Church pamphlet provides the quotes I cited above about not blaming parents and “sexual experimentation at a young age” not predisposing someone to SGA as an adult.

    The one socio-relational factor most scientists agree on is the issue of “gender non-conforming behavior” being much more (perhaps twice as) common with SGA (ie, men who like to arrange flowers/decorate, women who like to drive and work on trucks) but this also could be hereditary and it is possible this creates the distance between fathers and sons (mothers and daughters) which some perceive. (Bailey, et al cite evidence of this in their 2000 Australian twin study) To me it seems counterproductive to try to eliminate things in your life you are good at, even if they don’t make you a “macho man” or “super feminine woman.” Ugly ducklings can turn into beautiful swans when they accept and enjoy their talents.

  31. avatar

    My sense is that biology may play more of a role in “setting the stage”, rather than writing the story. As I mentioned before, Daryl Bem (who was at Cornell, not Columbia, when he published his theories; I remembered incorrectly) states his theory that biological factors (genes, prenatal hormones) only indirectly contribute to homosexuality—similar to what Whitehead is saying—in that they affect childhood temperament (sensitivity, aggression, introspectiveness, activity level), which then affects sex-typical/atypical activity and playmate preferences, which then contributes to feeling different from opposite/same-sex peers (dissimilar, unfamiliar, exotic), which then influences autonomic arousal and erotic/romantic attraction/orientation.

    So, biology may set the stage, but environmental/social factors, feeling similar/different all can have a strong influence on the development of a same-sex orientation. But while he sees these later factors as being the major factors involved in developing orientation, he doesn’t necessarily see it as pathological, only a biopsychological way of developing a variation.

    Again, even in Whitehead’s presentation, he describes Bailey as saying that even monozygotic twins who experienced the same situations would perceive those experiences very differently and it affected their response. There are lots of ways at looking at this, but I think it’s important to be open to looking at it from different angles and within the context of different disciplines—something I don’t think many people do well. And I certainly haven’t got that sense from Bradshaw. Psychologists are often guilty of the same kind of myopia, and I don’t care for it there, either. What we should be explore is more of a synthesis in how the various factors might play together, and all we have right now is various theories, beliefs, and opinions that overly-eagar or agenda-laden individuals are prone to claim as fact—and, worse yet, that those “facts” should be the sole basis upon which we make decisions regarding life-direction and romantic/sexual relationships.

  32. avatar

    Borealis

    Part of the problem is a disconnect when we translate from scientific language to layperson’s language. For instance, Dr. Bradshaw says there is a “vast body of empirical evidence” and that the evidence is “compelling”. Does “vast” mean high quality and consistent? To him, no, because he concedes that you cannot explain all of the data with any existing models for the development of homosexuality. I think this failure is why Whitehead would call the same evidence “weak”, because it is hard to explain all of it.

    Now a lot of studies suggest biological factors, and so to Bradshaw that means it’s “compelling”. But Whitehead notes that all those studies showing biological factors also show that the effects are pretty weak. They are there, they are statistically valid, but they are weak. (I am using the word ‘weak’ here as it would be used with correlations in statistics, in the mathematical sense.)

    Bradshaw finds consistent studies showing some form of biological factor (even if those factors, when combined, present an incoherent picture) and so he thinks that’s “compelling.” Some read this and think, well, that’s settled then, my genes made me do it. Note that this isn’t what Bradshaw is really saying, though one wonders if he minds being (mis)understood this way.

    Another misunderstanding is the word “environment”. In research, this is a shared environment which encompasses a lot of large, macro effects that would be shared amongst all family members. Income level, education level, geography, and so on. However, when we lay people hear the word “environment”, we think, “the things that happen to you, the things you choose to do.” Identical twins, for instance, are reared in the same environment. That doesn’t mean they live the exact same lives. Their personalities will be different, their parents will treat them differently, and they’ll have different things happen to them. Scientists would call those things “contingent factors” and would say they are very hard to measure. Those are the things Rich Wyler is alluding to in his talk, in my opinion, using imprecise layperson talk. It is true that up to 85% of grown men report troubled to nonexistent relationships with their fathers. It’s called the “father wound” by some.

    This brings us to another misunderstanding, which is the confounding of correlation and causation. If homosexual identity is correlated, for instance, with a poor relationship with a father, it doesn’t mean the poor relationship caused it. In fact, as Ron points out, the arrow could point the other way–the homosexual tendencies could CREATE the strain. Or it could be a third factor.

    A related point is whether a statistically observable phenomenon is determinative. For instance, researchers have correlated a whole bunch of fascinating phenomena that appear more often among homosexuals. Left-handedness, clockwise hair whorls, longer ring fingers, gait, and so on, are all more common among homosexuals (though there are sampling problems with many of these studies, so don’t take any of them at face value. Most of them are performed on what are called “convenience samples”–regular populations recruited at shopping malls, homosexuals recruited at gay pride parades. Do gay people who don’t go to parades have clockwise hair whorls? Not necessarily.) But even if we disregard the sampling problems, what these interesting data don’t prove is that those feature are diagnostic. Not everyone who has a longer ring finger is gay. And having the longer ring finger is extremely unlikely to be the cause of your gayness. As Whitehead points out, all of these effects are in fact pretty slight (he would say “weak”). They are statistically significant, but not very strong. It’s as cut-and-dried as a high fever is with meningitis. Very few people who have meningitis have a normal temperature.

    Another misunderstanding is that when those on the “pro gay” side hear people contesting some of this biological evidence, they automatically assume that they’re also arguing that homosexual feelings are therefore chosen, that gay people are gay because they want to be gay, and if they really wanted to, they could flip a switch and turn those feelings off with effort. While some people have argued that, I don’t think anyone here, or anyone we have quoted here, believes that. Just because environmental factors (in the micro level) may have some influence on some people’s sexual orientation, it doesn’t mean those same experiences will result in homosexuality in someone else.

    We might be able to tease all that stuff out someday. But as I have tried to argue elsewhere, no one should base their life decisions on the outcome of this research one way or another. First of all, you’d have a long time to wait. Second of all, science can never tell us how we should act.

    Ron, the differences you cite between the numbers Whitehead cites and the numbers you cite on the Australians twins study are probably due to the different definition(s) for homosexuality that Bailey uses in that study. Because he uses a different measure for homosexuality, it’s not directly comparable to his prior study. Tito, just an aside, I actually think Bailey is not a homosexual. Most of the other researchers in the field are (Hamer, LeVay, etc.)

    A final note to Beck. What does “random” mean to you? Some people look at randomness and find beauty. Existentialists say we are here by accident, our lives end at death, but we are going to make the best of it for ourselves and those who follow. Einstein said God doesn’t play dice with the universe. But I don’t think he was making an empirically-testable assertion. I view it as a profession of faith. I wonder if that empty feeling you feel is because you’re waiting for science to answer a question it cannot, which is, “What purpose and meaning should my life have? What purpose and meaning does my homosexuality have?” If it has no meaning, if it has no purpose, then of course that would make you feel empty. Science is silent on those questions, and many assume that because it is silent it means there is no meaning. But lack of data is not the same as disproven data.Science cannot tell you that you AREN’T an accident, but that doesn’t mean you are, either. In fact, I’m quite certain you’re not. But that isn’t something I can prove scientifically. And I’m okay with that.

  33. avatar

    “Tito, just an aside, I actually think Bailey is not a homosexual. Most of the other researchers in the field are (Hamer, LeVay, etc.)”

    Yeah, Ron mentioned that, too. I was thinking of Hamer at that moment even as I was talking about Bailey.

  34. avatar

    Tito and Borelais both suggested above that in my reporting of a 20 to 37.5% concordance rate from the Bailey, et al 2000 research that there could be some explanation to account for why Whitehead reports this as 11%. I continue to believe the Bailey numbers I reported are correct.

    I just found this report by Dean Byrd on the NARTH Web site.
    He reports the following
    *********
    In a second study, Bailey reported a concordance of 20—37.5%, depending on how loosely you define homosexuality.
    ********
    The issue, I believe is whether Bailey, et al included Kinsey 1s as having SGA since they do in fact have some SGA but not a lot.

    Byrd also reports this

    *******
    Kirk et al. (2000) in their research using a community-based cohort of Australian twins reported a heritability estimate of 30% for homosexuality. Whitehead (1999, 2006) in his extensive review of the research cites 30% as the estimate of heritability for homosexuality as well, though he views the estimate as a maximum.

    and this…

    Dr. Collins succinctly reviewed the research on homosexuality and offers the following: “An area of particularly strong public interest is the genetic basis of homosexuality. Evidence from twin studies does in fact support the conclusion that heritable factors play a role in male homosexuality. However, the likelihood that the identical twin of a homosexual male will also be gay is about 20% (compared with 2-4 percent of males in the general population), indicating that sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations.”
    *****

    Tito like Byrd above also referred to the report of Dr. Collins from the Human Genome Project. It appears that all the estimates, from NARTH, Byrd, Bailey, Collins and even Whitehead are saying the heritability is around 20-30%. As I noted earlier that means an identical twin is 7-10 times more likely to be gay if his twin is gay as compared to someone in the general population.

    I acknowledge, as most here have, that this predisposition to SGA does not mean it is the only possible outcome. It seems apparent that those with SGA who are 1s, 2s and 3s on the HH scale are more able to moderate their SGA based on their personality, beliefs, etc. Those who are 4s, 5s, 6s would have less ability to adjust the outcome based on other considerations, it seems to me.

    Nevertheless, we have both nature and nurture operating, but the nature part of this, it seems to me strongly explains why this runs in families with twin heritability pretty clearly around 20-30%.

    Borealis

    I think unless you read/hear Dr Bradshaw support the very unscientific statement “…my genes made me do it.” it is entirely unfair for you to link his writing with that kind of thinking. I’ve NEVER heard him say anything like that with respect to this issue.

    On the other hand, Rich Wyler definitely says this on his CD ?The idea that anything like a gay gene or biological cause has been found is a complete myth promulgated by gay activists and a sympathetic media.” I think you call that “imprecise lay person talk.” I’d say you are very kind in the face of what appears to be a statement which is pretty far from the truth when you consider the 20-30% twin heritability most scientists agree on.

    I appreciate the respectful tone of the discussion here on the blog. It seems there is a fair bit of agreement among us.

  35. avatar

    -L-

    20-30% concordance doesn’t differ all that much from less than 10%. Either way, it’s not the case that one twin’s situation can predict the other’s, regardless of identical genetic circumstances.

  36. avatar

    Oh really? No difference??? Well, then I guess there is no difference between 30% and 50% …and thus no difference between the earlier, higher numbers reported by Bailey and the Australian numbers by Bailey.

    BTW, I had a university biologist look at the Bailey data. Here is the essence of his interpretation.

    Your reading of Bailey?s data is correct. The earlier studies showed male values of 57% and females values of 48%. These may be biased upward because the participants were recruited from gay-friendly sources (an ascertainment bias due, perhaps, to an over representation of gay men who knew their twin to also be gay.) This explanation for the female data is probably less likely. The statistical power of the Australian registry study, however, is reduced because of the relatively low proportion of homosexual persons in the records. The main point is that even 20 to 38% (depending on whether or not Kinsey scale 1 or only 2 and above are included is much higher than the homosexual proportion in the population at large. The conclusion that homosexual is genetically based remains solid. These concordance values do not affect heritability, which for homosexuality is about .6, showing that the majority of the variance is due to genetics, and does not exclude the interpretation that the ?environmental? variables in the remaining .4 fraction are still biological/biochemical ? that is, effects that are ultimately caused by genes but can vary due to the natural range of chemical consequences—the local concentrations of steroid hormones in the developing brain, for example.

  37. avatar

    Borealis

    First of all Ron, don’t flip out about 30% versus 50% concordance. Pairwise versus probandwise concordance will yield very different percentages even though the underlying data are the same. And your biologist correspondent is a victim of imprecise and unscientific wording himself. If he had said, “The conclusion that homosexual[ity] is genetically influenced is solid,” I might have conceded the point. But to say it is genetically based is a bridge too far.

    Strictly speaking, the twins studies are measuring phenotypic heritability which may have a basis in genetics. Their outcomes sometimes support a heritable component but not necessarily a genetic one. A true genetic study would demonstrate phenotypic inheritance of homosexuality expressed and traced over a few generations. Such studies have been done, and they have failed to show any genetic influence (unless you count Hamer’s discredited 1993 study).

    Even if we could show a strong heritability, that would not demonstrate a genetic mechanism. Genetics and heritability are not, strictly speaking, the same thing. Wikipedia has a nice discussion of the difference:

    Heritability is often misunderstood when presented in the non-scientific media. Heritability only quantifies how much of the total phenotypic variation in a population is attributable to variation among individual genotypes compared to the variation in their environment. Heritability does not quantify the extent to which genes and environment actually determine a phenotype, let alone the extent to which changes in genes and environment could change phenotypic values.

    With that, let’s go back to what Wyler is saying. If we make his language a little more precise to have him say, “No one has ever identified a specific gene that causes homosexuality or a specific biochemical factor that invariably causes homosexuality,” then he is exactly right. In fact, all attempts to do so to this point have failed.

    The problem of statistical power and population studies of a phenomenon with low incidence (such as homosexuality) is a valid one. The price you pay for reducing sample bias problems is reduced statistical power. It’s a good point he makes. Other ways to study homosexuality suffer from sample bias problems, as your correspondent points out. Twins studies themselves have their own problems, as twins are not necessarily representative of the rest of the population and have their own unique biological and genetic characteristics. There is in fact no perfect study that could be conducted, which is one of the reasons I think it’s so outrageous when people overstate what science really knows about homosexuality.

    I don’t understand what your correspondent is saying about a .6 heritability value based on 20-38% concordance. If I do follow the gist, then twins studies distinguishing indentical (monozygotic) and fraternal (dizygotic) twins versus sibling concordance are inconsistent with this assertion. (In other words, if you are homosexual, your fraternal twin should be no more likely to be homosexual than a regular brother would be–you don’t share any more genes with your fraternal twin than you do with your brother. Yet most twins studies suggest they are considerably more common, including this one.)

    But perhaps we should just let Bailey’s own conclusion speak for itself: “Univarate analyses… were less successful in distinguishing genetic from shared environmental influences. Only childhood gender nonconformity was significantly heritable for both men and women. Multivarate analyses suggested that… for women [there was] significant evidence for the importance of genetic factors to the traits’ covariation.”

    His suggestion of local factors differing hormone concentrations in the brain is an interesting one, and a fruitful avenue for future research. (And note it is what Whitehead is saying when there are random/accidental factors that may “cause” homosexuality.) But so far, it is only a hypothesis and there are no human studies that have demonstrated this mechanism. They may ultimately bear him out, but not yet.

    The most honest and fair thing to say right now is that a lot of studies show a genetic and biological influence on homosexuality, but none have demonstrated that this is the most important, dominant, or decisive factor. This is the essence of both Wyler and Whitehead’s point. As a personal note, it wouldn’t even bother me if we someday did get good studies that did demonstrate such a thing, but that is a discussion for another time.

  38. avatar

    Borealis

    So what can we conclude from Whitehead’s slide show, the beginning point for all this discussion? It seems to me that Whitehead was dishonest or sloppy when he said the concordance number was 11% for male twins based on Bailey et al 2000 when, in fact the correct number is 20 to 37.5%. His 11% provides the basis for a number of his conclusions which are necessarily misleading.

    I also conclude that this following statement is an example of the very worst kind of discussion on this subject. It’s purpose seems to be to set up a straw man and knock it down and it really is misleading.

    ?The idea that anything like a gay gene or biological cause has been found is a complete myth promulgated by gay activists and a sympathetic media. While evidence of a genetic or biological cause is quite weak, evidence for developmental causes has remained consistent for decades.? Rich Wyler

    You have in a seeming effort to defend Wyler restated his quote this way. ?No one has ever identified a specific gene that causes homosexuality or a specific biochemical factor that invariably causes homosexuality,? then he is exactly right. In fact, all attempts to do so to this point have failed.

    If you are right in what you conclude above, then to me the point of both your sentence and his is to mislead because the point seems to be to infer that biology is irrelevant by stating the whole premise in terms of two types of biology evidence as if those were the only types of important evidence which they are not.

    You said this. “I think it?s so outrageous when people overstate what science really knows about homosexuality.”

    Don’t you think it is also outrageous when people try to understate what science knows?

    I have no problem with changing the word “based” to “influenced” which would bring my biologist in line with your view of biology. I suspect he would agree with this somewhat more precise wording.

    ?The conclusion that homosexual[ity] is genetically influenced is solid,?

    One more thought I have is that even in this last statement you seem to want to downplay genetics and biology.

    You say…

    “The most honest and fair thing to say right now is that a lot of studies show a genetic and biological influence on homosexuality, but none have demonstrated that this is the most important, dominant, or decisive factor.”

    Perhaps we could agree on something like the following if we want a truly fair statement.

    The most honest and fair thing to say right now is that a lot of studies show a genetic and biological influence on homosexuality.”

    It seems after all a little premature to be trying to identify right now some “most important, dominant, or decisive factor.”

    For me it is GOOD ENOUGH, and FAIR and ACCURATE to say that genetics and biology are important in understanding the cause of this.

  39. avatar

    Borealis

    The only problem with your statement is that it is incomplete and therefore deceptive. It’s my biggest problem with your whole approach to the issue. You can carefully phrase it as you have above and it is correct in a strict sense. A more complete statement would be, “Genetics, biology, environmental, behavioral and unknown factors are all important in understanding the cause of SSA.” But you always seem to ignore or denigrate those last three factors, even though they are at least as important, if not more so, than the ones you do mention.

    I ran some numbers and I can explain the discrepancy between the two percentages Whitehead (11%) and Bailey (20%-37%) cite. It is explained entirely by using pairwise versus probandwise concordance. (I had suggested as such in my comment above, though I was editing it while you were composing your comment so you probably didn’t see it.) A pairwise concordance is computed by taking the number of twin pairs who are homosexual and dividing by the number of twins where at least one of them is homosexual. In this case, three male twin pairs were homosexual (according to the “strict” measurement of Kinsey scores of 2 or greater) and 24 twin pairs had one “strict” homosexual. 3/(3+24)=11%. Bailey prefers probandwise concordance, because, he writes, “it does not depend on the probability of ascertainment [whatever that means]. Furthermore, probandwise concordance is the appropriate index to compare with data concerning other types of relatives (e.g., the percentage of nontwin brothers of gay men who are also gay) as well as population prevalence estimates.”

    Let’s pause to appreciate what I said in a prior post, that discussions of homosexuality rapidly become arcane. There. Now we’re over our moment of scientific befuddlement, let me continue by saying, whatever the merits of probandwise versus pairbandwise concordance, we ought to at least check out what Whitehead is saying before we impugn his scientific credibility. The language Whitehead uses in his slide (“If one member of an identical twin pair has SSA, what percentage of co-twins will also have SSA?”) corresponds to the pairwise concordance percentage he uses.

    A final thought occurred to me as I was calculating these percentages. Does anyone else think it’s funny that we’re arguing over three pairs of Australian twins? Do they have any idea about the controversy they’ve caused? How many scientific reputations are based on their checking a box? To think of the court cases, the ballot initiatives, the protests, that they’ve fueled. Are you really sure you want to base your testimony (or lack thereof) on the self reports of six people? Anyone think this constitutes “solid” or “overwhelming” evidence (even if it is statistically significant) for the biological basis of homosexuality? And yet everyone agrees (including me) that the twins studies are the best ones we’ve got for measuring heritability. Anyone still think I’m “understating” what science knows? I don’t know about you all, but I’m ready to join those six twins for a drink at a nice Sidney bar and have a good laugh over it all.

  40. avatar

    Apparently you love to understate what science knows and I love to overstate it. Anyway, I am fine with your statement here.

    *********Borealis said
    “A more complete statement would be, ?Genetics, biology, environmental, and unknown factors are all important in understanding the cause of SSA.?

    (You said of me…..)”But you always seem to ignore or denigrate those last two factors,”

    ***************

    I am sorry but you are the one who wrote the statement (I agreed to in my last post) and you left the two last factors off.

    Here is my statement from comment #28 above.

    “What we can say with some certainty is that both environment and heredity have an influence. I don?t think it is defensible to claim our birth (born that way) has no impact. ”

    Here is the statement from our “Guide to LDS Families with Homosexual Attraction.”

    “Research by Latter-day Saint and other scientists suggests that homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a complex human phenomenon that is influenced by genetic, biological, and environmental factors.”

    Hopefully, now you can see that I agree to your summary statement above and have for a long time.

    It is interesting that all of the hoopla has to do with only 3 pair of twins. At the same time, I remember doing a study on deafness for the whole state of Idaho in which we sent out 18,000+ surveys and when finished we had randomly identified 7 persons who were deaf, which turned out to match exactly the national estimates of deafness.

    It is also interesting that

    What does “testimony” have to do with any of this? It is very clear the Brethren have taken themselves out of the debate over nature and nurture.

    To return to the original slide show by Whitehead whose statements I find unprofessional, I am puzzled that you seem to consider me Whitehead and Wyler.

    ********Here is a sample of Whitehead….

    Do we have to refute all those claims that SSA is innate one by one?? NO We can clear up the matter once and for all using SSA studies on identical twins.

    *******Here is Wyler….

    ?The idea that anything like a gay gene or BIOLOGICAL CAUSE has been found is a complete myth promulgated by gay activists and a sympathetic media.” (emphasis mine)

    Born Gay? NO And you can continue on in that confidence.

    ****************

  41. avatar

    -L-

    So, even though everyone understands everyone else, and we all agree, we’re going to keep arguing about it until we are all good and grumpy and in no mood to comment any more. Is that it? :-)

    I actually really enjoyed the explanations of the data. And, because I want to promote additional commenting at all costs, I’ll ask you smart kids the following question: Why does a twin incidence rate higher than the normal population rate suggest genetic influences rather than environmental ones? Were the twins all separated at birth? I suppose I could go read the data myself, but ya’ll have done the work already and I want to give you the chance to shine.

  42. avatar

    I am sorry. My keyboard locked up just as I was finishing up the previous post and I had to send it or lose it. The last few paragraphs above should read as follows:

    To return to the original slide show by Whitehead at the top of this blog, where a number of statements seem unprofessional to me, I am puzzled that you, Borealis, seem to be critical of my position but you have not responded to what I thought were problems with Whitehead and Wyler’s positions. Do you really support the kind of things they say?

    ********Here is a sample of Whitehead?.

    Do we have to refute all those claims that SSA is innate one by one?? NO We can clear up the matter once and for all using SSA studies on identical twins.

    Born Gay? NO And you can continue on in that confidence.
    **********
    Wow. Isn’t it nice to clear this up ONCE AND FOR ALL with these perfect twin studies.???????

    *******Here is Wyler?.

    ?The idea that anything like a gay gene or BIOLOGICAL CAUSE has been found is a complete myth promulgated by gay activists and a sympathetic media.? (emphasis mine)

    Anyway, I am comfortable when genetics and biology are given a fair place with environment and random factors. I am not comfortable with the kind of distortions introduced by Whitehead and Wyler.

  43. avatar

    L

    I think this is the paragraph you are asking for.

    “To investigate the validity of the equal environments assumption with respect to sexual orientation we compared our index of similar childhood experiences between concordant and disconcordant monzygotic twins using the lenient criterion….Consistent with the equal environments assumption, concordant pairs were not more similar in their childhood experiences than were discordant pairs. Indeed for males, concordant pairs recalled significantly less similar childhood environments (p .05). Thus, concordance in monozygotic pairs does not appear to have resulted from similarity of childhood experience as we measured them.”
    p. 14

    BTW, Borealis, I do question Whitehead’s scientific credibility for using pairwise concordance and for using 11%, the lowest possible number he could have reported. Bailey makes it clear his peer reviewed study has chosen the appropriate measure, proband concordance, for several important reasons. It appears Whitehead simply wants to make the genetic evidence look weak and so uses the wrong measure to support his premise. Don’t you question this also??

    Further, 12 pairs of male twins and 17 pairs of female twins who both have some degree of SGA is quite a few and bloggers should not get the idea this whole thing was based on 3 pairs of twins only.

    One other thing. Bailey reports that
    “prior research supports a role for prenatal hormones in influencing sexual orientation.” and cites Ellis and Ames, 1987. They say LeVay’s1991 study provides the most important data motivated by this perspective. (pp 9 and 3) Why then do you say in an earlier post….”there are no human studies that have demonstrated this mechanism.”

  44. avatar

    Borealis

    Ron, I disagree that pairwise concordance is the “wrong” measure. It is a different measure, and yes, it also reports a lower percentage. But if we are using layman’s explanation for concordance, the one I quoted above that Whitehead used, it is not inappropriate. For comparison and other reasons, I think the scientific consensus now favors probandwise concordance.

    I do disagree with some things in Whitehead’s book, mainly on emphasis and some alternative explanations for the data he cites that could run counter to his thesis, but I found little to argue with in his twins studies chapter. Whitehead’s entire chapter on twins studies can be found here, which I have now read. It is a more fair way to appraise his perspective than a powerpoint presentation. And he does briefly discuss the pairwise versus probandwise concordance and that the latter results in higher percentages, so he isn’t hiding anything. It also has the advantage of not offending the aesthetic sensibilities of some here (well at least we can be sure Whitehead’s not gay! :)). For those who don’t trust Whitehead but want a good introduction to the whole nature/nurture debate, you can read Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate which comes down pretty heavy on the “nature” side of the debate but is still a pretty good introduction to the topic for the layperson.

    Whitehead’s essential thesis, that SSA in most cases results from an “accident” is sound, I think. I don’t really like that word, I’d use a term like contingent factors, but that’s probably too high-falutin’ for a lay audience. The basic idea is that neither parents, nor one’s biology, nor one’s genes, nor one’s deliberate choice, cause same sex attraction. So in the nature/nurture question, the best answer is, none of the above!

    To L’s point, technically, the 11% (or 37% if that makes Ron less upset) figure includes not only genetic contribution, but also the shared environment of the two twins’ family situation, plus whatever contribution the contingent (“accidental”) factors might contribute to the twins having SSA. If I understand it (and forgive me if I’m wrong because I’m heading into territory not covered in any of my formal statistical training), this is one of the advantages of the probandwise number. I think you can subtract the percentage of occurrence of homosexuality in the general population from the probandwise percentage to account for these influences. So if we accept the “loose” definition (and there are reasons not to. If one twin is a Kinsey 1 but the other twin is a Kinsey 2, is it really the same “kind” of homosexuality?) and we subtract the general population incidence (which I understand in Australia is something like 1.5%-3%, since we’re being “loose” we’ll use the higher number here too), we get something like 34%. However, because of the small subsample you really can’t do it that way, since it’s not really 37%, it’s more like a percentage range (maybe 15%-50%, but I haven’t calculated it) within a 95% confidence interval. The “correct” number is somewhere in that range probably. Anyway, when we subtract that out, then what we have left is the shared environment (-L-, you’re right because these twins were raised together) plus the genetics of the twins. Bailey attempted to control for this with the survey questions, and then applying something called a polychoric correlation, but I disagree with Ron’s characterization of this. Bailey’s results showed that the environmental contribution was weaker than the genetic one, but didn’t have the statistical power to have confidence in that, meaning the result is statistically meaningless. For men at least, as Bailey says in his abstract, he couldn’t really distinguish the two, but according to his study, nonheterosexuality (which is NOT the same as homosexuality, though it includes that) is not significantly heritable except possibly with women. Only childhood gender nonconformity was significantly heritable in both men and women, which is also not the same thing as homosexuality.

    What this means to me is, BOTH shared environment and genetics and biology together can account for at most (pick your percentage–37% or 11% or something in between) of the reason why you’re SSA. This means that BY FAR the biggest factor in contributing to your SSA is the contingent/unknown/”accidental” factor(s).

    Whitehead has a nice chart in his chapter where he’s put in order the various twins studies where all the different phenomena are ranked according to concordance values, showing a genetic contribution about the same as breast cancer and Parkinson’s disease, but much less than things like eye color (the highest, obviously, since we know that’s almost entirely genetic), heterosexuality (it’s a fascinating discussion of how heterosexuality can be genetic but homosexuality can’t, but probably for another time), diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and (yes!) divorce. Alcoholism shows a concordance rate almost three times that of homosexuality, and divorce is more than four times greater. Yet neither of these are usually thought of as something you have no control over. Why divorce should have such a strong genetic component is something not even the people who conducted the study could explain, apparently. They suggest that as yet unidentified heritable personality traits influence divorce rates somehow. This much higher concordance rate for divorce (compared to homosexuality) is described as “large but not preponderant”. So we might say, given the much lower twin concordance data for homosexuality, that the genetic contribution is “not large and not preponderant”.

    I still think you can say both the General Authorites’ statement and Wyler’s statements are true. It is true we have identified biological influences and factors, but Wyler said CAUSE. And it is true no one has ever identified a biological CAUSE for same sex attraction. An example of a genetic CAUSE would be something like they’ve done for Breast Cancer for the BRCA1 gene. Even that bar is kind of low, because possessing the BRCA1 gene doesn’t mean you always will get breast cancer. And not all cases of breast cancer are caused by having the BRCA1 (or the several other genes they’ve identified thusfar) gene. But I think it is unreasonable to expect a single cause of homosexuality (and I’m not saying any of us here thinks there is). There are probably several different causes of homosexuality; biology and genetics may contribute more to some manifestations of it and less to others. Overall, however, most of the evidence so far says the genetic, biological, and environmental contributions are all relatively slight. A lot of other personality characteristics, like extroversion/introversion, have a much stronger genetic component than homosexuality does. Put in perspective, I think the research on the biological basis of homosexuality supports my contention that we don’t know what causes homosexuality. Once we can identify individual correlates repeatedly across a few different types of studies that together add up to at least .51, then I’ll agree that science has some solid information to give us on the causes of homosexuality. But I wonder if we’ll ever get there. Bailey mentions in this very study how difficult it has become to study these questions, it is so highly politicized. It is rumored that Bailey lost his position as chair of the psychology department at Northwestern because of outrage in the transgendered community over his work on sex reassignment.

  45. avatar

    Borealis

    Oh, I see I forgot to answer Ron’s question about prenatal hormones. There is a difference between a prenatal influence and a prenatal mechanism. Some studies have indicated a prenatal influence, but some other’s haven’t been able to reproduce the results. But no one has been able to show a specific mechanism through which prenatal hormone exposure would influence sexual orientation. There are some really interesting animal studies on this, and I personally think this area of research is pretty exciting and promising. Whitehead disagrees with me, I think. His chapter on prenatal hormones is here, though I haven’t read it yet myself.

  46. avatar

    Borealis

    Well, thanks for all your explanations. You have been busy putting all this together.

    Through this discussion on cause I have become more and more skeptical of anyone’s ability to be objective about the issue. You seem reasonably fair in your discussions at times. But unfortunately, based on several points of our discussion I have lost confidence and trust that we can come to any reasonable consensus. I don’t know what other bloggers may think, but here is where I am…

    1. You fuss at me because I say something like ?The conclusion that homosexuality is genetically based is solid,? You say you would be fine if I said, Homosexuality is genetically influenced.” OK. It IS a little more reserved. But as I point out in later items, you fuss about this with me and I concede to your revisions but other times you seem to defend pretty wild “over the top language” from people who want to put down genetics as a cause..

    2. You reject the idea that Bailey has the right concordance number, even though his work is peer reviewed with mulitple reasons why he has the right one. You ignore this and disagree with my concerns and seem fine with Whitehead’s concordance, because after all he wrote it in a “chapter” in a book and mentioned both types of “concordance” so as you say… “he isn?t hiding anything.”?????????

    3. When I provide a quote which is verbatim from the Bailey article, you claim you don’t like it —” I disagree with Ron?s characterization of this.” You have your own spin you want to put on it. Whereupon, you go through this elaborate mumbo jumbo and in the end you say Bailey’s study says it is not heritable. You also seem concerned that a Kinsey 1 and a Kinsey 2 are different types of homosexuality??? Frankly, I’m in a place like Tito. I’m not persuaded by any single person who speaks with great authority and wants to tell me how they interpret the data. I want them all to sit down together and agree.

    4. Of course, this is not Bailey’s only study of twins and frankly I’m persuaded that neither are perfect nor should neither one be totally ignored…….If we want to know what he thinks…..two years later he says as I quoted above in comment 28…

    “My best guess is that a gay man?s identical twin has a probability of about 20-25 percent of also being gay. Which means that most are straight. Still, 20-25 percent is much higher than the population rate.”

    (BTW, Isn’t this the same language you like from Whitehead???(?If one member of an identical twin pair has SSA, what percentage of co-twins will also have SSA??) corresponds to the pairwise concordance percentage he uses)

    5. What I get from all of the above is that you are more inclined to support Whitehead’s guess that it is all chance, and inclined to ignore Bailey’s guess. So far, I have drawn the opposite conclusion. My impression is that Bailey would never use the “over the top language” of Whitehead’s slide show. Bailey seems to me to be the more careful scientist without an agenda. I assume his guess is reasonable and likely close to the truth.

    6. Even though you say you agree that “homosexuality is genetically influenced,” you refuse to distance yourself from Wyler when he says that the idea of a “biological cause” is a “complete myth” because as you say there is no “one single cause.” I am astounded that you continue to defend “over the top language” like “complete myth” and Whitehead’s “we can settle this once and for all” with twin data and the answer is NO to born that way.

    7. I think this one is the last straw for me. You explain your suggestion that “there are no human studies that have demonstrated this mechanism” even though there are human studies that have demonstrated “a hormonal influence.” Are you serious? So you want to tell us there are none, and then when pressed you want to say, oh, yes, there are some that show hormonal influence but I said “hormonal mechanism.” ???

    8. Finally, you say you won’t believe anything until there are multiple studies that can explain 51% of it so what do you care about a 38% concordance and a 52% concordance because you have the bar set high? Unlike you I am happy if we can explain 25% of where this comes from. I do agree with some of what you say in your last post, in that the whole thing is pretty complex and one explanation probably doesn’t fit every case.

    9. So as L suggests, maybe it is time to quit before we get too cranky. My final point is I don’t care to support or recommend those who pose as scientists, but use “over the top” language. I like careful, precise language and those who compromise on their language with a view to helping everyone understand. We need to look for consensus not widely polarized positions.

    I don’t know about the other bloggers here, but I am, frankly, like Borealis. in that I don’t care what causes it. It is some combination of factors whatever they are (probably genetics, biology, environment, & other factors), What is more important to me is that I now know several hundred SGA guys and not quite so many females who all report experiences much like Beck and Abelard (at least this is what I feel they say in their blogs). Namely, they have done everything possible to ignore and eliminate their feelings for years and years, including marriage and worthy living in the Church, and the feelings DO NOT GO AWAY.

  47. avatar

    -L-

    Thanks, Borealis, for that answer. I appreciate your well-measured assessment of the data and the meta-noise about the data. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m actually a bit disappointed that such good information is buried down here in the comments where so few people will probably ever read it. Perhaps you can do a post summarizing your commentary here some time.

    I just read this FAIR article that also includes an appendix discussing some of the data supporting a biological cause for homosexuality.

  48. avatar

    L

    Since you’ve been reading Byrd’s analysis of LeVay, Hamer and Bailey, perhaps you should also look at Bradshaw’s report when he carefully reviewed how Byrd selectively quotes and misrepresents the position of these researchers. You may have seen this or you may look at it in the review of “In Quiet Desperation” on our website http://www.ldsresources.info

    Bradshaw reports..

    “It is absolutely ludicrous to marshal the names of Simon LeVay, Dean Hamer, and Michael J. Bailey to discredit a biological explanation for homosexuality when the work of these investigators has contributed so importantly to that very proposition. The reader will note in the following citations from these scientists the sentiment that the biological evidence is very strong; and though there is very little credible empirical support for environmental, i.e., social explanations, they don’t rule them out. This cautious, conservative language is in keeping with scientific objectivity, that conclusions must always be open to refinement based on potential new information.”

    All ciitations may be found in the review on our site but…here are a couple of excerpts..

    *************
    “It is also important to note that LeVay has directly challenged Byrd’s misrepresentation of his research: “Dean Byrd’s quotes may be literally correct but they offer a totally misleading impression of my beliefs. In my writings, I consider a variety of points of view (some of which Byrd quotes) and then present what I think is the most reasonable conclusion (which Byrd certainly doesn’t quote).”

    “…at the end of a 40-page summary of scientific studies on homosexuality, Bailey and colleagues draw the following conclusions. “Based on the data summarized in this review, it should be clear that sexual orientation is influenced by biological factors to some degree. . . . biological factors seem to exert a portion of their influence before birth. . . . genetic factors appear to explain the familial variation in sexual orientation. . . . Although precise genetic mechanisms have yet to be definitively specified, these are likely to be identified in the future. . . . although further replications are needed, brain anatomy and neuropsychological measures all point to structural and functional brain differences related to sexual orientation in women and in men.”7

    “As these brief citations make very clear, Byrd, Cox, and Robinson have engaged in gross distortion in attempting to align the positions of these three scientists with their own view that homosexuality is not an innate human condition rooted in biological processes.”
    *************
    ..

  49. avatar

    -L-

    I’m trying to think of just one more thing that will provoke you into responding again, so we can make it 50 comments. Hmmm.

    Truth is, I’m not a huge Byrd fan; and yes, I have read your response to Byrd’s review of IQD (which I quite liked).

    I am in total agreement that using quotes that may be literally correct, but that offer a totally misleading impression of another’s beliefs is a bad idea. May we all learn a lesson from this. :-)

  50. avatar

    L

    OK. I couldn’t resist. Here is comment number 50. This is, in part, praise for North Star because in it’s values statement it says

    “…North Star takes no official position on the origin or mutability of homosexual feelings and attractions…”

    I was last night reading the report of the Executive Director of Evergreen at the recent conference. As part of his remarks, he says, “As an organization, we commit to follow the direction of His prophet without exception.”

    Why then, does that organization continue to take a position on “born that way” when the Church and the prophet refuse to do so? Here is what the Evergreen leader said in those same remarks.

    “Today, we live in a world where Satan has captured the hearts, minds, and values of many people. His lie is that you are born gay?that this is your true identity….” and then he sums up…”we need to tell that story boldly”

    When President Hinckley was asked in late 2004 by Larry King if gays are “born that way?” President Hinckley said, “I don’t know. I’m not an expert on these things. I don’t pretend to be an expert on these things.”

    Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman in 2006 continued in clarifying these matters when they said things like “gender orientation is certainly a core characteristic of any person” and when asked about “nature or nurture” said…..?The Church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction. Those are scientific questions?those are things the Church doesn?t have a position on.?

    Elder Holland just in this month’s Ensign says to a young man with SGA “…the cause of your feelings, we may never know in this life.”

    Certainly gender orientation IS an important core characteristic of persons and even if there are other important characteristics, those on this blog seem to echo the sentiment that this part of life cannot be totally hidden away and ignored.

    So why does Evergreen continue to “beat this dead horse?” Why can’t they see that North Star has the right position on this issue? Why is Evergreen so sure those with SGA are not “born that way” when the PROPHET IS NOT? Why do they refuse to follow the Brethren on this issue when it has been made painfully clear? Why do they say they want to be helpful, but then have a stick their head in the sand position on science when they claim to be speaking with such authority about what “Satin” is teaching? What they are doing is giving misinformation to young people and those who need good information. They are acting as if they have all the answers and are so aligned with the Brethren BUT THEY ARE NOT???

    Eventually, the science issues will be sorted out, but in the meantime the Brethren and the Prophet have spoken. WE DON”T KNOW.

  51. avatar

    so, to sum it all up in a word: multi-factorial

  52. avatar
  53. avatar

    Just saw as really interesting Nova presentation on Epigenetics called “Ghost in Your Genes”.

    In summary, people can have the same genetic make-up (identical twins), but experience and environmental factors alter which genes are activated and which are supressed – leading to entirely different personalities and other traits. There is even evidence that events in your life can be genetically passed down to future generatsions. Extremely interesting!

    Go to http://www.pbs.org and search for Nova

  54. avatar

    I watched this show also and found it fascinating. It certainly helped explain why twins might have the same genetics, but epigenetics (inhibiting forces within the cell) might “lock up” or alter genetic activity for one twin and not the other.

    Also, things like stress in the environment can influence or alter characteristics of the two twins. It even appears that diet of a grandfather or grandmother can effect a grandchild many years after, if the diet is changed at crucial times when the gametes are produced. In short, environmental factors apparently can alter the biology.

  55. avatar

    Yes, it does bring up some intriguing questions; and certainly might explain the difference between sets identical twins with mixed orientation.

    I once read (not sure of source) that there were more homosexuals born in europe after WWII than normal. Many speculate that this is because of the stress those people went through during the war. Also, my mother was very ill when she was pregnant with me. Did that stress alter my epigenome? Research into these possibilities is just beginning, and I think we’re going to hear a lot more on this subject…

    Neal

  56. avatar

    Borealis

    I’ve heard some people suggest the “stressful pregnancy” explanation for homosexuality, but I had heard that this wasn’t able to be replicated when it was looked at more closely, rather than relying on retrospective reports from convenience samples of homosexuals.

    I think it would be really fascinating to be able to measure the incidence of homosexuality cross-culturally. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to unless we can get an agreed-upon and easily administered way to determine homosexuality. The incidence of homosexuality is so small in the first place that sampling errors would probably overwhelm any posited cultural variation. For now, we have the problem that even the idea of homosexuality as we understand it in our society today is to at least some degree (and I think you can successfully argue to a very large degree, or even entirely as Foucault has argued) culturally determined. Right now, it would be a bit like conducting a cross-cultural study of the popularity of baseball and assuming it said something about the genes and environment of the different societies. But if we could come up with a simple diagnostic test that measured some neuroelectrical manifestation or somesuch, it might be reliable and valid enough to do it across cultures.

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