However, ever the skeptic, I paid pretty close attention to what the experts were saying to see how much of it I believed. Turns out, even the experts have some real bias issues. I guess there's nothing surprising there. I just hope they realize it. I hope I'm not going to be the only one to challenge the information they've presented because it will appear to be a sensationalization of the topic--exactly what I feared would be imposed on me before attending!
For example, a brief history of early prejudicial paradigms on the subject showed that research results about gay populations were skewed because the only gays enrolled in the study were those in prison for violating anti-sodomy laws. Not exactly scientifically appropriate selection criteria for a study that seeks to say something externally valid (i.e., have generalizable results). Interesting stuff... scientifically appropriate... all good material presented so far.
And then they showed [fanfare music] the new improved methodology that compared non-clinical homosexuals and heterosexuals, controlled for confounding factors like age and religion and excluded individuals with a psychiatric history. The new results completely defied the old ones: rather than gays always having "global deficits" as was previously scientifically demonstrated, they were now shown to be potentially "as adjusted as heterosexuals". Yeah!
Except... doesn't excluding all the gays with psychiatric issues sort of beg the question? Psychiatric issues are much more prevalent among gays, and hand-picking the population of gays to demonstrate "adjustment" is just as inappropriate as using prison inmates! It's not generalizable. And yet, here was an expert in the field completely ignoring this fact.
Later in the presentation the question was posed: "What causes people to be gay?" The answers offered as representative views included:
- poor peer relations
- lack of hetero experience
- same sex seduction
Thank you, science. For nothing.
There was one other particularly interesting point in this lecture. When "gender nonconformity" was measured, it was significantly related to orientation. So, if you don't do masculine stuff, you are more likely to be gay. Hmmm... now whose theories does that remind me of? A woman stood up during the Q&A and asked why that was the case. Lecturer: we don't know. But after the subsequent presentation when the Q&A was reopened for either presenter, he back-pedaled. Someone in the audience had apparently glared disapprovingly at his academically honest indication that the reason wasn't known. So, he wanted to clarify that his conjecture was that gay boys feel different as children because of society's straight projections, and gender nonconformity follows from that. The fact that reparative theory explains the situation much more plausibly was never even entertained.
The only part of the second lecture that I want to comment on right now was a question from the audience. After a presentation of a wide range of scientific data, the executive head of a special interest in San Francisco wanted to know which of all the studies presented was the most concise and compelling in demonstrating that orientation is immutable. The lecturer offered his opinion that a study of pheromones did the trick. The study showed that male scents stimulate the "smell" part of the brain in straight men and gay women, but stimulate the sexual part of the brain in gay men and straight women. There were analogous results for female scents. He concluded from this that sexuality is biologically based and is therefore immutable. I have no idea why showing that sexuality is physiological rather than merely psychological proves anything about mutability, but that's what he said.
And I suddenly feel more at peace with the science. I can appreciate the good science without being taken for a ride by some of the silliness. I'm a huge advocate of science informing public policy. Huge. But although science is good, I will keep looking for understanding in other places too.