Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mythbuster-busters

Found this piece in Dagbladet, on biological differences between heterosexual and homosexual individuals. Even though some of the studies were conducted by researchers from Berkeley, there's no way I'll label this post under "science".

The main findings were that statistically, gay men and lesbian women are more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous. Also, for heterosexual men, the ring finger is supposedly longer than the index finger, whereas the opposite has a higher statistical occurence for gay men. Also, in 80% of the cases, people were able to identify gay people by their voice, because, well, "they sounded gay". I wonder who the PI for these studies were - Al Bundy and the current Grand Dragon of KKK?

One thing is certain - these scientists, and I'm using the word in it's broadest possible context, better not make fun of anything related to phrenology. The craniometry and physiognomical studies appear quite sophisticated compared to the "Moron + Questionnaire + Excel + Barely passing grade in elementary statistics course" combo presented here.

Mythbusters is an established and widely popular television program on the Discovery channel. These people are like the Mythbuster-busters. Guess what you'd call someone trying to debunk their work..........

It all lies in the assumptions, doesn't it. If you can just remove layer after layer of complexity, then everything is solveable. Like here, they've clearly taken a firm stand in the genetics versus environment debate. One kind of has to admire the testicular fortitude of these people.

14 comments:

Anders said...

Dammit! You beat me to it! I was planning to do a post with picture examples on this one.

Anyway, I have a gay right hand and I'm not too sure about my hair. Haven't checked my fingerprints yet, so that'll be the deciding factor. Better to know for certain now, then coming out of the closet when the midlife crisis hits hard...

Basically, I agree with you. I think these are all crap results* which as I can see does not have any practical applications at all. It's like saying most male dancers are gay or most male hairdressers are gay.


*Except for the one thing about the more elderly brothers you have, the more gay you are. That is true. If you are the eldest brother, you are the pantheon of manly heterosexuality!

Wilhelm said...

Now that you mention it, your voice does have an efeminate quality to it.

8-D

It would be ultrafunny if there was a pseudiscientist-faction on the "environment" side of it which contested these results. Some Mythbuster-buster-busters who claimed that environment is 100% responsible for sexual orientation, and had similar "statistical facts" stating that if you take a car mechanic, a lumberjack or anyone else with a "manly" profession and put them to work as interior decorators or hairdressers, they will become gay.

Erich Von Däniken is Feynman compared to these guys.

Anders said...

It would be ultrafunny if there was a pseudiscientist-faction on the "environment" side of it which contested these results

Pick a random homofobe father. He won't let his son(s) play with dolls (or any kind of "girly" toys) or wear anything remotly pink. That's the "enviromental" side.

a car mechanic, a lumberjack or anyone else with a "manly" profession and put them to work as interior decorators or hairdressers
"I'm a lumberjack, and I'm OK,
I sleep all day and I work all day"
;-)

Actually, all sexual oritentation aside, I really wouldn't want a lumberjack to cut my hair. Somehow I feel that he wouldn't be used to precision cutting...

Anders said...

Btw, nice The Big Hit reference in the title of your post. ;-)

Wilhelm said...

Why, Thank You for noticing

;-)

arsethica said...

If you'd done som research, you would have found that this stuff is actually factual. What's the significance when so many straight men have the same traits? Well, for starters it tells us that homosexuality is partly influenced by non-environmental factors. We'll also be able to pinpoint genes or hormonal factors during the pregnancy that affects homosexuality.

I don't know if you're interested or if this comment comes a bit late, but I wrote a blogpost with references this summer (can be checked out here)

Wilhelm said...

Thanks for the interest.

I'm not saying there aren't non-environmental factors playing a role here, but rather that the "science" portrayed here is less than stellar. You can use statistics like these to back up preconceived notions/stereotypes until the cows come home.

For example; if you wanted to you could probably make a "study" regarding careers vs. sexuality, and I predict that you would end up with certain professions being more prevalent. Based on these results, would you say that If so, would you start to draw conclusions about genetic disposition for performing some tasks rather than others, or would you agree that this is not an independent factor?

Wilhelm said...

I don't know if you're interested or if this comment comes a bit late, but I wrote a blogpost with references this summer (can be checked out here)

Thanks for the reference. I read your posts on the subject, and I remain sceptical about the validity of the "research". Mostly because doing proper research on this would violate any number of human rights, and thus one is stuck with vague statistical inferences on a statistically invalid sample.

Also, in your first post on the subject - "Homo/hetero-kontinuumet" - you state (with a reference- kudos) that there is no hard correlation between effeminate appearance/voice/mannerisms and sexuality, which is one of the factors weighed in the "study" I attacked in the first place. Yet when you do a "study" by asking a panel to assign sexuality to unknown people, what are the odds that they will follow stereotypical profiling rather than anything else? And for that matter - in this case what else would they have to go by?

In your second post - "Hvorfor blir noen homofile?" - you make a distinction between hereditary and biological factors and argue based on genetic factors under both headings. Would you care to explain the difference in content under these two headings, and could you comment on how these factors can be seen as independent markers in contrast to, say, social factors? Particularly for women. You also claim that "We know that homosexuality has a hereditary component". Not that I necessarily disagree with you, but considering the time and effort you have put in with references and all, you should be aware that based on the preceding text you have no basis for making such a statement. At the very least this statement needs a reference in its own right.

I see a huge problem with the statistics presented - which is a pet peeve of mine. Beside the sample being too small, the factors you test are typically correlated, thus creating the need for an even larger data set. It's like that old joke supposedly originating from an actual paper submitted to "Infection and Immunity" then edited by the late Erwin Neter: "33.333% of the mice used in this experiment were cured by the test drug; 33.333% of the test population were unaffected by the drug and remained in a moribound condition; the third mouse got away".

I don't know what your background is - you're a medical student?

Anders said...

It's like that old joke supposedly originating from an actual paper submitted to "Infection and Immunity" then edited by the late Erwin Neter: "33.333% of the mice used in this experiment were cured by the test drug; 33.333% of the test population were unaffected by the drug and remained in a moribound condition; the third mouse got away".

LOL. That's a great one!

I started on a length reply to arsethica, but couldn't be bother. I'll chime in if he continues to post here. But I basically agree with you, Wilhelm.

Wilhelm said...

Christmas spirit is gettin' to you there, Anders? Agreeing with me and such?

Anders said...

Don't I always agree with you?
;-)

I have some more points, but will wait. Because I don't know if arsethica wants to discuss the genetics, (biblical) moral issues of homosexuality, statistics or the "research" in the original post. For someone who claims homeopaths have a way to liberal view on "proof of consept", the sentence I find most interesting in his comment was What's the significance when so many straight men have the same traits? Well, for starters it tells us that homosexuality is partly influenced by non-environmental factors.

But if he's only posting here to draw attention to his own blog, I won't be bother to write a long reply (which I've almost done now, so I'll stop here)

arsethica said...

The big problem with commenting other blogs is that it's a bit hard keeping track of where I've commented before, but I'll give it another shot :)

"For example; if you wanted to you could probably make a "study" regarding careers vs. sexuality, and I predict that you would end up with certain professions being more prevalent."

Doing bad research is no hard trick, and causality is of course difficult to establish.

"I remain sceptical about the validity of the "research". Mostly because doing proper research on this would violate any number of human rights, and thus one is stuck with vague statistical inferences on a statistically invalid sample."

IIRC, there are broadly speeking two ways of conducting research on homosexuality. You either recruit homosexuals (big sample, bigger selection bias) or you recruit a lot of people including the 2% homosexuals (small sample, small selection bias).

"Yet when you do a "study" by asking a panel to assign sexuality to unknown people, what are the odds that they will follow stereotypical profiling rather than anything else? And for that matter - in this case what else would they have to go by?"

Is this a question or remark to my post? I seem to agree perfectly with you.

"you make a distinction between hereditary and biological factors and argue based on genetic factors under both headings. Would you care to explain the difference in content under these two headings,"

My headings should probably have been picked out more carefully, but under "heredity" I was trying to establish that heredity can be proven without a single genetic test. "Biology" was not supposed to be put up against "heredity", but the following heading ("social theories").

Now, homosexuality could be "hereditary" without being genetic as all siblings are gestated in the same uterus, thus being affected by the same maternal hormonal fluctuations. This wouldn't be "true" heredity, but is a result of the non-genetic methodology used to establish heredity. The problem is of course that this factor is impossible to remove without using surrogate mothers (this might be ethically problematic) or tracking a theoretical "gay gene" (finding one would demand good epidemiological research or a thorough understaning of the pysiology behind sexuality).

And this is where research on finger-length and hair comes into play: they are affected by maternal hormones. Thus, potentially affecting an assumption of heredity studies. It also tells us that homosexuality is linked to non-environmental factors, which tells us that homosexuality might not be so much a "choice" as many use to assume.

So: is this kind of research useless? I don't think so. Can it be used by the media to draw premature or invalid conclusions that I feel no need to defend? Yes, I think so ;)

"and could you comment on how these factors can be seen as independent markers in contrast to, say, social factors? Particularly for women."

Is this still relevant, in view of the above?

"You also claim that "We know that homosexuality has a hereditary component"."

I gave one source for this in "Hvorfor blir noen homofile?", which estimated 5000 twins (reference 8).

My background is medical school, and I'd be happy to answer any of your questions, but the response time will be significantly shorter if you post them at the specific posts at my own blog (since Norwegian is my mother tounge, answering will also be less of a hassle there).

"Because I don't know if arsethica wants to discuss the genetics, (biblical) moral issues of homosexuality, statistics or the "research" in the original post."

I'd be happy to discuss them all, except for the research in the OP (the topic is interesting, but bad research proving a known fact is IMHO not ;).

"But if he's only posting here to draw attention to his own blog, I won't be bother to write a long reply"

Please write the reply, although be aware that being a medical student I have an exam looming around the middle of january (meaning, less time to give thorough replies :).

To keep things nice and tidy, I'd prefer it if I could respond to any objections to my blogposts, in the comment field under the relevant blogpost. And by all means be critical of the articles I cite, but please red them if you do. Debates where I am challenged to go in and read through the references tend to become tedious quite rapidly :)

arsethica said...

Let me rephrase myself:

"With this non-genetic methodology, homosexuality could be "hereditary" without being genetic as all siblings are gestated in the same uterus, thus being affected by the same maternal hormonal fluctuations. This wouldn't necessarily be "true" (genetic) heredity, but a result of the non-genetic methodology used to establish heredity."

Sorry about that one :)

Wilhelm said...

IIRC, there are broadly speeking two ways of conducting research on homosexuality. You either recruit homosexuals (big sample, bigger selection bias) or you recruit a lot of people including the 2% homosexuals (small sample, small selection bias).

And here is a fantastic reason why, IMO, this type of research is a little bit too close to phrenology, in that the gap between crosscorrelated statistical data and "biological" data is pretty damn vast. And what lies in the gap is pretty decisive for how you interpret either data set.

And this is where research on finger-length and hair comes into play: they are affected by maternal hormones.

Would I be correct in assuming that a hoard of factors emanate from maternal hormones, many of which are correlated so as to make it very difficult to assign causality?

Is this still relevant, in view of the above?

You betcha', since social acceptance for homosexuality is quite different between sexes. How this has fluctuated over time - say the last 50 years or so - would be a huge indicator on e.g. environment vs. genetic factors, right?

My background is medical school, and I'd be happy to answer any of your questions, but the response time will be significantly shorter if you post them at the specific posts at my own blog (since Norwegian is my mother tounge, answering will also be less of a hassle there).

That's cool - I'm semi-fluent in Norwegian myself, so I'll lurk around your blog a bit.

As a medical student, don't you feel that a lot of crap science emerges from the gap between molecular science and poorly compiled statistics?

Merry Christmas, by the way, and good luck on your exam in January.