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Scientists give tips to avoid ‘sensationalised’ gay animal headlines

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  1. Scientists are hardly responsible for the quack ‘journalists’ trying to shift more copies by using negatively sensational wording.

    1. I don’t know about these particular cases, but science stories in the mainstream media are generally based on press releases issued by universities, drugs companies, etc. There is a lot of discussion in the scientific community about how this should be handled – there is always pressure to ‘sex up’ research, and often a lot of the caveats and limitations are hard to communicate to a general audience anyway. Science reporting in the mainstream media is almost uniformly terrible, but researchers and their employers do bear some responsibility to communocate their work to the public.

    2. I’m think you are too quick to agree with them. Yes the example headlines are indefensible in a scientific setting, but I’m not sure that readers need it to be spelled out that other creatures don’t have all the complications of human society to contend with. And something wholly accurate, like “multiple examples of life-long female-with-female-pairing in species xxxx”, or “consistent life-long desire in rams of species xxx to mount only males” are difficult to fit in headlines, and, outside a science journal, no editor would allow them to be used more than once. And that doesn’t at all stop these behaviours, and the causes of them, being potentially relevant to the causes of humans being lesbian, bisexual, or gay.

  2. They warn: “This is not innocuous — these are terms that refer to human sexuality, which encompasses lifestyle choices, partner preferences and culture, among other factors.”

    Disturbing comments, coming from ‘scientists”
    I suggest they concentrate on their work rather than the spin that their work is given. I also suggest they study Human sexuality more, instead of animals.

    1. Animals are not ‘gay’ though.

      They may be homosexual but being gay does indeed have a cultural baggage that does not apply to animals.

      1. They may be reading far too much into newspapers using “gay”. “Homosexual” is far too long a word for most headlines. And does “gay” always have the same cultural baggage anyway? If not, might not, theoretically, “gay sheep”, say, be allowed their own cultural baggage?

  3. Lifestyle choices?!

    1. Cardinal Capone 9 Aug 2012, 5:46pm

      But if it’s 2 male penguins hatching and raising a chick, is that a lifestyle choice?

    2. Actually, in this particular instance, “lifestyle choices” seems to be the correct term. They’re not discussing “sexual orientation” per se, but the behaviours and actions of the individuals, which are “choices” one makes (e.g. gay sex among heterosexually-oriented prisoners).

      Ironically, yet another instance of scientists being technically correct, but with a tin ear to how the public will interpret the statement!

      1. What precisely do you understand to be the nature of “choice” in such a context? Most creatures, including humans, do what triggers rewarding effects from dopamine receptors, or avoids learned or inherent fear, or follows a pre-programed sequence such as a reflex. Humans may be more complicated in humans due to the language, conscious thinking and memories, but the process that actually leads to, say 2 males hatching a chick, may well be the same. Which seems to me to make these two scientists wrong, except in a rather pedantic sense.

  4. someone should warn these two scientists of the pitfalls of calling human sexuality a lifestyle choice

    1. I get the impression they did that quite knowingly, being against the tide of evidence that same-sex attraction and sex is natural for some that can be more easily researched in animals than in humans.

  5. Im intrigued! When exactly did i make that choice?! And what lifestyle is that that he is talking about?? If it is a preferce does that mean that a straight guys also likes guys and is attracted to them sexually but he just prefers the girls so he made that lifestyle choice?!

  6. Guglielmo Marinaro 9 Aug 2012, 3:19pm

    Some may dislike their wording, but they are undoubtedly right. On the one hand, we have some arguing that same-sex behaviour is “natural” (whatever that is supposed to mean) for us because animals do it. On the other hand, we have people like the soi-disant “ex-gay” Phelim McIntyre arguing that an enduring homosexual orientation is unknown (or that its existence is extremely doubtful) among animals and that, since they engage in same-sex behaviour for different reasons than we do, it can’t be right or “natural” for us to engage in it for our own reasons.

    Whatever the true facts may be, both arguments are flawed. What animals do or don’t do can provide no moral guidance for us. If homosexuality, as we know it, is a solely human phenomenon, so what? We have no need whatever to “justify” or “validate” our sexuality by an appeal to an animal model.

    1. Very well said.

    2. Validation and morals are not the area of science. But what is “natural” is, so when it is claimed our orientation isn’t that, or is “contrary to the creator’s will” then evidence of the same behaviour being naturally occurring in many species of animals is directly relevant. These two researchers – whose specialization seems to be bees, in which there is no pairing as we know it – seem to want to discount such evidence, but not such accusations.

      We should not need to justify, but that’s not how it feels for many, especially when there can be huge consequences for loved ones. And many have a need to know how we came to be as we are. Research in other species has a lot to contribute in that.

  7. Being gay is not a “lifestyle choice”.

    Andrew Barron and Mark Brown should educate themselves about human sexuality before they give advice to others.

    1. Well said!

  8. I wrote to the “scientist” concerning his reference to “lifestyle choice”.

    1. Thanks !

  9. “Lifestyle choices”?!

  10. Once you get beyond their choice of words they are correct in what they say.

    1. they lecture other scientists about wording while not paying any attention to their own

      1. Perhaps when they say “lifestyle choice” they refer to gays who embrace the gay scene lifestyle: those who frequent gay bars, surround themselves with only gay friends, attend gay prides, basically those who define themselves by their homosexuality. I can only assume they, as scientists, do not believe sexual orientation in humans is a choice.

        1. Ye but going to clubs and having friends is nothing to do with sexuality..

          Sexuality is about sexual attraction. Humans and lots of other animals surely have the same feelings in that regard, just as surely as we both feel fear, contentment etc.

          We’re not aliens, after all~

          1. “Ye but going to clubs and having friends is nothing to do with sexuality..”


            Although it can be argued that being ‘gay’ has nothing to do with sexuality either.

            Some closet case Tory politician who is homophobic in public but who secretly cottages is not ‘gay’. He is a homosexual.

            Being gay involves a certain identioty.

            Being homosexual us a sexual orientation.

          2. And sexual attraction is not a lifestyle choice. So these two scientists are guilty of exactly the same as they criticise in others. I wonder about their religious affiliation.

  11. The older I get, the more I believe that the straight world in general is OBSESSED with gay stuff. They can’t even respond to an academic article about sexual behaviour without descending into gibbering, giggling, finger pointing ‘ooh matron’-type lumps of jelly.
    I cannot believe that scientists are now warning each other that the world will giggle at their work……the world has got to get over itself.

  12. The scientists are not the problem. The journalists are. Scientists (indeed, most academics) already take great pains to communicate the nature and extent of their work – it’s the lazy, sensationalist journalists who feel the need to sex it up. The quality of science journalism needs to improve dramatically.

    Also, I don’t see what the problem with the “lifestyle choices” bit is. He wasn’t saying that being attracted to members of the same sex is a “lifestyle choice” – but very often terms like “gay” and “lesbian” incorporate a degree of cultural identity too. “Gay culture”, after all, is not something everyone who is gay (defined narrowly as attracted to members of the same sex) participates in. Those, I think, are the cultural and lifestyle-choice aspects he’s referring to – in explicit contradistinction to partner preferences.

  13. Yeah, yeah, yeah science boys. I saw Bambi. You telling me that he and Thumper weren’t getting it on on the down-low a couple of years later?

    Some people trust science. Some people trust God. I trust Disney

  14. So animals with same-sex attraction cannot be termed ‘gay’ because they don’t have night clubs~?

    1. apparently in the world of nerdy science guys, that sounds about right.
      of course, if they got out of their little labs every once in a while they’d realize it wasn’t QUITE like that.

    2. No, not really. I think that referring to an animal as ‘gay’ is absurd. Especially when you know something about the political and historical usage of that word. It would be like referring to an animal as a feminist or a marxist because they exhibit some or other behaviour that seems to be in line with those labels. Humans are gay, animals aren’t.

      1. Tom . . . . . How do you know animals aren’t gay ? If the behaviour fits then use the label !

      2. Oh so we can’t say animals are gay because they don’t have any recorded history or political issues surrounding their sexual preferences..

        Animals never had a Stonewall riot so we can’t call them gay, I get it now.

        Thanks Tom

      3. Yea, but by the same token one would have to say not all humans with same sex partner preference are gay either (gay being very much a western, political term). Its effectively prejudiced, and non-scientific, for them to say animal research is not applicable to humans because the terms some have adopted for all humans include aspects of humans society too, without qualifying their criticism by saying that it can be applicable to aspects of human behaviour with the rest of it stripped away, for which “such and such” terms would be valid.

  15. Dennis Velco 9 Aug 2012, 11:32pm

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    1. Why has Dennis Velcro not been blacklisted for spamming?

  16. I often wonder why gays will try to buttress their cause that animals are gay also

    It plays right into the hands of those that think that way anyway.

    1. I think it was actually a response to the anti-gay rhetoric of calling homosexuality “unnatural”. So scientists pointed out how common gay sex, transsexualism, etc are in the animal kingdom.

      The correct point though is that if humans do it, it’s by definition “natural”. Irrespective of whether other animals do it too. Bipedalism, prolonged childhoods, gay sex, intellectual analysis, murder – it’s all “natural”.

      1. Sometimes it is more than rhetoric, even enshrined in laws, as in India.

        You’ve overlooked that that some behavior can be learned, or taught, and therefore, arguably, unlearned, and would not therefore be “natural”.

        Transsexualism in other species cannot be said to exist because there is no way to tell if they experience a need to be the other sex.

  17. GingerlyColors 10 Aug 2012, 7:09am

    How come that homosexuality is natural when it occurs amongst animals but when humans do it, it suddenly becomes ‘unnatural’? Are scientists being discouraged from discussing homosexuality amongst animals for fear of contradicting the religious fundamentalists who think that it is unnatural? Gay sex happens throughout the animal kingdom from antelopes to zebras. What next? An Orwellian Anti-Sex League banning sex amongst humans altogether and have us procreate using artificial insemination (artsem in Newspeak)? You could argue that recreational sex, which is sex for other reasons than procreation is wrong. Animals do have recreational sex as well.

  18. The reference to ‘lifestyle choices’ is concerning, but given scientists’ frequent history of naively using potentially politically-charged language, I don’t think its a given that the writer meant it in a ‘homosexuality is a choice’ sense.

    In terms the scientist’s broader argument, it of course should be the responsibility of the journalists themselves not to exaggerate and sensationalize their work, but given that I haven’t seen any flying pigs today, he may have a point.

  19. Guglielmo Marinaro 10 Aug 2012, 1:56pm

    The main points which I would make are:

    (1) Human sexuality is much more complex and has a far richer meaning than animal sexuality, and therefore an attempt simply to transfer the concepts of sexual orientation, heterosexuality, homosexuality etc., as we understand them of ourselves, to animals is scientifically dubious.

    (2) Homosexual sex (or any other human behaviour) cannot be justified by claiming that it occurs in animals, even if it does.

    (3) There is absolutely no need for any such justification anyway.

    “At no time has anyone ever explained why human behavior should be modeled on nonhuman nature.”
    – DOUGLAS J. FUTUYMA, American Biologist

  20. Mommie Dammit 10 Aug 2012, 3:56pm

    “This is not innocuous — these are terms that refer to human sexuality, which encompasses lifestyle choices, partner preferences and culture, among other factors.”

    Just shot their whole article down the crapper with that. Those are code words showing plainly that these two men think homosexuality is a choice, that it’s based in “nurture” not “nature” and that societal influences and pressures “turn” people to same-sex attraction.
    I don’t argue that the media will sensationalize anything for sales volume – that’s a given. But these two are doing the same with this “opinion” piece.

    1. Leigh Hamilton 16 Aug 2012, 2:05pm

      No, not really – there are various lifestyle choices inherent *within* the gay lifestyle, even if the fact that a person is gay is not a choice. You would do well to avoid sensationalising statements through not understanding the wording.

  21. I don’t see why there has to be such a huge separation between humans and animals here. You just have a to watch a bit of David Attenborough or Desmond Morris or read Darwin to know that we display a frightening/delightful number of similarities with many species. if two male penguins are devoted to each other that’s Gay enough for me. For me Gay and homosexual are the same thing. I use the word to describe orientation not lifestyle.
    Brokeback Mutton – LOL

    1. Guglielmo Marinaro 10 Aug 2012, 6:21pm

      “For me Gay and homosexual are the same thing. I use the word to describe orientation not lifestyle.”

      That’s fine, but therein lies the problem. While homosexual behaviour can be observed among animals, it is very questionable whether there is such a thing as a gay/homosexual ORIENTATION in animals. It is also arguable that when homosexual behaviour does occur in animals its meaning is usually different from that of gay sex between humans.

      The important thing is that people should stop using the argument that gay sex is O.K. for us because animals do it, because (1) it is a poor argument for the reasons which I have given above, and (2) it is unnecessary: gay sex is O.K. for us anyway, irrespective of what animals do or don’t do.

      1. I agree with you on your second point. I don’t need animal behaviour to justify my nature but I don’t have any objections to the penguins being called Gay.

      2. “it is very questionable whether there is such a thing as a gay/homosexual ORIENTATION in animals” — There is certainly persistent sexual attraction to others of the same sex, and also, separately desire to attract others of the same sex, and again pairing with another of the same sex in the same way as others of the same species pair with the opposite sex, so what exactly are you saying is “very questionable”?

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