Monday, October 15, 2007

Oh Those Amusing Polls

Polls are always funny. Depending on how you word things, you can get almost any result. Even scientific polls need to be carefully worded, weighed, and cross-polled for errors. But unscientific polling, as done by newspapers and websites, are down-right hilarious.

I particularly love polls that have to do with science. As if it matters what people believe! Even in a controlled poll, asking a question like - "Do you think humans and apes have a common ancestor?", given to an American group, will undoubtedly show the majority saying "No". What do we take from this, other than the lack of scientific knowledge in the American populous? For that purpose, polls about science are extremely enlightening. Unfortunately, to non-scientists (or, at least, to lesser educated people) those poll results seem like a referendum on the issue - one that proves them correct in their beliefs. Science doesn't work like a democracy. Facts tend to win, whether the majority like them or not.

Back to the unscientific polls. Every day runs a number of polls - usually alongside a controversial story. I suppose they are fun, as long as that's all you take from them. While unscientific, you get a "fairly" intelligent group response. People who read the news and use computers to do so are generally going to score a little higher than average intelligence. So I was interested to see what the results would be in a poll today about whether you believe being gay has a genetic basis. Here's the current poll results -

Do you believe sexual orientation is rooted in genetics? * 46056 responses
Yes, people are either born gay or not.40%
Partly, it's probably a combination of nature and nurture.27%
No, it's a choice.32%

The closest thing to a correct answer, of course, is the one the got the fewest votes. Had they finished that response with "and other biological, but non-genetic factors", then it would have been about as spot on as research has been able to articulate - so far. Not that it matters. It's not a scientific poll, and even if it was it wouldn't matter what people think. The facts are the facts. But the most important fact is one that is not even considered - that it doesn't matter, because we need to allow people to live their lives in happiness and freedom, whatever their orientation.

Polls... blah...


Brendan said...

Nicely clarified.

I'd only add that I don't think sexual orientation is a binary state. I'm not sure what the latest scientific thinking is, but there does seem to be a growing consensus that there is a continuum between being absolutely gay and absolutely straight; i.e., it's not an either/or situation.

John Evo-Mid said...

I can absolutely buy in to that, and the question would remain the same... i.e. how does each individual get to the particular point on the continuum that he/she is at?

Most genes are not "either/or". Oh, there's the blue eye, brown eye thing and a few others. But even on those, it's improbable that you have the exact same blue eyes as the ones your father or your mother's mother had. There would still be variation.

And, certainly, environmental factors would allow a continuum.

PhillyChief said...

I saw Nova last night and it was about epigenomes. I never heard of them before. I'm going to butcher this but my understanding is that it's chemical affectors of genes that act to turn them on or off. These affectors can be inherited, impressed onto a fetus or developing child, or inflicted on the individual consciously or unconsciously by say environmental toxins, smoking, diet and exercise. These things can be combined as well, so that perhaps your grandfather's smoking could affect your longevity and health.

I've been torn over the nature/nurture theory for homosexuality. Having encountered guys in middle school with "that voice" and other signs, it's dissuaded me from thinking there was ever a choice for them. I've leaned to it being genetic, but I've been bothered by claims such as pregnant mothers under extreme stress more likely to have gay children. I suppose this epigenome thing would explain a claim like that.

In the end I have to agree though that "it doesn't matter, because we need to allow people to live their lives in happiness and freedom, whatever their orientation" and I'll add it also doesn't matter however they came to that orientation.

John Evo-Mid said...

Philly Chief, you're flirting around with the new evolutionary science of Evo Devo. There will be massive breakthroughs due to the research, which has only really been going strongly for about 10 years and hasn't yet scratched the surface of potential discovery. If you have the time, read "Endless Forms Most Beautiful".

Spanish Inquisitor said...

I, for one, think that science will eventually figure out exactly where gayness comes from, which means that eventually they will figure out how to turn it on or off.

Then we must ask ourselves, do we want to? Not as individuals, because certainly any parent, given the homo-phobic culture we live in, would probably choose to have strictly heterosexual children. I would, given the option. No, the gay culture actually adds to society, it doesn't detract from it. It's the homophobics who detract, who are so negative (we should find the gene for homophobia and delete it, maybe?).

What would humanity be like without it, and what evolutionary reason was there originally for it, we must ask.

PhillyChief said...

There is a religious group that's funding research for the gay gene or something, isn't there? There reasoning is to find a "cure". What is scary about these discoveries is what will be done with them. Will we have designer kids? Will most people choose to have straight white boys thinking that will ensure them greater success in life? I for one will do what I can to fight for the survival of the ginger gene.

The Exterminator said...

Homosexual behavior exists throughout the animal kingdom, to greater or lesser degrees depending on the species, so it's ridiculous to categorize it as a "choice" in the sense that most religionists mean it (i.e., an evil choice).

I suspect that any alleged "gayness" gene will include other traits that are not sexual-preference-related. Based on what I've read, there are few genes that carry only one clearly definable and limited trait. So I wouldn't worry too much about the fundies' scientific efforts. Wouldn't it be great if they discovered that the alleged gayness-gene and the so-called god-gene were mutually dependent, even when one or the other didn't manifest itself in a particular individual?

I'd be interested in funding a search for the republican gene. Now there's one the human species can do without.

John Evo-Mid said...

Exterminator said: "there are few genes that carry only one clearly definable and limited trait."

You nailed it. People have a hard time with this one. We'd all like "one gene, one trait", but it apparently isn't this way at all. Most phenotypic traits come from several or many genes interacting with each other for various purposes - and there could well be more than one path to a trait such as homosexuality, which is why you could never "designer engineer" away homosexuality even if you wanted to.

I hope that serves to alleviate concerns expressed by Philly Chief and S.I.

and, "Wouldn't it be great if they discovered that the alleged gayness-gene and the so-called god-gene were mutually dependent"

LOL! Excellent...

Brendan said...

Wouldn't it be great if they discovered that the alleged gayness-gene and the so-called god-gene were mutually dependent …?

I second the shout-out to The Exterminator. Fabulous line.

(Who knew Tom DeLay could bring teh funny?)