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August 10, 2012 Print

Nature: Journalists Distort Animal Studies of ‘Gay’ Sexuality

by Karla Dial

In the August issue of the journal Nature, a pair of authors warns that studies of animals’ sexual behavior are prone to being distorted by the media — and how they can best avoid having that happen.

Andrew B. Barron of Australia’s Macquarie University and Mark J.F. Brown of the Royal Holloway University in London analyzed 48 articles from credible publications concerning 11 studies.

“The vast majority of studies reporting sexual contact between pairs of males or females were presented in media articles as documenting gay, lesbian or transgender behavior,” they wrote. “This is not innocuous — these are terms that refer to human sexuality, which encompasses lifestyle choices, partner preferences and culture, among other factors.”

For example, one study with the scientific title of “Advantage of female mimicry to snakes” was translated into the media headline, “She-Male Garter Snakes: Some Like it Hot.” Likewise, “The ram as a model for behavioral neuroendocrinology” spawned the headline “Brokeback Mutton.”

The best defense, the authors wrote, is for scientists to remain sober while dealing with the press, and avoid drawing a link between animal and human behavior. “Lesbian is a human term,” Pacific Rim Conservation biologist Lindsay Young repeatedly told reporters in interviews about her studies of female birds. “The study is about albatross. The study is not about humans.”

When asked what her work might indicate about human sexuality, Young simply said, “I don’t answer that question.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Read “The Animal Homosexuality Myth,” by Luiz Sergio Solimeo.

 



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