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No, Scientists Have Not Found the ‘Gay Gene’


By Ed Yong

The media is hyping a study that doesn’t do what it says it does.

A woman works with human genetic material at a laboratory in Munich May 23, 2011. On May 25, 2011 the ethic commission of the German lower house of parliament (Bundestag) will discuss about alternative proposals for a new law on the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (Praeimplantationsdiagnostik) is a technique used to identify genetic defects in embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) before pregnancy, which is banned by German legislation.

This week, a team from the University of California, Los Angeles claimed to have found several epigenetic marks—chemical modifications of DNA that don’t change the underlying sequence—that are associated with homosexuality in men. Postdoc Tuck Ngun presented the results yesterday at the American Society of Human Genetics 2015 conference. Nature News were among the first to break the story based on a press release issued by the conference organisersOthers quickly followed suit. “Have They Found The Gay Gene?” said the front page of Metro, a London paper, on Friday morning.

Meanwhile, the mood at the conference has been decidedly less complimentary, with several geneticists criticizing the methods presented in the talk, the validity of the results, and the coverage in the press.

Ngun’s study was based on 37 pairs of identical male twins who were discordant—that is, one twin in each pair was gay, while the other was straight—and 10 pairs who were both gay. He analysed 140,000 regions in the genomes of the twins and looked for methylation marks—chemical Post-It notes that dictate when and where genes are activated. He whittled these down to around 6,000 regions of interest, and then built a computer model that would use data from these regions to classify people based on their sexual orientation.

The best model used just five of the methylation marks, and correctly classified the twins 67 percent of the time. “To our knowledge, this is the first example of a biomarker-based predictive model for sexual orientation,” Ngun wrote in his abstract.

The problems begin with the size of the study, which is tiny. The field of epigenetics is littered with the corpses of statistically underpowered studies like these, which simply lack the numbers to produce reliable, reproducible results.

Unfortunately, the problems don’t end there. The team split their group into two: a “training set” whose data they used to build their algorithm, and a “testing set”, whose data they used to verify it. That’s standard and good practice—exactly what they should have done. But splitting the sample means that the study goes from underpowered to really underpowered.


There’s also another, larger issue. As far as could be judged from the unpublished results presented in the talk, the team used their training set to build several models for classifying their twins, and eventually chose the one with the greatest accuracy when applied to the testing set. That’s a problem because in research like this, there has to be a strict firewall between the training and testing sets; the team broke that firewall by essentially using the testing set to optimise their algorithms.

If you use this strategy, chances are you will find a positive result through random chance alone. Chances are some combination of methylation marks out of the original 6,000 will be significantly linked to sexual orientation, whether they genuinely affect sexual orientation or not. This is a well-known statistical problem that can be at least partly countered by running what’s called a correction for multiple testing. The team didn’t do that. (In an email to The Atlantic, Ngun denies that such a correction was necessary.)And, “like everyone else in the history of epigenetics studies they could not resist trying to interpret the findings mechanistically,” wrote John Greally from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in a blog post. By which he means: they gave the results an imprimatur of plausibility by noting the roles of the genes affected by the five epi-marks. One is involved in controlling immune genes that have been linked to sexual attraction. Another is involved in moving molecules along neurons. Could epi-marks on these genes influence someone’s sexual attraction? Maybe. It’s also plausible that someone’s sexual orientation influences epi-marks on these genes. Correlation, after all, does not imply causation.

So, ultimately, what we have is an underpowered fishing expedition that used inappropriate statistics and that snagged results which may be false positives. Epigenetics marks may well be involved in sexual orientation. But this study, despite its claims, does not prove that and, as designed, could not have.

In a response to Greally’s post, Ngun admitted that the study was underpowered. “The reality is that we had basically no funding,” he said. “The sample size was not what we wanted. But do I hold out for some impossible ideal or do I work with what I have? I chose the latter.” He also told Nature News that he plans to “replicate the study in a different group of twins and also determine whether the same marks are more common in gay men than in straight men in a large and diverse population.”Great. Replication and verification are the cornerstones of science. But to replicate and verify, you need a sturdy preliminary finding upon which to build and expand—and that’s not the case here. It may seem like the noble choice to work with what you’ve got. But when what you’ve got are the makings of a fatally weak study, of the kind well known to cause problems in a field, it really is an option—perhaps the best option—to not do it at all. (The same could be said for journalists outside the conference choosing to cover the study based on a press release.)As Greally wrote in his post: “It’s not personal about [Ngun] or his colleagues, but we can no longer allow poor epigenetics studies to be given credibility if this field is to survive. By ‘poor,’ I mean uninterpretable.”

“This is only representative of the broader literature,” he told me. “The problems in the field are systematic. We need to change how epigenomics research is performed throughout the community.”

Complete Article HERE!

When did Gay Partners Become a Part of the Family on TV?


I’m delighted to share with you an important moment in TV history.

Thank you, Matt Baume!

Florida Legislature Once Published Anti-Gay Pamphlet Full of Softcore Porn

Florida Legislature Once Published Anti-Gay Pamphlet Full of Softcore Porn

June is officially LGBT Pride Month in America, but Miami-Dade’s only local celebration — Miami Beach’s gay pride party — is held in April. So instead of showing you footage of parades or slide shows of revelers, we decided to take the opportunity to look back at one of the gayest things ever produced by the Florida state government — which conversely was also one of the most homophobic things ever published by the Florida government.

How gay? Well, this was the title page of the officially published state document:

Florida Legislature Once Published Anti-Gay Pamphlet Full of Softcore Porn (2)

The pamphlet, dubbed the “Purple Pamphlet” for its lavender-hued front cover, was the work of the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee. The committee was the brainchild of Charley Eugene Johns, a former governor who had taken office only after the death of his predecessor and was then promptly kicked out by voters and forced to return to the legislature. Because hunting for commies was all the rage in the late 1950s, Johns and his committee tried to do just that.

They searched everywhere — the NAACP, the historically black college Florida A&M University, anti-Castro groups, pro-Castro groups — OK, not everywhere, but you get the picture.

Turns out the committee wasn’t very good at rooting out communists in Florida, so in the ’60s, it turned its sights on homosexuals. As people are now generally aware, homosexuals, unlike organized communists, have existed everywhere throughout human history, so the committee was much more successful at finding them in the Sunshine State.

The committee first went searching Florida’s schools, causing the firing of 39 professors and deans from Florida universities for suspected homosexuality and the revoking of the licenses of 71 public schoolteachers. Several students were also expelled for being homosexual.

Emboldened, the committee members then took a look at homosexuality in Florida outside the world of academics — and, boy, did they find some things that excited them. The result of their work was the so-called Purple Pamphlet, whose introduction stresses that the document may be of use to “every individual concerned with the moral climate of the state.”

Take a look at page 6 of the pamphlet!

Florida Legislature Once Published Anti-Gay Pamphlet Full of Softcore Porn (3)

“Homosexuality is, and far too long has been, a skeleton in the closet of society,” the pamphlet begins, and then it’s just a bunch of homophobic garbage from there on.

But in between the anti-gay rants is a liberal sprinkling of softcore gay photos. How about some more of those pics?

Florida Legislature Once Published Anti-Gay Pamphlet Full of Softcore Porn (4)

There are more photos in the pamphlet, but they include images of little boys, so we won’t reproduce them here.

Aside from the photos, of particular note is the pamphlet’s extensive glossary, which painstakingly details gay slang. Some of the words are still in use today, and some are decidedly not.

Florida Legislature Once Published Anti-Gay Pamphlet Full of Softcore Porn (5)
Florida Legislature Once Published Anti-Gay Pamphlet Full of Softcore Porn (6)
Florida Legislature Once Published Anti-Gay Pamphlet Full of Softcore Porn (7)

What came first, the chicken or the twink?

Florida Legislature Once Published Anti-Gay Pamphlet Full of Softcore Porn (9)
Florida Legislature Once Published Anti-Gay Pamphlet Full of Softcore Porn (10)
Florida Legislature Once Published Anti-Gay Pamphlet Full of Softcore Porn (11)
Florida Legislature Once Published Anti-Gay Pamphlet Full of Softcore Porn (12)

It turns out the printing of this pamphlet did not go over too well. Some critics called it state-sponsored pornography, and fellow legislators voted to cut all funding for the committee in the next session.

Naturally, the pamphlet has gone on to achieve cult status in Florida.
Complete Article HERE!

How We Got Gay

How We Got Gay

Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays


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