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"Gay Gene" vs. "Gay Germ"
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The twists of intellectual fashion in our society are often quite peculiar, especially when “touchy” topics are involved.

Consider, for example, the analysis of human behavior. Whatever most people may privately believe or say, the vocal academics and activists who control the commanding ideological heights of our media tend to claim that people act as they do largely because of social conditioning, and they often denounce or vilify those accused of the thoughtcrime of “genetic determinism.” Note the example of (former) Harvard President Larry Summers.

But all rules have exceptions, and for some unknown reason those same activists and media organs have decided that homosexuality is genetically based, denouncing anyone who suggests otherwise. Thus, genes officially determine gayness and nothing else, which hardly seems the most logical possibility in the world. But pointing out such inconsistencies can get you into hot water, so few people do.

Given the remarkable dishonesty of our media elites across such a wide range of topics, there is a natural tendency to assume that the truth is probably the opposite of whatever they say about anything. This undermines the credibility of the Gay Gene hypothesis, as does its proponents’ practice of treating scientific disagreement as religious heresy.

But frankly, the other side of the debate sometimes seems little better in its behavior. I think one of the most highly vilified rivals to Gay Gene theory is “Gay Germ theory,” the suggestion that some sort of virus or microorganism is responsible for the behavior in question. And just a few days ago, I noticed that evolutionary theorist Gregory Cochran, one of the leading Gay Germ proponents, had viciously insulted the intelligence of my old professor E.O. Wilson for his remarks supporting the Gay Gene side.

Although I’ll admit I’ve never much investigated this particular aspect of evolutionary biology theory, the whole academic dispute has always seemed a little strange to me. As near as I can tell, the two battling hypotheses—Gay Gene vs. Gay Germ—are hardly all that much opposed, and may even blend into one another when we draw the proper distinction between proximal and ultimate causation.

First, consider the genetic hypothesis. From what I’ve read here and there, there does seem to be a substantial degree of apparent heritability in the orientation, with the tendency running in families and the concordance being much higher in identical than in fraternal twins. But the heritability is far too low to be explained by a simple genetic on/off switch, therefore implying at the very least some sort of stochastic environmental trigger, and quite possibly some set of modifier genes as well.

Now consider the rival “germ” hypothesis. There seems no evidence that the agent is infectious in the usual sense of the word, so any such germ is likely to ambient in our society, with many or most people being constantly exposed and individual susceptibility to the virus being the determining factor. But such susceptibility is likely to have a important genetic component, as seen in the evidence for partial heritability. Thus, the hypothetical germ merely represents a particular example of the environmental trigger assumed by the genetic model, and the two theories are essentially the same.

Cochran and others ridicule the gene model as absurd, arguing that strong selective pressure would have rapidly eliminated any such genes from the population, and this is not unreasonable. But similar criticism could applied to their own model, since genetic susceptibility to the germ would obviously be subject to equally powerful selective disadvantage.

Actually it seems to me quite easy to imagine circumstances in which the genes in question would be maintained in dynamic equilibrium, with the selective disadvantage of the orientation being balanced by other sorts of advantages, much as Sickle Cell genes survive because of the heterozygous resistance they provide to malaria. Suppose, for example, that a GG homozygous condition together with a germ contact or some other environmental trigger (plus perhaps some modifier genes) produced the orientation, but that the heterozygous Gg combination provided some small selective advantage, quite possibly in something as mundane as digestion efficiency or iron transport. The result would be the permanent maintenance of the genes and behavior in question. I am certainly not suggesting that this particular model—which took me less than five minutes to produce—is correct, merely that I don’t see how it can be so easily dismissed out of hand based on the limited empirical evidence.

I suspect that one reason academic partisans of these rival theories are sometimes so arrogant in their certainty is that they tend to contrast their scientific-based ideas with the ridiculous Freudian nonsense that dominated the subject during the second half of the twentieth century, and assume that since those contrary ideas were probably 100% wrong, their own must therefore be 100% right.


On a different matter, Prof. Kevin MacDonald has responded to my criticism of his claims regarding the important role of Chinese polygamy, but I’m afraid I don’t find any of his new evidence very persuasive.

He correctly notes that some Chinese emperors were recorded as having many hundreds or even thousands of wives and concubines, and that polygyny was legal among all Chinese classes, but I’m still not aware of any evidence that the practice was widespread. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a large majority of China’s tens of thousands of government officials had concubines, as well as many wealthy merchants; but such elite groups constituted just a negligible fraction of a total population numbering in the hundreds of millions.

In an effort to confirm my impressions, I went back and consulted the indexes of five or six of my books providing detailed sociological studies of particular Chinese villages, and just as I remembered, the numbers of second wives or concubines was close to nil. Indeed, one of the authors pointed to the total absence of additional wives as being due to the huge costs involved, given how difficult it was for most Chinese villagers to afford acquiring even their first wife. Interestingly enough, the major exceptions were exactly the ones I remembered, namely villagers who had moved away to a city and there become wealthy enough to maintain multiple families, one of which was often eventually sent back to their ancestral village to look after their local property. The other typical case was that of villagers who had permanently relocated for work to a distant city or even moved overseas. They sometimes formed new families in that location, while their original wife remained a “grass widow” at home; but I think this situation was also sometimes found in America’s Old West of the nineteenth century. I stand by my impression that fewer than one percent of adult Chinese males living in rural villagers seem to have been polygamous.

And was the polygamous nature of China’s tiny ruling elite really so totally different than that of Europe’s kings or barons during the same centuries? I’m hardly an expert on medieval sociology, but my impression is that most members of the royalty or nobility tended to have numerous mistresses and often multiple families, even though this practice was frowned upon by the Church. As an extreme example, in the early eighteenth century King August the Strong of Poland was reported by contemporary sources to have sired nearly 400 children. The point is that the although the practices of the tiny slice of ruling elites may attract great historical attention and produce major cultural influences, they are unlikely to shape the innate characteristics of a large population.


Meanwhile, I’m pleased to see that my original Chinese Social Darwinism article continues to attract additional interest, with an Indian blogsite reprinting the entire piece and tweeting it out to over 20,000 recipients. My paper was also highlighted by UCLA Professor Cameron Campbell, a leading world authority on East Asian demographics, two of whose books I had read as part of the background research for my own analysis.

On a somewhat less favorable note, some blogger named Alan Baumler has denounced my article as “Yellow Peril 3.1,” juxtaposing his criticism with a description of fictional accounts advocating the total extermination of the Han race. He also described as particularly “loony” my suggestion that Chinese social-conformism may have roots in 2,000 years of strong central government authority, without apparently realizing that I was merely quoting the views of Bruce Lahn, a brilliant Chinese-born genetics researcher. I’ll admit that I don’t really know anything about the blogger in question, but he does seem to have serious problems in reading comprehension.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Chinese Evolution, Gays/Lesbians 
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  1. ziel says: • Website

    I don’t think ‘viciously attacked’ is a fair characterization. The only first attack onWilson was at the end where he said “Maybe a lot of these low-math types just aren’t very smart. I’ve never seen any sign that E. O. Wilson is.”

    And it didn’t seem to be in the context of gay gene theory at all, but seemed to be triggered by Wilson’s mathophobia. Plus Wilson’s pushing the idea of group selection among humans, a real pet peeve of Greg’s.

  2. cka2nd says:

    Straw Man Alert! Straw Man Alert!

    Mr. Unz says: “…vocal academics and activists who control the commanding ideological heights of our media…”

    This apparently only holds true where some social issues are concerned, because corporate interests certainly seem to be commanding the ideological heights when it comes to economic, fiscal and educational issues.

    Mr. Unz says: “…tend to claim that people act as they do largely because of social conditioning, and they often denounce or vilify those accused of the thoughtcrime of ‘genetic determinism.’…But all rules have exceptions, and for some unknown reason those same activists and media organs have decided that homosexuality is genetically based, denouncing anyone who suggests otherwise. Thus, genes officially determine gayness and nothing else, which hardly seems the most logical possibility in the world.”

    Really? Folks who argue that genetics determine gayness (what, is “sexual orientation” too academic for you, or are you just trying to score ickiness points?) believe that genes determine “nothing else?” So, these vocal academics and activists do not believe that genes cause no developmental disabilities, play no part at all in causing obesity or addictive behaviors, and have nothing at all to do with some types of mental illness? Uh huh.

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    When most gay activists claim one is ‘born this way’, I do not believe they are saying that being gay is genetically based. Indeed, I rarely hear that argument and I’m gay and pretty well informed. It is my understanding that some scientific studies have pointed that there may be some genes that predispose some humans to be gay (i.e., not all gays have those genes and not all who have those genes are gay, but there is a higher incidence of those genes in gays). However, that science is all very wobbly. The stronger theory is that there is a hormonal factor while the fetus develops in the womb. It’s interesting stuff if you care to google it, but in the end it is still all very theoretical. Almost every scientific study, however, has shown that homosexuality is determined at least by age 3, and definitely not because of domineering mothers or child abuse or anything else that some like to claim brainwash or indoctrinate or ‘pervert’ one to be gay. But the bottom line is, when people say one is ‘born this way’ or being gay is not a choice, etc., they aren’t saying it is genetic but rather one cannot change sexual orientation once it is set at a very early, possibly prenatal stage.

  4. Spartacus says:

    Even if you disagree with Mr. Unz’s writings on meritocracy, immigration and race, you at least have to acknowledge that he approaches those topics with intellectual rigor and tries to apply empiricism when discussing them. He is, however, seemingly completely incapable of writing intelligently when it comes to SSM or homosexuality.

    Last week he argued that if society is going to permit SSM, then it might as well permit a person to marry a sidewalk. I guess from his perspective there’s no meaningful difference between, on one hand, permitting two adults in a loving, committed relationship wherein they are raising children and, on the other hand, an obviously mentally impaired individual who wants a similar relationship with a block of concrete outside his home.

    He now writes this:

    “But all rules have exceptions, and for some unknown reason those same activists and media organs have decided that homosexuality is genetically based, denouncing anyone who suggests otherwise. Thus, genes officially determine gayness and nothing else, which hardly seems the most logical possibility in the world. But pointing out such inconsistencies can get you into hot water, so few people do.”

    Really, who are these people that claim genes determine sexual orientation, but nothing else? Seriously, name them.

    More importantly, whether it’s solely because of genetics or some combination of genetics and environment, no thinking person alive believes he or she made a conscious decision to determine his/her sexual orientation. Since sexual orientation is outside a person’s control, then obviously so is the gender of someone with whom we may fall in love. I didn’t decide to be attracted to the opposite sex; I simply am, and there’s nothing I or anyone else can ever do to reverse that. Because I am attracted to the opposite sex, I fell in love with someone of the opposite sex and married that person.

    How on earth is that different from what happens among gays and lesbians, and why should the government interfere with that?

  5. ziel says: • Website

    Cka2d – yes, activists do tend to believe that debilitating conditions have a genetic basis, since that tends to absolve afflicted individuals of any responsibility for their condition. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is not in any way debilitating, we are assured. So it does occupy a special place in academia – a perfectly normal behavior that’s genetically determined.

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Of course it’s possible to develop genetic resistance to a germ (or to become less susceptible to it as you put it), but germs evolve too, often very rapidly – that’s one of the advantages the gay germ hypothesis has not only over a primarily genetic explanation but over rival environmental explanations that don’t involve organisms with “incentives” to overcome whatever resistance humans develop

  7. To argue that a genetic link to homosexuality exists while not providing said gene. Until then it is just a theory and if sucha gene exists it creates another dillemma.

    Heterosexuals produce members to sustain the community. That is the most fundamental difference and central to any discussion as to marriage. There are other differences. But that is the most obvious that’s how it is different. Such unions represent the norm and as they provide this benefit coupled with other unique contributions the country has a vested interested in sustaining them.

    Even for couples who eventually discover they cannot produce children. They represent the model that does so. Since the law does advocate chasing down homosexual couples and hanging them by the nearest lamp post, a compaint as to discrimination is unfounded.

  8. I am not sure that is true. I have often considered when and who was the first girl I approached as to sexual attraction. I have not yet decided whether I buy that claim. Sexual desire is biological, is my choice of mate also so geared — or is it my choice.

    In this instance, I find that I lean more towards choice. I chose Patty and not my friend Bill. Was that choice part of my biology or was it formed over time observing the the interaction of my parents. To that end I am not sure that I care why so and and so chose a male. I am able to recognize that it is not the norm. I am able to understand biology enough that same choices challenge the natural order and function of human pair bonding.

    Do same sex couples represent marriages – no, at least not as to a legal recognition. Is my business what occurs between consenting adults, in public, I think there is more room. In private – no. Whether or not that is a moral failing depends on one’s faith and practice.

    But the laws designed to protect and codify heterosexual marriage are Constittional and were passed according to the processes and manner in accordance with the Constitution —

  9. The comparisons to other biological traits of behaviors based on genes are also based on something the same claim made by the homosexual community is not —

    just a small problem. Evidence.

  10. ziel says: • Website

    Really, who are these people that claim genes determine sexual orientation, but nothing else? Seriously, name them.

    Seriously, yourself. Try columnists for the NY Times – Nik Kristoff, Tom Friedman, Gail Collins, Maureen Dowd. Do you honestly think any of them believe behavioral/mental traits like intelligence, conscientiousness, extroversion are genetically based? Or doubt that homosexuality is “in the genes?”

    This duality of which Unz refers is pretty much rampant among our illuminati. I’d like you to name a public intellectual who clearly believes both to be true.

    On the other hand, it seems likely that Krugman does believe intelligence is largely heritable, based on his dismissiveness towards Gould in the early 90’s – but nowadays he dare not admit such a thing lest his wife physically remove his manhood.

    (FYI – the correct answer is that homosexuality is not genetically based while the others are largely if not mostly genetically based.)

  11. MEH 0910 says:

    Gregory Cochran wrote on Depths of Madness:

    I’ve said it before, but it’s probably time to say it again. The most likely explanation for human homosexuality is that it is caused by some pathogen. It’s too common to be mutational pressure (and we don’t see syndromic versions, as we would in that case), it’s not new, identical twins are usually discordant (~75% of the time), and it’s hell on reproductive fitness. There is no way it is adaptive: the helpful gay uncle notion, group selection, compensating advantage in females, etc: these range from impossible to bloody unlikely.

    My model – not the only possible model based on a pathogen, but reasonable – leans on a couple of natural examples. One is narcolepsy. We now know that narcolepsy happens when a particular kind of neuron, concentrated in a little region in the hypothalamus, somehow gets zapped. 99% of narcolepsy cases happen in the 25% of the population that has a particular HLA type – which suggests that something, probably a virus, triggers an overenthusiastic immune response that zaps a neuron subpopulation that produce a particular neurotransmitter (called hypocretin or orexin) that regulates appetite and sleep patterns. And it doesn’t do anything else: narcoleptics aren’t stupid. You can compare narcolepsy to type I diabetes or Parkinson’s disease. Suppose there’s a neuron subpopulation that performs a key function in male sexual desire: wipe out that subpopulation, and Bob’s your uncle.

    Another is toxoplasma, which we now know changes mouse behavior in ways that increase a mouse’s chance of being devoured by a cat, the definitive host for toxo. Infected mice are attracted to cat urine, while uninfected mice avoid it. In fact, in infected mice, cat urine apparently triggers activity in neural pathways involved in sexual arousal. Microorganisms can reprogram sexual attraction in mammals.

  12. MEH 0910 says:

    Ron, Gregory Cochran responds to this post of yours. Excerpt:

    Ron Unz, in one of his occasional visits from Discworld, just offered a criticism of my ‘ gay germ’ theory of homosexuality. He suggests that people would surely develop resistance to any such germ – which general argument must explain why infectious diseases have never been a major problem for humans, right? Why malaria is no problem? The germs evolve too – that’s the point. Parasites can impose fitness burdens for millions of years.

  13. ted says:

    You might know a lot about many topics, Mr. Unz, but you don’t know the most basic things about pathogens, their mutability and the speed of that mutability.

  14. mike says:

    Wait–you think a guy like Cochran just cavalierly discarded something like balanced selection, just threw it away with no good reason?

    I guess you don’t think much of Paul Ewald’s notions about germs either?

  15. It’s hardly scientific proof of gay-germ theory, of course, but it’s pretty common knowledge in some circles that homosexuality can be transmitted by sharing a six-pack of beer.

  16. “He is, however, seemingly completely incapable of writing intelligently when it comes to SSM or homosexuality.”

    Naturally, translated, this means “only those who agree can be considered intelligent.”

    Mostly, all the theories are proffered to try to make the point that since no one has any choice, no one can be held responsible for their choices as well as having no control over them.

    It is true, where there is no individual will, there can be no sin.

    Yet the specter of sin hangs heavy over the not-quite-conscious, like a doubt, nevertheless.

    Homosexuality is something that is both made too much of and too little, from several perspectives. In denying choice or responsibility, however, there are those who doth protest too much.

  17. Gaeranee says:

    Mr. Unz, you may want to look into sexually antagonistic selection in male homosexuals —

    This article explains the study above in layman’s terms about why gays haven’t died out —

  18. MEH 0910 says:

    5 Weak Ideas About the Origin of Homosexuality: A Reply
    by Jesse Marczyk

    H/T: West Hunter blog comment by chris (with an interesting reply by numerate gay male misdreavus).

  19. Cole says:

    Come to think of it, why exactly would this hypothetical germ make people gay? Presumptively it’s an accidental or coincidental thing, e.g. its waste is similar enough to some neurotransmitter/hormone/whatever to affect development. That sounds like a weird coincidence, but less weird than a pathogen that spreads by/profits from making people gay.

    The hormonal surge theory does sound more plausible, but it’s not like I’ve researched this. Or know much at all about the subject.

  20. Ron Unz says:

    (I generally avoid involving myself in TAC comment-threads, but I’ll copy my response from the Westhunter debate)

    Of *course*, I’m aware of all those Hamilton inclusive-fitness issues, and quite possibly have been for much longer than gcochran, given my strong interest in the topic stretches back to the late 1970s. And I also agree that E.O. Wilson is almost certainly mistaken on the Gay Uncle Hypothesis, but since the Gay Germ Hypothesis seems just as ridiculous, I don’t think the harsh insults to Wilson’s intelligence were warranted.

    Consider the Gay Germ model. I don’t think that anyone has ever suggested that the germ actually transmits itself via the sexual behavior in question, so that behavior is seemingly a inessential byproduct to the germ life-cycle. If the behavior doesn’t matter to the germ, but obviously matters very, very much to the genes of the host, there would be powerful selective pressure upon the germ to drop that particular extended phenotypic expression, after which the host would declare a permanent truce in the evolutionary arms race. After all, the human body is filled with a multitude of free-riding germs, so who cares about a few more?

    GCochran correctly points out the *massive* selective pressure against gay behavior. So if the germ didn’t really need it for anything, why keep it?

    This is *extremely* different from the case of nearly all infectious diseases, in which the harm inflicted upon the host is directly related to the massive multiplication or propagation of the germ. If gays ran around biting straights and thereby turning them gay, then I’d agree that a germ was probably responsible.

  21. Glaivester says: • Website

    Three things : first of all, Greg Cochran may be brilliant, but he is also quite arrogant, so anyone who disagrees with him on anything is in for a lot of grief from him. I think it is less a form of political correctness than a form of Harlan Ellison-ness (anyone who knows anything about Harlan Ellison knows what I mean, although I don’t think that Greg goes so far as to mail dead animals to people he doesn’t like).

    Secondly, the gay germ theory does not have quite the same problems as the gay gene theory, because even if this implies a potential genetic predisposition to homosexuality, the actual activation of this predisposition is subject to enough randomness that it might not have a great selective disadvantage. It also needs to be pointed out that identical twins are together in the womb for nine months and then usually together for several years after that, so they not only share genes but would likely be exposed to the same germs – in other words, the 25% concordance in identical twins does not necessarily imply that anyone with that same genetic structure would have a 25% chance of being gay.

    Thirdly, it needs to be pointed out that this applies to male homosexuals. Lesbianism is likely to have completely different causes.

  22. mike says:

    The gay germ seems a pretty good working hypothesis–a common pathogen that has an unusual, harmful side effect on a susceptible subgroup. Susceptible why? Maybe the age of the infected. An infant’s or a toddler’s brain is especially susceptible. Maybe a certain population has an atypical immune response. Consider something like MS, which appears related to genetic factors like hla type but also with environmental factors like distance from the equator and exposure to Epstein Barr.

    Cochran has pointed out the polio virus lives rather harmlessly in many of us, but is crippling, even life-threatening in others when it somehow meanders out of the gut in the afflicted. Sounds like something any other neurotropic bug could do in an unlucky small percent of a population.

  23. I hope there are those besides me troubled by a discussion about a yet undiscovered and unlikely to discovered responsible gene or germ.

    I understand the need to cut a path in research of what might be. But imbedded in these contentions is the not so subtle conclusion that it is.

  24. MEH 0910 says:

    “(I generally avoid involving myself in TAC comment-threads, but I’ll copy my response from the Westhunter debate)”

    Comments are very interesting over at the West Hunter response to this Unz piece, especially by Greg Cochran himself (gcochran9), and by numerate gay commenter “misdreavus”.

  25. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    As a psychotherapist who has worked with a good number of gay and lesbian clients over the years, I would add to the mix some speculation on a gene/developmental perspective on the emergence of gay behaviors and preferences. Cautionary note, this is not a resurgence of Freud. However, over the last 20 to 30 years developmental psychologists have become far more attuned to the importance of very early micro signaling in infant-caregiver behavior, and the importance of that signaling for a number of developmental outcomes, notably attachment. To be brief on this, some thought is being given to the possible role of slight variations in early developmental behaviors, that would be genetic in origin, that induce variations in response leading to longer term developmental outcomes, possibly including fully formed homosexual preferences. I suppose this is a variant on the gene plus germ argument, but it is worth keeping in mind. From my understanding of work in developmental dynamic systems theory (Thelen and Smith, for example, who also embrace a neural Darwinism model) it is likely that a number of behavioral and personality outcomes share this gene plus developmental environment profile. At any rate, in my clinical experience I can attest that all of the gay men I have worked with were well aware that something about them was “different” by about age 8 to 10, and they often have accounts of a sensed mismatch with their father–not necessarily an abusive or really compromised relationship, although that certainly happens–from a very early stage.

  26. Cliff says:

    The counter-argument to the gay gene theory, “that strong selective pressure would have rapidly eliminated any such genes from the population”, doesn’t work, as gays have (under social pressure) historically married and reproduced. Will our current acceptance of gays lead to their disappearance?

    The whole kerfuffle sounds like economics to me: people arguing about things that cannot be known. And if Mr Cochran can’t keep his temper over a matter like that, perhaps he should seek a less-stressful occupation.

  27. Spartacus says:

    Fran Macadam wrote: “Naturally, translated, this means “only those who agree can be considered intelligent.””

    No what it means is that the position one holds needs to be logical and based on facts.

    You apparently agree with me that Unz’s position is illogical because you accepted my statement that sexual orientation is not a choice. You simply have a different view on whether the absence of choice requires society to permit SSM. You apparently believe that because the Bible treats homosexuality as a sin, then our society should outlaw SSM and presumably homosexual sex as well. I disagree with your conclusion, but both of us are still in agreement that sexual orientation is beyond one’s control. Unz seems not to believe this.

    By the way, since you’re of the view that society should outlaw sin you should get started on the repeal of the 1st Amendment since it permits people to take God’s name in vain and to worship any deity they want, both of which are clear violations of the 10 commandments.

  28. Just because same-sex sex is naturally occuring does not mean that is it is genetic in origen.

    There is also the possibility that same-sex sex is easier for people because they do not have to deal with the wide variation of sexual expectations between females and males. Males tend to have low standards and do not require emotional content. Females are choosier and tend to demand emotional interaction.

    Every time my wife and sit down to choose a movie to watch, I wish I was in a same-sex relationship.

  29. I hope there are those besides me troubled by a discussion about a yet undiscovered and unlikely to discovered responsible gene or germ.

    Why would anyone be troubled about it? That’s not how science works. The human genome is huge and our understanding of it is still pretty primitive.

    It’s not wizardry. It’s hard work that takes time to do.

  30. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    When my first child was born, he was jaundiced and needed to be kept under UV lights for treatment. When my second child was born, the UV lights were not sufficient, and he needed a total blood transfusion. My wife and I were told that if we had a third child, it might require multiple transfusions in-utero. What was going on? We found out after the second child that we had a rare type “C” and “m” blood incompatibility; each time my wife’s immune system got a wiff of the C and m factors in the child’s blood, it mounted an increasingly more robust attack — similar to the way vaccines work.

    What does this have to do with homosexuality? One theory comes from the observation that the probability that a male is gay increases about 33% for each biological (not adopted) older male sibling. It posited the mother’s immune system reacts to mascularizing hormones in the developing fetus and attacks them; more male offspring mean more exposures and a heightened immune response. There would be positive evolutionary pressure for this adaptation- a strong immune system is good — but clearly there is a balancing act, and a too strong immune response results in some gay (infertile) offspring.

    Note that homosexuality is probably like fever – a condition with multiple causes. Just because viruses cause fever, doesn’t mean that bacteria don’t also — or for that matter, some purely voluntary behavior, like staying in the sun till the point of sunstroke — don’t cause it as well. Current estimates are that the Fraternal Birth Order effect account for about 1/7th of male homosexuality.

    Female homosexuality probably has a host of different causes as well, though my sense is that it is more often socially conditioned (the Lesbian until graduation phenomon) than in the male case.

  31. Ron Unz says:

    Glaivester: Greg Cochran may be brilliant, but he is also quite arrogant, so anyone who disagrees with him on anything is in for a lot of grief from him.

    Well, you appear to be correct. After he produced his lengthy post attacking my critique of his Gay Germ theory, I showed up and published a couple of comments in response, but he now seems to have censored/banned me, perhaps because I was defending myself a bit too well. Here are my two published comments:

    His response to the second was:
    Chlamydia often causes sterility. There are parts of the world – Africa’s ‘sterility belt’, where tens of percent of women were sterile or had drastically lowered fertility, before antibiotics became widely available.

    According to your argument, that can’t have happened. But it did.

    Enough already. Your style of argumentation is not productive.

    To which I responded:
    Aren’t sterile women in those African societies usually forced into prostitution? Hasn’t there been quite a bit of speculation in ev-bio circles that the sterility inflicted by the disease therefore greatly increases the effectiveness of its vector transmission to additional hosts? Now *that* is an ev-bio disease hypothesis that makes perfectly good sense to me.

    After three tries last night, my comment still hasn’t appeared, so I suppose our dialogue is at an end. Obviously, it’s his blogsite and he can do whatever he wants with it, but I doubt if such behavior enhances his scientific credibility. Stephen Jay Gould would be proud.

  32. cka2nd says:

    Glaivester says: “…first of all, Greg Cochran may be brilliant, but he is also quite arrogant, so anyone who disagrees with him on anything is in for a lot of grief from him. I think it is less a form of political correctness than a form of Harlan Ellison-ness…”


  33. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    … Can people without molcularbiology degrees just refrain from commenting. Although most will have the capacitie to understand some of the research that has come out recently- most will never be able

  34. You may be interested to know that current research suggests that male homosexuality is not transmitted genetically, strictly speaking, but via changes in how genes are expressed (a field of study called epigenetics). There’s a discussion related to homosexuality here.

    The “gay germ” theory is not one I’m familiar with. However, it seems to me that it would have to account for several difficulties. First and foremost, where is it? Why has it not been identified? Secondly, how is it transmitted? How and why are some people infected and others not? Sexual orientation, after all, appears to be extremely geographically dispersed, and seems to manifest in many cases before puberty.

    I suppose you could argue that most people have an inherited resistance to a “gay germ”, but that doesn’t square with what we know about how such resistance comes about (bubonic plague is an excellent example: you’ll initially get widespread infection and morbidity, eventually this settles into being endemic like plague is now, finally we end up with most people not being affected or only weakly so).

    As with any other “germ” that causes genetic extinction (homosexuality doesn’t kill you, but does prevent you from reproducing), we would have expected to see tons of gayness breaking out followed by a population crash followed by a slow recovery. And we would have expected to see that pattern repeated when previously isolated populations were introduced to the germ (viz. smallpox and syphilis, which crossed the Atlantic in opposite directions during the Columbian Exchange).

    Anyways, if anything, the whole germ theory appears, if anything, to be even more problematic to me than the genetic model.

    The epigenetic argument is interesting, and may well prove fruitful. Prior to reading about it, my assumption had been that homosexuality was caused by a combination of factors, some genetic, some environmental (in the broadest sense; for instance it would include the environment in utero as well as family and social factors post partum).

    But, more broadly, whether homosexuality is ppurely genetic, epigenetic, environmental, caused by infection, or some combination of all of these factors, while interesting, is beside the point. The point is that it isn’t a conscious choice. Which suggests a major reason why conservative hostility towards gay people has become so unpopular as that understanding has grown.

  35. minty says:

    “the ridiculous Freudian nonsense that dominated the subject during the second half of the twentieth century”

    Har. Somewhere in the 1990’s, Camille Paglia is VERY ANGRY with you.

  36. Sharculese,

    I did not say it was wizardry. I did not say it wasn’t hard work. I said it is not in evidence. The discussion centers soley on it’s speculative possibilities. For me the discussion suggests (strongly) that biology is a given — And to that I mus say “Whoa.”

    I am ver mindful of the research that denotes that in males engaged in homosexuality, that a substantial number revert to heterosexual unions. as they age.

    A biologic determinent would preclude such behaviors.

  37. “Just because same-sex sex is naturally occuring does not mean that is it is genetic in origen.”

    Just because something appears in nature doesn’t make it normal either. Anamolies occur across most animal and plant life.

  38. “Folks who argue that genetics determine gayness (what, is “sexual orientation” too academic for you, or are you just trying to score ickiness points?) believe that genes determine “nothing else?”

    My infinitesimal academic background requires something more than repeated refernces to a study by a now damaged survey, not the least of which is the continuum contention. Like all speculation and theory . . . sounds nice — but the evidence is rather scant.

    Here’s what I mean. if genetically based . . . even if hormonally based — one would be able to examine X gene and tydghn s chemical hormonal content and predict which children will be homosexual.

    Great for broadway plays — a long way from science.

  39. MEH 0910 says:

    The epigenetic theory appears problematic to Gregory Cochran: Homosexuality, epigenetics, and zebras

    Rice suggested sexually antagonistic genes, earlier. What fraction of known, common, fitness-reducing syndromes are known to be caused by that? Gee, none of them. What fraction are known to caused by leaky epigenetics? None.

    What fraction are known to be caused by infectious organisms? Practically all of them. So you know it can’t be that, right? Life is really a vast murder mystery – it’s always the one you least suspect.

  40. MEH 0910 says:

    Ron Unz, I would have liked to have seen Greg Cochran continue to engage your arguments in the West Hunter comments.

  41. Eric says:

    Greg Cochran may be brilliant, but he is also quite arrogant, so anyone who disagrees with him on anything is in for a lot of grief from him.

    I’m not sure why Cochran is regarded as “brilliant”. He hasn’t contributed anything exceptional or original. There’s nothing novel in The 10,000 Year Explosion or novel about the “gay germ” theory. I don’t know whether E.O. Wilson is smart or not, but it’s pretty clear that he has made more of an original contribution to science simply via his fieldwork than Cochran ever will (considering Cochran’s age). Just comparing their popular writing output, if you had to use the word, “brilliant” would apply to Wilson before ever applying to Cochran. The 10,000 Year Explosion is pretty derivative compared to, say, Sociobiology.

    It seems the whole notion that Cochran is somehow “brilliant” comes from deferential amateurs from non-science or non-grad school backgrounds in the HBD blogosphere that are intimidated by an actual credentialed physicist, especially one that acts so imperiously, that actively participates in their corner of the web populated mainly by fellow amateurs. They just assume he’s “brilliant” when it’s not really justified. He’s spent most of his career at government funded labs and contractors. Those PhDs are a dime a dozen. Most of them are time serving bureaucrats. They’re not “brilliant” physicists just because they have PhDs.

  42. “Those PhDs are a dime a dozen.”

    Hold on, I think I have a dime.

  43. MEH 0910 says:

    that are intimidated by an actual credentialed physicist”

    Oh please. It’s all about the quality of the arguments. There is a theoretical physicist associated with the HBD blogosphere – HBD accepting and string theory partisan “mad man” Luboš Motl. I think string theory is bunk. In the physicist blogosphere I look to string skeptic Peter Woit, who I am certain rejects HBD. That’s neither here nor there for me. For me it’s not tribal, it’s all about the quality of the arguments.

  44. I am ver mindful of the research that denotes that in males engaged in homosexuality, that a substantial number revert to heterosexual unions. as they age.

    I am unaware of such research. Perhaps a citation would be in order? Unless you are referring to bisexual males who later choose to forgo homosexual relationships, in which case then, well duh, the whole point of bisexuality is attraction to both genders, which you can choose to act on in varying degrees. In other words, you’re talking about the same kind of situational homosexuality that Mr. Unz separated from the people who in earlier generations fled to San Francisco and New York.

    As for the whole “ex-gay” movement, Exodus finally admitted some years ago that they couldn’t actually make gay men straight. I believe they now focus on helping them with chastity. And the remaining ex-gay movement has the problem that their poster boys keep coming back out of the closet. John Paulk is only the latest example.

    As I stated, it’s still unclear what the actual causes of homosexuality may be. But pretty much the one thing that has been established is that the myth that it’s a conscious choice has pretty much been demolished. When even the ex-gay dead-enders start admitting they were wrong, that’s pretty much the end of the argument.

  45. Mr. Unz, thanks for leading the charge on so many fascinating, yet neglected issues here at TAC over the last few months.

    I appreciate your perspectives as well as your openness!

  46. Jack says:

    The easiest question to answer is whether or not being a gay man is a choice. All you have to do is ask gay men this question: Did you choose to be gay? The answer, of course, is no, we did not choose. And anybody who still thinks it is a simple lifestyle choice is an idiot. Full stop. The difficult question is “What causes homosexuality?”. I encourage biologists and psychologists to keep researching for an answer. But in the meantime, the answer does not matter, right? Germs, genes, hormones in the womb, who cares? Whether the reason is this or that, will it change how you treat gay people? Should it change what rights they have as individuals? I sure hope not. This parsing of rights only matters if you are arguing that being gay is a choice. And it isn’t a choice.

  47. MEH 0910 says:

    Gregory Cochran’s latest writing on the issue: Not Final!

    If you knew the MZ twin concordance, which is around 25%, you’d already know that some environmental factor had to be the main cause. If you knew history, let alone microbiology, you’d wonder about pathogens, because they have caused most of the common fitness-reducing syndromes. As for the notion that hosts would surely evolve resistance – microorganisms typically evolve a bit faster than we do. A bacterium can go through thousands of generations in a year.

    You need to do a fair amount of spadework to make the case against a genetic cause. Even then, you can’t perfectly sure. It’s not like math. There’s always the possibility that there’s an undiscovered genetic phenomena that doesn’t have a name yet, not yet even a twinkle in someone’s mind’s eye. As Haldane would have said, things may be queerer than we can suppose. But that’s not the way to bet.

  48. Rambler88 says:

    A particularly interesting contradiction is that psychology, and other practices of similar authority, claim that they can–and should–treat a large and ever-growing variety of behaviors. These conditions range from serial child molestation to behaviors that are commonly considered to be normal, such as small boys acting like small boys. But it seems to be the strongly prevailing doctrine among them that homosexual behavior is immutable.

    I myself think that they’re mostly charlatans, with regard to what they claim they can change, and also with regard to their predatory attempts to extend the range of what they should be hired to change. But the contradiction should in any case cast some serious doubt on any “science” they may produce, either in defense of the gay agenda, or offensively against those who criticize it.

    Even in fields that are usually more rigorous, findings that can be seen to reinforce pro-gay positions are much more likely to lead to further funding and promotion than are findings that challenge those positions.

    As to whether or not homosexual behavior is a choice, I’m not convinced by statements like “I always knew I was different”. Some people are different, but many more think they are. And I’m not convinced of it by my impressions of most of the many gays I’ve known more or less well, at work or socially.

    If, in some cases, homosexuality is inevitable, it need not be for reasons that are intrinsically gender-related and therefore necessarily manifested in gender-related behavior. For instance, a person who is physically weak or morbidly shy may be pushed into such behavior in some environments–but not in others. The underlying characteristics of weakness or shyness may have a genetic component, or some other physiological basis, but the expression in gender behavior can still be environmentally determined and therefore might often be, to some significant extent, under the control of the individual and those around him. The same may be true of physiological factors in the womb, or even, for that matter, of genetic factors.

    Being from New York City, I’m certain that, for many homosexuals, fashion, social pressure, or the need to sugar up to the boss are decisive factors. (They’re factors in female promiscuity, and I’m quite sure that not all those women are promiscuous by nature.)

    Even if homosexuality is not a matter for choice, there are all sorts of behaviors that people can’t help, some with a physiological basis, some not. The fact that they can’t be helped does not mean that they merit promotion to the status of social norms. The undesirability of behaviors can be more obvious in some cases than in others, and the need for restriction can vary. A serious alcoholic or psychotic, or a severely autistic person, could be very disruptive in the workplace, for example, while a gay may make major positive contributions with no tradeoffs. (Though in fact, the more extreme gay types I’ve worked with were also quite disruptive–and a lot harder to fire.) This suggests that there might be a good deal of room for tolerance of gays.

    It does not follow from this, however, that homosexuality should be treated as a general social norm. There are respectable arguments against doing so. One of the strongest is that, through all the variations human society has experienced, no society, except the West in the last generation, has ever attempted to treat it as a general social norm–despite the fact that homosexuality has probably always been present in some degree. However accepted it has been in some circles and some situations, it has always been severely restricted, never publicly proclaimed, and always scorned by many- openly and with impunity.

    Official tolerance is nice, and I advocated it for gays for a long time, back when doing so was a social handicap rather than a smart career move. But it is now clear that in our society official tolerance is not enough for gays, or at least not enough for those whom gays allow to speak for them. I’m beginning to suspect that this has always been the case, and that this in turn is the reason why past societies, even those which accepted gays in some circles, have also tolerated, and often mandated, extreme measures against gays who ask too much from the wrong people.

  49. Vince says:

    Ron seems to take as a given that there would be “massive selective pressure” against a gay gene which would ultimately eliminate it from the gene pool. I take this to mean that being gay would present a significant enough social impairment to lead to total marginality in one’s milieu. But it isn’t true that gays were always-everywhere marginal to society. Charlemagne would be a singular example. Or we could look at homosexuality among the leisured class of ancient Greece.

    Or, to cite a modern example, think of a married man with kids who comes out of the closet at age 40. If we wish to argue against the gay gene theory, this would present a problem for the “selective pressure argument,” as this guy has done just fine reproducing, and it doesn’t seem to be a stretch of imagination to consider that a lot more men do the same thing. Think of how marriage and sexual relationships have changed throughout history, too, and how they react to the economy–a peasant would like to have as many children (farmhands) as possible, whereas a CPA can’t really have his 12-year old sons tend expense accounts.

    If we accept that there is a gay gene, then it would be the case that gays were pretending to be straight all throughout history. Given that cultural views and tolerance of gayness vary with the place and its historical moment, it wouldn’t seem at all unreasonable to me that the gay gene could persist.

  50. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Given the remarkable dishonesty of our media elites across such a wide range of topics, there is a natural tendency to assume that the truth is probably the opposite of whatever they say about anything.

    Hence your belief in Creationism?

  51. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The rule with human sexual behavior seems to be that whatever can be done to elicit arousal and orgasm will be done and it doesn’t have to be done with a partner. The idea that the sort of pornography we find stimulating as adults was determined en utero is preposterous.

  52. TGGP says: • Website

    It’s possible that at any moment of time there are genes associated with susceptibility to a pathogen. But those genes will be selected against, and then the pathogen will have to adapt in response to its changing environment. So there will not be a particular gene which remains associated for a long time.

    GBH, have you read “The Nurture Assumption”?

    Eric, Cochran & Ewald’s “New Germ Theory” seems to have persuaded the American Academy of Microbiology, which endorsed relaxing Koch’s Postulates along their recommended lines in 2005.

  53. Rambler88 says:

    @ Vince:

    Your example of “a married man with kids who comes out of the closet at age 40” is a good point. But a “gay gene” (or complex of genes, or whatever) that survives on that basis is not distinctive enough to fit in with the radical “intrinsically gay” vs. “intrinsically straight” dichotomy that would justify the sort of “separate but equal” status that the gay rights movement currently demands. (Much less the “separate and superior” status implicit in much gay rhetoric.)

    In other words, survival of a “gay gene” on that basis concedes too much to the view that heterosexuality is the norm (because it is the basis for survival and persistence). It would not by itself invalidate the notion that SSM is enough of an aberration to warrant being prohibited.

  54. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Coming up with a theory of a gay “germ” is a great way to make the white liberals in San Francisco or Montgomery County Maryland foam at the mouth, muttering about “homophobia” and all….but from my experience, homosexuality is both nature and nurture…there is a predisposition to it, based on some early emotional experiences and family dynamics (such as early molestation, or maybe too nurturing mom and an emotionally absent father)…or is opportunistic—like the absence for socio-economic reasons of women—which is why Kinsey came up with his “Kinsey Scale”…which has been discarded by the politically uncool by the modern urbane set.

    The most prevalent form of homosexuality seems to be older guys with young men—Oscar Wilde’s “feasting with panther”, or maybe the ultra-feminists, who hate men so much that they consider emotional or sexual intimacy with a man to be impossible.

    At any rate, sexuality as a recreational activity for well-to-do urbane wealthy men (The Playboy Philosophy) and women (Helen G Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl) fits right in with the “Gay Sexual Liberation” movement. It might work for the rich playboys/girls, but it’s a disaster for the working guy or gay who lives closer to the edge economically. Look at the African-American family for instance.

    All the above is very politically incorrect. Hope I don’t get demoderated….<chuckle.

  55. ““Kinsey Scale”…which has been discarded by the politically uncool by the modern urbane set.”

    While vast the Kinsey study is rife with problems. Not the leat of whic is Kinsey’s theories are just that — theories. His methodology and record keeping are highly questionable as well as the absence of any hard data to support the same theories.

    The continuum sexuality scale — is not rooted in scioentific evidence. We just know that certain people have certain prefernces — there is is no evidence that sucha scale is biologically determined or that one even exists.

  56. “Look at the African-American family for instance.nced. ”

    as linked to the matters you referenced, I think this is an astute observation.

  57. Stew says:

    I am a gay man, I’ve known I was different and that I felt differently about males since I was young. I was neither neglected, molested or abused as a child and entered puberty noticing the guys on my soccer teams while they noticed the girls. I can say without a doubt that sexual orientation occurs without some life altering sexual abuse. I have a straight friend who was abused and he still turned out straight. You christians use that old “the bible says…” to defend what you don’t understand while ignoring it’s neighboring old laws because they aren’t socially appropriate anymore.

    The next time you wave that two thousand year old fiction around think about how you’re not helping the poor, orphaned children or the sick and darkly enough how you’re not punishing insolent woman or how you’re treating your slaves.

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