Posted by: Chris | May 25, 2013

There is No Gay Germ

During the aftermath of the Jason Richwine silliness, Andrew linked to this post by Freddie deBoer, who analogizes the kinds of people who discuss race and IQ to those who make the gay germ argument, in that the proponents of both are draw to these arguments because they confirm bigoted a priori assumptions (and thus their less-than-pure motives are reason enough to dismiss the arguments without considering the facts):

I’ve seen this blog post get passed around a few times. It’s about the origins of homosexuality. The post argues that there are good reasons to doubt the straightforward genetic theory, that gay men and women possess a specific gene or genes that cause them to feel sexual and romantic attraction to members of their same sex. I possess nothing resembling the expertise to make that determination. In my own limited way, though, I’m sympathetic to questioning the purely genetic hypothesis, as it’s always seemed overly simplistic…

Yet when I read an argument that homosexuality is caused by a pathogen, it gives me pause. I read it with defensive skepticism. Why? Because, of course, the notion of “homosexuality as disease” is old, and has been used for a long, long time in the oppression of gay people. I read the post, and it has superficial plausibility to me. But there’s no proof, yet. And when I read the comments, or find blogs that have linked to the post, my worst fears are confirmed: the commenters are repeatedly and explicitly comparing homosexuality to pedophilia, they are talking about gay sex as “wanton sex,” they are using the language of deviance and disorder. The author of the blog post himself says: “Of course it’s a mental disease: a Darwinian disease, which is the only reasonable definition of disease. Curable? Who knows? Preventable? Likely.” Whatever the truth of the origins of homosexuality, I want nothing to do with the people who are arguing that the origins are pathogenic.

It turns out that people who are inclined to see homosexuality as caused by a pathogen are also people who are inclined to see homosexuality as disordered, deviant, and wrong. Could any functioning human intelligence be surprised by this? And yet if I apply the kind of thinking Andrew endorses when it comes to race and IQ, I would have to ignore this connection and suspend skepticism, as though doing so is somehow in service to science.

This is bullshit.  Factual arguments should be able to stand on their own, independent of the repute of those who put them forward.  What more, this censoriousness only abets the bigots, as deBoer himself aptly noted only a couple days prior:

Racism thrives on conspiratorial thinking and the self-definition of racists as an oppressed group. When you say things that are true aren’t, and especially when you do so in a way that treats the other point of view as forbidden, you play directly into their hands. I cannot imagine an easier way to give them fuel for their argument than to say that certain test results don’t exist when they do. Perhaps it’s easier to argue that way, and perhaps it’s more emotionally satisfying, but it hurts the antiracist effort in the long run. More to the point: what are you so scared of? It amazes me how often I interact with white liberals who, despite being perfectly correct on the merits, talk about race in a state of absolute panic. I hate to cast aspersions but I sometimes suspect people I know secretly find the case against racism to be weak, and are afraid that if they have to argue, somehow, the racists will win.

Bullshit. The case against inherent racial inferiority is correct. The moral and analytic argument is on our side. You have to have the guts to confront the facts and make the case. Just as no one supposes that the racial achievement gap in grades, graduation rate, and college are somehow proof of racial inferiority, no one should mistake the perceived IQ gap as meaning something when it doesn’t. Don’t be afraid, and don’t play their game. Stop getting panicky about race talk and engage. It’s your moral responsibility.

I endorse this iteration of deBoer wholeheartedly and I hope to take up his challenge to rebut the previous deBoer.  I know we’ve been down this road before here, but I want to state the case as clearly and as jargon-free as possible, so that future deBoers need not discuss the issue “in a state of absolute panic.”

The gay germ theory is wrong.  It has no truth to it and its transparent falsity should be what causes one to cast aspersions about its defenders’ motives, not the other way around.  One suspects its proponents recognize this too: for instance, if you read the argument laid out by Greg Cochran that deBoer linked to or the Cochran’s article we cited earlier, you note that he avoids making a positive case for his own preferred explanation.  Instead, both articles spend most of their ink attacking various genetic or sociological explanations only to slot in “some virus probably caused it” at the end.  It is simply a germ of the gaps, a raft of magical thinking and hand-waving that avoids scrutiny based on the flaws of its competitors.  As with the Discovery Institute‘s intelligent design sham, when the argument is shorn of its critique of the mainstream explanations and judged on its own merits, it collapses.  In particular, the gay-germ theory betrays an ignorance about how viruses actually operate and how our bodies act in response to them.

First, though, what is the gay germ theory exactly?  It theorizes that (male) homosexuality is caused by a surreptitious pathogen that early in childhood slips the blood-brain barrier, attacks a specific nerve cluster, and by so doing alters the behavior of the host beginning about ten years into the future (by making them gay).  What would a gay-germ look like?  According to Cochran:

My guess at a candidate virus would be a common viral infection that usually hits in childhood. Something like herpes I, or Epstein Barr, or chickenpox, or RSV, human herpesvirus six, human herpesvirus seven, or any one of hundreds of rhinoviruses and coronaviruses. Really, hard to guess. It might hit before birth, but wouldn’t have to. It could well be an undiscovered virus: we find a new one infecting humans every few years. Last one I remember was human metapneumonia virus, discovered in 2001.

Of course, none of the random assortment of common viruses Cochran lists actually infects the brain (probably the only thing they have in common).

This points to the biggest weakness of the gay germ theory: it fundamentally misunderstands why pathogens exists.  When non-biologists consider pathogens (fun fact: most of the vocal gay-germ theorists are non-biologists), the temptation is to focus on the symptoms rather than on the pathogen itself.  Thus viruses are simply bad things that happen to people.  But pathogens are fairly indifferent to their host’s status.  The only metric selection judges them on  are their ability to reproduce and to find new hosts.  The cost to the host comes as a service towards one of those two ends.  For instance, the open sores and blisters caused by herpes are in part the result of the virus hijacking skin cells to produce so much protein components for future herpes viruses that the cell ruptures (the body’s own response to the infection also plays a role).  These sores also aid the herpes virus in infecting new hosts, as the virus requires skin-to-skin contact with the sores to transmit.   Indeed, there is a relationship between the parts of the body a pathogen typically infects and the mode of transmission: airborne pathogens typically infect the respiratory system, water-borne pathogens the GI tract, STDs genitalia and their related emissions.  Biologists have also postulated a similar positive relationship between a germ’s virulence and its ease of transmission: the more a pathogen requires of its host to find a new host the less it can afford to impair its function.  For instance, even though HIV and ebola viruses attack similar cells and transmit through contact with body fluid, Ebolaviruses transmit much much more easily (and produce copious bodily fluids externally) and thus can afford to kill their hosts within a matter of days rather than the years an HIV infection takes.

The hypothetical gay germ violates all of these principles.  Rather than maximize its short-term viability, its plan seems to be:

  1. Burrow down into the inner portion of the brain, probably the hardest place for an external pathogen to reach
  2. Infect a small batch of neurons that control sexual orientation (but little, if anything, else), which, if the germs hits shortly after birth, will have no effect on the host’s behavior for at least a decade
  3. ?????
  4. Profit!

I actually cannot fathom the endgame scenario for the gay germ.  After infecting the targeted cluster of neurons, does it begin to reproduce inside the brain?  Where do these newly created invaders go, if no other portion of the brain is affected?  And how do they get from where they are to someplace where they can disperse to new hosts without having any other side effect?  It is possible that the virus goes into hibernation after infection, but these same problems will inevitably arise whenever the virus reactivates.  Its not as if the behavior change induced redounds so obviously to its benefit that it would be worth the wait either.  Moreover, any gay germ would completely violate the relationship between virulence and transmission.  Given the ubiquity and rarity of homosexuality and the tender age of putative transmission, a gay germ would require a very passive method of transmission (Cochran himself admits it would need to be at minimum airborne).  Despite this, its effect on the host’s fitness is exceptionally innocuous: pseudo-sterility many years down the line.  One would expect that a pathogen with the gay germ’s ease of transmission would rapidly devastate its host producing more copies of itself rather than bother with the whole “infect the brain and wait for sodomy” plan.  The gay germ proponents love to pick at the evolutionary defenses of a genetic explanation for homosexuality, but I cannot fathom how in Darwin’s name they can possibly defend the evolutionary soundness of a gay germ.

The problems with the gay germ do not end with the parasite either.  Proponents of the gay germ thesis also seem to assume the host’s immune system has some convenient blind spots as well.  As a way of explaining, let me offer an anecdote.  When he was only a month or two old, my brother came down with viral meningitis.  This situation is quite similar to Cochran’s hypothesized gay-inducing infection (except in two respects: one, viruses that cause viral meningitis don’t infect brain cells, just the outer layer that sheathes the brain, and two, these viruses actually exist).  But unlike the imaginary gay germ, whose touch is so dainty that it operation has gone unnoticed for centuries, my brother’s bout with meningitis was almost fatal.  He had a triple digit fever for weeks on end.  The swelling from the immune response to the virus screwed with his behavior and conked him out for a good portion of the infection.  He was hospitalized for over a month and still suffers from the repercussions of the infection to this day.  Why would the body respond in such an ultimately damaging fashion to an infection like this?  Because an infection of the brain by any pathogen is an incredibly serious matter, which the body’s immune system has evolved a willingness to risk serious impairment or even death to prevent (this is also the cause of septic shock).  Yet the gay germ passes freely into the brain, without inducing anything like the trauma my brother underwent.  Perhaps it has developed sufficient evasive capabilities to travel the bloodstream and pass through the blood-brain barrier without inducing an immune-response.  However, if that were the case, the host would be under massive selective pressure to develop the capabilities to detect such an intruder and, conversely, any virus with this capability would be likely selected towards doing something more worthwhile for its own interests than turning people gay.  Thus, for neither the host nor the parasite does the gay germ have a modicum of evolutionary logic.

Curiously, the gay germ theorists also seem uninterested in the epidemiology of their purported disease.  Because of the limits on transmission discussed earlier, the incidence of pathogenic disorders is highly irregular, with clusters both geographic and chronological.  However, the incidence of homosexuality (at least in areas where cultural norms permit openness about it) is fairly uniform, with no discernible trends in terms of location or time of birth that I am aware of.  Of course, this is something that an enterprising gay germ empiricist could test to add at least some factual heft to their arguments (with the caveat that a certain degree of clustering is expected in randomly distributed data).  But since the theory’s proponents seem uninterested in substantiating their position (perhaps because they sense there is nothing there to substantiate), this opportunity goes unused.

But wait, you might think, the gay germ theorists do attempt to defend their position with reference to certain other diseases that at least validate the plausibility of their claim.  The examples though, if you give them more than a cursory review, prove entirely irrelevant.  Cochran, for instance, repeatedly refers to narcolepsy as way of backstopping the gay germ hypothesis:

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.

If you read closely, though, you realize that there is no evidence for the narcoleptic germ either; its just another germ of the gaps for another somewhat vexing neurological disorder (for those curious, most actual scientists believe narcolepsy is caused by an auto-immune reaction with a genetic component).  It is also worth noting that Cochran used to point to autism as the third neurological condition, along with homosexuality and narcolepsy, as likely candidates for a pathogenic cause.  However, one presumes that as scientists filled in the gaps and worked out a coherent explanation for autism (which resembles the going mainstream explanations for the other two), Cochran’s alternative lost its only leg to stand on and was quietly excised.  As for the rest (which demonstrate pathogen-induced behavior changes in non-humans) that their irrelevance was not immediately obvious to Cochran only further demonstrates the points I made above.  Toxoplasma gondii, for instance, is speculated to induce infected mice to become more liable to cat predation (T. gondii is a protozoan that can only reproduce sexually in the small intestines of cats).  Unlike the hypothetical gay germ, though, this change is immediately beneficial to the parasite, is intimately tied to its mode of transmission, comes with a suite of obvious neurological and physiological symptoms (which, in rodents and human infants/small child can lead to serious complications, including death), and produces a concomitant obvious immune-response.  There are also no permanent behavioral changes induced by toxoplasmosis after the parasite is suppressed.

Thus, gay germ proponents have no evidence to substantiate their claim.  At their most honest moments, they even admit it too.  Here’s how Cochran responded when asked directly to validate his position:

Is there positive evidence for your theory?

There is no positive evidence. There is no positive evidence for any explanation, really. The high discordance in identical twins says that for sure, some environmental agent is important. People have approached this in a silly way since time immemorial: Freudian explanations were among the silliest.

An admission of the truth, followed by a faux-Popperian dodge, and more attacks on alternative explanations for good measure.

As best we can tell, there is no gay germ.  The theory has no evidence to back it up, violates evolutionary logic, and is contradicted by the most current epidemiological data.  I encourage deBoer and others to push back with these facts whenever confronted with it (or any other baseless supposition that violates their preferred worldview) rather than insinuate darkly about people’s motives.  Once you have done this, though, and your interlocutor neither accedes to or attempts to rebut your argument, then you have grounds to question the “why” rather than the “what.”

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Responses

  1. […] have two disagreements with Chris’s criticism of Freddie DeBoer’s attitude toward those who think race helps explain IQ-level (and a […]

  2. There are a number of ways a “gay pathogen” may result in the destruction of a small cluster of neurons in the hypothalamus, without ever crossing the blood-brain barrier. None of this violates any principles of evolution.

    And it doesn’t matter whether this side effect, itself, is inimical to the survival of the pathogen.

    Come on, think harder about this.

  3. I will agree that I did not address the issue of the incidental, rather than targeted, gay pathogen, because I regarded that option as even more ludicrous than the alternative. Here are two of but many of the reasons why:

    First, think of the numbers involved. As Cochran himself notes, we are not dealing with a handful of isolated cases here, but ~5% of the population. Cochran seems to find that proportion problematic for a genetic cause for homosexuality (it’s not), but it is considerably more problematic for the incidental gay germ. If I understand you correctly, you are arguing that there is a disease currently in the population that is so pervasive and inflicts sufficient undirected brain damage that, in 5% of the population (note, not infected, but the population), a certain cluster of neurons is destroyed. If this were true, the incidental gayness should be the least of our concern. This disease at very least should be knocking out the elements of the hypothalamus that control hunger, hormones, and body temperature in roughly similar proportions of the population. I have no idea what you are doing here in the comment thread of a blog when there is an undetected, likely fatal disease on the loose which only you are aware of. Forget WordPress, alert the CDC.

    This points to another problem with the incidental gay germ: sufferers should be expected to have a greater proportion of neurological or at least hypothalamal disorders than the general population. Consider a situation in which homosexuality is caused by a severe infection/fever in early development that causes brain damage including the destruction of the putative “sexual orientation” cluster. One would expect that those who went through such an experience would be more likely than the average person to have other portions of the brain similarly knocked out. Thus, gays should have a greater incidence of hormonal control problems, for instance, or perhaps be more likely to experience mental retardation more generally. Unfortunately, there is no evidence at all to corroborate that supposition and a lot of evidence to suggest that this is not the case.

    This brings me back to my larger point. The proponents of the gay germ make no attempt whatsoever to substantiate their arguments with evidence supporting a pathogen cause (note: not evidence purporting to confound a genetic explanation). This is not a high bar to cross: even the Freudian crackpots are able to point to some data in favor of their explanations. Having supporting evidence is the bare minimum requirement to even partake in a scientific discussion, but the gay germophiles cannot muster even that.

    Therefore, misdreavus, it is you and your fellow internet apparitions who suffer from the poverty of imagination, inventing a pathogenic deus ex machina to avoid having to do the harder work of attempting to understand complex phenomena.

  4. Actually, gays DO suffer higher rates of what are euphemistically called “mental disturbances” than others–compulsions, depression, substance abuse. It’s hard to tease apart whether these problems are the result of the problems of being gay or if they are also side effects of some brain damage, but I think it’s the Danes (maybe the Dutch?) who did a study that found that even when controlling for societal discrimination, gays suffer from mental illnesses more than straights. The recent GWAS done by 23&me found the same.

  5. This is true, but as you suggest, these things (substance abuse, depression, suicidal tendencies) are much more plausibly a symptom of being gay than a function of brain damage, especially since they have little to do with the area of the brain that controls sexual orientation and are caused much more frequently by social problems than by brain damage.

    What one does not observe are other problems that often result from damage to the hypothalamus, like problems regulating body temperature or pubescent growth rates or adrenalin production. Nor does one see a greater propensity toward, say, mental retardation that would result from more generalized brain injury.

  6. 1. Who says it has to be damage to the hypothalamus/amygdala? Those may be the centers of arousal but they might not determine the object desired. A switch may be located elsewhere that sets in motion a cascade of chemical reactions.

    2.) Viruses have demonstrated an ability to cross the BBB.

    3. Gay men are highly neurotic, wouldn’t you say?

    4. For examples of how a common bacterium, streptococcus, can change the behavior of those who are somehow susceptible, see PANDAS.

  7. 1. Misdreavus, the person to whom I was initially responding:

    “There are a number of ways a “gay pathogen” may result in the destruction of a small cluster of neurons in the hypothalamus, without ever crossing the blood-brain barrier. None of this violates any principles of evolution.”

    Also science. It is currently our best guess as to where sexual orientation is located and the sole area where investigations into the neurology of sexual orientation have taken place.

    2. I know. Hey, I even cite some in the initial post! The point here is that they do not do so surreptitiously, but instead causing a massive reaction in the body:

    “Why would the body respond in such an ultimately damaging fashion to an infection like this? Because an infection of the brain by any pathogen is an incredibly serious matter, which the body’s immune system has evolved a willingness to risk serious impairment or even death to prevent (this is also the cause of septic shock). Yet the gay germ passes freely into the brain, without inducing anything like the trauma my brother underwent.”

    3. No idea. I would need a larger (and more random) sample to achieve statistical significance. Though I wonder if neurotic means what you think it means…

    4. I should note that PANDAS (or at least the infection-related part) is only a hypothesis, with no solid evidentiary support. At least the researchers have attempted to muster evidence, which is more than one can say about the gay germaphiles. Also, note that the mechanism is entirely unrelated to anything you, misdreavus, Cochran, or anyone else has suggested, where an infection induces an autoimmune response that disrupts neurological activity (fitfully) in the entire basal ganglia. The generalized nature of their proposed mechanisms continues to be problematic for gay germophiles.

    • Look here, you haven’t the faintest clue what you’re talking about.

      The whole *point* of an autoimmune disorder is when the immune system targets a specific, often very limited variety of cells throughout the body, usually because they happen to contain cell receptor molecules that have incorrectly been labeled as a threat to the body. And yes, we have ample evidence to believe that pathogens are responsible for triggering the vast majority of autoimmune disorders. Some examples – Hashimoto’s disease (only targets certain cells in the thyroid), Type I diabetes (immune system only targets cells in the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas), narcolepsy (a tiny cluster of cells that generate orexin/hypocretin in the hypothalamus), anti NDMA encephalitis (NMDA receptors in the brain), etc. You can indeed have such a thing as homosexuality (caused by a pathogen) without mental retardation, paranoid delusions, or any other symptoms that are commonly associated with gross damage to the brain.

      Your absolute inability to follow Greg Cochran’s reasoning is an indictment of your critical thinking skills, not his.

    • As for gross insults to the brain being a very serious matter, from an evolutionary perspective — of course they are, and you should therefore expect selection to act persistently against any traits that damage the brain in a way that significantly reduce fitness.* And yet we have identified a number of autoimmune disorders that target specific, often microscopic regions of the brain — according to your misinterpretation of the facts, these should even exist at all. yet they DO.

      * Which is why pathogens are so damn near impossible to eradicate – they keep evolving, and evolving, and evolving to combat the host’s defenses. Even if cause symptoms that are strongly inimical to the host’s fitness. (Whether or not said symptoms actually boost the fitness of the pathogen itself is irrelevant. The fact that P. acnes leaves its victims ugly and disfigured does not seem to boost its fitness in any way – yet that’s exactly what it ends up doing.)

      • The problem with this thinking is that it relies on a strawman of evolution
        He seems to have a basic misunderstanding of evolution. Note his first, inaccurate, comment: “The first key idea is that evolution optimizes function” Evolution does not optimize function, evolution results in something that barely works. Any engineering undergrad could design a system *much* better than our spinal column (just to name one). Evolution produces what barely works, not what works best.
        Second he doesn’t consider kin selection and cooperative breeding: http://homoresponse.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/gay-gene-and-evolution.html
        Finally absentee of evidence is absence of evidence, believing that differences in brain structure means damage.

  8. I get the feeling you aren’t giving credence to the meaning of “hypothesis.”

    Like others I’ve noticed now and then who get their dander up about the idea a pathogen could be responsible for what ultimately becomes a boy’s sexual and emotional attraction to a member of his own gender and no such attraction to a fertile mate, you demand “evidence.”

    I think Cochran would agree with you mightily that evidence is exactly what is needed. He has put forth the hypothesis, one he believes deserves to be tested by those who DO things in labs. You know, like biologists? He’s not a biologist. He hasn’t the lab of a biologist, the access to funds from orgs like the NIH. They’ve spent money on genomic scans (more than one), each of them revealing nothing to very little about any genetic connections. There is (or was, at least) an epigenetic study (NIH, again) started years ago at UCLA–nothing there either. We’ve got the sheep guy, Roselli, who is looking at steroidal, hormonal in utero brain organization/ differentiation, thinking it will provide the answer to hetero v. homo, hoping to find what causes some rams to be male-only oriented. He’s discovered a lot of things, but not what causes those rams to be disinterested in fence-tied estrous ewes and to hump other rams instead. (In fairness to Roselli, I think his research began as an attempt to understand the mechanisms of sexual differentiation of the brain related to hormonization) but as I understand Cochran and his “supporters”, his hypothesis is based a solid principles of natural selection and on what we have come to learn fairly recently about the human body and pathogens (an understanding still in its infancy, esp as concerns inflammatory responses). In other words, the hypothesis is strong enough that you’d think some researcher would tests that hypothesis unless 1) those researchers don’t understand much about evolution (both our own and that of pathogens) or 2) their damn scared of the hypothesis for pc reasons, which would be a shame.

    Personally, I’d love to see Catherine Dulac of Harvard get interested. She has discovered the double sexual circuitry of rodents (absent the gene for the vomeronasal organ), the female rodent’s behavior turns into that of a male showing that the VMO suppresses male behavior and when it’s missing, male behavior presents in females.

    Now, what is the analog in humans to the VMO?

    Oh, well, I’ll quit now, except to say that I’d agree with you that we need lab evidence, but you can’t get that until you test the hypothesis. Lacking that evidence doesn’t mean the “gay germ” hypothesis isn’t a good one. You seem to be hoping it isn’t true, not the mark of someone really interested in getting answers. (I think you are wrong, btw, in thinking people will react badly if it were discovered that male homosexuality were, say, the side effect of an inflammatory response to a bug).

    I do think, however, Dulac’s experiments with the rodent will eventually lead to an understanding of our objects of lust before any GWAS research will.

  9. ” …their damn scared …”

    Correction: “they’re…”

  10. I am still trying to wrap my head around the logic of your latest response. You support a theory that a) is implausible and b) has zero evidence in support of it (and a lot of contradictory evidence). You freely admit the latter and do not dispute the former. You note that the main proponent of said theory is not a biologist and cannot convince biologists to investigate it, likely because they, unlike Cochran, know something about how viruses and the body’s immune system works and also have more than a eighth grade understanding of genetics. His theory is not based on any “solid principles of natural selection” nor anything resembling an understanding of “the human body and pathogens,” or else it would not be what it is (see the main post). However, you interpret the widespread dismissal of your theory by subject matter experts as further proof of its rightness because something, something, political correctness. That or the ignorance of everyone in the world but yourself and an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Utah.

    You conclude with some bizarre accusations against myself. In particular, this bit:

    “You seem to be hoping it isn’t true, not the mark of someone really interested in getting answers. (I think you are wrong, btw, in thinking people will react badly if it were discovered that male homosexuality were, say, the side effect of an inflammatory response to a bug).”

    I just reread everything I have written here to be sure I did not misremember a stray statement, but I cannot find anything that partially resembles what I am putatively wrong about.

    However, I think you open with the paragraph that is both most perplexing and most revealing:

    “Like others I’ve noticed now and then who get their dander up about the idea a pathogen could be responsible for what ultimately becomes a boy’s sexual and emotional attraction to a member of his own gender and no such attraction to a fertile mate, you demand “evidence.””

    What the fuck do you think we are engaged in? I ask for evidence (notice: no scare quotes) because I am weighing competing explanations and that is the metric we judge them on. But once more, you dedicate the vast bulk of your response to the “germ of the gaps.”

    At this stage, I think the conversation turns to the “why” I alluded to in my conclusion. Why do you believe something for which you have no support and of which you cannot even defend the logic, something for which you get huffy with me for even suggesting you should have a reason for believing in it? Why does Greg Cochran believe something, in an issue area where he is totally ignorant (and those who are not ignorant dismiss him out of hand), with no “positive evidence” by his own admission, which he cannot be bothered to actually discuss in any of the myriad articles in which he purports to discuss it? And he does not just believe it but thinks it is “most likely explanation for human homosexuality.” Based on what? Because when you rule out empirics and logic, I think you are left with just animus. Or lunacy. I guess we cannot rule out lunacy. Perhaps it was caused by a bug…

  11. “You note that the main proponent of said theory is not a biologist and cannot convince biologists to investigate it, likely because they, unlike Cochran, know something about how viruses and the body’s immune system works and also have more than a eighth grade understanding of genetics.”

    Holy shit. Had to stop reading right there. Obvious you know nothing of Cochran nor his published works. Your opinion of Ewald? Nope, never mind. You’re a useless read. Sorry to have engaged–a waste of time. No discourse possible here.

  12. That assessment of Cochran comes purely from the only conversation I had with him, in which he demonstrated an inability to understand why sickle cell anemia, which is caused by a single mutation at a single locus which has a limited effect, was not germane to this conversation. But I am sorry you found this back and forth roughly as edifying as I have and I hope you engage the rest of the world with slightly more thought than you have demonstrated here.

  13. The main proponent of the new germ theory is actually Paul Ewald, who is a biologist. Also FWIW, Cochran claims in his blog post that at least three other prominent biologists think it’s a plausible explanation for homosexuality.

  14. This is correct and I do not wish to enmesh Ewald in accusations of crackpottery and ignorance directed squarely at Cochran. If you parse what Ewald has written on the subject from what he has co-written with Cochran et al. and what Cochran has written solo on the subject suggests that they are not entirely sympatico in terms of their positions or relative understandings of the science. Ewald’s position has been that researchers generally overstate the influence of genetic factors on the occurrence of diseases or disorders and specifically for certain cancers. Now, this is not the mainstream position,and rigorously disputed by many geneticists but it certainly seems plausible. His connection to the gay germ basically begins and ends with this general presumption, that it might be something worth looking into given the large role germs play in Ewald’s schematic. This differs markedly from Cochran’s stated position and enthusiasm on the subject. Ewald has also not written much (or anything?) on the subject in the intervening decade plus (a lifetime in genetics research), so I am not ready to presume that he still holds this view.

    That said, Ewald has written extensively about many of the subjects I brought up above (especially on the topic of virulence vs. transmissibility) and I would be curious to read his thoughts on their connection to Cochran’s germ of the gaps. It would also be interesting to see if he sees similar flaws in Cochran’s anti-genetic arguments as did I.

    As for Cochran’s assurances about the others, I do not give them much credence.

  15. Ewald’s theory is that most common diseases are caused by germs. Homosexuality would just be one of many, which might explain why he doesn’t talk about it much (the controversy surrounding the subject might be another reason). But let’s remember that it was Ewald who initiated contact with Cochran because he was impressed with his gay germ hypothesis. So by calling Cochran an “ignorant crackpot,” you’re basically saying the same thing about Ewald.

  16. […] is No Gay Germ https://thelure.wordpress.com/2013/05…s-no-gay-germ/ […]

  17. God, thank you for writing this, I almost got taken in by the gay germ hypothesis. I had a vague sense that it sounded a lot like other rhetorically convincing arguments of the form: “all of the options are exhausted … except my awesome idea!”, but I couldn’t quite spot the mistake.

    Examples of arguments of this form:
    “God exists because there is no other explanation for the existence of morality”
    “God exists because there is no other explanation for the existence of the universe”
    “Intelligent design is true because life couldn’t possibly have evolved”
    “It it isn’t supernatural powers then how else did he bend the spoon!?”

  18. “Narcolepsy confirmed as autoimmune disease”
    http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/12/18/confirmed-narcolepsy-is-an-autoimmune-disease/

    “Results also partly explain why the 2009 swine flu virus, and a vaccine against it, led to spikes in the sleep disorder.”

  19. I meant to enter this link above:
    http://www.nature.com/news/narcolepsy-confirmed-as-autoimmune-disease-1.14413

    “As the H1N1 swine flu pandemic swept the world in 2009, China saw a spike in cases of narcolepsy — a mysterious disorder that involves sudden, uncontrollable sleepiness. Meanwhile, in Europe, around 1 in 15,000 children who were given Pandemrix — a now-defunct flu vaccine that contained fragments of the pandemic virus — also developed narcolepsy, a chronic disease.”

  20. https://thelure.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/another-germ-of-the-gaps-eradicated/

  21. […] But there’s something special about the “gay germ” theory. To explain what, I’ll return to that passage I quoted from Chris at The Lure: […]


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