Friday, October 9, 2015

This is how you end up with Sentinels...

Hey look, a gayness detector! Researchers led by Dr. Tuck Ngun at the David Geffen school of Medicine in Los Angeles say they have developed a way to predict whether or not someone is gay by examining their genes. Wait, wha-how-why?
"Wow. That's a lot of gayness..."
So midichloirians. Ngun's team
 discovered gay midichlorians. 
I'm not like a sciencetician, so take my explanation with some NaCl (it's science for salt), but the team compared pairs of identical twins of whom one brother was gay and the other straight. Since both twins started with the same genes, the only differences would be epigenetic meaning they occurred after conception. Isolating the differences between two otherwise genetically identical brothers and then comparing these across sets of twins allowed them to identify certain factors that homosexual twins had in common with the others in the study. Still with me? Yeah, me neither but the findings seem to indicate that in some cases sexual orientation may determined by environmental factors rather than simply genetics. Nurture not just nature.

"See? What'd I tell you? Prison sex."
-Ben Carson, even 
more insufferable
But wait, does this mean that being gay is a choice and that the right-wing shitbags have been right all along when they rant about the homosexuals ruining 'merica with their Obamacare and their gay wedding cakes? No, of course it goddamn doesn't, but that's all we're going to be hearing about for the next few days. Human sexuality is incredibly complex and this study, even if it turns out to be right, only suggests that homosexuality in some instances might the result of epigenetic and genetic factors.

"Well, would you read 'The Amazing Acute 
Radiation-Sickness-Man?' No? Then shut up."
-Stan Lee
Here, let me put this in comic book terms. Take Kitty Pryde. She's a mutant and thanks to her x-gene can do cool shit like walk through walls and travel through time. Neat, right? Then you have someone like Peter Parker. He wasn't born with an x-gene, but instead was bitten by a radioactive spider and thanks to Stan Lee's questionable grasp of how science works, gets spider-powers instead of hair-loss and tumors. Both have super-powers, they just got them through different means. Exactly like gay people (source: science).

Or you could, you know, just ask
someone if they're into dudes...
So why did Ngun and his team devote all this time and math to something that can be gleaned from a person's OkCupid account?

"Sexual attraction is a fundamental part of life, but it's not something we know a lot about at the genetic or molecular level. I hope that this research helps us understand ourselves better and why we are the way we are."

-Dr. Ngun, on why all the gay

Ok, they were invented for research, but
how long before they invent tiny gay pigs?.
To broaden human understanding. That's cool, right? Yes it is but you can see how it could also make people a little nervous. We humans love to mess with shit on a genetic level. Geneticists in China recently invented a new kind of micro-pig just for the hell of it. Identifying a 'gay gene' (which again, is not what this study does) kind of sounds like the first step in screwing with it. Also and some what more plausibly, there are some pretty shitty parts of the world where being gay is illegal and a functioning gaydar is an unsettling prospect.

Look, I'm totally a science fan. I mean, I'm not good at it and don't understand all the sciencey parts, but I appreciate it and think we should always be expanding our knowledge of the world around us. That said, we should also be super-careful about what people will do with studies like this one which can easily be seen as, but are way more nuanced and complicated than, 'hey look, a gayness detector.' Because, to extend my earlier nerdnalogy even further, that's how you end up with Sentinels.
"Gay-gene detected. Surrender or be destroyed."

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