Lesbian and putative pheromone study, Part 5 – AP says they were wrong

On Friday afternoon, May 12, the AP issued a “clarification” of their report covering the study of the brains of lesbians. Here is the statement:

Clarification: Lesbian Brains Story
Fri May 12, 2:36 PM ET

WASHINGTON – In a story May 8, The Associated Press reported on the perceptions of lesbian women and heterosexual men and women when sniffing chemicals derived from human hormones. That report was based on a chart in a research study which indicated different perceptions of the chemicals, such as pleasantness, familiarity and irritability.

While there were differences in how the brains of homosexual and heterosexual participants reacted to the chemicals, the story should also have included the conclusion that indicated differences in individual perceptions were not statistically significant.

I made a request to the AP Thursday afternoon for the original AP story to be reviewed by the Science editor. Then, at the request of the AP, I supplied all of the correspondence between Dr. Ivanka Savic, Randolph Schmid and me. I have heard nothing directly from the AP as yet.

This is an important correction because many were misinterpreting the study thinking that lesbians responded differently in their feelings to the different smells. No such differences were reported, nor did any of the gay or straight participants experience sexual arousal in response to the substances inhaled. The study authors, lead by Ivanka Savic, have been clear all along that they do not know what the brain differences mean. No one knows how these differences would directly relate, if at all, to chosen sexual behavior.

So the correction did not go far enough. About the Savic study, the original story said: “It’s a finding that adds weight to the idea that homosexuality has a physical underpinning and is not learned behavior.” As Dr. Savic stated, “This is incorrect and not stated in the paper.” Since the study did not explore learning factors, one cannot state that the study adds weight to any ideas about learning and sexual feelings or behavior.

The website GayNZ came closer to an accurate correction, reporting:

AP says lesbian brains story was wrong

The Associated Press has clarified a story they released which inferred that lesbian brains are significantly different to those of heterosexuals.

The story was released on May 8 and carried by GayNZ.com on May 9 (“Lesbian brains react differently”). The story cited Swedish research that showed lesbians are more likely to find male pheromones, essentially the scent of men, more irritating, and furthermore that lesbians processed both male and female hormones in the ‘scent area’ of the brain, whereas heterosexuals processed the pheromone of the opposite sex in the hypothalamus, or ‘sexual stimulation’ area of the brain.

The report prompted a number of sexuality-researchers to claim that this revealed that sexuality is biologically formed, rather than solely through life experiences.

The Associated Press now claims this conclusion to be unsupported by the research, as no statistically significant differences were found. Most researchers continue to maintain that the formation of sexuality is a complex issue, stemming from both biological and cultural factors – or, simply put, both nature and nurture.

The state of the art is much closer to this statement from GayNZ than the article from the AP.

(Thanks to Colleen Keating for the tip.)