Another Press Snafu: The UPI misinterprets the lesbian story

As if to say, “me too!” The UPI is taking its turn at incorrectly reporting the Savic pheromone study. Here is what the UPI report said:

Lesbians like men – with major difference

WASHINGTON, May 16 (UPI) — Lesbians react to body odors like heterosexual men but with an important difference — they are not sexually aroused, Swedish researchers say.

In a study of lesbians who smelled a derivative of progesterone found in male sweat and an estrogen-like steroid found in female urine, the female compound activated the hypothalamus among the 12 lesbians, researchers at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute reported.

While the reaction was like that of heterosexual males, the lesbians’ response was different in that they were not sexually aroused, said the study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That differs from earlier studies by the Swedish team, which found gay men and heterosexual women react to male sweat in the same way.

“This observation could favor the view that male and female homosexuality are different,” lead researcher Ivanka Savic told The New York Times.

One problem: the Savic study states specifically that the participants did not report sexual arousal. None of them, not just the lesbians.

ADDENDUM: I requested a review and correction and I just heard from the UPI that they did so.

In tribute to two friends: Karen Danielson & Mike Price

I am saddened today by the recent loss of two friends: Karen Danielson and Mike Price. Karen died suddenly (May 10) as did Mike (May 11), within a day of each other.

Karen was Health Services Director for the college. As such, I worked along side Karen every school day for 11 years while I was Director of Counseling. She was still vital and full of energy until a stroke took her. She and I worked on diverse creative projects simultaneously: she wrote and published a cookbook and I produced my music CD, and the video, I Do Exist. Although we were an odd pair I think, we supported each other through the details of creating something from nothing.

My former secretary Polly Witherup, said about Karen “she could make a dead dog taste good.” And Polly was right. Karen was always whipping up something really tasty in the Zerbe Health Center’s kitchen. When I could get a minute free at lunch, I often shamelessly begged for food at the kitchen door. I never went away hungry. I will miss Karen.

Mike was a professor of English here. We were not close friends but I liked him immensely. He proofed several things for me, including most recently, a chapter of a book I am working on. He was amazing at his craft.

He also was a rocker and tomorrow in honor of Mike, and at the request of his wife, I will be wearing my black tee shirt sporting appliques of about 20 electric guitars to the funeral. Several of us who play will be wearing this gear.

Rock on, Mike.

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.)

Lesbian and putative pheromone study, Part 4

Much correspondence has gone on regarding this study and the way it has been reported by the Associated Press. I can say this: the Associated Press writer, Randolph Schmid, has been made aware that the new study says nothing about whether sexual behavior is learned. Here is a quote from a recent email from Dr. Savic: “The easiest way to clarify the situation is to go to the original data. I do therefore refer to the manuscript in PNAS. The study does not give answer to the cause-effect issue. Sincerely, Ivanka Savic”

She also pointed out other flaws in the AP report. For instance, this section is misleading:

“Heterosexual women found the male and female pheromones about equally pleasant, while straight men and lesbians liked the female pheromone more than the male one. Men and lesbians also found the male hormone more irritating than the female one, while straight women were more likely to be irritated by the female hormone than the male one.All three groups rated the male hormone more familiar than the female one. Straight women found both hormones about equal in intensity, while lesbians and straight men found the male hormone more intense than the female one.”

To this, Dr. Savic said: “…the perception of these compounds was similar in ALL the subjects and all statements [in the AP article] about the pleasantness, irritability etc. are erroneous.”

In fairness to Mr. Schmid, the graph in the article gives the impression of differences but in statistical terms, the differences were small enough that they cannot be considered signficant. The AP report gives the impression that there were more sexual preference related differences than were actually found.

So we have this situation: the AP writer knows the study author has found significant errors in the story. She even asked if they could be corrected and to date there has been no correction. Perhaps one is in the works. Corrections are issued all the time, I wonder why this story is different.

I do not take interest in this just to be difficult. I think the media have a great responsibility in this climate to report accurately. And saying that “the findings add weight to the idea that homosexuality…is not learned behavior” is not accurate reporting. The other factual errors just add weight to the idea that a correction is in order.

Lesbians and pheromones, Part 2. Email from Ivanka Savic

Here is an email I sent to Dr. Ivanka Savic today about the study of lesbians’ response to putative pheromones. My note is in italics and Dr. Savic’s reply is in bold letters.

Dr. Savic:
The Associated Press story came out today about your study and I think they have reported it incorrectly.

First I am wondering if you can help me understand things more clearly. I am enclosing a link to the AP report: http://www.forbes.com/entrepreneurs/feeds/ap/2006/05/08/ap2729698.html

First, in the report the reporter writes: “It’s a finding that adds weight to the idea that homosexuality has a physical underpinning and is not learned behavior.”

THIS IS INCORRECT AND NOT STATED IN THE PAPER

As I understand your article in PNAS, you specifically offer learning as a hypothesis for your findings. Isn’t this true? I believe the reporter is misleading on that point.

THIS IS VERY UNFORTUNATE; AND YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT

Second, the AP report says: “In lesbians, both male and female hormones were processed the same, in the basic odor processing circuits, Savic and her team reported.” I understand that the study did show that AND (male condition) was processed akin to other odors by lesbians. But wasn’t there also some hypothalamic processing of EST (female condition) by lesbians?

YES! AND ALSO CONJUNCTIONAL ANALYSIS SHOWED A COMMON HYPOTHALAMIC CLUSTER IN THE HYPOTHALAMUS:

It was weaker and apparently not in the anterior hypothalamus but didn’t you also find dorsomedial and paraventricular hypothalamic activation? So it would be inaccurate, would it not, to say “both male and female hormones were processed the same?”

YOU ARE FULLY CORRECT

THANK YOU VERY MUCH. HOW DO I ACCESS THE AP REPORT??

Ivanka Savic

ADDENDUM: Someone posted and asked why I changed the AP wording when I wrote to Dr. Savic. I did not change it but it appears the AP did from saying homosexuality had a “physical underpinning” to a “physical basis.”