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Posted on January 2, 2007 at 8:43 PM

Scientists in Oregon are experimenting with changing the orientation of gay rams, and the response has been fierce. It seems biological experiments on sexual orientation are, perhaps with those on race, one of the few remaining areas of scientific ideological taboo.

Researchers argued that sexual orientation is an aspect of human sexuality that is a valid area of scientific interest. Opponents argued that the research is homophobic, and Martina Navratilova faxed letters to the presidents of both Oregon universities involved, charging:

How can it be that, in the year 2006, a major university would host such homophobic and cruel experiments? … I respectfully ask that you pull the plug on this appalling and misguided research. Surely you can find a way to redirect the millions of public tax dollars that are being wasted on these experiments to a more fruitful venture-perhaps by funding a gay and lesbian community center to foster dialogue and acceptance for people of all sexual preferences?

There is still “forbidden knowledge” in science — see Kempner, Perlis, and Merz in Science in 2005. Clearly, there is basic science that should not be done (trying to construct a more virulent virus, for example) and science that can be misused or misinterpreted (exploring the roots of sexual orientation). But the second does not necessarily imply the first. Most troublesome, and the reason to give some support to Navratilova’s complaint, is that the grant application does suggest that the researchers hope to “extrapolate” the results to human beings — and so implicitly suggest that they are looking for a way to prevent or alter a homosexual orientation. Snd we all know there are plenty of people in the US, and regimes in the world, that might jump at the chance to use a technology that would minimize or prevent the birth of gays and lesbians. Still, it is a controversial question whether the best strategy is to ban the science or battle the prejudices.

Paul Root Wolpe

[A reader comments: “Jim Newman here from the university actually conducting the research.

In regards to the Sunday Times article which is the source of all these wild conspiracy theories, I am pleased that a writer has thoroughly investigated the article. As he reports, the Sunday Times article is filled with major errors and false claims. His analysis also raises important questions about the timing of the article which comes almost five years after the research was actually conducted.

Heres a link to that analysis that anyone who is interested in this topic should read:

A wolf in gay sheep’s clothing: Corruption at the London Times
(link).”] More letters below.

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