Saturday, September 13, 2008

Nature Nurture

All things being equal, I'd like to give a politician a pass on what could be construed as an error in phrasing, but given that this is Sarah Palin we're talking about, I think she's beyond the benefit of the doubt. In her interview with Charlie Gibson, she's asked about homosexuality:

GIBSON: Homosexuality, genetic or learned?

PALIN: Oh, I don't -- I don't know, but I'm not one to judge and, you know, I'm from a family and from a community with many, many members of many diverse backgrounds and I'm not going to judge someone on whether they believe that homosexuality is a choice or genetic. I'm not going to judge them.

Notice how she does NOT say that she's not going to judge homosexuals -- she's just not going to judge someone else on that person's opinion about whether homosexuality is a choice or genetic!

Of course, Gibson doesn't ask any follow up questions, apparently satisfied with this bland response about not judging anyone (except the gays themselves -- she's reserved the right to judge them). Does she favor DoMA? Does she think homosexual acts are a sin? Does she think homosexual thoughts are a sin?

Further, what does she mean she doesn't know what she thinks about the origins of homosexuality? How can asking that question not possibly have occurred to her? She's either terribly incurious or terribly dishonest.

Also, I want to point out that one aspect of Obama that has long garnered my respect is that in speeches, when he's listing off various groups in America (e.g. black, white, Asian) he always includes gays. He certainly doesn't have to, and I applaud him for including a phrase that probably turns off some swing voters.

While we're here, I should point out that homosexuality is not a choice, at least in males (less clear in females). Monozygotic (genetically identical) twins are much more likely to be gay than fraternal (no more or less genetically related than any pair of siblings). Further, gay males tend to be from large families, because females in those families tend to be more fertile, which nicely explains how genes that would seem to be dead ends from a natural selection standpoint, when in other contexts, are actually useful. You might remember from high school biology that the gene for sickle cell anemia works the same way -- two copies of this gene gives you sickle cell anemia, which is bad, but one copy (i.e. heterozygous) provides protection against malaria.

For the purposes of clarity, I want to emphasize that there is NOT a single gene for homosexuality -- like most complex traits -- schizophrenia, height, handedness -- there are a whole host of genes involved, most of which aren't known.

Obama will be making an appearance on SNL tonight (hosted by Michael Phelps). I really hope they bring back Tina Fey for a sketch on Palin...