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May 02, 2011


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They ended up not titling their book "Rule 34"--I wonder if it was because that's the title of Charlie Stross's new novel.

Looks like a good example of "not even wrong."

i wonder if ogas and gaddam merely set out to tell the story *they* wanted to tell from the outset. and went looking for some 'obscure' 'little' sub-community to find a few anecdotes with which to pepper their 'discussion'.

it's not hard for some to get the idea in their heads that you can call anything 'social science' if you 'survey' people. psychology has enough trouble being credible without 'post-modernist'* hacks using it to roll out their prejudices as if they were reasoned examinations of some topic or other.

[* post-modernism is so badly misunderstood by so many that it's pretty much died on the inside for most practical purposes. ditto for psychology, and the social sciences in general.]

The sad thing is that the issues that social scientists look at really are interesting and important. Make that "competent and objective social scientists" -- unfortunately, all too often their disciplines are hijacked by people who get wedded to a political philosophy and use their discipline to support it. Which, not surprisingly, degrades whole disciplines and thus robs us of the real and useful things we might learn from them.

When I was in school (some decades ago), sociology had already gone far down that road. Anthropology (one of my majors) was still fighting to remain focused on actual data, rather than ideology. And having what success it had only because the diversity of societies that we looked at made it easier to come up with lots of counter-examples to most of the ideology-driven conclusions that sociologists were given to.

Stuff like this "study" may not be typical. Then again, they may simply be an exceptionally egregious example of a general phenomena. But every time something like this happens, any credibility that their field still has is degrades a little further.

I find the focus of 'evolutionary' theorists on the supposed 'hard wiring' of sexuality to be one of the more irritating and, well, hard-wired theoretical assumptions, even in the face of OVERWHELMING evidence to the malleability of human sexuality.

Of course human sexuality is malleable, since the human brain is malleable (cf. Damasio's amazing examples). But malleability does not contradict genetic predisposition and we are in many ways less free to choose who we want to be than we would like to think.

Maelorin: I'm not sure why you associate these guys with post-modernism, especially since one of the pillars of the movement has always been criticism of exactly the kind of meta-narrative we are offered by them.

A long long time ago, on a soc.feminism.moderated far far away, someone pointed out that:

In order to be a liberal, one must believe that sexual preference (gay, bi, straight, etc.) is pretty much hardwired and not subject to modification by nurture or environment (liberals no longer blame "cold mothers" for gay sons, we no longer fear "recruitment", we deride efforts to "fix" gay orientation) -- but one must also believe that gender roles (agression, interest in porn, nurturance, interest in math, childhood gun-vs-doll play styles, etc.) are almost completely socially constructed by nurture and environment.

On the other hand, to be a social conservative, one must believe that sexual identity is determined by nurture and environment, but that gender roles are largely hard-wired.

Ever since then, I mostly maintain a respectful silence when these issues are mooted, since it appears to me that both these stereotyped stances are internally inconsistent.

Your mileage may and probably does vary.

gender roles (agression, interest in porn, nurturance, interest in math, childhood gun-vs-doll play styles, etc.) are almost completely socially constructed by nurture and environment.

First, I don't think that this is the standard liberal position; what I've heard espoused is the idea that some (maybe all) of those things are strongly influenced by the social environment and that figuring out where nature ends and nurture begins is really really hard. Historically, many of our efforts to declare various gender roles to be hardwired have turned out to be be bunk, therefore we should tread carefully in this area and refrain from saying things like "women can't be scientists because the female brain can't handle math".

it appears to me that both these stereotyped stances are internally inconsistent.

Where's the inconsistency? Both of the liberal positions seem to be rooted in empirical evidence: it seems that efforts to change people's sexual orientation are not successful whereas there's a great deal of evidence showing that gender roles are far more plastic and amenable to social signaling.

I'd just note that the Pinker pre-pub blurb can be found here. My own feelings about Pinker are rather complicated, but I think the blurb, which is

"In a stroke of ingenuity, Ogas and Gaddam circumvent the deepest limitation of standard psychological surveys: that they merely tap undergraduates' socially acceptable responses, a flaw nowhere more damaging than in the touchy realm of sexuality. A Billion Wicked Thoughts is a goldmine of information about this hugely important topic, and, not surprisingly, gripping and sometimes disturbing reading."

is Pinker looking down and seeing the shark as he passes over it.

joel hanes references something someone said once a long time ago to distinguish what liberals vs. conservatives believe about sexuality and gender roles. That seems to have about the same level of authoritativeness behind it as the research under discussion in this post. The description of what liberals believe sounds more like "what conservatives think liberals believe".

It is always easier to state what conservatives think liberals believe, just as it is easier to state what liberals think conservatives believe. When you look in from the outside, you can skip the nuances which are obvious up close, and just give a simple (and simplistic) stereotype.

The challenge, for all of us, is to see the details in the opinions of those who generally have a different view from ourselves. It ain't easy.

I suspect that sexual orientation is more fluid than most people acknowledge, but I also think it shouldn't matter whether it's inborn any more than it should matter whether your favorite color is inborn. And I don't think it's primarily something you can consciously choose to have, and certainly not a question of sin vs. virtue. I doubt I'm going to get kicked out of the liberal club for believing all this.

joel hanes references something someone said once a long time ago to distinguish what liberals vs. conservatives believe about sexuality and gender roles.

I didn't read it that way at all; I read it as Joel trying to explain why he has learned to tread carefully in this area. Even though I don't think his analysis is right, I appreciate someone expressing a bit of humility. Seems all to rare.

I'm with Matt at 10:31 AM, since I don't see anything wrong with people being gay or straight, whether they have a choice or not. Maybe I don't understand liberalism, but that sounds liberal to me.

I mean, it may be an interesting question, nature v. nurture with regard to sexual orientation, from a scientific standpoint, but it has no bearing on right and wrong.

Matt, at the risk of getting read out of the conservative club (not for the first time) for using the word, I think reality is more nuanced. I suspect that, in the vast majority of cases, people are born either heterosexual or homosexual.

However the situation is not pruely black and white. There are also people who are bi-sexual. For them, sexual orientation (or at least their perception of their orientation) can be substantially impacted by their environment. I suspect that they are also the ones who provide the examples of people who had their orientation apparently altered -- via argument, prayer, or whatever.

It has always seemed to me a shame - intellectually - that for understandable practical / political reasons the "gay liberation" movement, or whatever one would now call it, nailed its flag to the mast of "nature" over nurture in its early days, and has never dared to consider pulling it down.

Understandable because this interpretation gets right around the questions of choice and "Why do you do [bad] things?" and "How can we change you?" that otherwise beleaguered gays and lesbians routinely encountered. Assert loudly "This is how we are - deal with it!" and one might hope to curtail some of these lines of offensive commentary. Probably it helped, although I'm in absolutely no position to tell.

OTOH, it also effectively curtailed much of the public self-questioning on the topic that might otherwise have ensued. It is my impression - correct me if I'm wrong (as I'm sure you will!) - that for someone who is involved in same-sex relationships to raise openly the thought that s/he might have chosen his/her sexual preferences, or even have been heavily influenced by environment, would often expose that someone to considerable opprobrium from supposed allies in the LGBT community.

My own view, like "hairshirthedonist," is that I don't really care why people love whom they do - it's all fine. But I'd like to know, and I regret that this strategic aspect of the question inhibits our answering it more convincingly.

I'm not convinced that there is that much opprobrium for the belief that sexual orientation is not genetic. For instance, this not particularly recent fact sheet from HRC comments that (paraphrasing) [while there is some evidence that sexual orientation is hereditary, the evidence is far from conclusive. What is conclusive is that people can't change their existing sexual orientation by choice.] That seems to be the dominant orthodoxy to me.

I think it is a mistake to conflate "I did not choose my sexual orientation, and I can't choose to change it," with "my sexual orientation is genetically determined." Certainly, there are some activists who make that mistake, but I think it is actually a more common mistake made by non-activists misunderstanding the first claim as the second claim.

I didn't choose to grow up speaking English, but I am a English speaking monoglot, and no other language will ever be as natural to me. For some people, sexual orientation is even more deeply rooted than language, for other people it isn't.

Even going beyond traits that are environmentally developed very early and are hard to change once they are developed, there is a broad swath of traits that are strongly influenced pre-natally that are not genetic.

My recollection of the limited research I've read on the heritability of sexual orientation is that a large Australian twin study found that sexual orientation could not be confirmed as hereditary, but that childhood gender conformity can be, and that childhood gender conformity is strongly correlated with sexual orientation in many studies. So there is some evidence that sexual orientation is at least indirectly genetically determined.

On the actual post topic, I remember hearing about this absurdity of astonishingly shoddy research while it was going on. I'm rather impressed that this shoddy bit of tripe actually made it to print.

My impression (though this is the perception of an outsider to the movement, albeit one who knows a lot of gay people) is that there are generational effects. Older gay and lesbian people are more likely to, for instance, be uncomfortable with the idea that a lot of people are really bisexual, for reasons partly rooted in movement political history. Under-40 ones, not so much.

Thanks to Charles S for his clarification (and the HRC link). I sit corrected.

They have a blog, too:

Not surprisingly, they haven't backed away from their "shemale"/slash comparisons or their fondness for twisting data to fit preconceived notions.

There are plenty of porn sites that have social networking functions now. Most of the tube sites have ways to rate videos, contact other members, even leave comments on the videos themselves - just like youtube.

If straight men want to sit by themselves and eat porn, then why are there social networking functions on these sites?

Miss Marple? Who is, canonically, an elderly spinster from an era in which such women never got any? I find it absolutely fascinating that the pair of them chose Marple, rather than literally thousands of other female detectives (hellooo? Kate Martinelli? Sookie Stackhouse?)

Yeah, she's my role model whenever I go looking for Doctor/Master.

I like what somebody over at Freakonomics has called out as the recursive nature of this. The original AOL data was poorly anonymized. That means this book is looking at anonymized data, inferring which of it is female based on content, then using this inferred femininity to characterize the content. Sweet.

(B.U. made them stop implying any affiliation with them)
I was hoping to read more about this from the link, but it goes to a warning that one must be 14 or over, and then it goes to a demand that one must log into LiveJournal. Is there a link to an explanation that doesn't require joining LiveJournal?

Erm, especially since when I try using a little-used LJ log-in, all I get is "Access is denied.

You do not have access rights to view this entry."

So what's the actual story here? Am curious, as it goes directly to the point of the post.

Wait, sorry: that link goes to a warning that one needs to be 18, but then the next link goes to here, which is readable. It's the link here that goes here that goes to a link that can't be accessed. (Which seems like a less than useful link for a Wiki.)

But this link works. (And maybe should be at that Wiki instead?)

Argh, and this, from the next footnote at the Wiki entry also results in:

Access is denied.

You do not have access rights to view this entry.

A Wiki entry that is full of links that are only accessible if you're personal friends with the people involved seems a suboptimal way of informing people about something they don't already know about. It also seems, um, weird. What were people thinking when they did this?

I called the Boston University IRB office. The direct approach works.

They've gotten a lot of emails regarding Dr. Ogas. He is no longer in any way affiliated with Boston University, except as a recent graduate. They have asked him to stop using his official Boston University email address in connection with this project, or his website. He is officially on his own, and this project is NOT IRB APPROVED.

That is the official status as stated by the Boston University IRB office.

What's the "IRB"?

Hmm, this, I suppose?

Boston College Institutional Review Board
I have the unmistakable feeling of walking into the middle of a conversation; having to do research and google to understand what people are talking about does that.

Argh, I should have taken notes for one comment. Apologies!

But what does this mean?

[1] my new least-favorite phrase. Seriously, someone's getting *stabbed*.
Who's getting stabbed? What?

Apparently I'm really dense this morning. Sorry about that. But I'm totally not understanding what this means, I'm afraid.

This was an ad for the Australian lingerie store Gilly Hicks;
Also: huh? Connection?

Who's getting stabbed? What?

Someone who uses the phrase "hard wired."

Also: huh? Connection?

The ad is an example of the objectification of men, presumably by women.

Who's getting stabbed? What?

Someone who uses the phrase "hard wired."

I get that that's what's implied, but I'm not following why. Over-literal and too used to seeing the phrase for so many decades of reading on electronics, psychology, neurology and other areas where the phrase is a commonplace.


hard-wire (härdwr)
tr.v. hard-wired, hard-wir·ing, hard-wires
1. To connect (electronic components, for example) by electrical wires or cables.
2. To implement (a capability) through logic circuitry that is permanently connected within a computer and therefore not subject to change by programming.
3. To determine or put into effect by physiological or neurological mechanisms; make automatic or innate: "It may be that certain orders of anxiety are hard-wired in us" (Armand Schwerner).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
1. (Electronics & Computer Science / Computer Science) (of a circuit or instruction) permanently wired into a computer, replacing separate software
2. (Psychology) (of human behaviour) innate; not learned humans have a hard-wired ability for acquiring language
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003
I'm just over-used to this, so never mind, and thanks for responding!

The ad is an example of the objectification of men, presumably by women.
It was done by an all-woman ad agency? I'm skeptical. But thanks for explaining what was presumably meant!

I seem to be feeling a bit more alien than usual this morning, but that's usual. :-) Sorry for being dense/outlier-as-usual.

(I posted this in response to your comment on the freakonomics site: )

Thank you for pointing out this error.

I was hoping to see you offer evidence of your own, but I am disappointed --and even a bit frustrstated-- to see the rest of your comment fit the same pattern or snark, outrage, and vitriol that makes a genuine scientific debate very difficult.
I read your post and see assert that the website is a "kiddie pool" , but provide no supporting evidence for it.
"it is *not* an "erotic" site, and it is *not* "for women" Ok, I am somewhat inclined to believe you, but will not until I see some supporting facts. Please point me to facts if you want to argue against assertions.

You attempt to refute a statistical statement by providing a single counterfactual: "existence of stripper parties" and yet here point out similar reasoning as equivalent to pointing to sad-looking apples and oranges and calling Wal-Mart a farmers' market. Aren't you doing worse?

I understand this is a blog post, but if you want to be taken seriously, you can't make statements like "fractally wrong" and not show why. A particularly toxic and detestable debating strategy is to laugh at the opponent and ridicule them for what is an unpopular opinion, without marshaling any evidence or logical argument.
What is your theory then? If the theory is that sexuality is malleable and there is "overwhelming evidence" for it, please do point to it. And do try to explain, without empty and evasive ridicule, why women and teenage girls are writing fanfiction and boys, straight and gay, are watching porn (statistically of course, no one's saying these are the sole and exclusive province of either sex). Otherwise your post and comment are just other rants in the garbage heap that vast swathes of the internet has become.


The facts you're asking to be pointed to are common knowledge within fandom and can be confirmed with a quick Google, if one is not too lazy. I'm not usually one for doing people's Googling for them, but I had a free five minutes and an urge to school someone tonight, so here you go.

Re: being a "kiddy pool":
"A third of them are 18 and under, and about 80% are female, according to creator Xing Li..." --Time Magazine, 2002. (,9171,1001950,00.html)

Re: not being an erotica site:
"On September 12, 2002, FanFiction.Net banned material that was rated NC-17. Stories categorized as NC-17, or advertised as potentially such, were removed." --Wikipedia (

I didn't bother to find a more authoritative cite for that second one; I was around when the whole NC-17 ban exploded and I remember it. I'm sure if you really care, you can find something further about it in's TOS or by doing your own Google research.

I look forward to your next comment where you demand proof that water is wet.

I can't speak to how they handled their surveying of the fanfic community, but I still found the book very interesting in its conclusions.

We did a live interview with the author which you can watch here:

I never got the impression that they were "just in it for the money" or looking to prove something they had already pre-determined. If anything their initial thoughts were totally wrong. The book definitely presents another counterpoint to our own sexuality...which not many people approach in this manner.

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