October 11, 2015

Gay gene update

Yesterday I wrote about a ‘gay epigenetics’ story in the Herald, and wasn’t convinced that there was anything worth publicising at this point, and that there wasn’t enough detail to interpret the results.

Ed Yong, a science journalist who was actually at the conference, has a story today in the Atlantic. He fingers the conference as the responsible party for the publicity (here’s their press release), though with the active cooperation of the researchers.

His story has more detail and makes it clear that there’s very little evidence, and more importantly that the lead researcher knew this:

“The reality is that we had basically no funding,” he said. “The sample size was not what we wanted. But do I hold out for some impossible ideal or do I work with what I have? I chose the latter.”

For pilot research presented to consenting scientists that might be reasonable, but for press releases it isn’t.

Epigenetics is an area of science where New Zealand has an international reputation. It would be a pity if it ended up as one of the areas where you can be sure that basically nothing that makes it to the newspapers is true.


Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »