Is There a Point to Conducting Polls About Whether or not Sexual Orientation is Chosen?

Companies like Gallup do surveys all the time on a wide range of issues: Who do you intend to vote for in the next election? What issue are you most worried about? Do you approve of the job George Bush is doing as president? Are you in favor of higher taxes? While we’ve expressed skepticism about the answers people might give to such questions, I can understand the value of survey questions like this and the information they generate.

On the other hand, asking people whether they think sexual orientation is a matter of choice seems like a different matter. (The answer, by the way, is that the majority of Americans now think that homosexuals cannot change their sexual orientation; this did not used to be the case.) Such a poll seems more a question of science than opinion. See, for instance, our New York Times column discussing the research of economist Andy Francis.

Should I care what Americans think about this? Maybe it is an indirect reflection of general views on homosexuality and its acceptability. But if that is the point, why not ask questions that tackle that issue more directly?


discordian

way I figure is that if asking questions that may be pointelss to some gives someone a chance to make some extra cash, whether it's a kid in the mall doing an after school job or a stay at home mom doing phone surveys, then ask away.

lermit

You set an example for all living entities.

.lermit

frankenduf

science doesn't do very well with free will- some scientists would actually argue there is no free will (so all choice, including luvin', is illusion)- since homosexuality was culturally an ethical concern, the question of choice was pertinent- besides, the gay bomb posting answered this question once for all

furiousball

I'll take "Crap I Don't Care About" for $1000 Alex

pparkman

The other way to look at it is that the polls tell us the public's attitude towards science, particularly in areas where morality and science collide. After all, polls would show that a significant percentage of Americans don't believe in evolution, and the science in that field is far more settled than in the nature vs nurture debate.
Your question indicates an overconfidence in the validity of "science" if you think that matters in psychology (or for that matter, economics) are final in the same sense they are in Newtonian physics.

anothersteve

It's still interesting to see how much of a gap there is between what people think, and what percentages of scientists conclude with a specific outcome. If the gap is shrinking then that bodes well for society's ability to get/process/channel information.

Nathaniel

This is ultimately the failure of news organizations in the past few years -- they treat everything as if it is a matter of opinion. Evolution, sexual orientation, global warming -- whether they exist or not is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact (or not). Nobody gets to vote on gravity or whether phrenology is accurate -- it either is or isn't. But the news media has been pushed into treating every issue as if they are simply debates between two sides. The notion that there is, in fact, objective truth that can be measured no matter what your belief is completely forgotten.

It is particularly frustrating when they give up their responsibility to fact-check statements made by proponents of either side and simply print anything that is said without noting whether it is right or wrong (because apparently saying someone is factually wrong is biased in some strange interpretation of the word).

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liberalarts

Similarly uninformative are polls that ask young people if they think social security will be there when they retire. Almost no young people are informed enough to answer that question, yet such polls are often touted as a reason to be worried about the failure of that program.

synapticmisfires

I think it's a perfectly illuminating question to ask. The goal isn't to find out the actual science. It's to find out how many Americans believe contemporary scientific findings and how many are ignorant, stubborn, et. al.

I think that your complaint about the question is akin to saying that teachers shouldn't ask how much acceleration due to gravity is near Earth's surface. Gee...they already know it, why the heck are they asking a bunch of kids? The goal's not to find out the truth, but to find out who knows it.

egretman

As a Texas who rides in the back of pickups, I can assure you that I know nothing about homosexuality. But I him amused that the religious right have actually lost ground on this issue.

Speaking of John Lott, surely this conservative setback will not stand. Isn't homosexuality limited to 4% in society in proportion to it's marginal benefit to that society?

So all we have to do is quit supporting that marginal utility. Stop your interior decorating, creative design shops, and gay professions like economist.

There...problem solved.

LiteraryMonkey

http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/06/26/sexuality/index.html?eref=rss_topstories

alecjarvis

Certainly you wouldn't conduct a poll to determine whether or not the earth is flat or round. Yet, surveys that ask whether or not people believe the world is flat give us a pretty good idea of whether or not people are educated with respect to this particular idea.

This survey gives us a pretty good idea, I'd say, of how well we are dispelling the indoctrination of homosexuality-as-choice.

nfo

Maybe asking an indirect question gets you a better picture of the attitude you're trying to measure. If you ask people "Do you think homosexuality is bad?" then they might feel some kind of social pressure to say "No." If you ask "Is homosexuality a choice?" it's possible you'll get a less biased response on a highly correlated (though not quite the same) measure.

dessertfirst

"This survey gives us a pretty good idea, I'd say, of how well we are dispelling the indoctrination of homosexuality-as-choice."

As I see it, we are just replacing one indocrination with another, since neither answer is based on science.

"If you ask people “Do you think homosexuality is bad?” then they might feel some kind of social pressure to say “No.” If you ask “Is homosexuality a choice?” it's possible you'll get a less biased response on a highly correlated (though not quite the same) measure."

Yet, saying it is a choice is not saying that it is bad, so it would be a inaccurate measure of people's personal opinion of homosexuality.

Cliff

Why not have opinion polls about it? Any scientist that comes up with research facing the "wrong way" is going to be discredited and called a racist bigot. Wanna end your career? Do research on this.

The bottom line is that one side believes America is a free country and people should be allowed to do what they want. The other side believes the bible says homosexuality is wrong so we should ban it and keep people from doing it.

If people cared about the science they'd be asking two other classes of questions that seem more important.

Evolution:
What are the implications of long term homosexuality on evolution? Would bisexuality be a better option? Clearly long term homosexuals need to reproduce somehow and not reproducing is not sustainable over the long term.

I think a scene in rent is a great example of this. When the Maureen's same sex marriage gets screwed up, Maureen's liberal parents suggest that her boyfriend get back together with her. Even though they are liberal and support gay rights and put up a happy face, they don't actually want their children to be gay. Because in America, many liberals believe in gay rights and freedom, but evolution prevents them from wanting their children to be gay. I think this is common and if truly got a scientific viewpoint, this is what scientists would tell us.

Happiness:
There has been a lot of great research on happiness lately using objective measurement and dispelling many myths in psychology. How does this apply to homosexuality? Are people attracted to the same sex really happier when in a same sex relationship or as current research has predicted will their happiness levels be close to our natural happiness set point, whichever path we choose?

The bottom line though is that this is too politically charged an issue for scientific researchers, where most people have made up their mind and are going to believe what they want to believe. If you don't come up with the result they want you'll be fired and there won't be any benefit like a Nobel prize if your research is really good like in some controversial subjects, where even if there's a lot of pressure in the end there is a reward if you do something great.

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wk633

I think a far more interesting question would be: did you choose your sexual orientation?

I think the vast majority would say no.

And if it's not a choice for you, then how is it that you think it's a choice for anyone else?

egretman

What are the implications of long term homosexuality on evolution?

When similar behavior has been found in the animal world, ecologists have been able to show a marginal benefit to the population as a whole and a successful darwinian benefit to the individual as well.

What makes us think that homosexuals do not benefit society as a whole and ultimately pass on their genes in proportion to that benefit? Every gay couple I know is busy finding ways to pass on their genes. They also are remarkably successful in their jobs.

The study of homosexuality in other cultures such as indigenous tribes often find no stigma and indeed a benefit to the tribe.

711buddha

Would you sleep with a same sex partner just for the thrill of it? For most people, No.

Would you do it for $100? Still no (or not many more.)

How about a million? Not so easy to say no is it.

I'm pretty sure a billion would get most people.

So, can the activity be chosen? Obviously yes.

We're done here.

LiteraryMonkey

711buddha,

Sleeping with a same sex partner (just like sleeping with an opposite sex partner) is always a choice - you have the choice whether to go ahead with the act or not. You do not have the choice who you are innately attracted to. I'm sure many people would sleep with someone of the same sex (if they're heterosexual), or the opposite sex (if they're homosexual) if given enough money. But that doesn't mean that it's a choice that they're gay or straight.

That's like saying if someone paid me a million dollars to write a book with my left hand, that makes me left handed, because I chose to write that way.

egretman

711buddha,

You doth protest too much.