Scientists attack media over gay animal hype

Study finds that media coverage of scientific reports on animal same-sex behavior paints gays and lesbians in negative light

Scientists attack media over gay animal hype
09 August 2012

A study claims that media coverage of research on same-sex animal behavior promotes negative stereotypes of gays and lesbians.

Dr Andrew Barron from Australia’s Macquarie University and Dr Mark Brown from Royal Holloway University of London found that scientific reports on gay behavior in animals were exploited by the media for ‘titillation and humor’ or  suggest that homosexuality can be cured.

In the paper published in Nature journal today (9 August), Barron used an example of research in neurobiological features associated with gay sexual behaviour in domestic rams, which was reported in the media under the headlines ‘Brokeback Mutton’ and ‘Gay sheep may help explain biology of homosexuals’.

Barron says such reports present the research as an experiment to cure homosexuality in sheep, which ‘could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans’, reported the ABC Science website.

Dr Joan Leach, a science in the media expert from the University of Queensland in Australia, explains that scientists are put in a difficult position when presenting their research.

‘Scientists are in a double bind,’ she says.

‘They have all been to media training and been told to make their work relevant…and interesting to the general public. Talking about sex is definitely a way to do that.’

However, Barron points out how scientists have a responsibility to use the appropriate terms benefiting their research, quoting a study by Lindsay Young who emphasized her work as being solely on albatross behavior and not applicable to human behavior.

Young was quoted by news reports as saying that ‘lesbianism is a human term. The study is about albatross. The study is not about humans.’

This shows that ‘research on sexual behaviour in animals does not need to be sensationalized to catch public attention,’ said Barron and Brown.

The study by Barron and Brown identified 11 scientific papers on key areas of same-sex animal behavior research, before searching for media coverage of these papers and choosing 48 representative press reports to analyze in detail.

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