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Scientific research on the roots of sexual orientation resembles the search for evidence of life on Mars--insufficient proof but an enticement for further research.

Published: Thursday, October 3, 1996


Page: 13A

By DANIEL B. CATON, Special to The Observer

You can hardly read this newspaper without encountering the conflict between society and its homosexual component. Most of these altercations involve little logic, but are based on primeval insecurities and justified with ancient references; we fear what we do not understand and we turn to sacred writings for support.

The phenomenon of homosexuality, and indeed the spectrum of sexual orientation, is one that impacts everyone. It has been estimated that up to 10 percent of the population could be in that area of the bell curve of sexuality that we label homosexuality. Valid studies point to perhaps about 2 percent--still large enough to allow for 5 million homosexuals in the United States, let alone the rest of the world.

What do we know scientifically about the gay and lesbian phenomenon?

Sadly enough, there is still a paucity of research on homosexuality. Let us review what is known, what has failed, and what logic might dictate:

Sexuality will become increasingly open to scientific study as the Human Genome Project maps the location of all three million bits of the digital human genetic code. Studies of the interactions of various areas of the genome and their chemical output signals will certainly lead to a greater understanding of the "nature vs. nurture" debates in a wide variety of human behaviors.

The status of scientific research on homosexuality resembles that for the evidence of life on Mars, where several independent pieces of evidence are each, by themselves, insufficient proof. Taken together, they offer not a compelling case but an enticement for further research. We are going back to Mars to find out for sure, and we are building the base of our knowledge of genetic coding. We also should be looking inward on life as hard as we are looking for it out there.

In both cases, we'd better prepare ourselves for the results.

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