Simon LeVay

Simon LeVay (born 28 August 1943 in Oxford, England) is a neuroscientist and author known for his studies about brain structures and sexual orientation. He is the co-author of a textbook on human sexuality and has coauthored books on diverse topics such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and extraterrestrial life. LeVay has also written a novel, ''Albrick's Gold''.

Education and career

LeVay held positions at Harvard from 1974 to 1984, after which he worked at the Salk Institute from 1984-1993. While at the Salk institute he was also Adjunct Associate Professor of Biology at University of California, San Diego.

Much of his early work looked at visual cortex in animals, especially cats. LeVay's textbook on human sexuality (now in its second edition) was described in one review as "an exceptional book that addresses nearly every aspect of sexuality from multiple theoretical, historical, and cultural perspectives."

Sexuality research

LeVay's studies about the possible biological basis of sexual orientation have been controversial. LeVay stated in an interview "if I didn't find anything, I would give up a scientific career altogether," a comment critics claim is evidence of bias. In 1991 LeVay published an article suggesting a structural difference between the brains of homosexual men and heterosexual men. This size difference was reported for the third interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus (INAH3). The finding was widely reported in the media. LeVay has acknowledged that samples of gay men's brain tissue were readily available to him because they had died of AIDS-related illnesses. Critics of LeVay have questioned his measurements, noting that the structures themselves are difficult to see in tissue slices, and that LeVay measured in volume rather than cell count. Nancy Ordover noted that "he has also been criticized for his small sample size and for compiling inadequate sexual histories." Several of his colleagues have suggested that the size of the nuclei could have been affected by AIDS, since INAH3 is dependent on testosterone levels. LeVay himself has noted that, '...there is always the possibility that gay men who die of AIDS are not representative of the entire population of gay men...they might have a stronger preference for receptive anal intercourse, the major risk factor for acquiring HIV infection. could make the argument that structural differences in INAH3 relate more to actual behavioral patterns of copulation rather than to sexual orientation as such. It will not be possible to settle this issue definitively until some method becomes available to measure the size of INAH3 in living people who can be interviewed in detail about their sexuality.' Ruth Hubbard and Elijah Wald noted that, "Though, on average, the size of the hypothalamic nucleus LeVay considered significant was indeed smaller in the men he identified as homosexual, his published data show that the range of sizes of the individual samples was virtually the same as for the heterosexual men. That is, the area was larger in some of the homosexuals than in many of the heterosexual men, and smaller in some of the heterosexual men than in many of the homosexuals. This means that, though the groups showed some difference as groups, there was no way to tell anything about an individual's sexual orientation by looking at his hypothalamus."

Countering LeVay's suggestion that homosexuality is a biological predisposition, Linda Brannon claimed that "gender identity is a complex concept relating to feelings [...] that are not limited to or congruent with sexual behaviour", concluding that we do not know what INAH3 does. William Byne noted that "LeVay's work has not been replicated, and human neuroanatomical studies of this kind have a very poor track record for reproducibility. Indeed, procedures similar to those LeVay used to identify nuclei have previously led researchers astray." Biologist Joan Roughgarden noted that this is the tiniest of four "rice-grain" sized parts of the brain, and that sex and sexual orientation do not uniformly correspond to the hypothesis that "gay" brains are similar to "female" brains. Historian Roy Porter falsely claimed that LeVay, "...cheerfully looks forward to the day when the 'new eugenics' born of the human genome project will enable women to abort fetuses likely to be carrying any traits they don't much care for, including homosexuality."

Some of LeVay's critics have religious or other agendas. One of LeVay's critics, A. Dean Byrd, Ph.D, is a conservative Mormon who speaks at LDS events about the success of conversion therapies which purport to change sexual orientation through religious counseling.. Another critic of LeVay is Andrea James, a transsexual activist who has helped to edit this article. LeVay has accused James of pursuing a personal vendetta against him because of positive comments he made about the work of J. Michael Bailey LeVay has responded on his website to the criticisms inserted by James into an older version of this article. See external links below. LeVay has cautioned against misinterpreting his findings: "It's important to stress what I didn't find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn't show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain." Criticising other scientists, including Dean Hamer, LeVay has also pointed out that genetic studies have so far not proven that homosexuality is not a choice, since ' is possible to construct a hypothesis whereby both "gay genes" and a desire to be homosexual are necessary for a person actually to become homosexual.'

Selected bibliography

External links

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