Yesterday my son and I were discussing who was the more believable, the main stream media or the bloggers.
I don't know how many people caught this New Year's Eve piece in the Sunday Times.
Science told: hands off gay sheep
Isabel Oakeshott and Chris Gourlay
Experiments that claim to 'cure' homosexual rams spark anger
SCIENTISTS are conducting experiments to change the sexuality of 'gay' sheep in a programme that critics fear could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans.
The technique being developed by American researchers adjusts the hormonal balance in the brains of homosexual rams so that they are more inclined to mate with ewes.
It raises the prospect that pregnant women could one day be offered a treatment to reduce or eliminate the chance that their offspring will be homosexual. Experts say that, in theory, the 'straightening' procedure on humans could be as simple as a hormone supplement for mothers-to-be, worn on the skin like an anti-smoking nicotine patch.
Apparently the research has caused outrage in the Gay Community.
Martina Navratilova, the lesbian tennis player who won Wimbledon nine times, and scientists and gay rights campaigners in Britain have called for the project to be abandoned.
Navratilova defended the 'right' of sheep to be gay. She said: "How can it be that in the year 2006 a major university would host such homophobic and cruel experiments?" She said gay men and lesbians would be 'deeply offended' by the social implications of the tests.
In fact, the whole article was a pack of lies and speculation. The estimable Ben Goldacre has exposed the whole article as a work of fiction.
Sunday Times: "The animals' skulls are cut open and electronic sensors are attached to their brains."
Goldacre: simply and rather bizarrely not true. There's no neurophysiology in these experiments. They don't even measure things from nerve cells: they measure mate preference, by watching the sheep choose a mate.
Sunday Times: "By varying the hormone levels, mainly by injecting hormones into the brain they have had 'considerable success' in altering the rams' sexuality, with some previously gay animals becoming attracted to ewes."
Goldacre: This is not just completely untrue, it is, in fact, the polar opposite of what the researchers really did. The only similar work completed and published by this team of researchers was about trying to make 'straight' animals 'gay' (although animal behaviour researchers avoid those terms) and in any case, that experiment was negative: it failed to achieve this aim.
Sunday Times: "Initially, the publicly funded project aimed to improve the productivity of herds"
Sunday Times: "The research is being peer-reviewed by a panel of scientists in America"
Sunday Times: "Scientists are conducting experiments to change the sexuality of 'gay' sheep in a programme that critics fear could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans"
Goldacre: None of these statements is true. Nothing is currently under peer review, because nothing has been submitted for publication, because no current experiments are completed. There aren't even any grants under review. The scientists have been very clear that this is a basic science study, from animal behaviour researchers, aimed at gaining an understanding of the biology of sexual attraction.
Where did all this disinformation come from? Unsurprisingly it comes from PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It is bit of propaganda but out by the animal libbers and swallowed whole by the Deputy Political editor of the Sunday Times (though she has a reputation for grinding axes).
So much for the Main Stream Media, how did the bloggers fare? It turns out that the bloggers had the story since last August, and although some fell for it, it was quickly exposed as a PETA lie. A remarkable investigation of how the exposure of a lie can be halfway round the world before the Main Stream Media have got there boots on can be found at this site.