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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five stars because they won't let me give it ten
This book is wide ranging, covering topics as diverse as handedness (and how to tell if a rat is left handed), bird songs, vision problems in siamese cats, and far, far more than I ever wanted to know about the reproductive tract of hyenas. It all comes together beautifully, scientific explanations simple enough to be understood by the layman but thorough enough to insure...
Published on July 4, 2001 by BearMaster

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3.0 out of 5 stars Outdated, but still worth reading
Chandler Burr's A Separate Creation is a journalistic report on the state of sexual orientation research, circa 1996. Now obviously outdated, it remains worth reading if one is interested in the various personalities who were involved in sexual orientation research in the 1990s, and the way their research was being presented to the American public at the time. Not that...
Published 11 months ago by David Walters


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five stars because they won't let me give it ten, July 4, 2001
By 
BearMaster "bearmaster" (Tucson, AZ United States) - See all my reviews
This book is wide ranging, covering topics as diverse as handedness (and how to tell if a rat is left handed), bird songs, vision problems in siamese cats, and far, far more than I ever wanted to know about the reproductive tract of hyenas. It all comes together beautifully, scientific explanations simple enough to be understood by the layman but thorough enough to insure understanding. It is also a fascinating look at genetic research at the end of the 20th century, and how technical problem are sometimes easier to solve than political ones.
Buy it, read it, loan it to family and friends. Give it to anyone who still thinks that sexuality is a choice. The only thing wrong is that it's gone out of print, but I hope that's because the author is preparing a second edition.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent science writing, research, and narrative!, March 5, 1997
By A Customer
The excellent book A Separate Creation by Chandler Burr provides a fascinating account of the search for the genetic origins of sexual orientation.

Burr interlaces the story of scientific discovery with tales of eccentric and passionate characters, political intrigue and the moral and ethical implications of the research. He carefully unravels the scientific evidence, explaining the concepts in simple but not simplistic terms much as a mystery writer spools out clues for the reader. Besides being informative and provocative, this book is enormously fun to read.

It is true that Burr discusses the manner in which scientific reearch can be politicized and misused. However, to suggest, as the Amazon.com reviewer does, that Burr "criticizes" the conclusions of the research for this reason is incredibly inaccurate. Burr makes abundantly clear that the scientific evidence is what it is and can only be supported or opposed with other scientific evidence. Nor does Burr criticize Levay's research, as the Amazon.com reviewer suggests. Since his book is primarily about genetic research, Levay's research, which is anatomic and not genetic, is simply not the central focus of the work. Burr's analysis is both balanced and reasonable.

This book is a superb example how to research, explain and narrate scientific research. The writing style is lucid, and the concepts are explained clearly for a non-scientific audience. It is provocative, sensitive, balanced, intersting, funny, infuriating and an all around good read.

You are missing an exceptional book if you don't read this one
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 800 Pound Gorilla, August 8, 1999
By A Customer
A Separate Creation offers a valuable perspective on the underlying truths about homosexuality. The points raised evolve toward a discussion about gender and how we are divided, male and female.
In the world today, it seems conceded that, although the specific mechanism is still disputed, homosexuality is something that arises biochemically. The disagreements on this point are interestingly enough coming from both the left and the right. The left reiterates its continued desire to view humanity as a "blank slate" upon which genetics has little or no influence. The religious right has far too much invested in categorizing homosexuality as a moral failing to consider the alternatives. Speak to most any gay man or lesbian and you will likely find that very few were molested or otherwise "recruited" into their orientation. Nor are many anything other than law-abiding citizens (sodomy violations aside). Gay people are homosexual the same way they are right or left-handed, it is just something that exists.
Author Chandler Burr does a very good job at highlighting the current research. My only negative comments revolve around his failure to link the genetic discoveries regarding gender and homosexuality into a cohesive whole.
In the scenario presented with the gay man who decides to become straight, the subject's attitude is too cavalier. Burr misses the 800 pound gorilla in this scenario; many gays want to become straight because of their desire to become a part of a family. This means a nuclear unit balanced by the different male and female contribution and dynamic, with the outcome being offspring that are born and carry with them the memory and genetic make-up of their parents. As a practical matter, this is the only immortality available to humankind. A homosexual relationship simply cannot produce this rather unique and extraordinary outcome. Its importance in calculating this equation cannot and should not be diminished.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great science writing, lots of fun., September 12, 2000
By A Customer
I picked up this book with a few reservations. I was interested enough to order it, but I thought it had the potential to be too narrow, and that it might not be critical enough about the science (a problem, strangely, that many scientists don't have, but most popular science books do). I was pleasantly surprised to find that Burr's explanations were thorough and enjoyable, that he spared no pains in explaining what potential problems with the research were, how the researchers tried to overcome the innate limitiations of their chosen topics, and what various researchers said about each other's work.
For me, this in itself made it a treat to read. This is a great book to consider if only as an explanation of how biological sceince really works.
Now on to the gay bits. I had one major problem with the way they (the researchers, and hence Burr) tried to categorize men as either 'straight' or 'gay', with very little mucking around in the middle. In my experience there are a lot of other things going on, even with men who identify straight and whose main, only, objects of fantasy and attraction are women. Other than that, I suppose, 'A Separate Creation' didn't really change the way I view gay and being gay. Like the author took great pains to make clear, finding a gay gene, or a structure in the brain that is related to to homosexuality, doesn't change the fact that some men get turned on by other men, and some men get turned on by women. It also has little bearing on the specious 'nature/nurture' or 'choice/biological destiny' debates. None of the researchers debated that some men are born gay, and others aren't. Finding the gene or neural structure wasn't going to change that.
So, the book provides lots of cool facts, quite a bit to mull over, and some really fun insights into biological science (and into the way scientists encounter the media). But it doesn't aim to change the way anyone lives their life, which is fine. I wish it had a lot more on evolutionary explanations, and, maybe, a bit on homosexuality in other species, just to put this whole 'gay gene' into a larger context, but, other than that, I enjoyed the book, and recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You'd have to be an idiot...", September 25, 2007
By 
Julie Vognar "Julie" (Berkeley, California United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Separate Creation: The Search for the Biological Origins of Sexual Orientation (Hardcover)
My favorite part of the book is Hamer (the geneticist who discovered Xq28--the GAY-1 gene, responsible for the gayness of 17% of the gay male population) saying"....you have to be sure first that the trait isn't chosen before you look for its gene." He pauses, incredulous, "Can you imagine any sane, reputable biologist spending years of their life and their resources looking through chromosomes for a gene for something that's CHOSEN? I suppose you could do it, but you'd have to be a complete idiot because it would be the equivalent of staking your entire scientific career and reputation on finding a gene for"--he searches for an example--"being a Methodist."

OR

"Personality has been uprooted, modified, ironed, tamed, altered. And through it all, no Prozac capsule, no psychopharmaceutical, no hormone, no drug, no surgical procedure* has ever changed anyone's sexual orientation. It seems, Weiss noted with a raised eyebrow, that our sexual orientation is an even more deeply rooted part of us than our personality."

Interesting, exciting, and sometimes really funny, the book is accessible to even those of us who had trouble with first year algebra and geometry...though an occasional chart or set of figures will give such people pause (don't give up! Go on to the next sentence...).

As far as being wide-ranging is concerned, I once read a short story in which a guest lecturer in a 10th grade high school science class based his entire lecture, and the following discussion, called "The Genetics of Baseball"(sic) on what he had learned from this book...

*see pages 124-125 for some of the horrors we learned from the Nazis and--used--in the 1950s.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A CAVIL CONCERNING GENETIC NON-RESEARCH, May 31, 2003
By 
G. L. Rowsey (benicia, ca United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I enjoyed this book enormously and learned a great deal about homosexuality and about genetics. I especially appreciated Chandler Burr's letting the researchers speak for themselves, and got used to his (and their) not crossing all the t's and dotting the i's when discussing not-simple subjects. Some of what the researches say is wide-ranging and quixotic, but all of it is pretty consistently thought-provoking. For example, there's a statement on page 275 by David Botstein ("of Stanford"), having to do with genetic research, violence, IQ, and blacks (and nothing to do with homosexuality.) Chandler Burr writes: ". . .consider the search for the gene (sic) for violence." Botstein picks it up:

"I think there's more scientifically to that one, a greater likelihood of finding it, more than IQ. But it's COMPLETELY unacceptable at the moment. You can't even talk about it. Go to any university, research center, no one -- NO ONE -- will talk to you about this. Why? Simple. Because of the fear that there will be a racial correlation. And there could be. . .and I have some sympathy for this fear, mean (sic) that any scientific evidence linking some undesirable trait with black people will be used as an excuse for explicit or implicit genocide. Okay? That fear is not totally irrational. . ."

Geneticists everywhere are afraid of finding a gene for violence in "black people" in America? Huh? Well, the only way I could explain researchers fearing that they will find a "black" gene for violence instead of a "non-black" gene for violence is that their research would be based on disregarding the incidence of inter-racial violence in America (presumably, by defining inter-racial violence as a product of a "prejudice" gene, not a "violence" one?). But isn't that explanation absurd? Or despite having read this book, do I still fail to understand how genetic research experiments must be designed? Like I say, thought-provoking.

Presumably most geneticists working on DNA are white. And presumably in America a lot of geneticists are infected with the same myth-viruses as the mainstream public at whom corporations direct their advertisements and programming. But good golly, miss molly!! NO university or research center will talk about the gene for violence? I say let the chips fall where they may. Knowledge is knowledge. And as a white I'm not much concerned that blacks will want to impose eugenic solutions on me once research shows it is whites who have violence genes. Such measures would constitute violence, you see, and blacks would lack the genes for it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Outdated, but still worth reading, August 15, 2013
By 
David Walters (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Chandler Burr's A Separate Creation is a journalistic report on the state of sexual orientation research, circa 1996. Now obviously outdated, it remains worth reading if one is interested in the various personalities who were involved in sexual orientation research in the 1990s, and the way their research was being presented to the American public at the time. Not that Burr should be relied upon where the science is concerned: his evaluation of it is a mixture of truth, half-truth, and outright fantasy. He correctly notes that the American media widely misrepresented the significance of possible genetic influences on homosexuality by implying that homosexuality must be a freely chosen condition if such influences do not exist. Burr notes, again quite correctly, that in order to try to answer questions such as "what causes homosexuality?" it is first necessary to answer more basic questions such as "what is homosexuality?" He pretends, however, that scientists understand perfectly what "homosexuality" and "sexual orientation" are. Only the very gullible or those who want to be misled will believe him. I have long suspected that scientists' views on these definitional questions are almost, if not quite entirely, worthless. Nothing in Burr's book made me change my mind.

Indeed, A Separate Creation reinforced my impression that sexual orientation researchers are being grossly irresponsible by claiming to know all kinds of things that they do not and perhaps cannot know. Burr claims, for example, that "sexual orientation" is established by the age of 2. This is said to be based upon sound scientific research by John Money and others, but I simply don't believe it. Other people may have had different experiences, but I had no conscious sexual attraction to anyone until the age of 12, and I find the suggestion that I had a "sexual orientation" prior to that time to be meaningless. Another of the dogmas Burr shares with most of the researchers whose work he discusses is that "sexual orientation" is entirely an "internal orientation", and that a person's behavior is thus irrelevant to deciding which "sexual orientation" they have. That is certainly one possible view of the matter, but anyone looking in Burr's book for an explanation of why it is better than other possible views will come away disappointed. On this question as on others, Burr's approach is to ridicule those who might dare to take a different view by implying that they are stupid or ignorant. Nowhere does he consider such issues in the patient, careful way that their complexity demands.

Though Burr considers the validity of "sexual orientation" as a concept beyond serious question, those who read him carefully will find sufficient evidence that it is anything but unquestionable. Burr states that contemporary research into "what sexual orientation is" began in the 1940s with the work of Alfred Kinsey. To my knowledge, Kinsey never used the actual expression "sexual orientation." I do not recall that it is used in either of the Kinsey Reports. It is not to be found, for example, in the chapter on homosexuality in either the report on the male or the report on the female, nor is it listed in the index of either book. Burr is guilty of projecting the ideas of 1990's era sex researchers back on to Kinsey, who had quite different views (he did not agree that people's sexual behavior is irrelevant to whether they are homosexual or not, for example).

The descriptions Burr offers of the scientists who became famous in the 1990s because of their roles in the debate over the development of "sexual orientation" - Simon LeVay, Dean Hamer, William Byne, Anne Fausto-Sterling, Laura Allen, and others - are deeply unattractive. They are all the more damning given that Burr probably intends them to be flattering. Burr says that the disagreements between these figures concern not the existence or the nature of "sexual orientation" but only how to research it. To a considerable extent, he appears to be correct: there are certain largely unquestioned assumptions about human psychology and behavior underlying the debates over "sexual orientation." Burr's account of the science nevertheless shows that the researchers are themselves confused about the nature of "sexual orientation." Hamer and his co-worker Angela Pattatucci at one point tried to measure sexual orientation using seven criteria: self-identification, sexual fantasy, sexual behavior, sexual attraction, romantic/emotional attraction, social attraction, and lifestyle. Eventually Hamer and Pattatucci decided that they needed only four criteria: self-identification, behavior, fantasy, and attraction. Oddly, Pattatucci is later quoted insisting that the "not behavior" view of "sexual orientation" is indeed correct. The fact that both of the approaches to defining "sexual orientation" she took with Hamer are incompatible with that understanding is not noted by Burr. Pattatucci asserts that though gay people may at times behave heterosexually, their "homosexual core" remains unchanged. She does not attempt to explain exactly what a "homosexual core" would consist in, if it cannot consist in behavior (it could consist in sexual fantasy, sexual attraction, romantic/emotional attraction, or some combination thereof).

These contradictions and unexplored questions make me suspect that Pattatucci's views are incoherent, though in fairness to her, they may have been misrepresented by Burr's reporting. Neither Burr, Hamer, or Pattatucci, asks the cruical question: How or why does it make sense to group different traits with each other as something called "sexual orientation"? The assumption seems to be that "sexual orientation" can be defined simply by making lists of various psychological or behavioral phenomena related to sex. The difficulty is partly that precisely which phenomena make their way onto any given list is arbitrary and depends on the personal attitudes of the researchers making the list, but more fundamentally that grouping things together on a list does nothing by itself to explain how any of them is connected with any of the others.

With no real explanation of "sexual orientation" as a concept, it is not clear how "sexual orientation" can in turn explain anything else. Burr is as blind as the scientists themselves to this problem. What they have is at best only the distant beginnings of a genuine science. This makes the contemptuous attitudes Burr's "sexual orientation" researchers express toward previous thinkers who have tried to explain "homosexuality" all the more galling and offensive. Sigmund Freud comes in for special derision. Burr quotes Byne casually dismissing Freud's theories about homosexuality as "preposterous." It is not apparent that Byne has any idea what he is talking about. Hamer too is dismissive of Freud; Burr relates how, when asked about certain "outmoded theories of environmental causation" by CBS reporter Paula Zahn, Hamer told her that "when some researchers looked at more than a thousand gay and heterosexual men a few years ago, they found very little difference in environment or parenting style." This, though Burr doesn't make it clear, is a reference to Alan Bell, Martin Weinberg, and Sue Kiefer Hammersmith's 1981 study Sexual Preference, an atrocious, misconceived work that shows nothing one way or the other about the correctness of Freudian ideas. Hamer, like every other so-called "expert" who has taken the line that Bell's study refuted psychoanalytic theories, deserves condemnation. While it may be Byne's view that Freud's theories are preposterous, what really is preposterous is the attempt to create new explanations of "homosexuality" without serious consideration of Freud, both to learn from whatever might be valid in his theories and to avoid repeating the same errors.
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5.0 out of 5 stars AN OVERVIEW OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH FOR A "GAY GENE", May 9, 2013
He wrote in the first chapter of this 1996 book, "Something about the research of sexual orientation has gone almost universally unnoticed: We have assigned it an awesome significance that it does not possess. We have, by failing to note a simple, elementary principle governing the most basic principles of biological research, grossly overinterpreted what finding a gay gene, neuron, or hormone actually means. The research does not mean what we think it does. This book is about a biological investigation into a black box." (Pg. 4)

He strongly rejects the implication of a media commentator that "unless we locate a gene for homosexuality, unless we know where it is and how it works, then homosexuality is a choice... this is the equivalent of saying that since we haven't found the gene that governs left-handedness---and we haven't---then left-handed people choose to be left-handed..." (Pg. 9) He asks, "What would account for the baffling illogic of the media, the failure to grasp this elementary aspect of biological research?... We forget there are machines whose insides are at present far beyond our reach." (Pg. 9-10)

He summarizes his conclusions about research on sexual orientation: "It exists in the form of two basic internal, invisible orientations... Only a very small number of people are truly equally oriented both ways...The trait itself is not a `behavior.' It is the neurological orientation expressed, at times, behaviorally... Neither orientation is a disease or mental illness. Neither is pathological. .. Neither orientation is chosen... Signs of one's orientation are detectable very early in childhood... and quite possibly before birth." (Pg. 6-7)

Concerning Simon LeVay's study [Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality], he quotes Harvard biologists Evan Balaban, who said, "'I don't mean to say Simon's study is worthless. Nissl is SOME kind of difference; we just don't know what, exactly. You know... it could be that all Simon is measuring is some effect from an anti-AIDS drug or the result of stress.' Indeed, if one had read LeVay's study carefully, the possibility that AIDS might have changed the tissue was clearly if subtly brought up. And after that, there was a question of cause and effect..." (Pg. 41)

He recounts that "In the 1950s, American scientists performed experiments on homosexuals... Based on false endocrinological theories such as the notion that homosexuality was caused by deficient levels of sex hormones... lesbians were made to undergo estrogen injections. None of these procedures ever altered the women's sexual orientations... Other gay people were forced to undergo aversion therapy... and electroshock... Despite this... the gay men's sexual orientation remained universally homosexual." (Pg. 124)

He quotes Dean Hamer, after a CNN interview about his supposed "gay gene" research: "The phenotypic fact that homosexuality is NOT chosen was one of the mandatory biological preconditions to concluding there was a gene for this trait... Can you imagine any sane, reputable biologist spending years of their life and their resources looking through chromosomes, for a gene for something that's CHOSEN? I suppose you could do it, but you'd have to be a complete idiot, because it would be the genetic equivalent of staking your entire scientific career and reputation on finding the gene for ... being a Methodist." (Pg. 205)

This book will be of great interest to anyone researching homosexuality, and related issues.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Decent but not great., January 31, 2013
This review is from: A Separate Creation: The Search for the Biological Origins of Sexual Orientation (Hardcover)
I was really excited when I stumbled across this book and the beginning had me quite captivated. However, I feel like the book loses momentum, drags on, and spends the last 200 pages or so beating the dead horse of a point - that we don't know (an might never know) the biology of sexual orientation. Nevertheless, that is not reason to pass judgement or diminish the fact that sexual orientation is not a choice. I did enjoy the analogy of sexual orientation and handedness and thought it was a unique and valuable perspective.
A word of caution: this book assumes NO scientific knowledge or understanding on the part of the reader. That may or may not be a good think. For instance, Burr drones on and on about basic genetics that most people should have picked up in high school. If you didn't, GREAT you won't be lost at all. If you did, you will want to skip over some major sections.
All in all, I thought it had some good ideas and information but became tedious and repetitive and could have easily done the same job in half the size.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue!, August 4, 1998
By A Customer
Mr. Burr walks you step by step through the sciences of genetics and endocrinology to help you understand the technologies involved in discovering the truths about homosexuality. May the conservatives and religious zealots run for cover---this book will be quoted for a long time to come!
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A Separate Creation: The Search for the Biological Origins of Sexual Orientation
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