Have Questions about the LGBTQ Community? It's OK, You're Fact-Curious.

If you want to know the state of equality in the US, statistics are a good place to start.

Bennett Singer: Over the past year I’ve been working on a book project called LGBTQ Stats. I co-authored it with David Deschamps, who is my husband and partner on various film projects and other book projects.

And the idea was to take existing research—from studies, polls, surveys, websites, reports—and synthesize it. We looked at probably a thousand different existing publications and took the numbers from those publications and turned them into a book, organized in 16 chapters in a question and answer format. Sort of a Harper’s Index style, with the goal of making it as accessible and lively and eye opening for anybody who cares about equality or social justice in America. 

It’s a great tool I think for researchers and academics, but also for folks who just want to know how many people are married in America or what’s the size of the transgender population or what’s the movie with the biggest LGBT grossing box office theme. 

So in terms of surprises there were – I thought I knew a lot going into this project, but there were some major eye opening moments for me. One of the biggest I think was this question of how many people define themselves or identify themselves as not 100 percent heterosexual. Which is different than saying “I’m gay or lesbian or bisexual.”

But it’s fascinating to see the growing numbers of young people, particularly in the 18 to 29 year old demographic, who say that they are not 100 percent heterosexual. And the number on that is 31 percent. 

So 31 percent of 18 to 29 year olds identify themselves as not 100 percent heterosexual. That’s eye opening to me. 

When you look at geography and the question of “where do LGBTQ folks live,” one of the most eye opening details that we came across was: the state that has the highest percentage of same sex couples raising children turns out to be Mississippi, where 26 percent, one in four, same-sex couples are actually raising children. 

As you noticed the book is indeed called LGBTQ Stats. and David and I both identify as gay men but really wanted to make the book as inclusive as possible to cover the full spectrum of LGBT and Q Americans, and even beyond America. 

And so there are stats threaded throughout the 16 chapters that reflect bisexual and transgender experiences. But there are also separate chapters on bisexuality and on transgender issues within the book. 

One basic starting point is: when you look at folks who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, the majority actually, 52 percent of that population, are bisexual. And so while it’s often an afterthought—and I think unfortunately it’s often an afterthought—the experiences of bisexual people are incredibly central to this community and to the struggle for both legal acceptance, and I think acceptance within and among other gay and lesbian and transgender folks. 

There is certainly a stigma and that’s reflected in the numbers too. When you look at like health disparities between lesbian and gay people on the one hand and bisexual people on the other hand, there are numbers and statistics that would suggest that bisexual people face additional stress and additional health risks—I think because of the stigma that is attached by various facets of society to being bisexual. 

So I think that’s – and when you look at media portrayals too there’s been certainly strong progress for gay and lesbian characters and medium-strong progress for transgender characters. I think the bisexual representation is lagging, and GLAAD has done, you know, surveys that document specifically the numbers for each of these categories. But I think it’s fair to say that there’s a lot of room for more positive and more diverse portrayals of bisexual folks.

 

How many young Americans identify as 100% heterosexual? Where do LGBTQ people live? In what countries is same-sex activity punishable by prison or death? These are all things the stats can tell you, and Bennett Singer has spent the last few years collating the most recent research to paint a data portrait of LGBTQ life in the US. Creating the book was as eye-opening for Bennett as it will be for readers, from how many same-sex couples are raising children in Mississippi, to the stigma against bisexual people and the knock-on effects that has in health risks. The truth is in the numbers, and understanding what the lives of LGBTQ people are like is the path towards better policy decision and individual interactions. Bennett Singer's most recent book is co-authored with his husband, David Deschamps: LGBTQ Stats: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer People by the Numbers.


Deep learning nails correlation. Causation is another matter.

Why do people with bigger hands have a better vocabulary? That's one question deep learning can't answer.

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Is NASA ignoring proof of Martian life from the 1970s?

One of the scientists with the Viking missions says yes.

Image source: David Williams/NASA
Surprising Science
  • A former NASA consultant believe his experiments on the Viking 1 and 2 landers proved the existence of living microorganisms on Mars
  • Because of other conflicting data, his experiments' results have been largely discarded.
  • Though other subsequent evidence supports their findings, he says NASA has been frustratingly disinterested in following up.

Gilbert V. Levin is clearly aggravated with NASA, frustrated by the agency's apparent unwillingness to acknowledge what he considers a fact: That NASA has had dispositive proof of living microorganisms on Mars since 1976, and a great deal of additional evidence since then. Levin is no conspiracy theorist, either. He's an engineer, a respected inventor, founder of scientific-research company Spherix, and a participant in that 1976 NASA mission. He's written an opinion piece in Scientific American that asks why NASA won't follow up on what he believes they should already know.

In 1976

Image source: NASA/JPL

Sunset at the Viking 1 site

As the developer of methods for rapidly detecting and identifying microorganisms, Levin took part in the Labeled Release (LR) experiment landed on Mars by NASA's Viking 1 and 2.

At both landing sites, the Vikings picked up samples of Mars soil, treating each with a drop of a dilute nutrient solution. This solution was tagged with radioactive carbon-14, and so if there were any microorganisms in the samples, they would metabolize it. This would lead to the production of radioactive carbon or radioactive methane. Sensors were positioned above the soil samples to detect the presence of either as signifiers of life.

At both landing sites, four positive indications of life were recorded, backed up by five controls. As a guarantee, the samples were then heated to 160°, hot enough to kill any living organisms in the soil, and then tested again. No further indicators of life were detected.

According to many, including Levin, had this test been performed on Earth, there would have been no doubt that life had been found. In fact, parallel control tests were performed on Earth on two samples known to be lifeless, one from the Moon and one from Iceland's volcanic Surtsey island, and no life was indicated.

However, on Mars, another experiment, a search for organic molecules, had been performed prior to the LR test and found nothing, leaving NASA in doubt regarding the results of the LR experiment, and concluding, according to Levin, that they'd found something imitating life, but not life itself. From there, notes Levin, "Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA's subsequent Mars landers has carried a life detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results."

Subsequent evidence

Image source: NASA

A thin coating of water ice on the rocks and soil photographed by Viking 2

Levin presents in his opinion piece 17 discoveries by subsequent Mars landers that support the results of the LR experiment. Among these:

  • Surface water sufficient to sustain microorganisms has been found on the red planet by Viking, Pathfinder, Phoenix and Curiosity.
  • The excess of carbon-13 over carbon-12 in the Martian atmosphere indicates biological activity since organisms prefer ingesting carbon-12.
  • Mars' CO2should long ago have been converted to CO by the sun's UV light, but CO2 is being regenerated, possibly by microorganisms as happens on Earth.
  • Ghost-like moving lights, resembling Earth's will-O'-the-wisps produced by spontaneous ignition of methane, have been seen and recorded on the Martian surface.
  • "No factor inimical to life has been found on Mars." This is a direct rebuttal of NASA's claim cited above.

Frustration

Image source: NASA

A technician checks the soil sampler of a Viking lander.

By 1997, Levin was convinced that NASA was wrong and set out to publish followup research supporting his conclusion. It took nearly 20 years to find a venue, he believes due to his controversial certainty that the LR experiment did indeed find life on Mars.

Levin tells phys.org, "Since I first concluded that the LR had detected life (in 1997), major juried journals had refused our publications. I and my co-Experimenter, Dr. Patricia Ann Straat, then published mainly in the astrobiology section of the SPIE Proceedings, after presenting the papers at the annual SPIE conventions. Though these were invited papers, they were largely ignored by the bulk of astrobiologists in their publications." (Staat is the author of To Mars with Love, about her experience as co-experimenter with Levin for the LR experiments.)

Finally, he and Straat decided to craft a paper that answers every objection anyone ever had to their earlier versions, finally publishing it in Astrobiology's October 2016 issue. "You may not agree with the conclusion," he says, "but you cannot disparage the steps leading there. You can say only that the steps are insufficient. But, to us, that seems a tenuous defense, since no one would refute these results had they been obtained on Earth."

Nonetheless, NASA's seeming reluctance to address the LR experiment's finding remains an issue for Levin. He and Straat have petitioned NASA to send a new LR test to the red planets, but, alas, Levin reports that "NASA has already announced that its 2020 Mars lander will not contain a life-detection test."

Physicists solve a 140-year-old mystery

Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.

Credit: IBM
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