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Out Of The Closet

July 11, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 28

“Coming Out in the Chemical Sciences” might be expected to evoke a great deal of reaction (C&EN, May 23, page 41). This is predictable given that human sexuality and sexual relationships are powerfully emotional. When dealing with strong emotions, it can be challenging to be objective. All the more reason to do so in a magazine dedicated to the sciences.

I can imagine folks in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community being pleased with the article given that it discusses a topic that is meaningful and important to them. Others might counter that the topic is personal, dealing not with science and therefore not within the scope of a science-oriented publication. I am somewhat torn on this. On one hand, I consider private, intimate details best left private and intimate. On the other hand, something that is a source of significant concern to colleagues and fellow human beings deserves discussion.

Since C&EN has elected to discuss something that is somewhat outside the realm of science, I think it reasonable to respond with arguments not fully based on science but that include some value statements.

One might ask the question of why God created sexual relationships. It seems to me that the creator had several objectives:

1. The establishment of a means by which human beings could express a special level of affection and commitment toward one another. Obviously this is not a casual relationship. Affection exists among a wide group of people: neighbors, friends, extended family, and members of religious communities to name a few. When affection ascends to the level of sexual expression, however, it seems logical that something deeper must be involved.

2. For those folks who are Christian, this deep relationship mirrors the permanent and unchanging relationship within the Trinity and thus becomes a method by which we can comprehend the Trinity a bit better. Of course, not everyone is Christian, so this argument will be meaningful only to a specific subset of folks reading the letter.

3. Another obvious purpose for sexual relationships is the survival of species. We see this pattern mirrored throughout many life-forms and all of the higher ones. It is logical to assume then that the procreation of life is a significant element of human sexual identity and relationships. Of course, not every act of sexual expression results in new life, but this is a natural and reasonable outcome.

I am perplexed that in considering such an emotional and complex human phenomenon, I can think of no more than three fundamental purposes for its existence, but there you have it. I suggest, however, that these factors are uniquely integrated and explain a lot about our culture.

By Michael Kerner
Lisle, Ill.

What a wonderful article—thank you for telling a good story and featuring the work of Barbara Belmont and Rochelle Diamond. They have done amazing things for science. Well done.

By Richard A. Weibl
Director, Project on Science, Technology & Disability
Director, Center for Careers in Science & Technology
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Washington, D.C.


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