The theory that ring finger size is destiny has resurfaced. Faithful Chatterbox readers will recall that a year ago this column asked, "Does A Short Index Finger Make You Gay?" Chatterbox cited a study published in Nature (click here to read a press release on the findings) maintaining that lesbians tend to have ring fingers that are exceptionally long relative to their index fingers, apparently because their mothers had high levels of male hormones in the womb. A less intuitive finding was that gay men also tended to have long ring fingers, owing, again, to their mothers having high levels of male hormones in the womb, though this correlation was more tentative. Mark Breedlove, the Berkeley psychology professor who authored the study, used the occasion to suggest that gay men, far from being feminized men, were in fact hypermasculinized men. Chatterbox himself struck a rigorously neutral pose, then stated Chatterbox's Law of Biological Determinism: Conservatives believe that genes determine everything except homosexuality, while liberals believe that genes determine nothing except homosexuality.
The latest ring finger study comes from John Manning and Rogan Taylor of the University of Liverpool. It states that excellence in athletics correlates with a long ring finger. Interestingly, though, the press release makes no mention of Breedlove's belief that male hypermasculinity correlates with homosexuality. (Chatterbox was unable to access the paper itself, which was published in the January issue of Evolution and Human Behavior.) Neither do any of the news stories writing up the Liverpool study that have appeared in the British press. The reason, Chatterbox suspects, is that the Liverpool study actually names several prominent male soccer players who participated. Presumably they would not be amused by any speculation about their sexual orientation.
[Update, 2:20 p.m. PT: Having now seen the study itself, Chatterbox can report that it does briefly note that exposure to high levels of male hormones in the womb is associated with "male homosexuality." It cites not Breedlove but an earlier study by Manning. In addition, it says, high levels of male hormones in the womb correlate with autism, left-handedness, and "male membership of a symphony orchestra." The study concludes that heightened athletic ability is "useful in intrasexual competition. ... [I]t is to be expected that high status and wealth are attributes that are of interest to women in their choice of sexual partner." But how can it be useful in intrasexual competition if gifted athletes are disproportionately likely to engage in intersexual competition? Moreover, why aren't we seeing women throwing themselves at male oboists?]