Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Scientific Research and Political Correctness

There are many politically correct assumptions that when challenged by research or even just vetting a new theory, cause serious backlash. I'll list a few:

Researchers daring to question accepted dogma will be subjected to attacks both personal and professional. For example, J. Michael Bailey challenged some cherished beliefs regarding transgendered people and this is one example of the backlash:
The site also included a link to the Web page of another critic of Dr. Bailey’s book, Andrea James, a Los Angeles-based transgender advocate and consultant. Ms. James downloaded images from Dr. Bailey’s Web site of his children, taken when they were in middle and elementary school, and posted them on her own site, with sexually explicit captions that she provided. (Dr. Bailey is a divorced father of two.) Ms. James said in an e-mail message that Dr. Bailey’s work exploited vulnerable people, especially children, and that her response echoed his disrespect.
Anyone who has spent much time on the web knows that personal attacks of a sexual nature are par for the course. Ironically, the attacks often originate from those who claim membership in groups that used to be victims of persecution. This very thing happened to Jeff Goldstein. A lesbian woman named Deb Frisch threatened his family and used sexually violent language describing his toddler son. (He's at again, challenging the notions of masculinity.) Other bloggers sharing opinions that differ from the politically correct have likewise been subjected to written, sexually explicit violence.

The violent rhetoric is nothing short of bullying. The intention is to silence diverse opinions and to rob a dissenting person of his or her voice. While these actions are disturbing in the Wild West atmosphere of the web, most bloggers have the inner fortitude to continue. They have free choice. They may suffer D.O.S. (denial of service attacks--where the website is flooded with links or hits to overwhelm the servers that support the site, so anyone searching for it will be denied service) or other acts of aggression, but they can prevail.

In the world of research and academia, however, a scientist's ability to continue to explore new theories can be quashed and the long-term ramifications should worry thinking people:
The inquiry, which lasted almost a year, brought research to a near standstill in Dr. Bailey’s laboratory, and clouded his name among some other researchers, according to people who worked with the psychologist.

“That was the worst blow of all, that we didn’t get much support” from Northwestern, said Gerulf Rieger, a graduate student of Dr. Bailey’s at the time, and now a lecturer at Northwestern. “They were quite scared and not very professional, I thought.”

A spokesman for the university declined to comment on the investigation, which concluded in 2004.

One collaborator broke with Dr. Bailey over the controversy, Dr. Bailey said. Others who remained loyal said doing so had a cost: two researchers said they were advised by a government grant officer that they should distance themselves from Dr. Bailey to improve their chances of receiving financing.

“He told me it would be better if I played down any association with Bailey,” said Khytam Dawood, a psychologist at Pennsylvania State University.
So grant money is used to manipulate those with differing theories and cutting-edge research. Essentially, anyone with a new thought or idea that conflicts with present dogma or politically correct opinion finds himself isolated, unfunded and reviled by the scientific community. It is the equivalent of being marked or shunned by a religious community.

Should this politically charged atmosphere continue in academia and the realm of science, scientific advances will stop here and now, because all the truth to be found has been found.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Doc, this sounds like a litany:

Sexual orientation is genetic
Ees Party Line, Comrades
Gender confusion is biological and genetic
Ees Party Line, Comrades
Gender roles are exclusively socially mediated
Ees Party Line, Comrades
I.Q. is the same between races, ethnicities and gender
Ees Party Line, Comrades
Evolution explains differentiation between species
Ees Party Line, Comrades
Soldiers are violent, ignorant, psychopaths
Ees Party Line, Comrades
Family structure does not affect developmental outcomes
Ees Party Line, Comrades
Child development is not significantly affected by parental interaction
Ees Party Line, Comrades
Child development is not significantly affected by the absence of a parent through divorce
Ees Party Line, Comrades
Humans cause global warming
Ees Party Line, Comrades
Public education is the best way to educate children
Ees Party Line, Comrades
Mental illness is biological and genetic
Ees Party Line, Comrades
White men are violent rapists
Ees Party Line, Comrades

Two Plus Two Equals Five --
Ees Party Line, Comrades

Grog said...

I'm not going to even attempt to defend those who have threatened or otherwise sought to bully Dr. Bailey into silence.

That said, I think Bailey's theories around transsexuality are deeply flawed in some very fundamental ways.

(1) His adoption of the Blanchard "autogynephilia" concept.

I believe that this particular notion has a very limited amount of traction in the reality of most transsexuals. Certainly, the anecdotal evidence in the narratives I have read do not support Blanchard's concept well at all.

(2) His insistence on categorizing MTF transsexuals as "gay men uncomfortable with gay male sex".

This is a deeply flawed argument that again ignores the recorded narratives of most MTF transsexuals that I have studied. It is conjecture that comingles the notions of gender and sexual identity in a deeply inappropriate fashion. (BTW - I am not saying that transsexuals are not sexual beings, rather I am arguing that the narrative evidence does not support Bailey's conjecture)

(3) Bailey effectively reduces gender to sexual acts.

This is understandable on Bailey's part. He's primarily a researcher in sexual behaviours, and would naturally tend towards that. Sadly for Bailey, he has misunderstood the distinction between sexuality, gender, and social gender that transsexuals are grappling with. Additionally, Bailey's line of reason ignores the all too common reality that many transsexuals know "something's wrong" from an age long before the development of any sexual identity.

The outrage in the transsexual community over Bailey's book "The Man Who Would Be Queen" is understandable in light of the broad brush with which he paints the transsexual community, and is compounded by the fact that so much of what he claims simply ignores the very real narrative of so many ... without providing compelling evidence to support his claims.

In that regard, many in the trans* world view Bailey's work as being as deeply flawed and appalling as the work of ahti-gay "researcher" Paul Cameron.

Melissa Clouthier said...

Grog,

rather I am arguing that the narrative evidence does not support Bailey's conjecture

I am no expert in things sexual identity or transgender. It seems that the field of transgender studies is relatively new. It also seems logical that there will be wild, inaccurate and divergent theories for a while. Some theories may contradict the anecdotal evidence of those who have the experience. In fact, I'm quite sure it will. That doesn't mean that the theory should be abandoned.

For example, thousands of parents of children with autism are convinced that their child's disease was caused by the MMR vaccination. There is scant evidence. And many scientists aren't inclined to explore the issue because vaccines are medical "miracles". (Scientific dogma bordering on religious zealotry.) Some scientists work on the theory that the MMR isn't causative. Some work on the theory that the two are correlated. Some work on the theory that the MMR vaccine is causative. Until the question is settled, people from all sides of the question should be free to explore the veracity of their theory.

Anecdotal evidence, the personal narrative, clinical evidence and controlled studies are all valid ways to gather evidence.

In the topic of sexuality, the atmosphere is politically charged. Subjects are notoriously unreliable when self-reporting on sexuality. It is a highly subjective field.

As for the scientists attempting to study sexuality and gender, intellectual freedom should allow them to follow where their research leads. And then, their theories can be argued with and debunked in the scientific community. But that's not happening. It isn't enough to dismantle differing theories, the scientist himself must be destroyed.

Grog said...

Well, let's just consider something here - we are not talking about a scholarly paper that Bailey wrote, but rather a mass-market book for general consumption.

In other words, when Bailey's book was published, he moved out of the (relatively) isolated world of academe, and stepped right smack into the midst of the mainstream.

In doing so, he landed in the midst of the debate between social conservatives and transsexuals. Perhaps even more risky, he also planted himself firmly between several camps of opinion within the transsexual community. (and those arguments are not pretty to observe...)

As if to aggravate the picture, anti-gay activists adopted Bailey's model in their efforts to equate transfolk with homosexuality.

By his own inaction in not distancing himself from the political actions of the socially conservative right wing, Bailey tacitly allied himself with "researchers" such as Paul Cameron in the eyes of transsexuals especially.

Additionally, his adoption of a theoretical model that flies in the face of the experiences of so many, Bailey arguably failed to put forward a compelling body of evidence to support his theory. (Certainly the book itself failed to convince me of his theory's tenability - rather it reminded me of reading Janice Raymond's "Transsexual Empire" - and flawed for many of the same basic reasons)

Whilst I do not agree with the tactics of abuse and intimidation applied by some of Bailey's more radical critics, it is similarly important to recognize that Bailey had stepped well outside of the academic sphere, and done so in a fashion which many would consider politically damaging to their cause.

Once he stepped into the political arena (wittingly or not), Bailey stepped into one of the most vicious arenas in the human world ... and sadly, I don't think he understood that.

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