He or she blinded me with science

The New York Times reports on another crazy academic feud driven by politically correct orthodoxy.

>In academic feuds, as in war, there is no telling how far people will go once the shooting starts.

>Earlier this month, members of the International Academy of Sex Research, gathering for their annual meeting in Vancouver, informally discussed one of the most contentious and personal social science controversies in recent memory.

Note the phrase “social science controversies.” Here’s the story, more or less, in outline. J.Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology up the road here at Northwestern University, writes a book,The Man Who Would Be Queen, that challenges the way scientists think about the “biology of sexual orientation.” As the Times tells it, there began his troubles, because he dared to challenge some kind of p.c. orthodoxy:

>To many of Dr. Bailey’s peers, his story is a morality play about the corrosive effects of political correctness on academic freedom. Some scientists say that it has become increasingly treacherous to discuss politically sensitive issues. They point to several recent cases, like that of Helmuth Nyborg, a Danish researcher who was fired in 2006 after he caused a furor in the press by reporting a slight difference in average I.Q. test scores between the sexes.

>“What happened to Bailey is important, because the harassment was so extraordinarily bad and because it could happen to any researcher in the field,” said Alice Dreger, an ethics scholar and patients’ rights advocate at Northwestern who, after conducting a lengthy investigation of Dr. Bailey’s actions, has concluded that he is essentially blameless. “If we’re going to have research at all, then we’re going to have people saying unpopular things, and if this is what happens to them, then we’ve got problems not only for science but free expression itself.”

Odd that Dr.Dreger would claim that Dr. Bailey is blameless:

>Moreover, based on her own reading of federal regulations, Dr. Dreger, whose report can be viewed at www.bioethics.northwestern.edu, argued that the book did not qualify as scientific research. The federal definition describes “a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation.”

>Dr. Bailey used the people in his book as anecdotes, not as the subjects of a systematic investigation, she reported.

>“The bottom line is that they tried to ruin this guy, and they almost succeeded,” Dr. Dreger said.

Dr.Dreger seems deeply confused about the nature of the controversy. The controversy concerns (in part) whether what Dr.Bailey said was supported by the evidence. But on Dr.Dreger’s account, it doesn’t even qualify as scientific research. And she’s defending him. It’s hard to see, therefore, what sense it makes to call this a dispute about scientific research and political correctness. There’s no scientific research.

One thought on “He or she blinded me with science”

  1. “In academic feuds, as in war, there is no telling how far people will go once the shooting starts.”

    Holy weak analogy, Batman.

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