March 17, 2005


Alfred Kinsey: The American Lysenko: A biopic and a PBS documentary whitewash the life and record of this fraudulent pervert. (Edward Feser, 8 March 2005, City Journal)

The worthlessness of Kinsey’s method of carrying out “sex research” ought to have been evident from the start. It involved collecting a vast number of “sexual histories,” detailed accounts of the sex lives of various individuals, revealed to Kinsey and his associates in lengthy interviews. Kinsey would then arrange the data culled from the interviews in tables purporting to show how common various sexual behaviors were within the American population as a whole. The tables went public in Kinsey’s two famous volumes, on male and female sexuality respectively, which alleged that certain behaviors widely regarded as immoral or otherwise deviant—adultery, fornication, homosexual acts of various kinds, pederasty, and so on and on—were far more common than the common man thought (or wanted to think).

That this whole approach is statistically dubious should go without saying. (Some of Kinsey’s nervous financial backers said it anyway, but Kinsey wasn’t of a mind to listen.) People willing to recount the intimate details of their sex lives to perfect strangers are bound to be more likely to engage in other risqué activities. Any account of the sexual behavior of the population at large that rests on such a skewed sample will inevitably overstate the frequency of deviant behavior. But this is far from the end of the story, or of the problems that plague Kinsey’s method. Notoriously, he derived his “sexual histories” largely from persons on the fringes of society—prison inmates and the denizens of gay bars, the latter being in the 1940s and fifties much farther outside the mainstream of American life than they are now.

Then there’s Kinsey’s strange fascination with pedophiles, with the horrific data on the frequency of orgasms in infants and children he derived from interviewing child molesters blandly recorded in his volumes alongside the more ordinary perversions. One particularly monstrous pedophile, a man who had sexual relations with various of his family members and molested hundreds of children, kept regular contact with Kinsey and his associates. They assured him that they wouldn’t turn him in to the authorities, despite the fact that he continued to molest children throughout the time of their correspondence. Kinsey justified such aiding and abetting of criminality in the name of “science,” of course. Never mind that his technique was utterly contemptuous of the science of statistics. Kinsey could not have chosen a less representative sample of American society if he had intentionally set out to do so. (Ahem.)

All of this would be bad enough if Kinsey’s work merely sought to convey some unusual facts and figures. But of course, Kinsey took that work, and his admirers still take it, to have far greater significance. In their view, it amounts to nothing less than a refutation of traditional sexual morality. Kinsey had shown—or so he claimed—that adulterers, homosexuals, and pederasts were as common as rain. How could anyone ever again regard such behavior as abnormal?

This sort of non sequitur might have been forgivable had it come from one of Kinsey’s hapless undergraduates. It is inexcusable coming from the professor himself, or from his more academically inclined followers. Certainly the great sexual moralists of the Western tradition would have found Kinsey’s argument singularly unimpressive. Thomas Aquinas would have patiently explained to Dr. Kinsey and his acolytes that “normal,” as traditional moralists use that term, has nothing to do with frequency of occurrence and everything to do with the natural function of bodily organs and psychological inclinations. Augustine would have explained that if the use of these organs and inclinations in a manner contrary to their natural functions really were as common as Kinsey claimed, this would merely corroborate his thesis that original sin stains human nature, infecting it with concupiscence. Kant would have scratched his head in puzzlement at any suggestion that an appeal to widespread inclinations might justify behaviors that could only amount to the use of other human beings as means to one’s own carnal ends. And even Kinsey’s own mother could have advised him that “everyone does it” proves exactly nothing where morality is concerned.

But seriously to engage the opponents of the sexual revolution at the appropriate moral and philosophical level would be to reveal how contingent, how open to debate, are that revolution’s intellectual foundations. Far better for the revolutionaries, then, to maintain the simple-minded fiction that the revolution took merely another inevitable step in the long March of Science. That way the opponents of the revolution would appear the spiritual heirs of William Jennings Bryan, and everyone could get on with looking for Mr. Goodbar. To complete the picture, however, requires that someone play the role of Clarence Darrow, the cool and collected man of reason whose very sobriety will, by virtue of its contrast with the fevered ravings of the prudish Bryans of the world, bolster the case for sexual “liberation.” Cue Alfred Kinsey. The Neeson movie is, in its way, a remake of Inherit the Wind.

In fairness, Science can hardly be expected to start taking account of the motives of scientists or the whole project goes bung.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 17, 2005 11:31 PM

scientists and engineers are happy to work for whoever will indulge their inflated egos. for the most part they are amoral individuals. they produce useful artifacts so i guess its worth keeping them around, but its no coincidence they never have any real influence or power. having said that, kinsey was hardly a scientist, no more so than larry flynt to be sure.

Posted by: cjm at March 17, 2005 11:59 PM

Less of a scientist than Larry Flynt. Kinsey's work reflected his own issues, which were legion. He got away with it because he simply mirrored the intellectual current of the time which was a Euro-style rejection of the traditional morality that has more or less worked since 1776. As research, Kinsey's work was far more Swiss cheese than science.

CJM, I have to disagree. It is regrettable that those of us in the natural and physical sciences as well as engineering don't have more influence. Why should we leave it to the Bible-thumpers, the liberal arts majors and the mouthpieces?

Posted by: at March 18, 2005 8:12 AM

It is easy to say that Kinsey was not a scientist. Many social 'scientists' believe that he was. Who said scientists and philosphers don't initiate revolutions? I get a kick out of the retrospective wisdom of the secular humanists on this blog.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at March 18, 2005 9:19 AM

Oh, yes, those darned Bible thumpers. Theyre always saying silly stuff, like:
"The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: 'It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity." President Adams, July 4, 1821
I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens, better fathers, better husbands... the Bible makes the best people in the world." President Thomas Jefferson
"The Bible is the Rock on which this Republic rests." President Andrew Jackson
"I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man. All the good from the Savior (Jesus) of the world is communicated to us through this book. Abraham Lincoln
To every man who faces life with real desire to do his part in everything, I appeal for a study of the Bible." President Theodore Roosevelt

Posted by: SOTMHK at March 18, 2005 11:17 AM

social science is neither

whoever posted the remark about bible thumpers, thank you for making my point so elegantly

philosophers and scientists have never launched a revolution, how can they when they despise the people who actually participate in such risky adventures ? certainly every revolution has a big ball of nonsense as a rallying point, but that is just to lure in the initial group of believers. eric hoffer covers this quite convincingly

Posted by: cjm at March 18, 2005 12:30 PM