August 22, 2007

THE DERANGEMENT THAT DARE NOT HAVE ITS NAME SPOKEN (via Ari Mendelson):

Criticism of a Gender Theory, and a Scientist Under Siege (BENEDICT CAREY, 8/22/07, NY Times)

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.

The central figure, J. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University, has promoted a theory that his critics think is inaccurate, insulting and potentially damaging to transgender women. [...]

The hostilities began in the spring of 2003, when Dr. Bailey published a book, “The Man Who Would Be Queen,” intended to explain the biology of sexual orientation and gender to a general audience. [...]

In his book, he argued that some people born male who want to cross genders are driven primarily by an erotic fascination with themselves as women. This idea runs counter to the belief, held by many men who decide to live as women, that they are the victims of a biological mistake — in essence, women trapped in men’s bodies. Dr. Bailey described the alternate theory, which is based on Canadian studies done in the 1980s and 1990s, in part by telling the stories of several transgender women he met through a mutual acquaintance. In the book, he gave them pseudonyms, like “Alma” and “Juanita.”

Other scientists praised the book as a compelling explanation of the science. The Lambda Literary Foundation, an organization that promotes gay, bisexual and transgender literature, nominated the book for an award.

But days after the book appeared, Lynn Conway, a prominent computer scientist at the University of Michigan, sent out an e-mail message comparing Dr. Bailey’s views to Nazi propaganda. She and other transgender women found the tone of the book abusive, and the theory of motivation it presented to be a recipe for further discrimination.

Dr. Conway did not respond to requests for an interview.

Dr. Ben Barres, a neurobiologist at Stanford, said in reference to Dr. Bailey’s thesis in the book, “Bailey seems to make a living by claiming that the things people hold most deeply true are not true.”

At a public meeting of sex researchers shortly after the book’s publication, Dr. John Bancroft, then director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, said to Dr. Bailey, “Michael, I have read your book, and I do not think it is science,” according to accounts of the meeting. Dr. Bancroft confirmed the comment.


It's hard to top the irony of someone at Kinsey--the avatar of junk science driven by personal predilections and political correctness--setting himself up as a judge of science.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 22, 2007 8:59 AM
Comments

Aren't you supposed to mention Julia Roberts?

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at August 22, 2007 11:07 AM
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