Monday, August 20, 2007

Thoughtcrime Report: J. Michael Baily Edition
Lysenkoism to the Right of Me, Lysenkoism to the Left of Me...

Well, there's this.

Baily did a qualitative study and published a book arguing that "some people born male who want to cross genders are driven primarily by an erotic fascination with themselves as women." Problem is, "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."

Although Baily has a reputation as a "solid" scientist, and although his book was well-received by others in the field, and although the Lambda Literary Foundation nominated his book for an award, others. weren't so happy, and the vilification began.

Some examples, omitting some of the stretchier ones the Times lists, like those culled from e-mails:

1. "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.”

(Egad! A scientist claiming that "the things people hold most deeply true are not true"!!! This is not only an outrage, but surely unprecedented in the history of science! What would Galileo or Darwin say???)

2. "After consulting with Dr. Conway, four of the transgender women who spoke to Dr. Bailey during his reporting for the book wrote letters to Northwestern, complaining that they had been used as research subjects without having given, or been asked to sign, written consent.

One wrote a letter making another accusation against Dr. Bailey: she claimed he had had sex with her."

An ethics investigation has seemed to reveal information showing all these claims to be false.

3. One Lee [Lynn] Conway, and allegedly prominent computer scientist at the University of Michigan, compared Bailey's book to...wait for it...Nazi propaganda. Furthermore:

Conway "kept a running chronicle of the accusations against Dr. Bailey on her Web site. Any Google search of Dr. Bailey’s name brought up Dr. Conway’s site near the top of the list.

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."

These people are, as you may have noted, f*cking insane.

Now, apparently the case isn't quite closed on Bailey, but I know the kinds of people he's up against, and their track record isn't good. As I've said here before, I think that liberals underestimate the viciousness and irrationality of some elements of the intellectual left, including certain parts of the feminist/gender-studies wing. Some of the flat-out craziest people I've ever met have been people from that world. And, please note, I grew up in rural Missouri where fundamentalist Christians, rabid creationists, dyed-in-the-wool racists and reactionary conservatives were extremely common.These are the people who, among other things, influenced me to stop identifying myself as a feminist--not because my position had changed, but, rather, because I didn't want to be identified with such kooks. (Incidentally, despite protestations of academic feminists to the contrary, this is why so few college females identify themselves as feminists today. They encounter the irrational, radically distorted and bigoted version of feminism in academia and wisely conclude that they don't buy it. They're feminists in the sense that you and I are feminists, but the eschew the label for the same reason I do.)

Now, psychology is not known for its rigorous intellectual standards, and the kind of area in which Baily is working is held in particularly low regard. Needless to say, I haven't read Bailey's work, but if his arguments were shoddy and overly-speculative, it would be far from a first for his sub-field. So this should in no way be construed as a defense of Bailey's research. It could be good, it could be bad. I don't know.

But--and I expect that this should be obvious--I merely want to highlight the irrationality and viciousness of the response to Bailey's work. Scientists have to call it like they see it. They don't have to be right, and they don't have to be popular; so long as their reasoning is responsible, they cannot be criticized because their conclusions are displeasing to some (or all, for that matter).

Lysenkoism is alive and well on both sides of the political spectrum. It's true that it's far more powerful, prominent, and dangerous on the right now since it's a real force in government. But it simmers on the left, and it does so in a particularly important and vulnerable place--academia. Strategically situated there, it can influence not only legions of young minds, but also research and, consequently, policy. "Less dangerous than right-wing Lysenkoism" is not the same thing as "not dangerous." As I've often warned, liberals should not make the mistake of believing that the extreme left is any more congenial to liberalism than is the right. It is not.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That would be Lynn Conway, not Lee, and since I hadn't heard of her despite being in Computer Science, I did a brief search. From what I could find online, she wrote an influential hardware design textbook with Carver Mead in the 1980's, and a few papers since, none with major impact. Oddly enough, her department webpage at UMich doesn't feature a Vita or a list of publications.

Damn, I wish emeritus were that easy nowadays...

10:51 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Thanks, A. Correction forthcoming.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

Re: your criticism of academic feminism:

After Mackinnon and the whole anti-porn clusterfuck of the crazy eighties, it became pretty easy to identify certain parts of feminism / gender studies as a bunch of crackpots. Which Mackinnon pretty much is; I mean, you don't have to read too far into A Feminist Theory of the State to see something ridiculous.

I minored in sociology (whee) and took a more than healthy amount of feminist / gender studies classes in college, and what I really got out of it was that it's most useful / works best when you don't approach it as a unitary model, but take bits and pieces of it to help you understand certain phenomena and why they occur. (I feel the same way about Foucault actually.)

So I kind of think that all the crazy shit that feminist academic thinkers spout (and there's definitely a fair amount of it) might be at least in part because they use their models not as tools but as dogma. There are (I imagine) a lot of places where this happens other than feminism, not that it makes it any better when feminists do it.


Incidentally, despite protestations of academic feminists to the contrary, this is why so few college females identify themselves as feminists today.

I think you made this up (with all due respect). Where are you getting this from?

12:42 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

moi?? Make something up??

Perish the thought...

Nope. I dunno whether the phenomenon is real, but it seems to have become conventional wisdom that few(er?) college(-age?) females identify themselves as feminists. I haven't even seen any feminists disputing the point...which is one reason why I came to accept it.

I also may have seen numbers at some point...but I certainly don't remember them now.

Anyway, though feminists I've read don't deny that alleged datum, they DO try to come up with all sorts of elaborate theories to explain the datum--the right has defamed feminism and so forth.

The explanation of the phenomenon I allude to is a fairly widespread one, though, outside academic feminism.

1:57 PM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

Left-wing Lysenkoism is as intellectually dangerous as the right-wing kind. But the people you quote have no political power, have never had political power, and have no prospects of ever having political power. They may be able to suppress speech in their departments or even in a university or two, and that's bad, but they cannot suppress finished research the way the Bushists routinely do.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Colin said...

Upon further reflection / being bored at work I think part of the reason for the attack on this guy might be that they interpret his findings as a very real threat. People outside of college towns aren't down with gay folk, much less some of the more niche sexualities / transgendered or transsexual folks. 'He's a douchebag' is of course a terrible way to counter his findings but if you consider the attack that the glbti community is under most of the time, you probably would not be too thrilled about attempts to delegitimize your sexual identity. Again, no excuse for being shitty to the guy, but it's easy (at least for me) to see why they'd snap back both guns blazing.

Back to topic at hand:

I can think of a lot of reasons why college aged women might not be self-identifying as much (fwiw my best guess is that there hasn't been a Betty Friedan equivalent and that the third wave is splintered to shit so it's harder to figure out what feminism even means, which makes it harder to teach and share).

Anyway, I can definitely see how it might be the case -- there are a lot of possible explanations and they are probably more realistic than not. Still, I think you'd agree that whether or not feminists dispute it is a bad measure of whether or not it is actually happening. And that 'so few' is not a very good quantifier when talking about stuff like this.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

1. Glad to be contributing to your delinquency, Colin...

2. As for your explanation of the LGBT response...well, not every explanation is a justification. I understand having a siege mentality, but it doesn't make the response right.

3. I think that feminists not disputing it is, in this case, pretty decent evidence!

4. 'So few' is a perfectly good quantifier for ordinary purposes, though it invites requests for clarification. I'll be Google can reveal the secrets... Though, thanks to Statisticasaurus rex, here's a start:;jsessionid=GLqBgv4npKSrtp7nL3kM2B2htTF5tvWLZ7ChGnltJdT7Nj6G7F4W!2117204380?docId=5000571262

6:06 PM  

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