A review of Alice Dreger’s “Galileo’s Middle Finger” (Penguin, March 2015)
Alice Dreger would not approve of my proposed subtitle for her book: “One woman’s journey from feminism to reason”. The reason is, she hasn’t completed that journey yet. But her book reveals, even in its mistakes, how far she has traveled.
First, terminology. By “Feminism” I mean the latest incarnation of what used to be a campaign for equality for women and girls.
By “Social Justice”, I mean the aim of the modern left, with its Oppression Olympics, its hierarchies of “privilege”, and its hostility to freedom of speech. It includes feminists and gays supporting Muslims disrupting a talk, and academics being forced to resign because of their views on Halloween costumes.
More seriously, it contains a social work department which, when told by a whistle-blower that most of the child-molesters in the Rotherham area are of Pakistani descent, sent her on a diversity course, threatened her with being fired, and told her “never, ever” to mention it again: Rotherham Whistleblower ‘Sent On Diversity Training For Saying Most Abusers Were Asian’, Huffington Post, September 2nd, 2014.
The people who enable this kind of thing are called “social justice warriors”, or SJWs.
Alice Dreger writes in a racy, populist, humorous style, not fearing to boldly split infinitives. I was reading another critique of Social Justice called “The Closing of the Liberal Mind” by Kim Holmes, but I abandoned this turgid tome for Dreger’s, which I read from cover to cover without stopping.
Her early work was on “intersex” individuals. In a nutshell, she campaigned against the medical tradition of surgery on babies whose sex organs were a combination of male and female. There are many of these combinations, and most of us have never heard of them.
Because she challenged a medical establishment which tried to force intersex individuals into binary male and female identities, she became part of the LGBT movement. This influence shows throughout the book. She liberally uses words from the SJW dictionary, such as “privilege”, “heterosexism” etc., which imply the narrative of victimology.
But she constantly undermines this narrative, with stories of white male academics suffering unconscionable attacks on their careers and their sanity from self-righteous SJWs. She has also suffered slanders from the hate-groups of the left. She describes all of this in painstaking, documented detail.
She relates several stories of the SJW assault on science and reason, but the main one, the one in which she is most invested, is the attempt by SJWs to destroy the careers of two scientists, Ray Blanchard and Michael Bailey, who research various forms of transgenderism – the desire for one’s body to be the opposite sex to the one it actually is.
The Social Justice persecutors of Blanchard and Bailey exhibited the symptoms of the variant of transexuality they described, and they wished to deny – a classic case of “SJWs Always Project” (the third rule of Social Justice, Vox Day: SJWs Always Lie, Castalia House, October 13th, 2015).
This variant is called “amour de soi en femme”, or “autogynephilia”. Are you a man who is turned on by imagining yourself as a woman? You got it. The SJWs didn’t like hearing about this because they wanted to stick to the simple argument that transexuality is simply a case of a person being born in the “wrong” body. This might be more socially acceptable than autogynephilia, so they wanted to suppress information about this condition.
The tactics of the SJWs included falsely claiming Michael Bailey had sex with a research subject, publishing pictures of his children, and claiming he’d had sex with them too. They managed to turn some of his research subjects against him, persuading them to lie that he’d “outed” them. Dreger proves this.
These SJWs know Search Engine Optimisation. I googled “autogynephilia”, and the top result was the claim that the condition “is a sex-fueled mental illness made up by Ray Blanchard”. But the second result is the Wikipedia page, and, surprisingly, it’s even-handed in its description of the controversy. It is possible to use the internet to fight back.
As Dreger says, if you google “prenatal dexamethasone for cah”, her paper explaining what she thinks is wrong with it comes up first. Her main opponents on this issue are an octogenarian doctor and her bureaucrats, rather than internet-savvy SJWs.
But the author does outline many problems which the internet has enabled. The ability of activists to manipulate public opinion on a large scale overnight is one. The weakening of serious print journalism, because there’s no money in it, is another.
She admits she’d never have imagined, as a p.c. feminist, she’d go to a meeting of Evolutionary Psychologists. But her search for truth leads her to just such a meeting, with scientists trying to use Darwin’s theory to understand people.
Dreger describes an interview with Darwinian anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, who was slandered by an SJW called Patrick Tierney, who claimed Chagnon and his colleague James Neel had caused an epidemic of measles in the Amazon as part of their research, which Tierney claims was based on racialist pseudo-eugenics. I can confirm Dreger’s account of the American Anthropological Association’s show-trial of Chagnon in absentia at its 2000 meeting in San Francisco – I was there.
More importantly, on page 122, she explains how a feminist dogma (“rape is about power”) hindered an investigation of an actual rape in Arizona.
Her concern with the corruption of science and truth is not limited to the influence of the left. She also singles out right-wing Christians and corporate interests. Her description of the difficulty she had in exposing what she claims is the danger of treating pregnant women with a drug called prenatal dexamethasone had nothing to do with SJWs.
As I said, her journey is incomplete. The book contains contradictions – the exposure of Social Justice combined with defences of it. A clear example of this is Dreger’s remarks on the late Stephen Jay Gould.
Early in the book, she claims
Meanwhile, Hubbard’s Harvard colleague Stephen Jay Gould had scrutinized ‘scientific’ studies purporting to show important racial differences in skull size and IQ and had shown them to be hopelessly riddled with racist bias.
This refers to Gould’s 1981 “The Mismeasure of Man”.
Note she says Gould had “shown” that these studies were “racist”. “Shown” is a strong word in science. It means “proven”.
But Gould was lying: Scientists Measure the Accuracy of a Racism Claim – Wade, N., New York Times, June 13th, 2011.
Later in the book, helped by her friendly contacts with several leading scientists, such as Edward Wilson, she is surprised to discover how much even this great man suffered from the lies of Gould and his comrade, Richard Lewontin.
These contradictions notwithstanding, this book is an armoured division in the battle against Social Justice, and the fact that it is commanded by a decorated deserter from the enemy camp gives it extra firepower.
One can only hope Dreger continues her journey to its logical conclusion. Her recent talk at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a good sign.
Footnote, September 14th 2016:
A clear example of Dreger’s contradictory attitude toward Social Justice is a post on her blog, “Wondering If I’m the Next Tim Hunt” from June last year. She’s aware of the danger of an innocent person getting fired because he or she has annoyed an SJW or feminist, but still says
On the one hand, I’m glad Hunt was called out
“Calling out” is SJW jargon for “disagreeing with his opinion”. She then says that she once “called out” another Nobel Laureate, James Watson, for “sexist remarks”. She doesn’t mention that James Watson was subsequently sacked for breaking another SJW taboo, “racism”.
Yet she sympathises with Tim Hunt, who was fired for “sexism”, quotes a defiant stand against Social Justice from the University of Chicago, and says she wishes she works there, because she could be “the next Tim Hunt”.
Make your mind up! You can’t cherry-pick when to apply Social Justice and when not to. If they can fire one Nobel Prize-winner for thought-crimes, they can fire any. If you want to stand for academic freedom, as the University of Chicago has done, you have to actively oppose Social Justice.