Tuesday, 25 September 2007

With "Defenders" Like This...

Alice Dreger Destroys Academic Freedom in Order to Save It

It is an old adage that “crime, once exposed, has no refuge but in audacity.” This appears to be the thinking behind Alice Dreger’s latest attempt to stifle criticism of J. Michael Bailey’s pseudoscience in the name of “academic freedom”.

Joelle Ruby Ryan recently issued a Call for Proposals for a proposed panel of the National Women’s Studies Association entitled The Bailey Brouhaha: Community Members Speak Out on Resisting Transphobia in Academia in Beyond. In it, she accurately summarises the history of the “controversy” around Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science [!] of Gender Bending and Transsexualism, as follows:

While Bailey's book The Man Who Would be Queen was released in 2003 to overwhelmingly negative reviews, the book caused a stir for its assertion that trans women can be split into two groupings: "homosexual transsexuals" and “autogynephilics." Trans activists and allies mobilized and took Bailey to task for his bogus claims and helped to document a compelling case against him. Many considered it an open-and-shut case until the 2007 appearance of an article by Bailey colleague and intersex researcher Alice Dreger, who published a lengthy apologia for Bailey in the Archives of Sexual Behavior and castigated trans women activists for their attempts at "ruining" Bailey.

In response, Dreger declared that the CFP was “laden with factual errors and misrepresentations about the history of the Bailey controversy and my work”, of which she could identify none, and points to her own dubious “scholarly history” (to be published by a journal controlled by Bailey, Blanchard, and Lawrence) and a breathtakingly inaccurate New York Times article that I have discussed previously as reliable sources of information. Dreger repeats her unsupported and unspecified claims of misrepresentations (in one case “profound” misrepresentations”) and factual errors throughout her correspondence on the subject with Emi Koyama on the Women’s Studies listserv WMST-L, and falsely claims that Bailey’s critics attempted to censor him. She does not enlighten interested readers about the scientific status of Bailey’s claims or his defamatory responses to criticism. She closes the e-mail exchange by endorsing a veiled threat directed at Ryan by Emi Koyama:

I also appreciate your advising Joelle Ruby Ryan " that she was putting herself at risk as a scholar working within a controversial field (trans issues) by tolerating tactics that breed fear and stifle academic freedom."

What is the “academic freedom” that Dreger defends so fiercely as to resort to threats and blatant misrepresentations? Is it the freedom to publish scientific findings and engage in scholarly discussion without state or institutional censorship? Clearly not. That right has not been impinged upon. No one is calling for censorship of Bailey’s work, nor has any censorship occurred. The book remains in print, for all to see. Bailey’s right to fetishise “controversy” over science remains inviolate.

No, the “academic freedom” Dreger is so vigorously defending goes much farther. She believes that Bailey should not only have the right to publish and discuss his work without censorship, but without criticism. She believes that academic freedom includes the right to be free from complaints by research subjects whose rights you have violated, the right to make defamatory misrepresentations without them being exposed. Dreger believes that academic freedom includes not only the right to misrepresent pseudoscience as The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism, but also the right to have one’s work go unchallenged. By her own definition, then, she is violating the academic freedom of the scientists and other academics who have exposed Bailey’s quackery and research misconduct.

Dreger, ultimately, is defending the Emperor’s right to demand that his new suit of clothes be praised.

Lest one start to think that Dreger has reached the height of audacity, Dreger actually attempts to defend her fanciful version of academic freedom by using intimidation and defamation to stifle an academic discussion of Bailey’s work! What other purpose could be served by unsupported claims of unspecified (and, in fact, nonexistent!) “misrepresentations”? What else would Dreger be trying to do by cautioning Ryan that she is “putting herself at risk” by attempting to hold an academic forum to discuss the issue?

In Dreger’s bizarre world, Bailey’s misrepresentations are “science” and Dreger’s defamation and intimidation tactics are a “defence of academic freedom”. Lysenko would surely approve.

6 comments:

emigrl said...

Hi Élise,
I don't think I made any sort of threat, veiled or otherwise, and I feel that you are not seeing the context accurately. Please see my response and let me know what you think...

Élise Hendrick said...

Hi Emi,

I can certainly see how it could have been meant as something other than a threat by you, but when Dreger adopts the words as her own, her history of smearing Bailey critics with false (and sometimes surreal) claims strongly suggests that she means it as a threat.

Elise

OII - USA said...

I would like to point out something for clarification:
http://www.intersexualite.org/Dreger_Bailey.html

I live in the deep South. My partner and I have been attacked in the past by the KKK. I don't think that Anjelica was attacked directly by the KKK. I need to make that clear. It would be very odd from what I know goes on in the South that a dead cat would be left without a message and how would they know exactly what her cat looked like. The KKK leaves a message in most cases. They want you to know you are being targeted by them.

The point I am trying to make is this:

1) The dead cat was most likely not from anyone directly related to
the KKK but to someone related to Northwestern (and it was
Northwestern who would directly benefit from the dead cat showing up around Anjelica's residence right after she filed her complaint).
2) and that her showing up on the website was most likely just
coincidental because of the conversations that certain people were having on listservs that would have people connected with those sites.

I think that deserved serious investigation and the fact that Dreger dismisses this in her article is mind-boggling to me as someone who lives in the deep South and who has at times been in groups that work with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Kind regards,
Curtis E. Hinkle

Lish said...

I'd like to see Emi Koyama document her claims that Joelle Ruby Ryan is "tolerating tactics that breed fear and stifle academic freedom". Aside from organizing a discussion on Bailey and his supporters, exactly what has Ryan said or "tolerated" that Koyama objects to? Until Koyama provides this vital piece of "context", I'd have to agree with Elise Hendrick's original characterization, that Koyama's remarks come across as a veiled threat.

That said, I don't find Hendrick's backtracking on her statement convincing. I think it's quite clear what she meant when Hendrick described Dreger as "endorsing" Koyama's "veiled threat".

Élise Hendrick said...

I couldn't really call it "backtracking", personally, as much as it is allowing for another reasonable interpretation in light of previously unknown context. Emi Koyama's words certainly seemed like a veiled threat as quoted by Dreger, and I described them according to that understanding. However, my point in mentioning those words was not to discuss Emi Koyama, who was peripheral to the issue, but rather to discuss the actions of Alice Dreger.

However, Koyama provided context that put her words (not, however, their use by Dreger) in a new light. Because of that, I wanted to be clear about the focus of what I was saying.

Élise Hendrick said...

As for your wanting Koyama to provide some support for her claim that Ryan is "tolerating tactics that breed fear and stifle academic freedom", I would tend to agree with you.

My impression is that Koyama has not spent as much time studying the Bailey matter as some have (hence her belief that Dreger is actually sincere in her defence of "academic freedom", when anyone familiar with Dreger's conduct so far could tell that it is a red herring). I hope that she is not basing her judgement of the Bailey matter solely on the unreliable words of Alice Dreger's abysmally unprofessional "scholarly history".