The politicization of science has grown so bad that science has, in many cases, ceased to be science any more. We have seen this in the cloning debates in which heterodox thinkers about the ethics of ESCR and cloning have been denied tenure and/or driven out of universities. We see it in the global warming debate, in which skeptics are accused of being on the take despite their credentials and evidence-based doubts. We see it in the intelligent design issue in which very credentialed academics and scientists are denied tenure, harassed–even slandered–because they dare to doubt the reigning paradigm.
And now, we see it in gender studies. This New York Times story should alarm everyone who believes in the scientific method. A researcher named J. Michael Bailey dared to assert that transsexual identity comes from a sexual obsession rather than a biological “mistake.” You would think he had asserted that all kittens should be drowned at birth. A barely failed campaign was commenced to destroy his career, with allegations of sexual impropriety and professional dereliction. Colleagues had to distance themselves of lose grant financing. It was, apparently, pure hell–and all because he had breached a “taboo.” From the story:
To many of Dr. Bailey’s peers, his story is a morality play about the corrosive effects of political correctness on academic freedom. Some scientists say that it has become increasingly treacherous to discuss politically sensitive issues. They point to several recent cases, like that of Helmuth Nyborg, a Danish researcher who was fired in 2006 after he caused a furor in the press by reporting a slight difference in average I.Q. test scores between the sexes.
“What happened to Bailey is important, because the harassment was so extraordinarily bad and because it could happen to any researcher in the field,” said Alice Dreger, an ethics scholar and patients’ rights advocate at Northwestern who, after conducting a lengthy investigation of Dr. Bailey’s actions, has concluded that he is essentially blameless. “If we’re going to have research at all, then we’re going to have people saying unpopular things, and if this is what happens to them, then we’ve got problems not only for science but free expression itself.”
These issues should be argued based on evidence and/or ethical debate. That is the scientific way. Destroying the careers of those who hold minority views is the political way. The point isn’t whether scientists outside the mainstream are right or wrong. It is that science can’t be science if it becomes career-ruining to bring up views that cut against the grain. The Catholic Church is still flayed for its treatment of Galileo. Yet this is just as much a stifling–and by those who claim to hold the “rational” high ground. If scientists don’t find the courage to stop these figurative burnings at the stake, science will lose all credibility and devolve into merely another special interest. And we would all be the poorer for it.