Ya Big Meanie

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an interesting story in June – interesting albeit peculiar. So many people arguing so back-to-front – I don’t like this/this is offensive/this hurts my feelings, therefore this has to be wrong. Not that it’s exactly a news flash that people do argue that way – it’s even possible that I’ve been known to argue that way myself – but there is so much of it in this story it does get one’s attention.

Other scholars and activists have blasted the book for reinforcing inaccurate stereotypes.

Hmm. Why do I suspect that those scholars and activists would still have ‘blasted’ the book even if the stereotypes had been accurate? Why do I wonder if they bothered to investigate whether the stereotypes are really inaccurate or not? Why do I think they probably just assumed from the outset that the stereotypes were inaccurate, and ‘blasted’ accordingly?

Despite the draw he has on the campus, many of the descriptions of Mr. Bailey and his new book that have appeared on Web sites and in interviews have been ugly. “Cocky,” “insensitive,” “lurid,” “condescending,” and “mean-spirited” are just some of the designations used.

Notice how all those designations desribe the putative character of the researcher and his attitude but say nothing about the accuracy of the book or the reliability of his methods, and then when you’ve noticed that, notice how back-to-front that is. The book may or may not be dead wrong, but calling the author a big meanie doesn’t prove that it is. Peer review is an excellent institution, and it does not function by peers calling each other mean-spirited and insensitive. No, peers have to do better than that.

But no doubt Mr. Bailey is used to this sort of thing; he ran into it as an undergraduate.

Instead, he pursued an interest in Freudian psychology that was piqued by an undergraduate history course on the topic. “Freud was into all this dark and sexy stuff with the unconscious and how people’s motives are usually hidden,” says Mr. Bailey. “I thought, ‘I can become a psychoanalyst.'” But at Texas he quickly grew annoyed with the clinical-psychology program. “The people doing it were not really researchers. They were more like an authoritarian cult: Believe this or else,” he says. He was more attracted to scholars who were “being hard-headed and asking questions,” and even considering unpopular possibilities, like a link between IQ and genes.

Yes, believe this or else. Or else we’ll say strange things like this:

“He is looking to the body for truth, as opposed to social and cultural frameworks,” says Lane Fenrich, a senior lecturer in the history department who teaches gay and lesbian history and the history of the AIDS epidemic. “It’s in many ways no different from the way in which people were trying to look for the alleged basis of racial differences in people’s bodies.”

Imagine, he’s looking to the body for truth about things that happen in the body. How very shocking. When everyone knows that social and cultural frameworks operate in a complete vacuum, and should be studied that way. Otherwise, people will start making dark references to looking for the alleged basis of racial differences, and if that doesn’t shut you up, what will? Belive this or else we’ll call you inthenthitive and mean-thpirited, and then you’ll be sorry!

[If you’ve been reading B&W for awhile and this seems familiar, that’s because it is: it’s a slightly re-worded version of a N&C that disappeared when the server crashed in July.]

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