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SOON ENOUGH, I will get to the death threats, the sex charges, the alleged genocides, the epidemics, the alien abductees, the antilesbian drug, the unethical ethicists, the fight with Martina Navratilova, and of course, Galileo’s middle finger. But first I have to tell you a little bit about how I got into this mess. And explain why I think we now have a very dangerous situation on our hands.
As an academic historian who typically hangs out with her own political kind, I’m aware of the stereotype many liberals have about conservative Catholics. The former believe the latter don’t think—that conservative religious people don’t care about facts and rigorous inquiry. But my conservative Catholic parents were thinkers. Twice as often as my parents told their four children to go wash, they told us to go look something up. At our suburban tract house on Long Island in the 1970s, our parents shelved the Encyclopædia Britannica right next to the dinner table so we could easily reach for a volume to settle the frequent debates. The rotating stack of periodicals in our kitchen included not only religiously oriented newsletters, but also the New York Times and National Geographic. Our parents took us to science museums, woke us up for lunar eclipses, and pushed us to question our textbooks and even our teachers when they sounded wrong. Although our mother never mentioned that she had earned a degree in philosophy from Hunter College, she read to us aloud from Plato and Shakespeare, analyzing the texts as she read. Meanwhile, our father, a draftsman for one of the big Long Island defense contractors, loved learning in spite of having had only a high school education. We joked that he would someday be crushed under his books, most of them military histories of Poland, the homeland of both sides of our family. He got us microscopes and telescopes and talked seriously about the potential for alien life-forms. I vividly recall that, when one day we summoned him urgently to come see a giant UFO that had appeared in the sky, he was genuinely disappointed to discover he had bothered to grab his camera for the Goodyear blimp.
But besides being intellectuals and knowledge seekers, my parents were also industrial-strength Roman Catholics. They sought out Latin masses and avoided meat on Fridays long after Vatican II declared all that fuss unnecessary. They sent us to public school not only because the local public schools offered the best education around, but also because the local Catholic school struck them as dangerously liberal in its religious orientation. (Better to be among Protestants and Jews than roomfuls of squishy Catholics.) Their religious devotion manifested itself largely in pro-life activism. Even while their own children were still young and underfoot, my parents collected baby things to give to poor mothers, took in a young pregnant woman who had been thrown out by her parents, and became foster parents to a mixed-race baby of a single mother, ultimately adopting that child. As we were growing up, the basement of our house slowly filled with homemade placards we would carry when marching outside abortion clinics.
Although they were highly obedient to authority in their religious lives, in their political lives, my parents were rabble-rousers. My father ran for Congress on the Right-to-Life Party line, while my mother helped lead the local chapter of Feminists for Life. (In the 1970s, bra-burning pro-lifers were a real thing.) My mother especially embraced her American rights to speak, to assemble, to vote, and to protest, because she knew her life might well have turned out differently. Born in 1935 in Poland, she had somehow survived the Second World War with her extended family in their tiny farming village in an area subjected to repeated aerial bombings and ground-war skirmishes. Not long after the war ended, at the age of eleven, she had been suddenly transported with her brother and mother to America, where the three of them were reunited with her father. (Her father had had dual citizenship and had fought with the Americans.) On these shores, she found a land where you could, without fear, say and think what you wanted, worship and vote as you wanted, and openly object to what you found stupid or offensive. She let us know, as we were growing up, that she considered American democracy a true wonder, a tool to be used at every chance. The Bill of Rights seemed to her almost as sacred as the Bible. This view was implicitly and explicitly reinforced by the rare relatives who made it out of Soviet-controlled Poland and came to lodge with us.
My parents never seemed to feel a tension between these heavy strands that comprised their lives—the Old World and the New, the religious and the intellectual, the obedient and the activist. I suppose that to them it all seemed obviously interrelated. They had no trouble sending me to confession one day and renewing my subscription to Natural History magazine the next. But as I grew up, I felt the tension one surely must feel when being simultaneously taught the importance of a specific dogma and the importance of freedom from dogma.
I knew that some people abandoned their parents’ religion as a way of asserting their independence. But for me, losing my religion wasn’t about rebellion against my parents; indeed, I felt quite forlorn at the idea of disappointing my family by admitting my atheism. Still, my parents’ religious faith seemed to me incommensurate with our deeply felt faith in America—a faith in freedom of inquiry, in freedom of thought, in the will and right of the people to collectively discover truth and to make their own rules accordingly. And I loved America much more than I loved the Vatican, that place where celibate old men had the right to tell intelligent women what we should think and do. By the time I was in my late teens, while my sister was on her way to becoming a nun, I couldn’t help but notice that the place I felt the hope of salvation wasn’t church. It was the American Museum of Natural History, that great cathedral of evolution. As often as I could, I would take the train into New York City and lie under the giant blue whale in the great darkened hall of ocean life. Every time I lay there—waiting for the delicious moment when the whale started to move, from optical illusion—science struck me as the obvious and perhaps only way to remain perpetually free from blinding, oppressive dogma.
I guess, then, it is not too surprising that I ultimately decided to pursue a PhD in the history and philosophy of science, at Indiana University. Exploring the very life and guts of science by studying the history and the philosophy of it—this seemed to me the way to make sure that the most antidogmatic way of life we had available to us, the scientific way of life, would remain healthy and vigorous. But by the time I moved to Bloomington for graduate school, in 1990, not everyone in the academic fields of science studies (the history, philosophy, and sociology of science) felt the same devotion. At that point, Marxist and feminist science-studies scholars had for almost two decades been producing a large body of work deeply critical of various scientific claims and practices. They had shown how various scientists had, in word and deed, oppressed women, people of color, and poor folks, typically by making problematic “scientific” claims about them. Harvard biologist Ruth Hubbard, for example, had taken apart pseudoscientific claims that biology made women “naturally” less capable of doing science than men. Historians like Londa Schiebinger and Cynthia Eagle Russett had documented how, over many centuries, patriarchies had deployed the rhetoric of science to represent women as inherently inferior to men. 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.
Make no mistake: As a liberal feminist, I was extremely sympathetic to feminist and Marxist science studies. Indeed, the work of scholars like Gould—whose columns in Natural History I had devoured as a teenager—struck me as constituting perhaps the most important work of social justice of our time, because it challenged racist and sexist claims about human nature. These leftist criticisms were part of what drove me to graduate school. But to me at least, the finding by Gould and others that scientists often suffered from bias didn’t mean science itself was rotten. The very fact that scholars could see and show problems of racist and sexist bias in science stood to me as proof that, together, evidence-driven scholars could advance knowledge and ultimately get past the individual human mind’s tendency to follow familiar scripts. If some of the products of science disappointed me, the process most assuredly did not. Indeed, in graduate school, I gravitated toward historical work specifically because I loved the relatively scientific process in history of seeking, organizing, and analyzing evidence—of letting the data guide you toward new and unexpected learning, as much as humanly possible.
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IN GRADUATE SCHOOL, I ended up cutting my scholarly teeth on the history of the biomedical treatment of people born with sex anomalies—the people who used to be called hermaphrodites. For many years, people would assume I had a personal stake in this identity issue—that I or someone I loved had been born hermaphroditic—but in fact this topic was simply suggested to me by my dissertation director, who saw it as a great way to examine “scientific” conceptions of gender, something that fascinated me as a feminist. To be honest, in looking into the history of hermaphroditism, I decided to focus on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because I figured I’d find easy pickings there. I already knew that most doctors of that time were politically conservative men, inclined to believe that the unequal social treatment of women arose from—nay, was required by—the allegedly natural two-sex divide. I knew there would have been a lot at stake for one of these sexist doctors when a patient appeared on inspection to be a hermaphrodite. Some of these patients had immediately apparent mixes of male and female traits—a notable phallus and a vaginal opening or feminine breasts along with a full beard. Others appeared to have one sex externally but the opposite internally. All unwittingly challenged the idea that there were only two real sexes—that there was a clear, natural divide between men and women.
Just as I was finishing my PhD, in 1995, I published my first scholarly paper, in the journal Victorian Studies. This article mapped out a hitherto uncharted history: what Victorian British doctors had done when faced with living proof that humans don’t come in only two sexes.Though my report contained some grainy 1890s photographs of ambiguous genitalia, it was still pretty academic, showing no real hint of the odd path the paper’s publication would lead me down. My finding was simply that Victorian doctors, befuddled by cases of “doubtful sex,” had deployed pragmatic combinations of clever rhetorical strategies, new scientific tools like microscopes, and the occasional surgical scalpel to try to make “true hermaphroditism” virtually disappear, all to protect long-standing social distinctions between men and women. But dry as that article may have been, it ended up pushing me into two unfamiliar and intense worlds: contemporary sex politics and contemporary medical activism. That’s because, thanks to the Internet, by the time I came to this topic, in the mid-1990s, something was going on that the Victorian doctors would never have imagined: People who had been born with various sex anomalies had started to find each other, and they had started to organize as an identity rights movement.
Labeling themselves intersex, many gathered under the leadership of Bo Laurent, the founder of the Intersex Society of North America, and after reading my Victorian Studies article, some of these intersex activists, including Bo, contacted me. A couple wrote me simply to complain that they found some of my language offensive, apparently not realizing I was relaying Victorian rhetoric in my article. By contrast, Bo got my work. And she asked for my help in changing the way children born intersex were treated in modern medicine.
Now, as a straight, sex-typical female earning degrees in history and philosophy, I had started working in this field not only rather uneducated about human sex anatomy, but also rather uneducated about the politics of contemporary medicine. Still, it didn’t take long for me to see the ways that our present-day medical system was indeed as broken as Bo and her compatriots were describing. Indeed, the system being employed at the children’s hospital down the street from my grad-school apartment made the Victorian approach look relatively benign. The modern system featured not only highly aggressive cosmetic genital surgeries in infancy for children born with “socially inappropriate” genital variations like big clitorises, but also the withholding of diagnoses from patients and parents out of fear that they couldn’t handle the truth. It treated boys born with small penises as hopeless cases who “had” to be castrated and sex-changed into girls, and it assumed that the ultimate ability of girls to reproduce as mothers should take precedence over all else, including the ability to someday experience orgasm.
I hastened to tell Bo, “I’m a historian; I study dead people.” However, once I understood what was really going on at pediatric hospitals all over the nation—once I understood that Bo’s clitoris had been amputated in the name of sex “normalcy” and that this practice was still going on—I felt I had to assist in her efforts. I had been raised to be an activist and to be someone who helps people in desperate circumstances, and I was stunned and outraged by what was going on. I threw myself into the struggle and spent the decade after grad school living two lives—as a professor researching and writing academic histories of the medical establishment’s treatment of intersex and also as a patient advocate and a leading activist for the rights of sexual minorities. By day, I was your typical history professor—researching, teaching, and dealing with committee assignments. By night, I was campaigning to stop unnecessary and harmful genital surgeries, ill-advised sex changes on babies, and the well-meaning lies told to affected families. I held fund-raisers, I drafted press releases, I developed policies, I wrote and ghost-wrote propaganda, and I stuffed a lot of envelopes. I also testified to governmental committees, met with groups of activists and doctors, got media training, and appeared as a talking head on one news program after another.
I found the advocacy work so meaningful and so exhausting that when it was time for me to go up for promotion to full professorship, I quit my day job instead. About ten years into my life as a PhD, I gave up tenure and the ability to grow my retirement accou...Revue de presse :
New York Times Book Review
“[A] smart, delightful book. Galileo’s Middle Finger is many things: a rant, a manifesto, a treasury of evocative new terms (sissyphobia, autogynephyllia, phall-o-meter) and an account of the author’s transformation “from an activist going after establishment scientists into an aide-de-camp to scientists who found themselves the target of activists like me”--and back again... I suspect most readers will find that [Dreger’s] witnessing of these wild skirmishes provides a splendidly entertaining education in ethics, activism and science.”
"Dreger tells the story in her new book on scientific controversies, Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science, an engrossing volume that is sure to undo any lingering notions that academic debate is the province of empiricists who pledge allegiance to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth... Dreger's clear and well-paced prose makes for compelling—and depressing—reading. If you believe what you were taught about scientific method, about old ideas giving way under the sway of new evidence, you're an idealist and you probably know that already. The truth is sometimes closer to the much-repeated notion that a new idea can't truly take hold until the people who held the old idea die."
"Galileo’s Middle Finger offers a trench-level account of several hot scientific controversies from the past 30 years, told with the page-turning verve of an exposé."
“Lying and deceit have been around for a long time—forever, probably—but what makes Dreger’s book so compelling is where she dug them up: among health activists, academics and ethicists who we normally associate with honesty and integrity.... Like her hero Galileo, Dreger believes that the ‘real’ truth does exist and we are all for the worse when we don’t seek it out. It is an argument that deserves more of our attention.”
“Dreger ends this powerful book by calling for her fellow academics to counter the ‘stunningly lazy attitude toward precision and accuracy in many branches of academia.’ In her view, chasing grants and churning out papers now take the place of quality and truth. It is a situation exacerbated by a media that can struggle when covering scientific controversies, and by strong pressures from activists with a stake in what the evidence might say. She argues, ‘If you must criticize scholars whose work challenges yours, do so on the evidence, not by poisoning the land on which we all live.’ There is a lot of poison in science these days. Dreger is right to demand better.”
Library Journal (starred review):
“Accomplishing deft journalistic storytelling, [Dreger] pursues relentlessly her thesis that neither truth nor justice can exist without the other and that empirical research is essential to democratic society. She challenges readers to recognize that the loudest voice is not necessarily right, the predominant view is not always correct, and the importance of fact-checking and defending true scholarship. A crusader in the mold of muckrakers from a century ago, Dreger doesn’t try to hide her politics or her agenda. Instead she advocates for change intelligently and passionately.”
Kirkus (starred review):
“Let us be grateful that there are writers like Dreger who have the wits and the guts to fight for truth.”
Dan Savage, founder of “It Gets Better” Project; author of American Savage:
“If there ever there were a book that showed how democracy requires smart activism and solid data—and how that kind of work can be defeated by moneyed interests, conservative agendas, inept governments, and duplicitous “activists”—this is it. Galileo’s Middle Finger reads like a thriller. The cliché applies: I literally couldn’t put it down. Alice Dreger leaves you wondering what’s going to happen to America if our universities continue to turn into corporate brands afraid of daring research and unpopular ideas about who we are.”
Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor, Emeritus, Harvard University:
“In this important work, Dreger reveals the shocking extent to which some disciplines have been infested by mountebanks, poseurs, and even worse, political activists who put ideology ahead of science.”
Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California, Irvine:
“Galileo’s Middle Finger is a brilliant exposé of people that want to kill scientific messengers who challenge cherished beliefs. Dreger’s stunning research into the conflicts between activists and scholars, and her revelations about the consequences for their lives (including hers), is deeply profound and downright captivating. I couldn’t put this book down!”
Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; author of The Blank Slate and How the Mind Works:
“In activism as in war, truth is the first casualty. Alice Dreger, herself a truthful activist, exposes some of shameful campaigns of defamation and harassment that have been directed against scientists whose ideas have offended the sensibilities of politicized interest groups. But this book is more than an exposé. Though Dreger is passionate about ideas and principle, she writes with a light and witty touch, and she is a gifted explainer and storyteller.”
Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and The World until Yesterday:
“Alice Dreger would win a prize for this year’s most gripping novel, except for one thing: her stories are true, and this isn’t a novel. Instead, it’s an exciting account of complicated good guys and bad guys, and the pursuit of justice.”
“Galileo’s Middle Finger is not, ultimately, about scientists versus activists, but about the necessity of anyone interested in social justice primarily being concerned with truth. For a ‘sustainable justice,’ Dreger argues, ‘is impossible if we don’t know what’s true about the world.’ Liberal science, with its insistence on evidence and explicit rejection of arguments from personal authority, is the best system yet designed for distinguishing truth from falsehood. And for this reason, Dreger reminds us, ‘Evidence is an ethical issue.’”
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Description du livre Penguin Books. PAPERBACK. Etat : New. 0143108115. N° de réf. du vendeur Z0143108115ZN