Day By Day

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thinking and Not Thinking About Sex

Over the course of my lifetime attitudes and values regarding sex have been radically transformed, and as they have the range of discourse on the subject have changed even more dramatically. When I was young a lot of sexual subjects just could not, or would not be discussed. Today those subjects are talked about endlessly. As a friend of mine put it, "the love that dare not speak its name has become the love that cannot shut up." At the same time other subjects that once were discussed freely have become verboten. The recent persecution of University of Texas sociologist, Mark Regnerus illustrates the problem. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes his sin and its consequences:
Regnerus's offense? His article in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Research reported that adult children of parents who had same-sex romantic relationships, including same-sex couples as parents, have more emotional and social problems than do adult children of heterosexual parents with intact marriages. That's it. Regnerus published ideologically unpopular research results on the contentious matter of same-sex families. And now he is being made to pay.
Regnerus has been attacked by sociologists all around the country, including some from his own department. He has been vilified by journalists who obviously (based on what they write) understand little about social-science research. And the journal in which Regnerus published his article has been the target of a pressure campaign.
And what is the tenor of the criticism: Slate  provides a sample:
Mark Regnerus is a hateful bigot. He’s an ultra-conservative with links to Opus Dei. His new research paper on same-sex parenting is “intentionally misleading” and “seeks to disparage lesbian and gay parents.” His “so-called study doesn’t match 30 years of scientific research that shows overwhelmingly that children raised by parents who are LGBT do equally as well.” His “junk science” and “pseudo-scientific misinformation,” pitted against statements from the American Psychological Association and “every major child welfare organization,” deserve no coverage or credence.
 That’s what four of the nation’s leading gay-rights groups—the Human Rights Campaign, the Family Equality Council, Freedom to Marry, and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation —declared in a joint statement this week. Flanked by a mob of bloggers, they’re out to attack Regnerus’ motives, destroy his credibility, and banish his study from the scientific record. Even Slate contributor E.J. Graff says “Slate's editors should be ashamed” for publishing Regnerus’ “dangerous propaganda.”
Wow! No book-banners or "paranoid" authorities of the mid-twentieth century were more narrow-minded than today's left of center critics. And it is not just political activists or bloggers who are spewing venom. As the Chronicle notes many of the calls for censorship have come from within the academic profession itself.

Why, and what does this tell us about the state of scientific authority in today's world? I quote the Chronicle at length.
Sociologists tend to be political and cultural liberals, leftists, and progressives. That itself is not a problem..., [b]ut the ideological and political proclivities of some sociologists can create real problems.
[S]ome sociologists... lose perspective on the minority status of their own views, ...take for granted much that is still worth arguing about, and... fall into a kind of groupthink. The culture in such circles can be parochial and mean. I have seen colleagues ignore, stereotype, and belittle people and perspectives they do not like, rather than respectfully provide good arguments against those they do not agree with and for their own views.
 In this blinkered environment reasonable discussion of issues is impossible and entire categories of evidence are automatically excluded from consideration. But there is more:
The temptation to use academe to advance a political agenda is too often indulged in sociology, especially by activist faculty in certain fields, like marriage, family, sex, and gender. The crucial line between broadening education and indoctrinating propaganda can grow very thin, sometimes nonexistent. Research programs that advance narrow agendas compatible with particular ideologies are privileged. Survey textbooks in some fields routinely frame their arguments in a way that validates any form of intimate relationship as a family, when the larger social discussion of what a family is and should be is still continuing and worth having. Reviewers for peer-reviewed journals identify "problems" with papers whose findings do not comport with their own beliefs. Job candidates and faculty up for tenure whose political and social views are not "correct" are sometimes weeded out through a subtle (or obvious), ideologically governed process of evaluation, which is publicly justified on more-legitimate grounds—"scholarly weaknesses" or "not fitting in well" with the department.
And here we get to the core of the problem. The institutions we have created to provide us with objective and valuable information and analysis on important social and political issues have become so thoroughly corrupted by political correctness that they can no longer be trusted. This is not a new problem -- one need only glance at the academic literature on race or sex produced early in the twentieth century to see evidence of blatant bias -- but it is central to our modern culture. For a century and more Western elites have exalted science and relied on some form of it to guide our responses to perceived problems. This reliance on scientific authority stands at the core of "progressive" ideology. But it has become increasingly apparent, even to laymen, that the pronouncements of scientific and academic authority on a wide range of subjects are not to be trusted. This is a genuine crisis, not just for academia but for all society, and it is one that has to be addressed in a serious way.

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