A century after Galileo's death, his body was exhumed from its
undistinguished location (appropriate for a heretic) and moved to
a more exalted site (appropriate for a scientific genius-hero).
During the move, a fan took the opportunity to snip
off a middle finger. (He also apparently took a thumb, index finger,
and a tooth,
but those aren't as symbolic as the bird-finger.) Today these remains
are on display
History of Science Museum.
The author of this book, Alice Dreger, takes the Galilean digit as
a talisman: if you are devoted to facts, especially facts that your
peers view as inconvenient or reprehensible, you should be prepared to
be branded as a heretic, as Galileo was. It's a daunting position to be
in, and your response, should you be brave enough, could well be
symbolized by this appropriate
The book is a rambling history of Dreger's history as a
historian/philosopher of science, branching into activism and advocacy.
It starts with her investigation of the
treatment of intersex (for old fogies like me: hermaphroditic) infants.
Despite the fact that these babies are otherwise healthy, and little
evidence that their unconventional naughty bits would cause major
problems in later life, there was a movement to (more or less) guess
what the "correct" arrangement of organs should be, and to use
scalpels to approximate that in risky surgery. Dreger found herself
as part of a movement to stop that. Pointing out that scads of doctors
were performing unethical procedures that had no basis in sound
medicine won her some enemies, and set her on the path to full-time
After that initial struggle, Dreger found herself involved in a
controversy about the psychology behind transsexualism, defending
a researcher who claimed, well, there's more than one simple thing
going on with that, at least for the men who want to be ladies.
That view was anathema to a certain segment of activists, and the
researcher was quickly vilified and smeared. In attempting to ferret
out the facts of the matter, Dreger was subjected to the shitstorm
Dreger also found herself in opposition, once again, to the
administration of a drug, dexamethasone, to pregnant women in
hopes of preventing masculinized genitalia in their female babies.
Dreger alleges this treatment is risky, with potential harm outweighing
any possible benefit, and the research was conducted without
appropriate oversight and avoided appropriate ethical guidelines.
And more. Dreger makes a convincing case that the dispassionate search
for truth in science and medicine can quickly go off the rails when
matters like sex and politics intrude; then things quickly get nasty
and personal, careers are ruined, reputations tarnished. She realizes
that this modern-day inquisition is entirely a left-wing phenomenon.
Ironic, since she views herself as a solidly leftist feminist herself.
She fails to extend her analysis to many controversies beyond the
ones she was directly involved with. (Race and IQ are briefly
mentioned, once; one can almost detect the here-be-dragons repulsion
Dreger feels in even bringing it up.)
In addition, caution is warranted since Dreger is only telling her side of
her various stories. (Google appropriately, and you'll discover a lot of
naysayers.) Interestingly, one of those is Deirdre (used to be Donald)
McCloskey, an economist/historian whose works I've found remarkably
insightful and fun. I wouldn't put Deirdre and Alice alone together
in a room full of weapons.
But Dreger's general thesis rings disturbingly true, and deserves to be
underlined. In way too many fields, "scientific consensus" has been
arrived at by relentless leftist squashing and silencing of heretics.
For example, from earlier this month, a headline at The College
article pulled from feminist website because it’s not ‘inclusive’"
The researcher: Alice Dreger.