Reluctant Crusader: Why Alice Dreger’s writing on sex and science makes liberals so angry

Tom Bartlett in The Chronicle:

Photo_67377_wide_largeAlice Dreger is feverish. On a wet, chilly Wednesday evening, in a high-ceilinged, beige ballroom at the Marriott in downtown Philadelphia, she is taking to task — eviscerating, really — the American Anthropological Association for its ham-fisted handling of allegations made in Darkness at El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon, a much-heralded but ultimately discredited book by Patrick Tierney, a journalist whose tales tended toward the fanciful. That controversy needn’t be chewed over again here, and besides, Dreger isn’t talking about just one misguided book or one feckless group of scholars. She is casting a wider net, diagnosing a disorder that she fears pervades too much of what passes for reasonable intellectual discourse. “Forms of scholarship that deny evidence, that deny truth, that deny the importance of facts, even when performed in the name of good, are dangerous, not only to science and to ethics but to democracy,” she tells the Philadelphia crowd.

You’re not just hurting yourselves, people. You’re hurting America. That was in December 2009. I happened to be in the room that night, scribbling in a steno pad, pleased to have something interesting to cover. The rebuttal to her rousing remarks seemed sniffy and weirdly muted, embarrassed almost. Perhaps Dreger had violated the bylaws by saying precisely what she meant. Dreger writes about that skirmish, and many others, in her new book, Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science (Penguin Press), and reveals in passing that she was suffering from whooping cough that night and running entirely on adrenaline and a highly developed sense of outrage. The book is not about Galileo, except glancingly, and it’s not about anthropology, except in the section discussing the El Dorado debacle. Much of it is about gender and genitalia. There is a chapter on the motivations of rapists. There is an account of Dreger’s difficult, years-long and still-active campaign against a steroid sometimes given to pregnant woman, an effort that succeeded in “nearly crushing my reputation and my spirit.”

There is swearing (“postmodernist horseshit”) and drinking (“I ordered a gin and tonic for myself, and then another”). Insults are hurled. Enemies are made. Tears are shed.

More here.