Mr. Hank Campbell, founder of Scientific Blogging, requested that I respond to a recent posting by Seth Roberts, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. Roberts attacks me as part of his continuing defense of another psychology professor, Michael Bailey of Northwestern University. In my judgment, Bailey’s work is bigoted and fraudulent.
Roberts quotes from an op-ed I wrote in 2003 for the Stanford student newspaper describing a talk Bailey presented to the Stanford psychology department. The talk included film clips, animated cartoons, pictures and voice recordings to train people’s “gaydar”, and it elicited back-slapping laughs from the audience. I stand by my description of that incident, including the quotation Roberts cites.
Also in 2003, Bailey’s book, The Man Who Would be Queen, appeared under an imprint of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. On National Academies’ letterhead, the publicity advertised, “Gay, Straight or Lying? Science Has The Answer”, and promised conclusions that “may not always be politically correct, but… are scientifically accurate, thoroughly researched and occasionally startling.” The book’s thesis is that all male-to-female transsexuals are either gay men or straight fetishists. In 2004 I wrote a review of the book and its surrounding context that has now been translated into German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian, courtesy of Lynn Conway, a computer scientist in Michigan. The situation has not changed materially since then.
Bailey’s book offers no surveys, no data tables, no statistics, and no references to the primary literature. Instead, Bailey offers his recollections of encounters with six transgendered sex workers he met while “cruising” in gay bars such as the Baton, “Chicago’s premier female impersonator club.” (p. 186) Bailey did not take rigorous notes or tape recordings and so was unable to present accurate accounts of the narratives of the six persons he featured. Instead, he offered portrayals of people who, once they learned about his book, contended they were misrepresented and felt exploited. Roberts’ defense of Bailey suggests that he feels Bailey’s research methods, including his tiny sample size and its unrepresentative composition, accord with professional standards in psychology.
The fall-back position for Bailey defenders is that his book wasn’t really intended to be considered as science after all, but was to be understood merely as a collection of a few interesting anecdotes. No. The book clearly was intended to present science when it was released, publicized by the National Academies, and made available for download on the Academies’ website. The fall-back position, as Roberts has it, is that the book is merely “about” science. According to today’s fall-back position, to find the real science we are now referred to the work of another psychologist, Ray Blanchard, of the Clarke Institute in Toronto, even though Bailey’s book does not present any of Blanchard’s data.
In fact, Blanchard’s “research” is useless and consists only of some questionnaires with limited statistical value.
Blanchard summarized his three studies from the 1980s at a 2000 conference in Paris of the International Academy of Sex Research organized by Bailey. Blanchard assigned his “patients” at the Clarke Institutes into four sexual-orientation categories: heterosexual (He), asexual (A), bisexual (B), or homosexual (HO). (Transgendered women attracted to men are considered “homosexuals” in Blanchard’s parlance.)
Study 1: About 75% of 63 heterosexual, asexual, or bisexual (HeAB) people found wearing women’s clothing to be arousing, whereas about 15% of 100 homosexual (HO) people did too.
Study 2: between ages 6 and 12, 48 HeAB people had a femininity score of 16, whereas16 HO people had a femininity score of 21. The HeAB group “presented for assessment” at about 35 years, and the HO group at about 24 years.
Study 3: Erotic desires do not group into the two classes, HeAB vs. HO, in a sample of 212 people. Bisexuals scored higher in erotic interest at being admired by others when dressed as a woman than the other three categories. He, B, and HO were equally erotically interested in other people, in contrast to the little interest among the A group.
Overall, the results are mixed and do not show that transgendered people can be sorted into two mutually exclusive subtypes. Nonetheless, Blanchard repeatedly uses power words like “significantly” different when comparing the HeAB and HO groupings, even though no significance tests were provided and the spread among data points suggests marginal statistical significance, if any. Yet Blanchard declares, “the foregoing studies indicate that there are only two fundamentally different types of transsexualism in males.”
This claim is not demonstrated by his, or anyone else’s data. (For specific citations, click on my 2004 article.) Discerning two distinct classes of people in Blanchard’s scatter of responses is sheer fantasy. Obviously, the personal narratives of transgender people span many forms and mixes of gender expression and sexual desire, and the idea that they can all be boiled down to two archetypal templates is ludicrous. To establish such an almost-surely counterfactual claim, one would need extensive and rigorous study, not authoritarian bluster.
The absence of any credible science whatsoever in Bailey’s book is half the problem, the other half is its manifest bigotry and sensationalism. Here are representative quotations concerning transgendered people: “She was stunning... My avowedly heterosexual male research assistant told me he would gladly have had sex with her, even knowing… [she] still possessed a penis." (p. 182); “Juanita is a very attractive postoperative transsexual who has worked as a call girl both before and since her operation... she does not feel degraded and guilty about what she does for a living. I suspect that this reflects an aspect of her psychology that has remained male... her ability to enjoy emotionally meaningless sex appears male-typical. In this sense homosexual transsexuals might be especially suited to prostitution…” (p. 185); “About 60 percent of the homosexual transsexuals and drag queens we studied were Latina or black.” (p. 183) Bailey then approvingly follows with a quotation from Alma, a 40-year-old Latina transsexual sex worker who conjectures that “Hispanic people might have more transsexual genes than other ethnic groups do." (p. 183-184). This latter quote illustrates a ploy Bailey uses throughout the book to attribute racist or other condemnatory remarks to the voices of others, thereby preserving deniability that he believes what he has just presented.
About gays, Bailey writes, “Psychologist Sandra Witelson has hypothesized that the brains of homosexual people may be mosaics of male and female parts, and I think she’s right. This mixture explains much of what is unique in gay men's culture and lives." (p. 60) Bailey goes on to claim that “gay men have tended to have more of certain psychological problems than straight men" (p. 81.) About women, he writes. “Gay men's pattern of susceptibility to certain (but not all) mental problems reflects their femininity. The problems that gay men are most susceptible to--eating disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders--are the same problems that women also suffer from disproportionately." (p. 82) He continues, “Learning why gay men are more easily depressed than straight men might tell us why women are also." (p. 83) For many, the outrage that Bailey’s book evoked has more to do with its aggressive and unapologetic bigotry than with its vacuous science. Roberts seems all too willing to overlook all this bigotry. Even if the book were an innocent attempt to write “about” science rather than to “present” science, which it isn’t, do psychologists like Roberts want to endorse a book that reveals themselves to the general public as homophobic, transphobic, misogynist, and sensationalist?
I haven’t written anything about the Bailey affair since 2004, and thought it had died a welcome death. But last week (Aug. 21, 2007), the Science Times of the New York Times presented an article that resurrected this dormant controversy.
It seems Bailey’s defenders have been promoting a “history” consisting in large part of hearsay that portrays Bailey in heroic terms as a scientist in the tradition of Galileo willing to speak truth in the face of opposition—all of which must have sounded like a juicy story to editors at the New York Times. That evening I was contacted by KQED in San Francisco and asked to appear the next day on the radio show, Forum, with Michael Krasny, along with Bailey and others. The podcast appears at KQED and a transcript is available at tsroadmap.com, courtesy of Andrea James, a screen writer in Los Angeles.
There’s nothing new to report. Bailey is as clueless about science and unrepentantly bigoted now as he was in 2004. But there is a difference. In 2004, Bailey’s book seemed threatening to the well-being and aspirations of the transgendered people it maligned and mischaracterized. Today, in 2007 only a few, like Roberts, still take Bailey’s work seriously. The new revisionist “history” is a con. Bailey ain’t no Galileo. So, now it’s gut-check time for psychology. Will psychologists continue to nurture the kind of fraud and bigotry that Bailey exemplifies? For me, case of the Bailey affair is again closed. What I concluded in 2004 seems as pertinent today as it was then:
I wonder if many psychologists fully grasp the image some of their colleagues are projecting---psychology as a discipline without standards, nourishing a clique of dumbly insensitive bigots. These psychologists don’t seek to help people, but to dominate them by controlling the definition of normalcy. Their bogus categories and made-up diseases are intended to subordinate, not to describe. I dream of the day when new leaders in academic psychology step up, leaders who condemn homophobic, transphobic, racist, and sexist theories, leaders who defend our cherished freedom of speech from perversion by their bigoted colleagues.P.S. Comments have been disabled for this essay because I feel it’s time to move on.