It consists of “men and women who are smart, egotistical, innovative, and know they’re right” (p. 180), who “tend to believe that the truth will save them, and to insist on the truth even when giving up on it might reduce their suffering” (181). Such personalities are “pugnacious, articulate, [and] politically incorrect.” Like the namesake of their personalities, they believe they are “right in the fight but never infallible” (185).Confidence, independence, integrity, and, above all, commitment to facts. These traits apply equally to Dreger, as to the several heroes she chronicles in her book.
The title, as some reviewers have noted, is a bit misleading, because the book is not a history of scientists from Galileo’s day to the present who rebelled against dogmatic authorities. Nor is it particularly about Galileo’s middle finger, though after observing the scientist’s mummified digit in a Florence museum Dreger did get inspired by the thought of Galileo flipping off the Pope.*
Galileo’s science that confirmed the Copernican revolution, as Dreger observes, asserts that human identity is not what we thought it was, because humans, as consequence of Galileo’s work, can no longer be understood as occupying the center of the universe. The Pope took exception.
Similarly, scientists today who assert their research outcomes on human sexual identity find themselves engaged in battles with the dogmatic authorities of sexual identity politics. This theme became central to Dreger’s book.
“Wall-to-wall Marxism”** refers to the activist intellectual context in which Dreger operated while researching and writing the book. Dreger would probably describe herself as a “moderate liberal,” but it was her Galilean commitment to facts that got her into hot water with the radical Marxist left. They didn’t like what she said and wrote, let alone what the scientists she wrote about had said and written.
In fact, in one depressed moment during her research—depressed because of the hostility and, at one point, threat, thrown at her—she captured the essence of her modern Marxist colleagues and reported her feeling in the book:
We have to use our privilege to advance the rights of the marginalized. We can’t let people [like two good guys] say what is true about the world. We have to give voice and power to the oppressed and let them say what is true. Science is as biased as all human endeavors, and so we have to empower the disempowered, and speak always with them. (p. 137)These are Dreger’s words describing the way her Marxist colleagues think. The two good guys are J. Michael Bailey and Craig Palmer.
Bailey’s research reported that many men who have sex change operations do so for erotic reasons, not, as transgender political activists insist, because they are “born with the brain of one sex and the body of the other” (p. 9).
Palmer co-authored a book asserting that rape often includes a sexual component, meaning that rapists do not always rape solely for reasons of power and conquest, but also because they enjoy sex.
The activists fiercely attacked Bailey and Palmer, charging them, among other alleged crimes, with rights abuse of research subjects and falsifying data. One scientific journal, cited by Dreger, published an article saying Palmer and his co-author deserve to be hung (p. 116).
Dreger’s role in this, as a historian of fact, was to pore over everything relevant to the controversies, ranging from the works of the scientists involved to all of the various criticisms offered, some of them found in forgotten transcripts and archives.
Bailey and Palmer fought valiantly to defend themselves, which is why Dreger gave them the accolade of Galilean personality. Dreger’s work has cleared their names—at least, to anyone interested in reading the facts.
Bailey and Palmer are not the only ones profiled and defended in Dreger’s book. Napoleon Chagnon spent many years studying the Yanomamö tribe in Venezuela, describing them as a fierce, male dominated tribe that fought violently over females, practiced domestic brutality, used drugs ritualistically, and couldn’t care less about the environment.
This was not the right thing to say.
Chagnon’s enemies unleashed a torrent of character assassinations, from the usual charges of cooked data to hints and not-so-subtle hints of beliefs in eugenics and intentional use of a bad vaccine that infected the whole tribe.
Dreger’s indefatigable efforts to dig for facts also cleared this Galilean personality.
So what is Dreger’s conclusion from these stories? Facts don’t matter—to today’s identity activists, as summed up in her depressed feeling quoted above.
In a somewhat understated way, she does acknowledge that the activists get their motivating ideology straight from Karl Marx, but I would add: Marxist polylogism is emboldened by our current atmosphere of post-modern epistemological relativism. Only the “oppressed classes” have changed.
The premise remains that opposition to dogma must be silenced. And Dreger’s book makes it clear that relativism results in the same authoritarianism as does religion.
* The book’s dust jacket shows half of an 1873 painting with Galileo sitting in front of a globe, his right hand obscured. A student to whom Galileo is lecturing was cut out of the picture and it is Galileo’s index—not middle—finger that is extended in the original painting.
**The phrase “wall-to-wall Marxism” is from the feisty and indefatigable Christopher Monckton, Viscount of Brenchley. Monckton was referring to the National Socialist Workers’ Party in Scotland and the Royal Society in England, but the words seem an appropriate description of our current cultural environment. Monckton is a prominent “climate change doubter,” as the Associated Press’s revised stylebook now prefers to call “climate deniers.”