Macht makes a good point, in noting that pro-science bloggers, who are quick to jump on any religious or Republican affront to science, have for the most part ignored the Michael Bailey case, largely, I suspect, because most of the pro-science bloggers are more anti-religion and anti-Republican than they are pro-science (which is not to say that they aren’t, in fact, pro-science). Another factor, I think, comes from a source that I believe Macht, or perhaps Brandon (I forget which) has mentioned before: many of the most vocal “pro-science” bloggers are biologists who seem to have gotten it in their head that an affront to biology, however irrelevant to the actual practice of biology, is the gravest threat science can possibly face, signifying a deep existential crisis even. But I think that the Bailey case actually represents a potential problem for science much greater than that of the ID movement, and for that reason, I think every scientist should pay attention.
If you’re not familiar with the Bailey case, read this article. The gist is, Bailey wrote a book about the science of homosexuality, which included some claims about transgendered women that many transgendered women found highly offensive. As a result, several individuals and groups resorted to attacking Bailey personally, seriously threatening his career. Unfortunately, this is not unheard of in psychology. Elizabeth Loftus‘ experience may be even more disturbing that Bailey’s (it also nearly ruined her career). And I suppose it’s not surprising that this thing happens in psychology, because the study of human thought and behavior is bound to touch on sensitive issues. But the way Bailey and Loftus were treated as a result of their espousing ideas that people found unpleasant is disturbing, because it’s a threat to scientific progress. If scientists are attacked personally, rather than being critiqued intellectually, for espousing unpopular ideas, then many scientists will be disinclined to espouse such ideas. And it’s often unpopular ideas that drive science at its forefront.
To be clear, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that Bailey’s theory of the motivation driving transgendered women to be women is wrong. I read his book a couple years ago, as the controversy made it irresistible, and while much of the book is based on sound science, his theory of transgender motivations seemed largely speculative. Still, it is a theory that admits empirical testing. Regardless of the theory’s merits, then, the proper approach to criticizing it was and continues to be from that direction. And I hope that whether they agree or disagree with his scientific views, anyone who considers him or herself pro-science would agree.