Dreger (Clinical Medical Humanities and Bioethics/Northwestern Univ.; One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal, 2004, etc.) passionately investigates character assassinations in academia and how “[s]cience and social justice require each other to be healthy, and both are critically important to human freedom.”
Among others, the author examines the case of anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, whose blunt characterization of the Yanamomö tribe in Brazil led to accusations that he had fomented tribal violence. This was false, Dreger demonstrates, abetted by a disgraceful lack of fact-checking, personal animus and a belief in tribes as “noble savages.” Following her doctoral thesis on Victorian doctors’ attitudes toward hermaphrodites, Dreger’s writing caught the attention of the intersex movement, which she joined to support the rights of mixed-sex individuals to self-determine their sexual identity. Similarly, she supported transsexual rights but soon became a target for uncovering the dirty dealings of three transgendered females. The women were incensed by a researcher who proposed that the sex changes of some male-to-female transsexuals were motivated by eroticism. The trio exploited social media with outrageous fabrications of the researcher’s work and life. In other studies, Dreger found serious ethical issues with the research of a pediatrician who espouses the use of a potent steroid drug in certain pregnancies to forestall virilizing a female baby. The author also takes to task feminists who attacked an evolutionary psychologist for suggesting that rape, found in humans and other species, could be a way of perpetuating a male’s genes. Dreger’s investigations all turn on how human identity and behavior have been defined in history and why challenges to conventional wisdom are so inflammatory. That explains her homage to Galileo, whose mummified middle finger she saw in a museum in Florence. The finger points skyward to symbolize his opening the heavens to scientific investigation, she writes, while at the same time “giving the finger” in defiance of Vatican authority.
Let us be grateful that there are writers like Dreger who have the wits and the guts to fight for truth.