A Victory for Science over Scientific Propaganda: A New Report on Sexuality and Gender

This report has been getting a lot of attention in the conservative press — too bad conservatives don’t fight the information war — if they did, it would reach more Americans. Here is Richard N. Williams writing at Public Discourse:

The Fall 2016 edition of The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society connsists of a careful analytical review of the scientific literature available across various disciplines on the topic of human sexuality and gender. The authors, Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh, are senior scholars with impeccable credentials and qualifications to undertake a major report such as this. The report takes a careful look at the literature and decides in an informed and straightforward way what the available science does and does not say—or, more precisely, what conclusions current science does or does not justify—about these important aspects of our humanity.

Any reader will note that the report takes up some issues that lie close to the heart of contemporary discourse about sexual orientation and gender identity. Cynical critics will probably try to dismiss it based on supposed ulterior motives. However, if the topics covered by the report are, in fact, areas where science has been co-opted by politics, and where scientists, and laymen, have overreached in making conclusions and invoking the authority of science, then these are precisely the areas where sound, careful, rigorous scientific response is necessary. As Mayer and McHugh write:

When the research touches on controversial themes, it is particularly important to be clear about precisely what science has and has not shown. For complex, complicated questions concerning the nature of human sexuality, there exists at best provisional scientific consensus; much remains unknown, as sexuality is an immensely complex part of human life that defies our attempts at defining all its aspects and studying them with precision.

Good scientists follow the data where they lead. They are constantly open to alternatives and remain mindful of scientific and intellectual rigor. To dismiss this scientific report as merely political is to misread it—not only cynically but unscientifically. The report, with its substantial body of analyses and findings, stands on its own ground, and it certainly provides sufficient material for study and response by serious investigators. Even serious cynics have a responsibility to deal with the data.

Read more: Public Discourse