May 14, 2008

A Response to Arana's Arguments

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With the excitement of the Democratic primary coming close to the end after Indiana and North Carolina and a break between finals on my part, I figure I owe Gabriel Arana a response after his last column viciously attacked a column I wrote on science, belief and LGBT issues. Now in my last blog on the Democratic primary, I noted that while the primary looked close since Obama and Clinton took one state each, a closer look revealed that all the signs pointed Obama’s way. Likewise, while some of Arana’s arguments sound compelling at first, an in depth look reveals that they do not hold up at all under closer scrutiny.

Arana’s most ludicrous criticism came when he claimed that I had gone after “cultural critics and gender theorists” instead of real scientists like Prof. Daryl Bem. I found myself taken aback at what he said for several reasons.

  1. I specifically weeded out faculty from the literature, language and the arts, as well as the government and history departments. So I had already excluded the cultural critics.
  2. The person I selected, Prof. Sandra Bem, had invented the BSRI (Bem Sex Research Inventory), one of the most widely used inventories in the scientific study of sexuality. I fail to see how one can invent such an inventory and not be classified as a scientist. I also fail to see how Arana glossed over this, since I made it a point of my article to also criticize the BSRI.
  3. Notice how Sandra Bem, my pick, and Daryl Bem, Arana’s pick, both have the same last names? Not only are the two married, but they both are professors in the psychology department (though Daryl Bem has retired and is now a Professor Emeritus). So now I am left clueless as to why Arana’s “targeted research” classified one as a culture critic and the other as a scientist.

Also, after I called out the American Psychological Association for its liberal bias, based not on the claims of right-wing nut jobs but on evidence from liberal activists from the APA and former APA presidents, Arana retorts with an unsourced claim that the majority of those who lobby the APA have religious affiliations. The effectiveness of his argument here implicitly relies on a subtle yet crucial equivocation between the people I criticized and those he criticized. Basically, lobbyists and APA insiders are not the same. I argued that those inside the APA, who control the organization, have a bias. Arana countered that those who lobby the APA, who have no tangible power since they are lobbyists and not members, have a bias the other way. Furthermore, Arana’s argument could potentially strengthen my argument. After all, if an organization had a liberal bias, one would expect that the right would have many reasons to lobby the APA and the left would have few reasons to lobby the APA.

And then finally, in his last sentence, Arana also accused me of claiming that gays can easily change their orientation. I will be the first to admit that I did a poor job of making that case, but only because that was never the purpose of my article. Although I referenced one study that covered the topic of changing one’s orientation, my whole point was to attack the mix of science and belief, not to make a case that homosexuality is a choice. And I certainly never extrapolated that one study to make a case that gays can easily change their orientation. So essentially Arana’s passionately written concluding sentence reduces to one big straw man. But since Arana seems so eager to take on the topic of homosexuality and choice, I will consider running a piece on it in the future…

Mike Wacker is The Sun’s Assistant Web Editor. He can be reached at mwacker@cornellsun.com.