Bisexuality Study: NYT Gives Prominence To Disgraced Researcher

Everyone is probably familiar with this New York Times article about a study on bisexuality. It was one of the top five emailed stories on the NYT website and probably got picked up around the country. I ignored it at first because a casual glance at the study and its methodology led me to conclude it was shoddy and suspect. At best, it seemed like the typical mainstream press distortion of research: one little study makes one little observation and it gets trumpted around the country as a “fact,” in this case the idea that men aren’t bisexual, they’re just either gay, straight, or lying.

You would think, you would hope that the New York Times would do a little research of its own before splashing the work of Dr. J. Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern and the study’s lead author. But no. It took threader Kathleen to alert me to what the NYT should have known before presenting this study uncritically.

1. Dr. J. Michael Bailey had to step down from the chairmanship of the psychology dept. at Northwestern just last year because of ethics charges related to earlier research.

2. Bailey has been linked to a racist, neo-eugenics movement called the Human Biodiversity Institute by the Southern Poverty Law Center

3. Bailey’s previous attention-getter was a book on transgenders that extrapolated from about nine transgenders he claimed to befriend into a study. Many of the people profiled claimed convincingly they had no idea they were part of a research study. (A violation of ethics.) One claimed Bailey slept with them. (Also a violation.) Though ostensibly science, it contained no footnotes. This book led to the investigation of Bailey that resulted in his stepping down as chair, though he remains a professor at Northwestern. The Chronicle of Higher Education profiled Bailey and the controversy, all but labeling him as a closet case.

4. Bailey claims to be gay-friendly but is so at odds with the GLBT community at Northwestern that campus groups urge people NOT to cooperate with his studies. Gee, think that might make any research he does there harder to accept as valid? (Bailey has reportedly found it difficult to recruit people for his research.) The Chicago Free Press paints a rather sad picture of Bailey trying to convince people he isn’t anti-gay or biased by calling for a public meeting virtually no one attended, just weeks before the New York Times would treat his latest research as front-page of the Science section newsworthy.

5. Some of Bailey’s more silly and offensive comments that should raise red flags for anyone wondering about his bias: most transexuals are “especially motivated” to shoplift and “especially suited to prostitution.” Bailey says that if it became possible to genetically identify a fetus as “gay” and a parent chose to abort because they wanted a straight child, this would be “morally neutral.” Yep, gay eugenics. Aborting gay fetuses wouldn’t do anyone harm, he says. He’s not anti-gay, just “pro-parental liberty.”

I am furious that I had to find out all this stuff on my own by having a threader point me in the right direction. I’m not saying no one should ever report on anything Bailey ever does in the future, but is it too much to ask for context and a little background? Obviously, Bailey’s history makes this study HIGHLY suspect: he has stepped down as a chair at Northwestern over allegations of misconduct; Bailey is seen with hostility by the GLBT community at Northwestern, making it difficult for him to find subjects to study; he is linked to a group the Southern Poverty Law Center says is filled with people linked to hate groups and is pro-eugenics; and he makes pro-eugenic statements and patently silly claims about transexuals.

At the very least, shouldn’t the New York Times have known about this before trumpeting his study on the front page of the Science section? Obviously they didn’t or they would have at least referenced it. More responsibly, it should have highly colored their coverage, leading to a far different article about a controversial researcher’s attempts to come back from ignominy with yet another attention-getting study that is shoddily put together.

Please email the New York Times ([email protected]) and any other publication that gave this study unquestioning coverage. Tell them about Bailey’s disgraced past, the claims of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the people who feel abused by his past research. Ask them why none of this vitally important information was in the original story. Tell them that the very least the NYT can do is a followup story that gives a full picture of Bailey, places his research in its proper context, speaks to people at Northwestern, talks with critical researchers about the validity of his study, looks into whether the team in Toronto that also worked on the study is also linked to hate groups and anything else you can think of.

This is a classic example of where bloggers can have an impact if we move quickly and present FACTS that dramatically change what people will remember about this story. Let us know about any responses you get.

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