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January 19, 2007

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Since I've been asked about this already, I may as well do full disclosure here: I don't know Roselli or Newman (although I recently learned that Roselli and I have a mutual friend, when I "outed" my blog identity to that person) and have never met either of them. We are in touch occasionally by email, because we send links to relevant new posts or media coverage back and forth, as I do with many others (and sometimes for other matters, for example I asked Roselli for a literature reference before posting that correction the other week), and as far as I know, they don't know my gender, race, sexual orientation, or anything else more than you'd get by reading my posts here (specifically, I'm a biologist and live in New York City). I'm not getting paid to write these posts and am not part of any organization related to this issue -- I'm an independent actor, and the only benefit I get here is that this project helps science and scientists generally (including me) not to be cowed by extremist fringe groups, and to establish a system for debunking these attacks. But at the same time I don't work in a vertebrate system and am unlikely to be targeted by PETA myself (though I suppose you never know -- and they have targeted institutes where I worked, and I've had to cross their "protest" lines, which perhaps does give me a bias in this coverage. Though not, I think, an unreasonable one.)

I'd like to see what you have to say about the approach that Paul Jay has laid out for Independent World Television, which you can read about in my interview with him, especially the later parts in the series (parts 3 and 4). He talks about journalists chasing down a story and not giving up until finding out the real truth -- not settling for "balance". Paul might say that in order to counteract the sockpuppet problem, you need to build a good-sized non-profit media outfit with a fact-checking team and a proven track record of both getting the facts right and nailing the interesting stories that are typically avoided by for-profit outfits. Then you'll build people's trust. Eventually, once they learn what real news is, they might start to leave the outfits that are pandering to their desire for entertainment.

I'm glad you're highlighting the weaknesses of the blogosphere. I worry that bloggers have a tendency to get self-congratulatory and don't realize that they have their own filter that affects what they post and what they recommend, and that entertainment, sensationalism, and rhetorical sleight of hand win out over news far too often. On that same note, I've grown suspicious of the terms "fraudsters" and "conspiracy theorists", which are never well-defined. People commit fraud and form conspiracies every day. It's as problematic to dismiss allegations of fraud and conspiracy out of hand as it is to cling to them without evidence. And it's also wrong to demand the same level of proof before calling for an investigation of fraud that is required to convict someone in a court of law.

In any case, I'm very happy to see that your corrections are being picked up by many in the blogosphere, especially on the left. Good work.

Thanks for all the work. This is an important area to explore, and your analysis that the second round is right-wing anti-science makes sense.

AlanF, thanks for your comment and I'll go read your link now -- but while I'm thinking of it let me say that the approach you suggest (a good-sized non-profit media outfit with a fact-checking team and a proven record) is pretty much where I end up too. I've been working my way through Mooney's "Republican War on Science" (finally) and he has an excellent discussion of how fake experts only really got traction in Congressional debate after Gingrich's Congress fired the staff of the Office of Technology Assessment, which is basically a model organization for what you're describing. We have the beginnings of the makings of a blogosphere OTA in sites like Snopes and Media Matters, to some extent, but they can only cover so much and can only move so fast. We need more. I'm troubled by the fact that this solution would to some extent centralize power on the internet, rather than allowing anyone like myself to credibly debunk a story -- unless one envisions this central authority to be more like a Supreme Court, keeping an eye on blogosphere squabbles brought by whomever, doing the necessary research, and issuing an authoritative decision. It would be difficult to do this well.

As I'm using the terms, "fraudsters" refers to those who insist on incomplete evidence that the Ohio election has been "proven" rigged, and "conspiracy theorists" refers to those who insist on even sketchier evidence that the WTC attacks were engineered by the US government. While it is difficult ever to argue against further investigation -- who doesn't like more information? -- it should always be noted that calls for further study have historically also been the hallmark of fringe experts seeking to sow "doubt" and "controversy" amid matters that have been well-settled by the scientific mainstream.

thanks for your encouragement

Bloggs aren't really a major source of information and cannot compete with journalists and experts. At most they can discriminate between lies and truth -- if the person writing the blog has some knowledge to base his opinion on.

But, bloggers don't have investigative reporters or international networks (at least yet).

Yes, sock-puppet groups will continue to be a problem as long as "main-stream" journalists simply don't care about the truth.

But, it's not even the biggest problem by far. The HUGE problem is deliberate skewing of news to serve corporate interests, simply because the MSM are now consolodated into a few giant multi-national leviathans. It's all ONE voice -- and true or false hardly enters into it.

IN short they don't even NEED to lie, they can simply do what Pravda and Isvetsia did -- totally ignore any competing voices.

As I'm using the terms, "fraudsters" refers to those who insist on incomplete evidence that the Ohio election has been "proven" rigged, and "conspiracy theorists" refers to those who insist on even sketchier evidence that the WTC attacks were engineered by the US government. While it is difficult ever to argue against further investigation -- who doesn't like more information? -- it should always be noted that calls for further study have historically also been the hallmark of fringe experts seeking to sow "doubt" and "controversy" amid matters that have been well-settled by the scientific mainstream.

I agree that calls for further study can be smokescreens. Holocaust deniers frequently take that route, asking for "free and open discussion" of patently ahistorical premises. But that doesn't mean, of course, that all calls for further study are unwarranted. It all comes down to the unfortunate fact that most arguments cannot be dismissed due to their form, only due to consensus on what is persuasive evidence and which sources are credible.

Since I have seen theories of government involvement in the WTC collapse thoroughly debunked (e.g., by Popular Mechanics) and since it would be hard to see sufficient motive or a precedent that would suggest that our government would do such a thing as to destroy expensive property and attack thousands of nonpoor, nonfringe citizens in public, I'm not willing to spend much time on discussions of such possibilities.

However, election rigging is a much different situation. You have whistleblowers, known irregularities (vote totals that outnumber voters, negative vote totals), an election official's sworn testimony that voting machine vendors posted cheat sheets to circumvent a recount, preponderance of statistical evidence (discrepancy between exit polls and reported vote totals, preponderance of reported election irregularities that favor one candidate), motive, and precedent. People can legitimately argue about the scope and degree of coordination of effort (as opposed to inclination to "looking the other way") that led to this outcome. But they cannot argue that the problems were adequately investigated, any more than one could argue that Cheney's energy task force or the 9/11 intelligence failures or the chain of command leading to Abu Ghraib were.

The loose use of a term such as "fraudsters" can be used to dismiss anyone from "people who use blatantly inadequate evidence to argue the existence of a vast conspiracy" to "people who make an argument that, given our current lack of resources, cannot be resolved in a way that would win lawsuits or determine legislation." For that fuzziness, and because it draws unnecessary battle lines, I think the term is harmful.

Thanks emptypockets for your work. I posted the sheep story last month-my bad
for not doing the normal check. I did bump the post and added your link to the lead. Thanks again.

Your work on this has been invaluable and superb. You did more than anyone else to get this out, and you're able to translate all this complicated matter very well for people like me who are lucky to even know how to spell science.

I do think another nasty ploy the right wing is using in this is to further stigmatize gays and try to divide them from the left. The old "they will abort you all, aren't you stupid for supporting those who will kill your kind" routine. That would work better if a) the right wing did anything to help gays, and b) if it was not quite so obvious that if this technology became available, then many on the right would likely abort gay babies as well.

AlanF, I've often wondered how to resolve that problem. Often people try to restrict the term by adding an adjective, but that tends to backfire. (It may be obvious to the speaker that, say, "nutbar conspiracy theorists" is a subset of "conspiracy theorists," but conspiracy theorists -- including but not limited to the nutbars -- don't necessarily perceive it that way.)

Any thoughts about succinct ways to distinguish the better from the much worse?

EP, you say I'm troubled by the fact that this solution would to some extent centralize power on the internet, rather than allowing anyone like myself to credibly debunk a story -- I don't think that follows. Snopes doesn't preclude people from debunking -- on the contrary, it allows people to do so much more efficiently.

Similarly, a specifically science-oriented story tracking and debunking database could be (and IMHO should be) a very decentralized venue which would allow science memes in the wild to be tracked, pinned down, and rebutted as needed. Even without a dedicated staff, a lot could be done.

This is the kind of thing I've been mulling over for some time -- this kind of media tracking venture needs to exist, and I'm a database programmer. You'd think it would be easy to jump in and do it. Ha!

Anyway, should anyone be interested in any kind of online tracking database for this kind of story (for instance, it might be interesting to have a page for a given meme and to automate the Googling to a certain extent to find possible mentions of the story) then please feel free to drop me a line at [email protected] -- I have hosting and skillz, but to take this from concept to useful tool would require some guinea pigs, I mean, beta users.

*Any* initial interest would be enough for me to whip out a first cut next week.

emptypockets, thanks for the thoughtful reply. I don't think there is an easy answer, but I'll turn it around in my mind for a while.

This is most interesting -- I am currently reading a book which I strongly suspect of snatching up an incomplete piece of evidence and creating an edifice from this tidbit that could serve as the framework for quite a lot of conspiracy theories. I want to think long and hard about how I write about this book. There is useful information in it, and also what reeks of poor use of evidence. This is not that uncommon. I need to figure out how to handle such writing, beyond my usual practice which has been to ignore it.

Thanks for your work.

``Since I have seen theories of government involvement in the WTC collapse thoroughly debunked (e.g., by Popular Mechanics)''

On the other hand, the Popular Mechanics debunking has itself been debunked by one of the more careful 9/11 skeptics, viz. Jim Hoffman, who runs the 9/11 Research site. On the evidence he presents, it seems pretty clear that a lot of what was in the Popular Mechanics article perpetrates the ``Straw Man'' fallacy; if so, you should not take that article as seriously as it would seem you do.

emptypockets, perhaps "uncritical conspiracy theorists" or "unquestioning conspiracy theorists" would be better? There's still some ambiguity as to whether you're saying that they're all uncritical or that you're just talking about a fraction of them who are. But those phrases are better than others that just raise the temperature level.

Of Gay Sheep, Science and Peril of Bad Publicity

By JOHN SCHWARTZ
Published: January 25, 2007

NYT

I am amazed that emptypockets took so much time to carefully research and follow the story's legs. Perhaps he is thinking of switching species from what he customarily observes? ;-)

I think your work is worthy of having MUCH more attention to the care you have given to following the actual pollenation of the blog world population from particular sources. An excellent piece of work...Is there some prize in Blogdom that is like an Emmy for this year's best work?

EP:

Congrats on making the NYT (under your blog handle, of course).

Alan F.: I don't pretend to any counter-hypothesis about 9/11, I just don't believe the official story. In any case, the official story is a conspiracy theory: M. Atta et al


[A. Lincoln, 1858, revised and updated: ``As I would not be a wage slave so would I not be a boss. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.]

It is ironic that in an otherwise admirable blog supporting clear thinking and refuting uncritically accepted accusations against Charles Roselli, emptypockets saw fit to slam me based on a far more organized campaign of misinformation. He writes:

"The Sunday Times article made use of Michael Bailey as an expert, citing him as a neurology professor without mentioning he is a fringe figure (or at least a highly outspoken figure with unorthodox ideas and methods) with a disturbingly checkered past accused of exploiting and abusing transgendered people."

In 2003 I published a book THE MAN WHO WOULD BE QUEEN that led to my being vilified by a group of transsexual women, who sought to discredit the messenger of a message they hated. They made numerous inaccurate accusastions, the most serious of which I have addressed here:

http://www.chron.org/tools/viewart.php?artid=1248

Someday a definitive history of this controversy will be written, and when it is, I am confident that it will be clear that this was a case of attempted censorship of disliked ideas (ideas, I add, that are correct). It may be too much to ask emptypockets to do sufficient investigating to see that the accusations against me were baseless, but is it too much to ask that he refrain from vague slurs without actually doing such an investigation?

Regarding the news article in question, the Sunday Times reporter, Chris Gourlay, called me, and we had a discussion about an article I published in 2001, arguing that there is nothing in principle wrong with parental selection of heterosexual (or for that matter homosexual) orientation. I stressed to Gourlay that I was motivated not by any desire to alter people's sexual orientation but by a desire not to have important research halted for bad reasons. (Gourlay, apparently unsatisfied with our discussion, simply quoted a line of our article with the implication that I "said" it.) I stick by the arguments in the 2001 paper, which may be "unorthodox" but which are correct. You can read our argument here:

http://www.psych.northwestern.edu/psych/people/faculty/bailey/Greenberg&Bailey,2001.pdf

Sincerely,
Michael Bailey

Emptypockets, nice analysis except for the part about Dr. Bailey. I think that your first two sentences spell it out:

"When you read a news story, do you take it at face value until something raises a flag or do you look at the source and decide in advance whether you're going to read with a skeptical eye? Are you more likely to believe news if it fits neatly into your existing worldview or are you really objective?"

There is only one group of transsexuals who have vilified Michael Bailey and they have been quite successfull... they know how to do public relations very well. But there is another group of transsexuals and also intersex activists like myself who like Michael Bailey's work and much of his analysis of the AGP/HS typology and who feel that it is socially and scientifically valuable and relevant to them. The problem is, they do not have the PR skills and McCarththy-esque approach of the powerful transsexuals who have waged this campaign against Bailey's book and the theory it is based on.

Before you accept things at face value, please take a look at their web site http://www.transkids.us and let them speak for themselves rather than accepting as their voice, the words of a completely different group whose unethical socio-political methodologies maintain the terrible class stratification within the ENTIRE group of people encompassed (unfortunately) under the word "transsexual". Then look at the web sites of the transsexuals who claim they have been oppressed by Dr. Bailey... look for the informed intelligent rebuttals and elegantly worded essays in support of their social analyis you'll find on transkids.us. I don't think you'll find any though. This same group of transsexuals have now taken it upon themselves to oppose and criticize the recent acheivements which have been accomplished by the intersex movement (which I helped start in 1993) to improve the treatment of children born with intersex conditions. They are using the same unethical tactics as those used against Dr. Bailey and others. It can be tricky getting the entire picture, who is actually oppressing whom, but it is out there.

thank you,

Kiira Triea

Support for Charles Roselli that slams Michael Bailey simply shows that emptypockets is as guilty as any journalist of an overall failure to check the facts. Documentation of fact-checking is one reason researchers typically provide bibliographic references in their published works. The references also allow reviewers/readers either to check the facts for themselves, or not. Including text links to pertinent research is one way emptypockets has helped readers to determine how much opinion versus how much fact they are reading with regard to Roselli's work. But text links to opinion sources, not pertinent research, are used to slam Bailey. Who's next to be supported or slammed typically depends on the journalist's opinion. In this case, "evidence based argument" didn't even extend to the end of the article. So goes the reputation of TNH, for now.

Kiira and James, (and I just emailed a longer version of this to Dr. Bailey), I appreciate these concerns and in fact after posting this piece was worried that I had fallen into the same kind of vilification campaign that I was denouncing. The issue with Bailey's work, for me, is not so much the conclusions he's reached -- which is what most of the attacks on him seem to be about -- but rather whether he is a representative spokesperson for the sexual research community, as he is referenced in the Sunday Times. I am troubled by the fact that his ideas are (by his own preface to his book) far outside the mainstream and that his scientific conduct may be as well (evidenced by the complaints against him by his subjects, the fact that he didn't get consent from research subjects or in fact inform them they were part of a study, and the sense that he crossed a line between scientific study and social interaction in his work; e.g. he writes "It is difficult to avoid viewing Kim from two perspectives: as a researcher but also as a single, heterosexual man." and one of his subjects is quoted as saying that during the study -- which the individual did not know she was a part of -- "We were like two guys talking in a bar, [saying] ‘Would you do her?’").

Whether his work has ultimately been good or bad for different groups is not really what I'm referring to here. My point was that he is being held up as a mainstream expert on sexuality research when in fact -- in the best of my understanding -- his work is at the edges of the field and has several red flags attached to it (regardless of whether it is ultimately found correct). But, as I wrote to Bailey, if I'm wrong on this then I will write a new post (or more) fixing it.

I should really be more careful here, and say that the issues about Bailey's scientific conduct -- including the ones I just cited -- are coming from one-sided pieces I've read, some of which were written only to vilify Bailey. I'm now trying to figure out what really happened. The question for me is whether the man and the methods are well within norms for his field. I honestly don't know and I should really shut up until I figure that out.


Ok, just a few things about "research subjects" and methodologies because the use of this language, the constant referral to "research subjects" is just another example of how the spin on all this has been engineered by autogynephilic transexuals who despise the agp/hs theory.

The Man Who Would Be Queen is not research at all so the people in the book cannot be "research subjects" nor should Michael Bailey's actions be viewed as if they were. It's a popular book written about a number of people who he knew for a number of years. If you go to Amazon and search for "intersex" you'll find my name in the first five or six books that come up. By no means am I a "research subject" in any of those books and the people in TMWWBQ have as much right to claim that they're research subjects as I do. Members of devalued populations who want to change things can do some responsible things, make friends and make deals with them. The deal is "If you write responsibly and ethically about our issues then we consent to be your "guide" so to speak into our population, to vouch for you." Anjelika and Juanita had more than enough opportunity to rethink and evaluate their participation in Michael's book, but that didn't happen until the world class cacafest over the book was initiated by transsexuals who would be recognized as being the autogynephilic type. Then they became "research subjects" all of a sudden. There are some HS transgirls in Chicago who are very unhappy about the accusations against Dr. Bailey, who feel that a friend to their population has been unfairly maligned. They really do need all the friends they can get.

Michael Bailey has also been accused of being a "closet homosexual" by many of his transsexual critics, because he socializes with gay people as friends. They also accuse him of being a "chaser" (gynadromorphophile) as well, because he socializes with HS transsexuals as friends. Notice a pattern? It's an ugly one, when someone's innocent associations and friendships are twisted and transformed into something which looks like malevolent intent, because his academic ideas are not agreeable to one group of people who have power and know how to use it.

Kiira Triea


Ok, just a few things about "research subjects" and methodologies because the use of this language, the constant referral to "research subjects" is just another example of how the spin on all this has been engineered by autogynephilic transexuals who despise the agp/hs theory.

The Man Who Would Be Queen is not research at all so the people in the book cannot be "research subjects" nor should Michael Bailey's actions be viewed as if they were. It's a popular book written about a number of people who he knew for a number of years. If you go to Amazon and search for "intersex" you'll find my name in the first five or six books that come up. By no means am I a "research subject" in any of those books and the people in TMWWBQ have as much right to claim that they're research subjects as I do. Members of devalued populations who want to change things can do some responsible things, make friends and make deals with them. The deal is "If you write responsibly and ethically about our issues then we consent to be your "guide" so to speak into our population, to vouch for you." Anjelika and Juanita had more than enough opportunity to rethink and evaluate their participation in Michael's book, but that didn't happen until the world class cacafest over the book was initiated by transsexuals who would be recognized as being the autogynephilic type. Then everyone became "research subjects" all of a sudden. There are some HS transgirls in Chicago who are very unhappy about the accusations against Dr. Bailey, who feel that a friend to their population has been unfairly maligned. They really do need all the friends they can get.

Michael Bailey has also been accused of being a "closet homosexual" by many of his transsexual critics, because he socializes with gay people as friends. They also accuse him of being a "chaser" (gynadromorphophile) as well, because he socializes with HS transsexuals as friends. Notice a pattern? It's an ugly one, when someone's innocent associations and friendships are twisted and transformed into something which looks like malevolent intent, because his academic ideas are not agreeable to one group of people who have power and know how to use it.

sincerely

Kiira Triea

Kiira, thanks for that -- it's a helpful perspective.

emptypockets wrote: "The question for me is whether the man and the methods are well within norms for his field. I honestly don't know and I should really shut up until I figure that out."

I'd feel better about this if you provided a reasonable time frame during which you expect to figure it out, and subsequently respond. In this regard, I'm aware of other time constraints, but for some of your readers, you figuring it out is a priority brought on by your mistaken assumption. I note that if Michael Bailey had not brought this to your immediate attention, readers like me might not even have noticed. Now that a few of us have, I hope to see some quick resolve.


James V. Kohl

James, hopefully this weekend, and probably no later than the following one.

It's been more than a month now.

You wrote: "I like to think of this site as having a special interest in evidence-based debunkery."

Shall I continue to wait?

I think Bailey has it all wrong. He is using out-of-date concepts that don't fit at all.

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