Thursday, February 26, 2009

Misinformed Ramblings

I'm writing this in the Ubuntu text editor, having (mostly) gone all open source. It's not been the most smooth process, as I rather lack the technical chops to get it to go perfectly, but now that it works it's mostly good. I've not been very bloggy recently, for no decent reason. I'll try and rectify this.

Today i've been doing a fair amount of research into research -- more specifically into sex research, which is the most fun kind of research. You can't go wandering around in that subject area without at least hearing the name Alfred Kinsey, the first person to do a large scale survey of people who professed to be 'normal' in their social and sexual leanings. For good measure I feel like I should say the word research a few more times, as it just hasn't come up quite often enough in this paragraph.

Any google search into Mr Kinsey will return much the same sort of results as a search for a certain Mr Darwin. The Jeebus does not like him, no no no, does not like him at all.

I should write a little context I feel, at this point, seeing as I can pull all the facts off the top of my head (strange job, I learn too many things). His first major publication Sexual behavior in the Human Male came out in 1948, and caused a bit of a shock-horror reaction. He asked a wide range of men, from convicted felons to graduate students, how, essentially, they liked to get their naughty on -- their favored steps in the horizontal monster mash, if you will. This survey is best known now for its very high estimate of the proportion of men who were primarily homosexual (about one in ten) which does somewhat exceed the ratios that more recent surveys have returned (this is most likely due to A: the fact that there were quite a few giggolos and prisoners in his survey, and B: because it was performed just after the second world war, where, amongst other things, a lot of guys had to get pretty damn friendly with no women about). What is more interesting to me is the sheer amount of things that he concluded that were considered shocking, like the statistic that 92 percent of men masturbate (which I still find shocking, but for the opposite reason) or that 40 percent of men liked to have sex with the lights on. He caused even more shock and horror a few years later when he wrote a companion book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, which reported that women rather liked sex, 62 percent of them said they masturbated, and 55 percent of them had responded erotically to being bitten. It made monocles drop into cups of tea across the land.

He died in 1956, but the Kinsey institute carry on his work to this day, and have a very good website, if you're ever bored and not at work (or at work, if your job is like mine).

The thing I find interesting is the way that, like Darwin, his publications and personal life are scrutinized by Christians to this day. When you look at this, it seems a little illogical. both the study of human sexuality and evolutionary biology have progressed a long way since the work that kick-started the respective fields. Yet the attacks are made on Kinsey, and not on those doing similar research today.

I was pondering this on the way home from work this evening, and it seems to me that this is emblematic of a complete incompatibility of thought between religious types and science-y peoples. Scientific scholarship is about gathering evidence from the world around you. Religious scholarship is about divining meaning through exegesis, by pulling new ideas from ancient texts. It seems to me that this different perspective is what causes the strange attacks on figures like Darwin and Kinsey. When someone used to religious scholarship looks at the field of evolutionary biology, or sex research, they see the misguided followers of a false prophet's blasphemous revelation. To them, the most logical way of making this field go away is to discredit the founding text. What they fail to grasp is that science isn't exegesis, discrediting Kinsey isn't going to make sex researchers stop, because what they're doing is the study of people, not the study of kinsey's findings about people.

The thing I find most odd about the religious reaction to Kinsey is the underlying suggestion that none of this sort of thing went on before he wrote about it.