Morris Wolfe - Essays, New & Selected

The Sexist Science of Gordon Freeman (continued)

In early February 1991, Bruce Dancik, editor-in-chief of all NRC journals and who had only just become aware of what had happened, sent Nicholls a sharply-worded letter, stating, “there was either incredibly poor editorial judgement or a lapse in the system that allowed this manuscript to appear. In addition to being on a topic that appears to have only the remotest connection to physics or...the topic of the symposium, there was not even the simplest scientific method used in the work--no methodology, no controls, no replication, etc.” Dancik wondered whether Freeman had cleared his work with the University of Alberta to ensure that it met the guidelines required for conducting human research. The Freeman article, said Dancik, “is an embarrassment to the Journal and to all NRC Journals. When I read it, it sounded like something from [the satirical] Journal of Irreproducible Results, but I wouldn’t want to insult that journal or its editors and readers.” Dancik’s letter asked what Nicholls proposed to do to correct things. In late February, Nicholls replied that no action was required.

Subsequent to Nicholls’ reply, Dancik learned two things: that Freeman had in fact warned Nicholls that the paper might be contentious, and that the University of Alberta had told Nicholls the material reported in Freeman’s article did not meet the University’s guidelines for research on human subjects. In May 1991, Dancik wrote Nicholls a second letter, informing him that it was time for his successor to be chosen so “a new editor can be in place by the end of the year.”

In the early winter of 1991, shortly after his CJP article appeared, Gordon Freeman visited Simon Fraser University as an external examiner for a doctoral student in the department of chemistry. While there, he circulated an unpublished paper entitled “More Women in Science?” which argued that women shouldn’t be encouraged to go into science. What they should be encouraged to do, he said, is to stay at home. “An advanced society requires the partition of labour. The most important labour in any society is the production of a stable next generation. In our society, mothers-at-home perform this vital function with a high degree of success; mothers who have jobs outside the home are much less successful at producing a stable next generation.” (At this point in his paper, a footnote referred readers to his CJP article.) “Full-time mothers,” he continued, “have the most difficult and most valuable job in our society. The average intelligence and wit of the full-time mothers of my acquaintance exceeds that of the women professors and administrators of my acquaintance. Full-time mothers deserve the highest respect of any category of people.” He urged those who agreed with him to lobby the government to fund only those “women’s groups that are pro-family (two parent, single income). By strengthening families, the vast majority of women will lose the causes that attracted them to feminism. Feminist groups will shrink back to a harmless, small minority. The economy and society in general will become stronger....Labour should be partitioned as far as possible according to natural abilities and desires.”

Hilda Ching, who holds [then held?] an endowed chair in women’s studies at Simon Fraser, wrote Freeman in response to the paper he’d circulated. She questioned his “capacity as an objective scientist” and sent copies of her letter both to the NRC and to Ralph Nicholls. Freeman’s views, she said, were an insult to women scientists “who responsibly care for their families in a full time capacity and work at the same time on their careers. Most of us have served two roles and we do not need an old crock advising young women to [feel] guilty [about] choosing [just] one.” Ching attached to her letter a critique written by one of her students. “One must hold Mr. Freeman responsible for [his article’s] content,” the student wrote, “but the University of Alberta is accountable for the apparent freedom with which he circulates this type of literature without fear of dismissal or reprimand, or at least of professional censure.”

In response to inquiries from Ching, Margaret-Ann Armour, one of Freeman’s colleagues in the department of chemistry at the University of Alberta, wrote to say that “Freeman’s outbursts, especially on this subject, have become so extreme, that most people here are not taking him seriously. The choice that the Department and the Faculty are having to make is whether to pursue the matter. Lawsuits have been threatened and the decision has currently been made that since he will retire in 1995, such action would not be useful. I agree with that decision; however, I also recognize that this makes it look as if the University is not opposed to his viewpoint.”

Ralph Nicholls, in his capacity as editor of CJP, informed Ching that Freeman’s paper had been reviewed both in Ontario and in Alberta. “My principal dilemma,” he said, “was that as editor of the journal I did not want to ‘censor’ a paper which had been treated by due process, but with the contents of which I do not agree at all.” Ching wasn’t satisfied with Nicholls’ response. She wondered whether due process had really been served. Had Freeman’s paper formally been presented at the conference? If it hadn’t been, it had no place in a special issue of CJP devoted to its proceedings. She told Nicholls he didn’t seem to understand the distinction between editing and censorship. An editor’s job is to accept or reject papers on the basis of their scientific merit, she wrote.”...to reject papers because of unscientific, offensive, [or] sexist remarks...is not censorship.”

The Sexist Science of Gordon Freeman, continued > 


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