Morris Wolfe - Essays, New & Selected

The Sexist Science of Gordon Freeman

The following essay tells a story as important as that of Valery Fabrikant. But the Gordon Freeman affair involves no dead bodies, not even any blood, so it wasn’t as easy to find a publisher. It concerns sexism in the world of the physical sciences. This article appears here for the first time.


In July 1991, while flipping through the spring issue of McGill University’s alumni magazine, McGill News, I came across a letter to the editor by Gordon Freeman, a professor of chemistry at the University of Alberta. In its previous issue, McGill News had reprinted an editorial from the Kingston Whig-Standard, “In Praise of Feminism,” by Harvey Schacter. The editorial had been published shortly after Marc Lépine, a deepy-disturbed young man, had separated the men and women students in a classroom at Montréal’s École Polytechnique and proceeded to murder fourteen women engineering students. He’d then turned his gun on himself. Lépine left behind a suicide note, explaining why he’d killed only women. “I have decided,” he wrote, “to send Ad Patres...the feminists who have always ruined my life.”

Gordon Freeman, a McGill alumnus, was deeply offended by Schacter’s defence of feminism. “Marc Lépine’s desperate act,” wrote Freeman, “was an extreme example of the damage...feminists do to their children.” Lépine’s mother, he continued, “was a feminist, ambitious in her career, destructive of her children.” He invited McGill News to reprint an article of his own on the subject of feminism; it had been published in the Canadian Journal of Physics. In a footnote to Freeman’s letter, the editor of McGill News pointed out that Freeman’s article was too long to reprint; but readers might want to check it out for themselves.

At that point this reader’s crap detector went off. A critique of feminism in the Canadian Journal of Physics, a peer-reviewed journal published by the National Research Council of Canada? Off I went to the library and there it was, pretentious title and all. At first I thought it had to be a joke. The five page article, “Kinetics of nonhomogeneous processes in human society: Unethical behaviour and societal chaos,” had been published in September 1990, in a special issue of CJP devoted to chaos theory. (The issue appeared in December 1990.) The guest editor of the special issue had been none other than Gordon Freeman.

In the introduction to his article, Freeman expressed concern about the growth of unethical behaviour in society. He was convinced, for example, that there had been an increase in cheating on tests among his own undergraduate chemistry students. (He’d been teaching since 1958.) So between 1983 and 1990 he’d conducted a study in which he’d informally discussed unethical behaviour with some 1300 of his students. Not only had he not attempted to collect his data ‘scientifically,’ but he was dismissive of researchers into human behaviour who made such attempts. “Information gained by ‘surveys and experiments with controls’,” he wrote, “is likely to be distorted by the artificiality of the gathering situation, so I do not use that method.” His controls, he declared, were his lifetime of experience with students. His control, as he modestly put it, was his acquired “wisdom.”

Based on his interviews with students, Freeman had concluded that “the tendency to cheat correlates strongly with the absence of a full-time mother in the home when the child was growing up.” He saw “evidence of psychological damage in about one out of two children of working mothers.” The damage manifested itself in “drug abuse, compulsive eating, cheating on exams, not telling the truth in controversial situations, and other behaviour that society finds destabilizing.” In short, working women were responsible for most of the ills of society. Freeman’s proof consisted of anecdotal evidence such as the following: “Two premedical students who have mothers with jobs outside the house unhesitatingly said that it is right for physicians to bill medicare...for patients who do not exist.”

Freeman dismissed out of hand the notion that these days it often takes two salaries to make ends meet, stating, “My study does not support that.” End of discussion. The majority of women, he went on, “were equipped by nature to be nurturers, and most men were not.” Day care nurtured children, he asserted, tend to become unethical adults. The birth control pill, which makes casual sex possible, is the cause of feminism. Feminism leads to socialism. Therefore, everything possible must be done to keep women at home. That can be accomplished in a number of ways: by elevating the status of mothers; discouraging day care; restoring the value of premarital virginity; making divorce a handicap for holding public office; and so on.

The Sexist Science of Gordon Freeman, continued > 

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