As a class we’ve discussed the concept of objectivity in the past alongside the guiding voice of Natalie Angier: in her work Woman: An Intimate Geography she often exposed the pronounced lack of objectivity in the work of scientific professionals and how this lack is often manifested in the way of valorizing one or another behavior, body, or way of being at the expense of others.  The issue of scientific objectivity is visited again in Disorders of Desire by Janice Irvine when she discusses the methods and principles Alfred Kinsey engaged in during his legendary sex research in the 1940s and 1950s.  As long as I have been aware of Kinsey’s work and its historical importance, I have conceived of Alfred Kinsey himself as though he were some kind of sex superhero, on a divine mission to increase popular knowledge about sex and liberate all people to enjoy their bodies and libidos.  To some degree, this perception of Kinsey may be in line with how radical he seemed in his own time; however, like most idealizations, this one of mine blinded me to the fact that Kinsey, while certainly progressive, was not necessarily perfect in his methods or attitudes.  As Irvine points out, Kinsey was highly dedicated to the scientific method and ideals of researcher-objectivity: “When Kinsey proclaimed his ‘objectivity,’ he was eschewing both the moralism of religion and the pathologizing tendency of the social sciences.  It was essentially, for Kinsey, a claim that he would make no negative judgments, point no fingers, and condemn no behavior,” (20).  However, while Kinsey appears to have been making every effort to achieve his goal of objectivity, he did not question some of his own underlying assumptions enough to avoid the bias that is inherent in almost all interpretation of research.  For example Kinsey never stopped to question his assignation of “normalness” (and consequently privilege) to white, middle-aged, male members of the middle class.  Irvine describes how this was manifested in his research method: “His staff, then, consisted of male, heterosexual, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), since for Kinsey these characteristics represented the yardstick of normality,” (25).  Also visible as a manifestation of bias in his work are the strong essentialist themes which are evident when he hearkens back to human beings’ mammalian ancestry for (usually patriarchal) answers to the present day’s question.  This is demonstrated by Irvine as she quotes Kinsey’s work: “He frequently justified the double standard as a biological imperative: ‘The human male’s interest in maintaining his property rights in his female mate, his objections to his wife’s extra-marital coitus, and her lesser objection to his extra-marital activity, are mammalian heritages,'” (28).  These displays of (retrospectively) obvious bias in Kinsey’s work teaches a very important, if disillusioning lesson about accepting scientific research: even those researchers with the best intentions are not free from bias, and therefore no research- scientific, literary, or cultural- should be accepted without first questioning the objectivity of the presentation of the information.

 

By Rosalind Rini

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