When the renowned Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Paul McHugh and Arizona State epidemiologist Lawrence Mayer published a lengthy New Atlantis essay questioning several sacred truths about gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation—including the view that sexual orientation is entirely innate and that gender reassignment surgery is the best practice for transgender individuals—they must have expected a backlash from academia’s ideological enforcers. And sure enough a backlash is brewing, with hundreds of students, faculty, and LGBT activists calling for the University to formally condemn the work of scholarship:
Nearly 700 members of the Johns Hopkins community have formally called for the Baltimore-based university and health system to distance themselves from “a misguided, misinformed attack on LGBT communities.” […]Recently, HRC met with leadership at Johns Hopkins to express the urgency of this issue and the continued need for action. This year, for the first time, HRC Foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index will rate hospitals with a numerical score and will consider whether hospitals and health systems’ practices reflect “responsible citizenship.” If Hopkins’ leadership ignores their community’s call to correct the record—clarifying that McHugh and Mayer’s opinions do not represent it, and that its healthcare services provided reflect the scientific consensus on LGBTQ health and well-being—its Healthcare Equality Index score will be reduced substantially.
We at Via Meadia are not experts on psychiatry or health care, so we can’t assess the validity of McHugh’s and Mayer’s reading of the empirical record. However, we are close enough observers of patterns in higher education politics that the pattern on display here (scholars express an unpopular viewpoint on a politically fraught subject, the left-of-center community erupts in outrage, petitions circulate demanding formal action from the university administration) sets off all sorts of alarm bells.The basic gambit of the Western mode of scientific inquiry is that the competition of ideas will ultimately produce scholarly truth, or at least something close to it. This process must be decentralized and unencumbered by political dogma. For the Johns Hopkins administration to throw the weight of its authority behind one side or another in an ongoing scholarly debate in order to appease political activists would corrupt the process Jonathan Rauch has called “liberal science.” The university can help protect the integrity of academic thought by sending a strong message to the outraged petitioners that it will let its scholars’ work stand or fall on the merits.