Friday, February 29, 2008

Alice Dreger: The unethical ethicist?

By Curtis E. Hinkle
© 2008
February 29, 2008

Alice Dreger, the DSD activist, who bills herself as a bioethicist has over the past few years become mired by one ethical scandal after another. Just to mention a few of her scandals, let me start with what will be one of the major setbacks in intersex history. It was Alice Dreger who was one of the prime movers of the shift from “intersex” to DSD, “disorders of sex development”. She did this by consulting with doctors and determining what worked for them and consulted the intersex community after the change had been made. Quite unethical for an ethicist because there is practically no support for this replacement of the term “intersex” with “disorders of sex development” and the ensuing Consensus Statement (1) which approved this change of terminology which elaborated a set of protocols that are a major setback for intersex people with surgery being recommended between two and six months of age. (2) This was a scandal of historical proportions.

After controlling intersex activism for over a decade and leaving it in shambles, she decided to move on to transgender activism. And already she is becoming the same divisive “activist” in the transgender movement that she was in the intersex movement. She has begun by taking sides with the gatekeepers of the trans movement, just as she placed herself with the gatekeepers of the intersex community and then left us with a more pathological terminology and set of protocols based on intersex being a genetic defect. (3)

As she started her trans activism, many of us in the intersex movement saw the same pattern slowly emerge that had been her hallmark within the intersex movement – siding with proponents of a highly problematic, pathological definition of transsexualism and attacking any opponents who resisted the academic and discursive control she was usurping over their own right to self definition and in determining their own sociopolitical agenda without having to contend with another interloper who had no experiential understanding of trans issues.

All of a sudden she picked a fight with Andrea James and tried to prevent Ms. James from being allowed to speak at the university where Alice Dreger works and alleged she was afraid of Andrea James. It was quite odd that the organization which invited Ms. James to speak at Northwestern University where Dreger works was evidently not frightened by Andrea James. Dreger decided to use the Bush foreign policy model of a pre-emptive strike against anyone who might possibly be viewed as a threat and published “The blog I write in fear” (4) in which she brought up an unfortunate event that had happened a few years ago between her colleague J Michael Bailey and Andrea James. She alleged she was frightened of Andrea and that she should not be allowed to speak at the University. This is the strawman that has been used for years now to silence any discussion of the unethical behavior that Bailey and Dreger have been involved in. Instead of dealing with the facts of their own behavior, anyone who dares discuss the facts is automatically smeared with ad hominem attacks linking them to the serious mistake that Andrea James made a few years ago. Dreger even did this to me when I openly questioned her DSD model as a replacement for intersex. (5) Instead of dealing with what she was doing, Dreger sent out an e-mail alleging that I had teamed up with Andrea James, someone I didn’t know at the time, and warned intersex people that if they were not vigilant, the intersex movement would be destroyed. Well, that was already a fait accompli and it was Dreger who was instrumental in its destruction. Many of us are trying to rebuild and move on.

We later found out why Dreger was alleging she was so afraid of Andrea James. She was working at the same University as J Michael Bailey and she was writing an article in defense of his unethical behavior and she was going to include Andrea James in that article. It certainly would be good fodder for the article if she could have provoked Andrea to get more dirt on her to include in her upcoming “expos√©” of the “facts” to suit her employer, Northwestern University.

Dreger then published a 60-page tome in defense of her colleague, J Michael Bailey and in that article she once again threw ethics out the window and simply gives Bailey another platform to justify having sex with research subjects: “there is nothing intrinsically wrong or forbidden about having sex with a research subject[….] Some of my colleagues have had sex with their research subjects, because it is not unusual to ask one’s romantic partner to be a subject” (Bailey, 2005).” Rather disturbing ethical standards that Dreger is disseminating in this tome in defense of her colleague. (6)

Finally, someone is challenging Dreger on her ethics and many of us in the intersex community feel it is high time. Robin Mathy has filed ethics complaints with the American Psychological Association against Dreger and Bailey. One of the allegations in the complaint centers on Dreger and Bailey having both expressed that having sex with a research subject is not inherently wrong. Robin Mathy has also filed a complaint with the Illinois Board of Examiners of Psychology against Bailey for allegedly misrepresenting himself as a psychologist. (7)

It does appear that Robin Mathy has a lot of facts to substantiate these allegations along with many others. Ethics? Alice Dreger’s ethics seem to be focused on what is best for her career and gaining access to more power, not helping the powerless which she now has a history of dismissing, silencing and abusing.

(1) Consensus Statement on Management of Intersex Disorders

(2) This is a quote from the Same group that gave us the Consensus Statement on DSD's.

Consensus Statement on 21-Hydroxylase Deficiency from The Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society and The European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Joint LWPES/ESPE CAH Working Group

Surgery is recommended at age 2-6 months:
"Once a decision has been made to raise a newborn as female, surgery for those with virilized genitalia caused by CAH is recommended when the patient has a high proximal junction between the vagina and urethra (12, 13). Surgery on infants with ambiguous genitalia requires a high degree of expertise and should only be performed in centers with significant experience. Based on recent clinical experience, the recommended time for surgery is at age 2–6 months; although, at present, this is not universal practice. It is important to note that surgery at this stage is technically easier than at later stages."

You can download the complete Consensus Statement on CAH at:

(3) Alice Dreger: Disorders of Sex Development

(4) “The Blog I Write in Fear”. May 13, 2006.

(5) Email from Alice Dreger to some intersex activists

(6) “In his online self-defense piece, “Academic McCarthyism,” published in October 2005, Bailey countered with this: “her ‘complaint’ is not true. The alleged event never happened. If I ever needed to do so, I could prove this, but there is no reason why I should” (Bailey, 2005). Bailey’s reasoning for why he should not have to prove he didn’t have sex with Juanita was twofold: first, he “insist[ed] that Juanita was not a research subject” when she claimed they had sex; second, “there is nothing intrinsically wrong or forbidden about having sex with a research subject[….] Some of my colleagues have had sex with their research subjects, because it is not unusual to ask one’s romantic partner to be a subject” (Bailey, 2005).”
Dreger, Alice. 2007. The Controversy Surrounding The Man Who Would Be Queen: A
Case History of the Politics of Science, Identity, and Sex in the Internet Age. p. 43

(7) Debate resumes on methods of psych professor's research by Michael Gsovski
Issue date: 2/27/08