• Galileo's Middle Finger

  • Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science
  • By: Alice Dreger
  • Narrated by: Tavia Gilbert
  • Length: 10 hrs and 39 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (278 ratings)

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Galileo's Middle Finger

By: Alice Dreger
Narrated by: Tavia Gilbert
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Publisher's Summary

A powerful defense of intellectual freedom told through the ordeals of contemporary scientists attacked for exploring controversial ideas, by a noted science historian and medical activist.

An investigation of some of the most contentious debates of our time, Galileo's Middle Finger describes Alice Dreger's experiences on the front lines of scientific controversy, where for two decades she has worked as an advocate for victims of unethical research while also defending the right of scientists to pursue challenging research into human identities. Dreger's own attempts to reconcile academic freedom with the pursuit of justice grew out of her research into the treatment of people born intersex (formerly called hermaphrodites). The shocking history of surgical mutilation and ethical abuses conducted in the name of "normalizing" intersex children moved her to become a patient rights' activist. By bringing evidence to physicians and the public, she helped change the medical system.

©2015 Alice Dreger (P)2015 Gildan Media LLC

What listeners say about Galileo's Middle Finger

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Engrossing but...

This is a very interesting story told from a unique perspective. My only issue with this book is with Ms. Dreger herself. She comes off as pompous and chastising, yet describes herself as naive and humble. The wise man knows what he does not know, and Dr. Dreger certainly doesn't. She has surprisingly little insight for an academic and self proclaimed intellectual. Ms. Dreger is also hypocritical at times. The most blatant example is her derision of people who refuse to research both sides of a topic, yet she does exactly that.

For example, she mischaracterizes Chronic Lyme Disease as a complete fabrication. This is despite the fact that research shows the symptoms are due to either permanent physical damage from the spirochetes, autoimmune dysfunction, or both. (Yes, CLD is a misnomer and the condition should be renamed as soon as the exact etiology is found.) Dreger falls into the trap that thoughtless mass media consumers do-- believing that CLD is nothing but hypochondriacal (mostly female) patients being preyed on by greedy doctors who always push harmful long term antibiotics on them.

For a feminist, she sure was quick to believe scientifically unsupported journalism about how sick women are nothing but stupid and hysterical victims. Are there predatory doctors and misguided patients? Sure, but it's not as black and white of a situation as the media paints it. I expected more of someone who considers herself a truth seeker. That wasn't the only topic Alice gave her uninformed opinion on either.

If you listen closely, you'll find many disconnects between what Dreger claims to believe, actually believes, claims she would do, and actually does. My last example is that she decries postmodernism, yet her world view is clearly molded by it. I can't decide whether that one is due to her poor insight or hypocrisy. Either way, it doesn't look good. I'm disappointed that this academic who I looked up to as a brave truth seeker, intellectual, and honest person is not who I thought she was.

If you know nothing of Dreger and just want the juicy details of the Bailey scandal, then look no further. Despite my issues with Dreger, I can still admit that this book is highly entertaining. Narrator Tavia Gilbert is great as always.

17 people found this helpful

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Clarion call for separating science and ideology

First, the title refers to the fact that Galileo's mummified middle finger is in an Italian museum.

The author, a science historian, demonstrates with case after case that failure to separate the scientific investigation from personal/group religious, social, and political ideology leads to bad science. Her examples are all from the political left, where she resides and is comfortable. Many of the political and social beliefs of leftist social justice warriors are so strong that to investigate them scientifically is treated as heresy.

One in 2000 births results in a child of uncertain gender assignment, a condition now called "intersex" but formally called "hermaphroditism". Most of the book is about gender assignment issues either intersex or through preference after childhood.

Even for those who have not faced intersex issues this non-fiction book is worthwhile as a study of how ideology and government money perverts honest scientific investigation.

15 people found this helpful

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Thoughtful: science, social justice, democracy

Any additional comments?

Dreger and I were in the same graduate program 20 years ago. It was clear then that she was an outstanding scholar an exceptional human being. After one of her talks as a grad student, I heard Cognitive Science prof. Douglas Hofstadter lean over to a colleague and say "she's good". Once again, it shows.

Galileo's Middle Finger documents, in a meticulous evidence-based way, Dreger's journey from her Ph.D. work on intersex into activism as she realized that 19th-century prejudices were still standard medical practice, and beyond as she is swept into an unfamiliar world where identity trumps evidence, in a direction she is not expecting. When Dreger brings her same thorough methods of investigation into the controversy surrounding Michael Bailey's popular-press book on transgender women, she is surprised to find Bailey the victim of a smear campaign.

Dreger documents the Bailey case thoroughly and clearly. Regardless whether Bailey's theory is correct, it is clear that he was an unjust target of dishonest tactics. Documenting this brought Dreger herself in the line of fire. Her book details how that played out, and then also discusses several other controversies in depth, including: Napoleon Chagnon, Margaret Mead, and EO Wilson.

(Before continuing, let me say that Gilbert's narration is exceptional. The clarity and inflection made it easy to imagine that it was the author's own voice speaking directly to the reader.)

There is so much detail and feeling about any of these particular cases, that it is easy to get lost in one particular controversy and miss the bigger picture. The book is not about Galileo. Rather, because Galileo's story is well known, Dreger uses him as an exemplar of what she sees in common in all of her stories: namely the struggle between evidence and orthodoxy, or if you prefer, between evidence and political correctness. The story is particularly acute when the messengers are brash and iconoclastic, which is to say not very politically correct -- whether by politically correct you mean adhering to societal norms, or being socially sensitive.

Dreger makes a passionate and well supported plea for always putting the evidence first, and argues that this is necessary for both justice and democracy, and that we keep forgetting two important truths: 1. our adversaries are usually not evil, and 2. our good intentions will not keep us from doing harm, even if we are on the "right" side.

The book was written before the most recent US election, but emerges at a time when evidence and truth have taken an even more central role in public discussion then they have in a long time. Both sides of the political divide take it his self evident that they have truth and evidence on their side, so much so that apparent evidence to the contrary is taken as a threat to identity and authority, and there is a strong temptation to discredit -- or slander -- the source.

I can easily see those on the other side doing this. To her credit, Dreger faces the situation when her own social and political allies become similarly evidence blind, and not only lets herself be persuaded by the evidence, but doggedly pursues it even when the outcome does not match her presuppositions or preferences.

The question is whether the rest of us can do the same.

8 people found this helpful

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Justice Warrior Princess vs the Mean Girls

So many words, so little actionable information. Dreger anoints herself as a Science Historian , so I am an immediate fan. But this was a prolonged account of how many ways she was right and the shallow cabal of mean people who were intellectually lazy and personally dismissive of her work. Yet, on several issues she demonstrated that the science of medicine works as it is supposed to- make the best decision with the info at hand and change it as new results emerge. The little insight she did provide was overwhelmed by her self-congradulations and hubris. I want my money back

4 people found this helpful

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Amazing book

Critical read for our time. Both depressing and inspiring. Worth a first and second read.

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

excellent book on studies of sex ambiguities in babies and why the sex choice should not be the doctors choice!

Excellent book on the sex ambiguities of babies and the social and personal implications as to why the sex choice should not be the doctors decision, but the individual.
Great points were made in her research on conjoined twins and how most felt broken and torn when surgically separated.
Many times the decision made by others has caused severe implications and even suicide to the individual.
This is a book for all to read and will bring light on a subject many fear to talk about!

2 people found this helpful

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Annoying performance

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Start over with another reader

Has Galileo's Middle Finger turned you off from other books in this genre?

No.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

Performance would be more appropriate for a work of fiction--too emotive for nonfiction.

Any additional comments?

I may have to buy the book to get through it

2 people found this helpful

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Couldn't stop listening to this book

I wanted to read this book at my sister's insistance, because I love reading stories of this type as a scientist myself. But I didn't have time to read anything, so I downloaded the audio version instead. I finished it that same day, I couldn't stand to put it on pause. I listened all through work and on my comute to and fro, and loved it.

This book is so interesting, thoughtful, and so meticulously researched. I very much enjoyed it.

2 people found this helpful

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Galileo’s Malformed Penis

While I knew, from the title details, that this book would have significant reference to the author’s advocacy in intersex peoples’ rights, I had hoped it would spend more time on the problem of medical hypocrisy. It felt like she was dancing around the subject or, at best, loosing the forest for the trees. Specifically, when she went into extensive detail about the doctor who was receiving funding from NIH for her highly questionable use of a medication. She completely missed the figurative low-hanging fruit that this ethically challenged doctor was getting away with murder because she was pushing a drug. Look into the company producing the drug and the money pouring out to the necessary channels and you’ll see exactly why no one wants to touch it. Always follow the money!

1 person found this helpful

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Couldn’t get past the introduction

I thought this content was going to be about Galileo, but instead it was about homaphrodites (people with both sec organs). Maybe this would veer back into something not entirely absurd, I cannot say. But I asked for a refund after 10 minutes, and it’s noteworthy that with 470 titles in my library, Audible said “no”. I’ve returned one title in the past 9 months, and Audible is mow blocking any returns/refunds, claiming I am using that service too much.

1 person found this helpful