Issues

December 2015

Re: “Pink Pills,” by Wendy McElroy

A response from the author

<p>I’m disappointed and alarmed at <em>LRC’s </em>decision to publish a review of my book <em>Big Pharma, Women, and the Labour of Love</em>) by Wendy McElroy, a men’s rights movement, anti-feminist. While I welcome critical discussion of my book, unfortunately McElroy uses this review to advance her own disturbing agenda.</p>
<p>The review makes unfounded, bizarre criticisms of my book, beginning with the methodology. She argues I employ a ‘shoddy’ methodology because I use qualitative (I assume as opposed to quantitative) methods. Qualitative methods are highly recognized, even mainstream methodologies by any contemporary academic standards.</p>
<p>She goes on to take issue with the sources I draw on in the book, almost all of which are peer reviewed academic books and articles from top ranking journals.</p>
<p>At one point she highlights two completely unrelated sentences from different chapters, claiming that they contradict each other, but really demonstrating her inability to understand the theoretical arguments I make.</p>
<p>She also critiques the study that forms the basis of the book for being located in Vancouver, a city she notes is notoriously wealthy. She clearly ignores my careful breakdown of the diverse socio-economic statuses of my research participants in Chapter 1 of the book.</p>
<p>However, the central point she makes in her review is that I advance a gender feminist perspective, a term I never once reference in the book. I have a BA, MA, and PhD in Women and Gender Studies and have taught feminist theory at the university level for the past decade. I have even written a peer reviewed encyclopedia definition of ‘feminism.’ And yet, until reading this review, I had never heard of this ideology that my book apparently exemplifies. With more digging, I learned that McElory describes herself as an individualist feminist, a term I had similarly never heard of before.</p>
<p>On further research, I have learned that the individualist feminism that McElroy advances, is actually an ideology that that emerged from the explicitly anti-feminist ‘men’s rights movement.’ In her quest against gender feminism (translation: any kind of actual feminism), McElroy has dedicated her career to denying the existence of ‘rape culture’ and lobbying against sexual harassment policies in universities. The individual in individualist feminism refers to the belief that rape and other acts of oppression are not systemic, arising from systems such as patriarchy, colonialism, or other. Indeed, she outright denies the validity of frequently cited rape statistics and argues that rape is the practice of a few fringe men who should be held accountable strictly as individuals.</p>
<p>My book is not about rape culture specifically. It is about the ways in which the sexual pharmaceutical industry falsely constructs the vast majority of women’s sexual problems as biological issues, ignoring the social, economic, and political context of their sexual experiences. One part of this context, as reflected in comments by several participants in my study, is indeed the high incidence of sexual violence they had experienced, often from an early age. They also discussed the influence of stress resulting from double work day of paid work and child care, low self-esteem related to the media’s sexualization of only thin white bodies, a distinct lack of sex education about female sexual pleasure, and the list goes on.</p>
<p>McElroy does not believe that larger systems in the outside world influence experiences and behavior at the individual level. Now that I understand her point of view, I am not surprised that she didn’t like my book. In fact, I would be alarmed if she did.</p>
<p>McElroy is entitled to her own political views, however anti-feminist they may be. I am most disappointed in <em>LRC</em>, a well-established, intellectual, and I had assumed progressive, publication for publishing these views.</p>

Thea Cacchioni
University of Victoria
Victoria, BC


Re: “Monsters of the Night,” by D. B. Krupp

A response from the authors

<p>In our book <em>The Myth of the Born Criminal: Psychopathy, Neurobiology, and the Creation of the Modern Degenerate</em> we trace the history of psychopathy from 18th century psychiatry to contemporary neuroscience, and critically evaluate the claim that psychopathy is a neurobiological condition. We argue that the idea of born criminality, although a legitimate scientific hypothesis, tends to generate dogmatic and dubious scientific claims, such as those made by Queen’s University adjunct professor D.B. Krupp a few years ago.</p>
<p>The December issue of LRC published a review of our book, authored by Krupp himself. If his decision to review a book in which he comes off badly – and his decision to not disclose a conflict of interest – was ethically agonizing, it does not show. According to Krupp, we make many absurd claims, for instance that biological causes are necessarily inborn, and that the causes of human behavior are external to the brain. Krupp is right: these are absurd claims, and that is why they are not in the book. Krupp’s remaining objections are stylistic and definitional, including our use of David Foster Wallace – who was on the panel for <em>The</em> <em>American Heritage Dictionary</em> – to define “ethical appeal.” In his defense, Krupp knows Wallace only as a novelist. Our main arguments, the ones not imagined by Krupp and the ones to debate, do not come up in the review.</p>
<p>The links between 19th century degeneration theory and modern psychopathy research are intriguing. Both searched for observable signs of immorality – whether in the face or in the brain – and despite a disappointing lack of evidence both found ways remain popular. Our book examines these ways. For example, Lombroso (the “father” of degeneration theory) and his followers discredited their critics with withering and sometimes personal attacks, often by way of the press. Krupp’s defense against our critique is not part of this lineage, but his basic error is the same: a confused loyalty to <em>scientists</em> and to <em>scientific</em> <em>theory</em> rather than to science itself. Perhaps Krupp is right, and we will eventually find evidence that psychopathy is a real disorder (<em>The American Psychiatric Association</em> and the <em>World Health Organization</em> do not currently recognize it), and perhaps neuroscience will find its causes. In the meantime we should ask why so many continue to believe that psychopathy is a neurobiological disorder. Inadvertently, D.B. Krupp has supplied part of the answer.</p>

Jarkko Jalava, Stephanie Griffiths, Michael Maraun


D. B. Krupp responds:

The thrust of my review was that The Myth of the Born Criminal is less an earnest scientific critique than a rhetorical campaign. Remarkably, the authors take the same tack in their letter, testifying once again to the very “exaggeration and self-contradiction” I previously charged them with.

In its entirety, their book devotes but two sentences to my work: “Another set of Canadian researchers found that psychopathy actually decreased the likelihood of killing one’s kin. According to the authors, this too was an evolutionary strategy, called ‘nepotistic inhibition.’” Aside from a small technical error—my colleagues and I studied a range of violent offences, not all of which were fatal—I’m at odds to see what grievance I could possibly have with this unexceptionable passage. It is the nature of expert reviews that the reviewer is cited in the work being reviewed, as Drs. Jalava, Griffiths, and Maraun know. To take seriously their claim of a conflict of interest implies that my review would have been appreciably different had they never written those twenty-nine words. This is nonsense. In their book, at least, the authors graciously spared me the ad hominem.

As I argued in my review, The Myth of the Born Criminal has a tenuous grip on biology. If, as they say in their letter, the authors do accept that (1) the brain is the cause of human behaviour and (2) “biology” does not equal “inborn”, their book insinuates precisely the opposite. For instance, they err on both counts on page 152 when they asked whether patterns of brain activity can “make a more compelling case for the neurological causes of psychopathy”, because it fails to determine whether these “patterns are inborn or if they are caused by the environment or the choice to engage in repeated antisocial behaviours”. If we all agree the brain causes behaviour, then why the need for a “more compelling case” that psychopathy has a neurological cause? Why the dickering over “inborn” and “environmental” origins—let alone the ludicrous third option of “choices”—if each nevertheless depends on the workings of the brain? Why, that is, the endless harping on about “the biological theory” throughout their book? The authors are either profoundly ignorant of their subject matter or deliberately trying to mislead the reader with an alarmist, if unoriginal, red herring. I can’t decide which is more troubling.

D.B. Krupp
Denver, Colorado


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