Coogan Lecture - Alice Dreger: "Galileo's Middle Finger"


Location: Carey Auditorium

Galileo’s Middle Finger: Why Social Progress Depends on the Protection of Academic Freedom 


This talk draws from the speaker’s book, Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science, and explores the ways in which freedom of research is under assault from multiple fronts, including identity politics activism, the corporatization and branding of universities, and social media shaming campaigns. The speaker, who has twenty years’ experience both as an intersex patient rights activist and as an academic historian, will use case studies to talk about the dangers researchers face today. She will also speak to how researchers can work individually and collectively to try to protect themselves. She argues they must do so not for their own sake, but for the sake of social progress in our fragile democracy.

About the speaker ( 

Dreger earned her PhD in History and Philosophy of Science from Indiana University. In August, 2015, she resigned a part-time full professorship at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine following her dean’s censorship of her published work out of a hospital-related “branding” concern. Dreger has for many years embodied the idea of “the public intellectual,” simultaneously publishing widely-cited major original work in scholarly journals and high-visibility essays in the mainstream press. She has served as a regular writer for the health sections of The Atlantic and Pacific Standard and for the blog of Psychology Today, and her op-eds have appeared in numerous other venues, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Slate, The LA Times, The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, and New Statesman. Her live-tweeting of her son’s sex ed class in April, 2015, sparked an international discussion of abstinence-based education and has led to her writing a short book for parents on how to tell children the truth about sex.Alice Dreger is an historian of medicine and science, a sex researcher, a mainstream writer, and an (im)patient advocate. An award-winning scholar and writer, Dreger’ most recent book is Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science, which argues that the pursuit of evidence is the most important ethical imperative of our time. Funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship and published by Penguin Press in 2015, the book has been praised in reviews, including in The New Yorker, Nature, and Salon. It was named an “Editor’s Choice” by The New York Times Book Review, where Dreger was labeled “a sharp, disruptive scholar.” The Chronicle of Higher Education has called her a “star scholar” and describes her writing as “reliably funny and passionate and vulnerable.”

Besides functioning as an historian and writer, in the medical world Dreger has served as a patient advocate and as a consultant to pediatric specialists undertaking clinical reform, particularly in the treatment of children born with norm-challenging body types, including intersex, conjoined twinning, facial anomalies, and short stature. Former chair of the Intersex Society of North America, she also worked as the ethics consultant to an NIH-funded Translational Research Network on pediatric intersex care and co-chaired a medical education committee on intersex for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Dreger’s TED lecture, “Is Anatomy Destiny,” has been viewed over 960,000 times, and she has appeared as a guest expert on hundreds of media programs, including on Oprah, Savage Love, Good Morning America, and NPR, and in many original documentaries, including for A&E, ABC, Discovery, PBS, and HBO. She lives in East Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, teenage son, two intentional rats, and, in the fall, a few unintentional mice.