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Bat sex

In the recent past, an almighty debate has risen up over academic freedom. In Ireland, an academic has been investigated for having shown a female co-worker a paper on the subject of the sex lives of bats. As this blog is a family show, I will not describe what the bats have been doing.

Dr Dylan Evans has argued that the fact that the paper was from a peer reviewed science journal to defend his actions. For the moment, at least I do not want to sit in judgement on Dr Evans. However, I want to explore some of the issues with you. I think that the fact that it is “peer reviewed science” does not make a paper universally acceptable to show to a co-worker.

Years ago I was told a story of a man who escaped from a mental hospital, he broke out of the hospital and being a clever lad stole some clothing from a washing line and then started to walk down the road wearing his new suit of clothes. He then had a thought (a paranoid thought) that the first person who encounters him would think he was insane and therefore an escaped psychiatric patient. Therefore, he resolved to say to the first person something, which was so universally accepted to be true that no person would doubt his sanity.

Five minutes later a woodcutter, his girlfriend and their handsome Westie dog were walking the opposite way along the leafy country lane. (I like to aspire to be poetic and romantic sounding). The escaped man then said to them as he passed “The earth is round, and it orbits the sun”. The woodcutter asked “What?” The man repeated, “The earth is round, and it orbits the sun”. The woodcutter’s young lady then recalled hearing that a someone had escaped from “St Elsewhere’s”; she then lured the man into the nearby café. While he was drinking some tea, the police arrived and took his back to hospital.

What the escaped man said might have been true but it was grossly inappropriate, he would have been better saying “Oh what a delightful day, and what a sweet looking dog you have”.

What Dylan Evans showed the woman might have been “peer reviewed science” but in my opinion, it was  reading material which is very inappropriate in most circumstances. I have read the paper on the bats and I can tell you that while it does not fall foul of the USA pornography law (It does have scientific, artistic or cultural merit) it is not an item, which is suitable to be shown to all.

I would like to know what makes Dylan Evans qualified to have a learned opinion on “bat sex”. It is possible to have a reasoned and learned opinion on a subject outside your original field.

I hold the view that study in one area to PhD level gives (or at least should give) a person a set of critical thinking abilities which can be applied to other areas. The PhD outside his/her field needs to take the trouble to obtain a working knowledge of the subject and to learn about the methods used in a new field before they can offer a learned opinion on the new subject. So while the PhD does not convert a person into a polymath, the process of obtaining a PhD does make a person more able to become able to make an informed comment on another field.

As Dylan appears to be outside his own area when it comes to “bat sex”, I would dearly like to know what self training efforts he has made to make himself competent to work on the subject of “bat sex”. I am not going to say it is impossible through self training to learn a new area.

Ferdinand von Prondzynski (http://universitydiary.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/the-complexity-of-academic-freedom/) made a wise remark on the case we wrote

If my field is organic chemistry, are my views on corporate banking protected by academic freedom? If they are, why should my views on this be given greater standing than the views of non-academic members of the public?

I would argue that the academic who strays outside their area and does not make all reasonable efforts to develop a competence in the new area should not be afforded any special protection.

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One Response

  1. […] “In the recent past, an almighty debate has risen up over academic freedom. In Ireland, an academic has been investigated for having shown a female co-worker a paper on the subject of the sex lives of bats. As this blog is a family show, I will not describe what the bats have been doing …” (more) […]

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