Scientific egos as fragile as eggs

When academics disagree with each other there’s only one way to settle who is right. As TV comedian Harry Hill would say: “Fight! Fight!”
Shouting around the playground that battle is underway, with fisticuffs and blood in prospect, has always been an exciting scenario for kids. And it’s really not much different among the profs. Try as they might to affect an air of gentlemanly courtesy and “collegiate” spirit, there is sometimes no disguising the ferocity and malevolence that pervades the world of academic disputes. Unlike the kids’ world, where aggression is often spontaneous and quickly resolved, in the seemingly calm groves of academe disputes can fester for months and years with antagonists trying hard to sound calm and rational. All this achieves is a build-up of pressure in the emotional volcano, so that when it finally blows it does so with one hell of an explosion and devastating fallout.
Sexnet is like that. (See A rather special forum called Sexnet, 25 November). Thanks to being battle-hardened after taking decades of abuse as a paedophile activist, the quarrels on Sexnet are all pretty much water off a duck’s back to me, even when (which is not often, so no complaints) I am targeted for snide put-downs – or ad hominem attack , as they say in the business. I have noticed that others, though, are extraordinarily thin-skinned, including some of the big beasts of the academic jungle, star research scientists of world renown: the tiniest criticism sees them throw a hissy fit; you can all but hear their fragile egos cracking like eggs.
A classic example was on display when in March this year I took issue with James Cantor’s theory that paedophilia is caused by “crossed-wiring” in the brain. Using MRI scanning on paedophiles, he had identified differences in the “white matter” of their brains compared to those of others. I asked him, in a post to Sexnet, whether the observed differences were caused by the experience of being a paedophile, rather than, as he claimed, caused by paedophilia. Instead of simply answering my question, which would have been the sane and sensible thing to do, he ranted and raved about those who ask “politically motivated” questions, saying there was no point in talking to “flat earthers” and the like.
The problem with that “line of argument”, though his emotional outburst scarcely deserves such a description, is that I had put a fair bit of work into framing the question, which was quite technical in nature and I felt sure that anyone who knew anything about the growing science of epigenetics, in particular, would feel it was a sensible thing to ask.
As I say, this was back in March, but now there has been a further development. This week, on BBC radio, the psychoanalyst Susie Orbach (yes, the famous one who once had Princess Diana as a client) posed a very similar question about his work, expressing just the same scepticism as mine about the “direction of causation”. So far as Cantor is concerned, Orbach and myself are both just ignorant nobodies rather than neuroscientists like himself.
Much harder to brush aside, though, is the opinion of a fellow neuroscientist who I now find is in total agreement with Orbach and myself.  There is quite a lot to be said about this, so it might be a good idea to leave a cliffhanger, and finish off the story in my next post. So, watch this space!

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I wonder what Susie Orbach would feel about being “in total agreement” with you. It’s late. I’m tired, so, maybe not as attentive as I could/should be but, has the question actually been answered? I’d be very interested to know what the answer (if there is any) would be.

[…] in “support” of paedophiles have featured previously on Heretic TOC (see “Scientific egos as fragile as eggs” plus here, here and here for my engagement with him on his research), has now come up with a […]

[…] visible to its 400 or so members. For a blow-by-blow account of our verbal fisticuffs see my blog: Scientific egos as fragile as eggs and The dubious analogy of the ‘extra […]

[…] quick background, if you feel you need it, see two of my Heretic TOC postings Scientific egos as fragile as eggs and The dubious analogy of the ‘extra arm’. These posts describe my initial engagement in […]

[…] TOC’s Doubting Thomas line on alleged paedophilic deficiencies of white matter in the brain. See Scientific egos as fragile as eggs and The dubious analogy of the ‘extra arm’. After citing the Guardian article, Neuroskeptic […]


Thanks for sharing this, Tom. I am firmly of the opinion that Cantor’s aggression reveals that on this occasion he has lost the argument. I just wonder if we should send a message thanking Susie Orbach for her contribution. I just think that we will attract more sympathy if we present ourselves as being likeable.

Gil Hardwick

At the very least, your James Cantor must concede that more research must be done, and then some, before extrapolating from his MRI scanning of paedophiles (which paedophiles, where?) onto the general population.
One might argue that the ‘cross-wiring’ is brought about by fear of being outed as a paedophile. Or does he mean ‘convicted paedophiles in US prison samples’, now cross-wired by the ordeal of trial and conviction?
I argued once on Sniffer Dog that for a test of paedophilic arousal to kiddie porn to be valid, ALL those viewing the same images would need to be monitored as a control, including the prosecutor, judge, jury, court officials and public gallery.
If the so-called ‘child-molester’ exhibits no deviation from the control norm he would either have to be released back into the community, or everybody in the sample imprisoned as a danger to children.
The intriguing possibility here is that it is the prosecutor who is deviant, most disturbed by the display.
This is not too far removed from reality. We have had more than one guy acquitted at trial, when members of the jury started squirming, with one crying, and that was just ordinary adult porn including an Asian girl who, under Commonwealth legislation (the state being 16) ‘looked as if she might be under 18’.
I think some of these scientists and therapists might need a bit of watching too. It has yet to be explained what their obsession might be with the idea of some precocious kid getting a blow job.


Surprising how such otherwise brilliant accademics can come up with ass-backward theories. I guess their outrage comes from the shame of realizing their own stupidity.


“White and gray matter” are not, it seems, set in stone.
On brain plasticity, and the hippocampus in response to changes in the environmental…
… so it seems that “grey” vs “white” matter volume depends on how you spend your time.
Or, as Auntie Beeb puts it, “Cab drivers’ grey matter enlarges and adapts to help them store a detailed mental map of the city, according to research. ”
And if you need more details on Voxel-based morphometry:
My personal opinion is that most brain studies are mostly crap. We know so little about how the brain functions. We still are excited that the brain seems to “light up” in certain sections according to activity being performed by its owner.
That’s like trying to figure out what’s happening in the cities skyscrapers after dark from which offices light up, and for how long they remain lit.
Anyway, if they STILL don’t know what it is in the brain that makes someone “heterosexual”, then why all this sudden attention to the brain morphology of “pedophiles”? Unless, of course, they consider pedophilia to be a “disease requiring intervention”.
Hoo, boy…
I think it’s all down to nature providing as much variety as possible, providing for the possibility of “adaptation” no matter what changes take place in the environment. So we’re just outliers on the bell curve. And, yes, we are necessary. We provide models for growing boys. We care about their welfare. We love them.
So things are not, after all, as black-and-white as they seem.
Or should I say, “grey-and-white”?


Apparently, homosexuals were the subject of similar brain studies in the 50s, which led to lobotomy and other forms of medical torture committed against them. In spite of tyhis, it seems that scientists are still unable to learn from history…
In her essay: “The Paedophile Impulse: “Toward the Development of an Etiology of Child-Adult Sexual Contacts from an Ethological and Ethnological Viewpoint”, the German anthropologist Gisela Blelbtreu-Ehrenberg writes:
+++In contrast to the anthropoid apes (and presumably also to many of our prehominid ancestors that stand closer to us in evolution), we humans are “wanderers between two worlds”: one side of our nature is firmly anchored in our genetic inheritance, which we have in common at least with the anthropoid apes and perhaps even with animals standing much lower in the scale of evolution. We are unable to give up this inheritance, since it is unchangeably imprinted in our brain stem and midbrain. The other part of our nature is determined by learning and by freedom from bondage to the “early” parts of the brain, i.e., by the cerebrum and especially by the frontal lobes. Where the impulses of the older and younger parts of the brain prove to be incompatible, there appear social anomalies – collective neuroses as well as conflicts within the species, i.e., wars, as well as institutions such as the inquisition, concentration camps, etc. In the West paedophiles have become the victims of such a collective neurosis, whose culturally determined cause lies in our traditional hatred, fed from multiple sources, of the body and thereby of sex.+++
+++Thus it is easy for these people to do without the sexual component of their contact with children, which in truth does not represent something as unique and noteworthy as it appears to us, but rather has acquired this character only through the sexual fear that the basic body-hating pattern of our culture produces. People can do without this component in their contact with children, but one could also place special value upon it, indeed see it as an altogether important value. The moralistic judgement against paedophilia is always “learned”, is a cerebral matter.+++
So, perhaps some so-called scientists should try to look at their own brain instead? By the way, the entire article can be found here:
P.S. Tom, can you please add Robins Sharpe ( )
to your links? His way of writing reminds in many ways of yours: factual, well-written – and with a pinch of humor!

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