Sex, Science, and Kinsey: A Conversation with Dr. John Bancroft

By Pool, Gary | The Humanist, September-October 1996 | Go to article overview

Sex, Science, and Kinsey: A Conversation with Dr. John Bancroft


Pool, Gary, The Humanist


Most authentic scholars and scientists do not, as a rule, relish legal confrontations. Dr. John Bancroft, the Cambridge-educated psychiatrist who heads the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University, is no different from the majority of his colleagues in this particular regard. Though he has been at his new post as director of the world-famous interdisciplinary organization for little more than a year, Bancroft is already quite mindful of Dr. Judith A. Reisman's suit--for defamation of character and slander--filed against his predecessor, June Reinisch, the institute, and the university in 1990. The litigation, which dragged on for nearly four years, came about as a form of retaliation for Reinisch's attempts to counter the accusations of spurious research and child abuse which Dr. Reisman had alleged were carried out by the institute, its founder, Dr. Alfred Kinsey, and his staff. Even though the suit was thrown out of court in 1994 as meritless, being dismissed with prejudice (meaning that it may not be brought again in the same form), the legal expenses incurred by Indiana University in defending itself and the institute against Reisman's vindictive litigation were monumental.

"These people might do the same thing again, if I gave them something to hang a libel case on," the engaging and altogether approachable Dr. Bancroft told me when I visited him at the institute on October 23, 1995. "I just don't want to be caught up in that sort of process. It's incredibly time-consuming. On the other hand, these attacks are going to continue--they've always been there and they aren't going to go away. And I do want to be in a position to give what I believe to be the most considered, informed, and constructive response to them. The very fact that Dr. Kinsey is being attacked now, and in this way, is an interesting comment on our social system."

Practically from the moment that Kinsey published his initial findings in 1948, the institute which bears his name has continuously been at the epicenter of an often heated and rancorous controversy. The current, ongoing polemic stems primarily from allegations made in Kinsey, Sex, and Fraud, which Reisman coauthored with Edward W. Eichel. (An arch-conservative theorist and founder of the Institute for Media Education, Reisman holds a Ph.D. in communications from Case Western Reserve University.) In their book, Reisman and Eichel state:

Kinsey's research was carried out on a non-representative group of Americans--including disproportionately large numbers of sex offenders, prostitutes, prison inmates and exhibitionists--and involved illegal sex experimentation upon several hundred children, masturbated to orgasm by "trained" pederasts. It has become the "scientific" basis for the official doctrine of sex education in the United States. Shocking? Yes. True? Demonstrably.

Bancroft characterizes this statement as "quite an effective mixture of fact and nonfact, or altered fact. All those first points she made of course are generally accepted. Yes, he did have an unrepresentative sample. Yes, he did over-sample--in particular, men in penal institutions. That's all been acknowledged and dealt with; that's history. Indeed, the Kinsey Institute itself has--and this is relevant to issues on the prevalence of homosexual behavior, for example--reanalyzed data. In the 1970s, John Gagnon and Bill Simon sort of cleaned up the sample [published in Sexual Conduct, Aldine Press, 1973]. In fact, they did more than that: they focused down on a subsample that was reasonably representative of the population from which the subsample was drawn, which was men who attended college between 1938 and 1950. You know, this `10 percent of the population is gay' thing is often leveled at Kinsey, although Kinsey actually never said that."

What Kinsey actually reported in 1948 was that, from his nonrandom sample, 37 percent of adult white males indicated having had at least one sexual encounter with another man in their lifetimes, including adolescent experiences.

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