Harvard’s Marriage Problem

(This article can also be found on WorldNetDaily.com).

One Harvard Press reviewer said she didn't like the book's “tone.” That's about as close to an answer as the public can get since the Press did not return several calls and refused to release a list of board members, declining further comment to other media outlets, citing confidentiality concerns. The Board of Syndics gives a book final approval for publishing after it has been reviewed by two anonymous scholars.

The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially was written by professor Linda Waite of the University of Chicago. An expert in sociology, Waite joined forces with writer Maggie Gallagher to create a manuscript after a Press editor heard her speech on the same subject to a professional association. She was given a contract — and an advance — and work began on what would become a critically acclaimed book.

“It was really late in the process when the deal with Harvard was canceled,” Waite said.

After the manuscript was finished, it was reviewed and sent back for revisions. The authors made the adjustments and returned the manuscript to Harvard University Press in June, 1999. At that time, one review was extremely positive and the other, though critiquing a few areas, concluded the book should be published. The next step is usually a formality: The Board of Syndics gives its stamp of approval and the book goes to print.

But that's not what happened with The Case for Marriage.

According to Waite, a board member said she didn't like the book's tone and objected to some of the research in the book as not being “scientific” enough.

“I fail to see the validity of that criticism,” Waite remarked.

In purely scientific circumstances, a control group is established and subjected to certain stimuli. But in the case of sociology — specifically a study of marriage — scientists cannot gather a group of people, tell some to get married, tell others to remain single and then analyze the results. In his column for the Wall Street Journal, Stanley Kurtz examines the charge of weak evidence.

“The press board seized upon the failure of Ms. Waite and Ms. Gallagher to prove causal connections, rather than mere correlations. But virtually no sociological study can do that,” he wrote. “Proof that marriage increases a man's earning power would require the random assignment of a group of men to marriage and bachelorhood, and then a calculation of their earnings. In a review, the social scientist James Q. Wilson concluded that, despite the impossibility of running controlled experiments with human beings, Ms. Waite and Ms. Gallagher's evidence strongly suggests the benefits of marriage are real.”

Nevertheless, Harvard University Press cancelled publication of Waite's book in early November 1999, for what Kurtz calls “political” reasons.

“It's hard not to suspect politics at play here, especially considering the tone of other books to which the Harvard board was pleased to give its imprimatur,” he observes.

Kurtz points to other books published by Harvard University Press that go far beyond assertions that married people have more and better sex than singles and tend to be more financially stable. Feminist Catharine MacKinnon argues that male sexual desire can be compared to rape — whether women consent to sex or not. In his review of MacKinnon's last Harvard Press book, political theorist Walter Berns remarked that MacKinnon's argument expresses a whole-hog hatred of men.

“If scholarly tone is the issue, compare Ms. MacKinnon's rhetoric on sex to Ms. Waite and Ms. Gallagher's:

Ms. MacKinnon:

What in the liberal view looks like love and romance looks a lot like hatred and torture to the feminist.

Ms. Waite and Ms. Gallagher:

What these prominent researchers found may shock you: Married people have both more and better sex than singles do … The answer, both theory and evidence suggest, is that the secret ingredient marriage adds is commitment.

“Which sounds to you more like unscientific extremism?” Kurtz asks.

Nevertheless, Waite's book was denied publication in early November 1999. But, by the end of that week, the author said she had the book out to nearly a dozen trade publishers with offers pouring in. In the end, Doubleday submitted the winning offer, which “was really a blessing,” said Waite, who noted the mainstream publisher ensured the book would be seen by more than just trade professionals.

While the author said she “felt sort of blindsided by the Harvard experience,” she is happy that her book is doing well. In print since last October, the book was ranked number 61 in sales on Amazon.com the day after Kurtz's Wall Street Journal commentary ran.

“There's really nothing you can do. It's like having a loan turned down at the bank,” said Waite of Harvard's rejection, which, she added, was not a breach of their contract.

“University presses,” she continued, “are in sort of an odd position because they're both trying to run a business and they're trying to be sort of scholarly.” Often times those goals are at odds with each other, Waite noted. “I'm sympathetic with the tough spot these divergent goals put them in but, at the same time, I think that a lot of academia — more than just university presses — is really hypocritical when they say, 'We're doing science,' when really they have a political agenda.”

Waite said she does not have a problem with organizations pursuing political agendas as long as they do not do so under the guise of science.

“To say, 'I'm looking for truth,' but really be pushing a political agenda — and not being up front about pursuing a political agenda — is hypocritical. And I think it does damage to science generally, and it certainly does damage to the reputation of members of the community.”

Describing herself as a “liberal Democrat,” Waite observed, “Our conclusions are much more comfortable to conservatives. My hope is that I can call it like I see, and it fits in other people's political agendas, or it doesn't.”

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