galileo's middle finger

What to Expect from Galileo’s Middle Finger

What to Expect from Galileo’s Middle FingerGalileo's Middle Finger by Alice Dreger
Published by Penguin on March 10th 2015
Source: Publisher
Pages: 352
Buy from IndieBound


What It’s NOT

A book about Galileo.

What It IS

A book about the intersection of activism and research. Can they live hand in hand or are they doomed to conflict? As a researcher and activist for intersex patient rights, Dreger shocked the medical community by supporting a doctor she felt was wrongly attacked for publishing an unpopular peer reviewed study on the psychology of male-to-female transgender women.

“We scholars had to put the search for evidence before anything else, even when the evidence pointed to facts we did not want to see. The world needed that of us, to maintain—by our example, our very existence—a world that would keep learning and questioning, that would remain free in thought, inquiry, and word.”

Challenging. Not in the sense that it is difficult to read, but it will challenge your sense of right and wrong. Should activists be able to silence research they find politically incorrect? What if they know the research was gathered without following proper protocol? Dreger examines specific examples of scientists who were ostracized for their research as well as her own attempt to fairly stop what she believed to be an unethical study.

A starting point. I can’t think of the last time a nonfiction book left me so fascinated, morally conflicted and curious. I spent most of my reading experience with a Wikipedia tab permanently open to the rabbit hole Dreger sent me down, looking up scientists, studies and terms. Because of her personal connection to some of the studies, I feel like I still have research of my own to do before forming solid opinions on the ethics involved. But based on Alice Dreger’s experience, I’d imagine she’d mark Galileo’s Middle Finger a roaring success if readers checked every one of her sources.


  • You’d already made me want to read this book, and this post just encourages me even more. :) LOVE when books have been constantly looking up more information online.

    • I love that the author really encouraged readers to follow up and check sources, since that’s what caused so much trouble for many of the researchers in the first place.

  • Well I want to read this now.

  • Ok, you got me. I need to know…

  • I’m glad that you clarified it’s not about Galileo – this sounds so much better. I’m REALLY curious about this one now.

  • This one sounds right up my alley…I feel a trip to the soap box coming on – ha! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  • Ooh, this sounds really thought-provoking.

  • Wow, I had completely the wrong idea about what this book was about. What it’s actually about sounds amazing. (And confirms every argument my employer has even had with an author about choosing a title that explains the book adequately. :p)

  • Oh, I’m so glad you read this! My reaction was similar to yours — it wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was SO engaging and thought-provoking. The author is pretty active online, too, and so are several of the other people featured in this book.

    • Oh, I’m glad to hear from someone else who has read it! It was such a fascinating read and really got me thinking.

  • Alex (

    This seems right up my alley. Reminds me of my thoughts about Henrietta Lacks.

  • Like I tweeted, so relevant to my interests! I’ll have to bug my library if they don’t order a copy.

    I saw you said it made you unsure of which soapbox to stand on – what were the big things you struggled with while reading?

    • Let me know if you don’t find it there and I’ll send my copy your way.

      I really had a hard time with the back and forth over the transgender research she supported, as it pretty much goes against everything I’ve ever heard. I don’t want to go into it if you’re going to read it, but it’s pretty controversial…it’s really hard to know if studies like that actually advance science. At the same time, so many studies come out far ahead of their “time” and are eventually accepted. Ah, you need to read it!

  • I’m really curious to read this book. Any book that makes you want to find out more is worth reading, in my opinion. It very vaguely reminds me of some of the research that was mentioned in The Sports Gene; the results led to questions that weren’t as easy to answer as initially thought.

    • I had a hard time figuring out what to rate it on Goodreads, but I agree on the sentiment that books that keep you thinking and researching are worthwhile, and it’s clear that this was very well done, regardless of my position.

  • Fantastic! This is next on my to-read pile and I’m very excited to pick it up after reading your review. This sounds awesome!

    • I’m SO excited that you’re going to read this and can’t wait to hear what you think. It’s very different from what I expected, but not necessarily in a bad way…it definitely got me thinking.

  • Kerry M

    I’m so glad this worked for you! I had trouble getting into it and ended up setting it aside–perhaps because it was closer to memoir style than I had expected (a genre/writing style I typically struggle with, with very few exceptions), and because it wasn’t what I was expecting. But the science and research she was exploring was definitely interesting, and it was well-written and thought-provoking, for sure.

  • Pingback: Nonfiction Titles to Get Your Book Club Talking()

  • Pingback: Favorite Nonfiction of 2015 - River City Reading()

  • Pingback: Nonfiction Novice: Branching Out from Memoirs - River City Reading()