Controversial Crawford Captures Sterling Award

Sep 19, 2002, vol. 25, no. 2
By Susan Jamieson-McLarnon

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Throughout his long academic career, spanning psychology and biological sciences at Simon Fraser University, Charles Crawford (left) has raised important, but unpopular issues in his classrooms, in academic journals, in the media and in public forums.

He's offered evidence-based opinions on such hot topics as the roots of sex differences in behaviour and ability, the cause of anorexia, pornography and aggression, parenting strategies and most controversial of all, the motivation driving those who commit rape.

For his controversial efforts, Crawford will receive the 2002 Sterling prize, honouring his academic integrity and steadfastness in the face of sometimes extreme controversy.

His Sterling lecture, on Oct. 8 at Harbour Centre is titled Managing our Ancestral Brain in a Troubled World: Thoughts from a Reformed, but Unrepentant Sociobiologist.

In announcing this year's winner, Barry Beyerstein, chair of the selection committee, says the Sterling prize is central to the role that universities should play in society, recognizing and honouring those “who swim against the tide of popular opinion and challenge entrenched authority or prejudice with reason and evidence. The committee was unanimous in its decision that Charles Crawford exemplifies the highest standards of that tradition.”

Ted Sterling, the founding chair of computing science at SFU, and his wife Nora established the award for controversy in 1993.

While well acquainted with controversy, Crawford, who retired in August, claims he doesn't do, say, or think controversial things. What he does like to do is think of new ways of thinking of how things work.

“I just try to find out what is really going on and somehow it comes out controversial. However, to be really controversial there must be some evidence for an idea,” he says.

“If I said that the earth was flat it might be controversial, but it wouldn't be of any interest because everyone knows it is not flat. But saying the thin media images of women are caused by the media responding to women's stress-caused needs and desires can be controversial for at least two reasons. First, it is plausible and there is some evidence for it. Second, it is controversial because some women think it deprives them of power. Most controversial ideas are controversial because they appear to deprive someone of power or give power to someone else.”

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