No intelligent man will deny the intrinsic value to psychologists and to university administrators of some such questionnaire as that released to undergraduates last evening. The knowledge which it seeks would be of great importance to any civilized society. It is of particular importance to a society, such as the American, which regards ignorance of sex problems as a national virtue and asset.
It appears on the surface that this particular questionnaire is both sober and scientific, and that its authors have had expert advice in handling the material. That is as it should be. But there is, beyond this, much that is alarming. Even in competent and trustworthy hands, a matter of this sort is, to put it mildly, dynamite. The statistics are likely to be incomplete and therefore liable to misconstruction. If they are released to the press, one can scarcely conjecture what the effect will be.
With such things in mind, every Harvard man will insist upon certain guarantees before answering the questions. First of all, the results must be placed in reliable and trained hands. Second, there must be an explicit promise that none of the statistics will be released for public consumption. So far, the sponsors have by no means given these guarantees. No indication has been given that the figures will be properly treated. There is a vague hint that the material may be turned over to the Harvard Psychological department; but that is all. And, what is a great deal worse from an immediate standpoint, the circular contains the statement that the statistics will be made available to undergraduates, which is to say to the public and to the press.
The Dean's office will demand that assurances be given on these matters. In accordance with official custom in such an affair it may go even farther and put a stop to the whole thing. The former would be an obvious duty; the latter would be a grave mistake. For, let there be no misunderstanding, any sincere and scientific investigation of this kind merits support as a courageous effort to supply data on an important subject which has been needlessly and unintelligently obscured. All that any sensible man can ask is that there be certain definite evidence of responsibility. It would have been, admittedly far better for all concerned had that evidence been given at the start. But it is not too late, provided the authors respond immediately and frankly. Once this is done, the undergraduate body would be instance indeed if it did not cooperate.