Kinsey (2004)

Last modified: November 8, 2018

Dr. Kinsey (Liam Neeson) is a biologist specialised in gall wasps who turns to the field of sex research. He has some troublesome issues with funding, but eventually has his first major study published into a book: Sexual Behaviour in The Human Male (1948). The book becomes a huge success; this new success brings him many friends, but just as many enemies; a problem that threatens to make him lose his funding, necessary for his second book: Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female.


This film covers the subject: ‘who decides what is on the scientific agenda’. One could discuss issues such as: funding of research, public opinion and politics and their influence on science.

This movie is included in the Fiction movies for RCR education.

Key words: Policy / Education / Scientific Writing
Medium: YouTube (This link was last checked on 14-09-2016)
Fragments: 3

Internet Movie Database (IMDb) about this movie: IMDb
Biography/Drama / playing time: 118 min.

Context and Content

Dr. Kinsey (Liam Neeson) is a biologist specialised in gall wasps, who turns to the field of sex research after he is inspired by the mating habits of gall wasps. He is fighting for this new and controversial field, both scientifically and socially, as there is much resistance to his work at that time. He has some troublesome issues with funding, but eventually has his first major study published into a book: Sexual Behaviour in The Human Male (1948). The book becomes a huge success, and not only in scientific circles. This new success brings him many friends, but just as many enemies; a problem that threatens to make him lose his funding for his science projects, which is crucial for finishing the studies required to finish his second book: Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female.


The following four fragments are selected to be seen in sequence, as they share an educational purpose; when seen as a combination they provide some insight in the subjects of policy, education and scientific writing in the context of a scientific taboo; the taboo being not human reproduction, but sex.

Fragment 1: [1:13:38 – 1:19:00]

There is a man from the Rockefeller institute that comes in to discuss the possibility of his institute funding dr. Kinsey’s sex study. He has several constraints that he finds are necessarily applied to the study design before he will fund his research on male sexuality. Dr. Kinsey agrees to these constraints even though he will probably not honour them as he wishes to do a scientific study free of constraints.
Ethics for fragment 1

What we see in this fragment is a scientist who agrees to a set of rules and conditions that are not good for his research. He probably agrees anyway, as he is not able to perform his research without this funding. In a way, the funder of the research has a big influence on the content of the research. Is this desirable? To what extent should an organisation that funds research involve itself in the content of the research it is funding?

Another interesting question one could pose in this context is whether or not dr. Kinsey is doing the right thing here. By the strict rules of scientific conduct, he should not accept this funding as he will not abide to the conditions as asked by the Rockefeller institute, but without the funding he will not be able to perform any more research. His field of research was a bit of a taboo at that time; how far should a scientist go in order to break taboo with scientific research?

Fragment 2: [1:50:13 – 1:52:20]

‘Hoover is still annoyed that you won’t help him find homosexuals in the state department’. After saying this, Hoover has therefore started collecting information on dr. Kinsey’s activities. Dr. Kinsey is on the verge of losing his grant from the Rockefeller centre, due to complaints of the activities of his staff and his statistical methods.
Ethics for fragment 2

Clearly there are some political motives for the investigation of dr. Kinsey. One of Kinsey’s conclusions is that a lot of males possess certain homosexual urges. He states that not all of them all 100% homosexual, but a lot of men homosexual to some degree. This conclusion, especially in combination with Kinsey’s refusal to help ‘find homosexuals’, annoyed Hoover, which may cost Kinsey his grant. What do you think of this involvement of politics with science? Is it a necessary evil? Should it be avoided? These are all important questions to ask and important subject to have discussion about.

Fragment 3: [2:01:24 – 2:03:20]

Kinsey is recovering from a heart attack due to stress. Sitting at home, watching television with his wife he is confronted with the fact that due to political problems the Rockefeller centre stops his funding of dr. Kinsey’s studies on sexual behaviour.
Ethics for fragment 3

This is the scene where the Rockefeller foundation made a decision; they will not support dr. Kinsey’s research anymore. The main question here is: is it right for the Rockefeller centre to distance itself from dr. Kinsey’s project? The conditions under which the Rockefeller foundation has stopped funding are somewhat suspect: there is a lot of political controversy about Kinsey’s sex studies and Kinsey has just had a heart attack.

The interesting topic that underlies all the fragments combined is the topic of involvement of politics or the public with scientific research. Science must be funded and it is massively funded by public funds, at least in Holland. The question that needs answering is; does the public have a say in what science may and may not be conducted? Interesting topics to discuss are whether or not the public is capable of making such a decision, and what should be the involvement of corporations, as they may only want funding for science that may directly benefit them.

Fragment 4: [2:03:20 – 2:05:25]

The university that dr. Kinsey works for has a surplus on their budget, which is the direct cause of Kinsey’s fame. There is a vote on whether dr. Kinsey should get part of that money to keep his project on sex research afloat. They all vote against.
Ethics for fragment 4

This fragment is concerned with fairness. All members of the board vote against expansion of dr. Kinsey’s grant: is this this fair? Politics are once again making up the scientific agenda; due to the disturbance caused by dr. Kinsey’s research, his grant will not be enlarged, which means he will not be able to continue his study. What is new in this fragment is that we have learned that there is a surplus of money that is a direct result of dr. Kinsey’s previous project. One could argue that dr. Kinsey is therefore entitled to that money, whereas one could also pose that even though dr. Kinsey’s fame is the direct cause for that fame, the university works with one money stream that needs to be divided fairly (or evenly) amongst its employees.


I consider this to be a very realistic film; it sheds light on a period of time where sex was taboo and where research into that field was nearly impossible. I think that the dilemmas in the film are depicted in a realistic sense; they could very well happen that way and I believe no part of the film is over exaggerated

Suggested use for education

This film and these fragments may be very helpful in a session on the ethics of scientific funding and publishing. It may accompany an interesting discussion on the role of politics, the public and corporations in determining the scientific agenda.

One way of doing a session on this is as follows: a debate could be organised surrounding the stance: ‘the scientific agenda should be determined by scientists only’. A few positions in the debate should be divided amongst teams. I propose the following roles/positions:

After each team has defended the provided position, there could be another round where each person gets to pick a role and defend that role according to his own ethical stance; this will probably evoke some discussion.


The film ends with a scene where dr. Kinsey is taking a sexual history of a woman who tells him that he saved her life by writing his book. Reading Kinsey’s book gave her the courage to tell her friend from her youth that she loved her and to her surprise the feelings were mutual. This conversation provides Kinsey with an insight he desperately needed: his work matters and it has changed the world a bit, even though he thinks it has not.

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