Scientific American goes full Regressive Left, makes women’s rights depend on recognizing the “gender spectrum” and denying sex differences

August 22, 2017 • 10:01 am

An editorial (yes, an editorial, with the byline “BY THE EDITORS”) in the new online issue of Scientific American,”The new science of sex and gender“, is not only biologically misleading, but philosophically unsound. Its purpose appears to be that the “new picture” of sex and gender, which is no longer “simple” but supposedly confused by a variety of factors like social construction of gender, intersexuality, and so on, somehow means that women’s rights have suddenly become more important and more justifiable. But the science is right out of Everyday Feminism, and the social lesson commits a naturalistic fallacy, implying that women’s rights are somehow connected with recognizing that gender is “nonbinary”. In other words, they make a biological case for women’s equality, when the real case is a social and ethical one.

Here’s the totality of the science in the article:

Sex is supposed to be simple—at least at the molecular level. The biological explanations that appear in textbooks amount to X + X = and X + Y = . Venus or Mars, pink or blue. As science looks more closely, however, it becomes increasingly clear that a pair of chromosomes do not always suffice to distinguish girl/boy—either from the standpoint of sex (biological traits) or of gender (social identity).

In the cultural realm, this shift in perspective has already received a wide embrace. “Nonbinary” definitions of gender—transfeminine, genderqueer, hijra—have entered the vernacular. Less visible perhaps are the changes taking place in the biological sciences. The emerging picture that denotes “girlness” or “boyness” reveals the involvement of complex gene networks—and the entire process appears to extend far beyond a specific moment six weeks after gestation when the gonads begin to form.

To varying extents, many of us are biological hybrids on a male-female continuum. Researchers have found XY cells in a 94-year-old woman, and surgeons discovered a womb in a 70-year-old man, a father of four. New evidence suggests that the brain consists of a “mosaic” of cell types, some more yin, others further along the yang scale.

This of course conflates biological sex with gender. There certainly is a “binary” in biological sex. What we see if we plot the frequency of chromosomal constitution, production of sperm or eggs, or secondary sex characteristics like genitalia, is a bimodal distribution with two modes: one at XX (with female secondary sex characteristics, the biological equipment to produce eggs) and one at XY (male sex characteristics, biological equipment to produce sperm). In between we have a “valley” of intersexes, but they’re of a low frequency. As I wrote previously:

Yes, there are a few exceptions, like AIS [androgen insensitivity syndrome], but the various forms of that syndrome occur between 1 in every 20,000 to 1 in only 130,000 births. Is that “too many examples” to allow us to say that biological sex is not connected with chromosomes? If you look at all cases of intersexuality that occur in people with XX or XY chromosomes (we’re not counting XOs or XXYs or other cases of abnormal chromosomal number), the frequency of exceptions is far less than 1%. That means that, in humans as in flies, there is almost a complete correlation between primary/secondary sex characteristics and chromosome constitution.

If you include chromosomal abnormalities, that adds another 0.1% or so. No matter how you look at it, since biological sex shows a bimodal distribution, it can be taken as largely “binary”. If you include those who identify as members of the other biological sex (transgender people), the height of the valley between the peaks rises a bit, but a bimodality still remains in the “gender spectrum”. Shame on Scientific American for not even giving an accurate picture of the facts. But, as do many people, they tend to ignore they facts when they see them—usually wrongly—as going against their ideology.

But so what if there is a “binary”? The equal rights of women and transgender people, as well as intersexes, should have nothing to do with a supposed “spectrum” of either biological or socially-constructed sex.  People should have equal rights and and opportunities because, morally, one can’t justify giving any person’s or group’s interests precedence over those of anyone else. Equal rights do not depend on biology.

Yet somehow Scientific American says they do:

These findings have far-reaching implications beyond just updating the biology textbooks. They have particular bearing on issues of personal identity, health and the economic well-being of women. That is because arguments about innate biological differences between the sexes have persisted long past the time they should have been put to rest.

But there are surely innate biological differences between the sexes if you see them as the big bimodal “modes” of distribution of genitalia, chromosome constitution, equipment for making sperm and eggs, and other traits like body size, upper body strength, and hair distribution. And is Scientific American denying from the outset any “innate biological differences” in behavior, too?  On what grounds?

It appears as if “Scientific” American is ignoring what the data say in favor of an ideology, presumably because they think that any genuine biological differences between the sexes can be used to justify mistreatment of women, as they have been. The proper stance, however, is to deal with what is true, or what might be true, and construct a moral rather than a biological case for equality.

The rest of the article is devoted to recounting the sordid history of sexism resting on the presumed different “natures” of men and women, and women’s innate “inferiority”. And yes, that happened: even Freud considered women biologically inferior in some respects. But again, women’s equality in the social and political sense, and in the opportunities they should be afforded (this also applies to transgender people) should have nothing to do with biological differences between the sexes. Probably some jobs will attract more members of one sex than of the other based on interests that may be innate, but again, that doesn’t militate against equality of treatment and opportunity.

Indeed, Scientific American, admitting things have gotten better about sex and gender equality, itself has a hard time connecting the “sex and gender spectrum” with women’s rights. In fact, the editorial admits in the penultimate paragraph that women and men are different biologically (my emphasis below). Rather than saying that biology has nothing to do with the kind of equality most of us want, they claim that the “gender spectrum” and “new science of sex and gender” will help turn people towards women’s rights. That’s dangerous, because it’s an admission that such rights in some way depend on biology. What if science finds out that there are innate differences between men and women, not just in chromosomes or appearance, but in behavior, interests, abilities, and preferences? To me that seems likely, but so what? With equality of opportunity and treatment, these differences become meaningless, and are of no value in determining how to treat someone socially and politically.

Here’s the editorial’s last paragraph with the damning admission:

Since Championnière wrote for Scientific American, women’s status has undeniably improved. Globally, in countries rich and poor, women have made strides in education and reproductive health and taken on more decision-making roles. It’s not enough, though. Economic barriers persist that prevent women from gaining access to capital and jobs and getting paid a decent wage for the jobs they do find. More energy must be devoted as well to researching how diseases affect the sexes differently—and to adapting medical treatments to women’s needs. For an interlinked world to thrive, women must be further empowered to hold up their half of the sky—an issue that should demand as much attention as climate change and nuclear arms control.

Change will only continue if the institutions that matter stay open to it. The assault on women’s health by Republican lawmakers in Washington looms as a formidable obstacle. Women’s well-being needs to be seen as an issue for everyone, regardless of political affiliation. The new science of sex and gender holds the prospect of helping shape public perception and policy making to acknowledge this reality.

Admirable sentiments, except that they say these views are supported by science. They’re not—or shouldn’t be.

The bit in bold is almost certainly an admission of innate biological differences between the sexes, unless sex-specific diseases are based purely on culture. (They can’t all be: the incidence of breast cancer is much higher in women than men!) But that doesn’t matter, either. If Scientific American wants to make a moral case for sex and gender equality, go to it. After all, I’m 100% for that. But don’t base the case on science, because by so doing your notion of “equality” becomes vulnerable to future discoveries in science that may actually reveal some of those “innate differences.” And is there any finding of innate differences that would make us consider the sexes unequal as groups, and deserving of different “rights”? I can’t think of any. So forget the biology!

Reader Amy sent me the link to this misguided editorial, and she was incensed, adding her take in the email (quoted with permission):

As a woman, I’m outraged about this.  Women’s rights matter because. . . a man was found to have a uterus and a woman was found to have some XY cells?  How about women’s rights matter because women matter???  (And if this is a “new” science how did I learn about people with single-X or XXY chromosomes in 1976?)
I concur.

184 thoughts on “Scientific American goes full Regressive Left, makes women’s rights depend on recognizing the “gender spectrum” and denying sex differences

  1. There is no such thing as “women’s’ rights.”

    There is also no such thing as “equal rights,” because this phrase constructs the idea of rights as something granted by government or society to groups. Even if the phrase “equal rights” is constructed long enough to state that all rights ought to be issued/protected ‘equally’, it is still an error to think this way.

    There are only individual rights, intrinsic to every instance of the species Homo sapiens sapiens.

    1. I disagree. The whole history of inequality in this country, and the drive to overcome it, rests on unenlightened notions about blacks, women, and gays, as classes, not having the right to vote, go to decent schools, get married, and so on. You can’t overcome that kind of inequality without asserting that entire classes of people have rights. And that’s the way it’s played out. Certainly the ability to vote or get married is indeed granted by government or society, and those rights have been denied TO GROUPS.

      1. The employment of group rights is widespread in the world, and inevitably produces social strife, conflict and ethnic or racial persecution. Recognizing the blacks as a group or race have been victimized is one thing; declaring that all of them have equal rights with every other individual in no way weakens the argument for equality before the law. Regarding individuals as members of a
        group (self-selected; you could choose to be a woman or an Asian or a Jew or a homosexual)is a dangerous divisive step in the direction of prejudice as well as towards the notion of Privilege based on group identity. Individual rights are the only kind that conform to and promote true equality and democracy by suppressing notions of group privilege or superiority. Punishing discrimination against someone for her skin color or religion or gender is protecting that individual’s rights as a member of society and a human being. Human rights defense does not separate people into groups.

      2. This discussion is a result of using collectives versus plurals.

        “those rights have been denied TO GROUPS”
        Those rights have been denied to to individuals, based on their membership in some group. I think that is what you (JAC) mean. I do not think you mean to imply that the collective group of homosexuals has been denied the right to a collective marriage with another group, such as violinists.

        “There is also no such thing as “women’s’ rights””

        Also wrong. The phrase “women’s rights” uses a collective in the possessive, but that is just a quirk of language, the meaning is individual. All women have rights. That becomes the plural possessive “women’s rights” much more easily than any circumlocution that uses the singular possessive “woman’s”.

        As long as people understand that collective nouns are used loosely there should be no confusion.

        Did you notice I used a collective noun loosely there: people? I might have been more carefully pedantic and said “persons”, which is a non-collective plural. “As long as persons understand that ..” Who actually talks like that?

        1. @ Professor Coyne …

          True, there is a useful process when identifying oppression: We can conceptualize a group and say, “anyone in that group is being oppressed by a law.” We can then fight to remove that law. This is not a fight “for equal rights,” it is a fight to purify government in service to freedom of the individual.

          There is no end to grouping. Striving to uncover every ‘inequality’ and passing new laws to assert such and such group has rights, is a Sisyphusian task, and enables group-think. It establishes classism, not destroys it. Better: focus on any law that “establishes a distinction” and annihilate it.

          “Group-think” (racism, sexism, etc.) will not become extinct unless we strongly assert the recognition that every person belongs to only one group at the root — the species, period.

          Biology and evolution are powerful tools in this. “Everyone has the same female ancestor,” and “we are all one species and white skin only evolved a blink of an eye ago—from black skin,” “how do you know you are Mongoloid/Negroid/Australoid/Caucasoid, what if you have genes from another race,” – these assert the commonality of every member of the species.

      3. Groups, and here the word, class (as in category) is likely the better term, cannot exercise rights. Only individuals may do so.

        The notion of a, “collective right” was asserted by anti-second amendment advocates who referred to the, “well regulated militia” language. They argued that the right to keep and bear could only be exercised by a well regulated militia, a group. This argument, which was formed well after the adopting of the second amendment was rejected by SCOTUS. The court opined that a collective right was only possible if individuals had rights.

        So, while true that classes of people have had rights denied, those rights adhere to individuals not classes.

    2. Equal rights is how people treat anything. The government, at best, gives people privileges.

      I teach my children manners. I teach them to share and play fair with everything. Don’t abuse people. Don’t abuse animals or plants or parts of our planet. That’s equal rights. It’s as simple as that.

      Whether it’s the ocean or women or a gay person or a Muslim. It’s the Zeitgeist of common people treating things fairly.

      The ocean deserves rights just like we do. A surfer keeps his feet off the coral. Why? Because it’s the f**king ocean and he lives on this planet like all of us and it’s worth treating with respect. That’s equal rights. No laws. No government required except for people who are not taught manners when they are children.

  2. I’ve subscribed to Scientific American for many years. The quality of the magazine has declined in recent years and this is a good example of it.

    1. On average human beings have slightly less than two legs. That’s why we can’t walk without falling over. We need sidewalks demolishing to make replace them with slightly inclined walkways better suited to our modern understanding of the leg spectrum.

          1. How I miss Pete and Dud!! Saw them live and close-up in a two-man show in SF in the early 70s. Laughed myself silly. Remember something about a pub called The Frog and Peach and someone not being a well woman: she hated going down in the well, oh, and eraseable underwear…

          2. Meaning there’s only one of the gay guy from Six Feet Under who went off to become a straight (and retributive) serial killer in Miami?

  3. Gender and sex used to be conflated or used interchangeably, now I’m not sure what gender even means. If it boils down to wearing make-up and dresses then that’s just fashion. So is gender just fashion now? A male in a dress is a woman, and a female with a buzz-cut is a man, and by mixing the two styles you become non-binary? We should just dispense with the word and refer to people by their sex-which does not change even with cosmetic surgery.

    1. I was going to comment on that. The terminology seems so hair-splitting that I am left a bit confused. Sex, gender, biological sex, male, female. These apparantly do not mean the same things to everybody.

    2. “Gender” was originally a grammatical term (in English, for example, for third-person pronouns). I first became aware of its use for broader purposes when courts and legal commenters (including feminist commenters) began using it in employment cases to distinguish workplace sexual harassment from sex (now “gender”) discrimination in hiring and promotion decisions.

      1. The etymological distinction between sex and gender is confused, inconsistent across sources,, and fraught with political danger. I like to think of sex as something you have and gender as something you are.

    3. It’s true that the labels can be kind of confusing. It might help to look at a famous case of someone named David Reimer who was born male and then had a terrible botched circumcision; at the time it was believed by his family’s advisors that gender was wholly cultural, and so they raised him as a girl: but he never felt “right” as a girl, and had a tragic end to his life.

      This caused a lot of people to rethink how gender was considered, with a desire to look further in to biological differences between gender identities and what may cause them to be different from biological sex.

      So, to people who are transgender etc, gender is not just fashion, even in the terms that you’re speaking of. What you’re really describing is gender presentation, which is just how you appear to others, and what they may view as your gender as a result of your looks or voice.

      Gender would instead be an inner identity that many feel they cannot control or change the way fashion can be controlled or changed. Similarly to being gay, lesbian or bisexual, people who were assigned the label “boy” at birth but, unlike David Reimer, find out that they are trans women, do not feel that they are able to choose how they most feel comfortable presenting, and their inner identity is strongly matched to being a woman.

    4. Sex is a physical determination whereas gender is a subjective declaration; in recent parlence. So, one may be physically male with male, female, fluid, non, or any of a long list used by Facebook. Numbered in mid 70s last I heard, iirc.

  4. If there are no biologically based sex differences in behavior, why is the prison population everywhere mostly male? Are we socializing boys to be criminal?

    1. Apparently we’re also socializing men to be sexually attracted mainly to women and women mainly to men … which would suggest that homosexuality is indeed a choice that could be reversed.

  5. I was terribly disappointed too see that the other day, though in truth it has been blowing around in the political wind for some time now. I abandoned my subscription some years back.

  6. Excellent commentary Jerry. The SciAm editorial rather smacks of the patronizing attitude towards women’s rights many men have (as Amy so pithily points out).

    There are differences between men and women, and it is partly by acknowledging these that we move to a place of equal rights and opportunities for all.

    For example, it seems to me that the SciAm approach could be used as an excuse to continue the US’s appalling lack of parental leave legislation. (As the ghastly Linda Sarsour points out, even Saudi Arabia does it better.)

    The Republican party in particular are fond of dissing the human rights legislation of places like Norway, Canada, and New Zealand, but the fact remains that overall those societies are more successful than the US.

    I saw a tweet yesterday that pointed out that at the time of the US Civil War, only 1.6% of USians were slave owners, but the leaders in the South managed to persuade a whole lot of people slavery was essential and to fight and die for the cause. It seems the judgment of whom to support politically hasn’t improved much since then.

    1. One of the interesting things about slavery in the south was the few who owned most of the slaves and yet so many whites went to war to protect the few. This is one of the secrets of the slave culture throughout the south. The lower class whites would never be able to own even one slave but the southern society gave them a higher status in the south. They did not have to do slave type labor and they were certainly treated better than a slave. In many ways it was a false sense of superiority that whites in the south had. They often pointed to the north and it’s inferior society where whites had to labor and work like slaves in the south, doing work that the poor southern whites would never do.

      1. I was about to write (snidely) that things haven’t changed much in the South. They have, but not enough.

        I think the “culture of honor” is another cultural disease, endemic, or at least associated with, the South.

        1. Yes, according to Sapolsky in Behave. He describes an experiment where the subjects are bumped into and called something rude as they walk down a hall to the lab. Then their testosterone levels are measured. “Massive increase” is the result for those subjects from the South, but not elsewhere.

          1. @ Steve Gerrard
            Do you concur with an interpretation that the rise in testosterone, or any fighting biochemistry, is a bad thing in such incidents?

  7. I read a little bit about the nonbinary gender spectrum not too long ago. I honestly didn’t understand it too well. Based on biological differences, it seems like sex is binary. The only thing I still don’t understand, though, is why transgender people are born as one gender into a physical body of the other gender/sex. I’ve read about and watched documentaries about transgender children, young adults, senior citizens, and everyone in between, and they all say that they were just born as the other gender that doesn’t match the physical body. That is interesting to me. Regarding the article, I don’t see how the spectrum makes the case for women’s rights any stronger. I have interests in the temperature dependent sex determination in certain reptiles and pay attention here and there to the gender spectrum/transexuality/asexuality etc.

    1. It is a fascinating thing, really, and its even more complicated b/c there are people who identify with both genders, others who identify with neither, and still others who oscillate between gender identities. The latter will move between feeling like a man, and after a year or two they feel like they are a woman.
      I cannot fathom how hard it is for these varieties of people, especially since the greater society does not accept them.

      1. a.k.a., dysphoria — which if it related to anything other than ‘gender’, would be considered pathological and addressed with therapy.

        1. So true. It’s the only delusional disorder that recommends altering reality to conform with the delusion rather than treating the delusion itself.

        2. Sometimes, therapy may be what is needed. Years ago, I read somewhere: “When I hear a girl say that she wants to be a boy, I do not think how to transform her into a boy, but what makes her want it; the same way, if a black girl wants to be white, I’d address why she feels like this.” Recently, I read about a Belgian trans man (Nancy “before”, Nathan “after”) who resorted to euthanasia after a botched reassignment surgery. It turned out that s/he had been brought up by a miserable mother who desperately wanted Nancy to be a boy and hated and abused her for being a girl. Now I think that Nancy internalized her mother’s hate and needed therapy to accept and love herself for who she was; instead, with the current trend of “everyone is the sex s/he says s/he wants to be”, the patient was given validation of the maternal toxic treatment, and ultimately destruction.

    2. Prenatal exposure to unbalanced levels of sex hormones appears to affect the brain of the fetus. Also, there are some people who lack receptors for “their” sex hormone in their brains and therefore the opposite sex hormone, which is present in a lesser level, has a relatively stronger influence.

      I have no idea whether people who want to be known as “nonbinary” have these abnormalities, though. You don’t have to get tested to decide to wear unisex clothes.

        1. Of course, as an XX female with intact estrogen receptors in her brain, I cannot understand how an XY female with no uterus can possibly “feel” female without monthly cramps, being talked over in meetings, and being catcalled on the streets of major cities. I have yet to see an explanation of that.

          1. If there isn’t one now, hopefully there will be eventually. I’m very curious about any additional details regarding this.

          2. Careful. Ophelia Benson and Germaine Greer both asked the same question and took severe virtual beatings from the Ctrl-left even though (IMO) it’s a good point.

            Fortunately, whatever the explanation, it is irrelevant to the question of whether trans gender people should have the same rights and opportunities as everybody else. The answer is “of course they should”.

          3. They deserve the same rights as everyone. Some of the things being demanded, however, either go beyond standard rights, or are perceived by many to infringe upon the rights of others.

          4. That they aren’t catcalled is discrimination. I expect this to be corrected with legislation.

          5. I’ve seen a few who are truly, truly ugly. I have to wonder if opposite-dressing is a way to deflect from that fact. “They hate me because I’m different” is easier on the ego than “They hate me because I’m ugly”

          6. Male features in a female are perceived as “ugly” (makes evolutionary sense).
            Once I saw in the sandbox a very ugly 3-yr-old girl in camouflage clothes. I thought, “This poor girl! And why have the parents dressed her like this, to make things even worse? Hopefully her looks improve when she grows.” It turned out that the child was not an ugly girl but a quite ordinary boy who for some reason had long hair!

          7. Well, one of those things is an inherent and inescapable biological fact, and the other two are socially determined. No amount of social engineering in the name of ‘equality’ will make the first one go away.

            Of course an ‘XY female’ (I guess that means a biologically male transgender?) could certainly experience the latter two if they dress convincingly enough.


          8. I’ve wondered what “feeling one’s sex” is like too, because I’ve never felt it either. (I’ve felt primary and secondary sex characteristics, of course, but that’s not what is meant.) I asked a female friend about this, and she said she was aware of herself as a woman, even “inside”, and without outside influence or instigation. (As it happens she’s had a hysterectomy and is cisgendered and pan/bisexual, but …)

            Perhaps some people have some sort of greater awareness of something that some of us don’t. I know I have greater awareness of my *feet* than most people.

  8. More energy must be devoted as well to researching how diseases affect the sexes differently

    Good idea. We could call specialists dealing in women’s reproductive issues gynaecologists. Why did nobody think of this until we discovered a womb in a 70 year old man? But wait, if this old guy has a womb then gynaecology can’t be for women can it?

    1. I thought that was a rather absurd statement too. I would have thought research on any disease would – certainly should – cover how it affects different genders along with different agegroups and different ethnicities.


  9. “More energy must be devoted as well to researching how diseases affect the sexes differently—and to adapting medical treatments to women’s needs.”
    Years ago, most pharmaceutical clinical trials were primarily on men; but that hasn’t been true for quite some time – regulatory authorities expect/require that clinical trials be on groups representative of the population expected to use the drug. It’s only common sense – the clinical trials are to predict the likely safety and efficacy of the drug in the target population.

    1. That’s a remarkable quote. Look at breast cancer: 16 times more money goes to breast cancer research than testicular cancer research, even though more people die from the latter than the former.

      1. That is not correct. Breast cancer is way more prevalent than testicular cancer. Breast cancer is in the top 2 in most countries, while testicular cancer does not reach the top 10. Where did you get this?

        1. Budgie smuggler conspiracies i imagine, if i may be flippant.
          I don’t even have to delve into stats but from what i see and hear around me, breast cancer is wreaking havoc.

        2. In 2017, approximately 272,000 women will get breast cancer. About one in 1 in 263 men will get testicular cancer.

          1. BJ, you’ve quoted a number for the women and a ratio for the men. Unless you put them in context we can’t compare them.


          2. I’m sorry, you’re absolutely right. It was prostate cancer, as Craw pointed out.

            It’s so easy to get prostates and testicles mixed up! For obvious reasons, the first being that it feels good to have both fondled…

            :Redd Foxx leaves the building:

          3. I’ve once discussed this on another site. Using colorectal cancer (prevalent in both sexes) as an “outgroup”, we concluded that prostate cancer is underprivileged not because of men-vs-women, but because of breasts-vs-distal-regions-of-digestive-and-genitourinary-tracts (nobody wants to talk about the distal regions).

      2. Testicular? Surely not. The rates for prostate cancer are close to those of breast cancer. Even lung cancer doesn’t kill 16 times as many.

    2. I was reading the book “Dicing with Death” by the statistician Stephen Senn.Apparently legislation was passed requiring trials to be carried out in a way that allows determination of whether a drug works differently (among other things) between women and men. Senn points out that this requires many more people to be recruited into a trial and is, he claims, largely ignored.

  10. And people say it’s only the right/conservatives that are anti-science.

    I am, sadly, not surprised in the least by this article. It seems all media but that of the right is now slowly hewing regressive. It’s a trend that is only hastening. Apparently, regressive ideology is the only acceptable one for media.

    Even when I watch a channel like Comedy Central, every single new show is regressive-leaning. Websites I used to frequent have gone full regressive. It’s an epidemic.

    1. It’s competition for a positional good.

      That, and group-think. Some like group-think. If you look closely I think you will find a comment here lamenting the presence of dissentient grit.

    2. The tenticles of anti science feminism have spreasd wide and deep.
      They will be hard to stop in this climate.

    3. “And people say it’s only the right/conservatives that are anti-science.”

      They do? IME the loony left has been always with us…You’re too young to remember all the happy horseshit embraced by the 60’s/70’s counterculture.* Currently think of anti-vaxxers, anti-GMO fanatics, militant vegans, placenta eaters…

      *Though even yet I have a soft spot in my heart for the counterculture. They/we got some things right…


      1. Allow me to rephrase: “and lefties say only the right is anti-science.”

        And this opinion regarding only the right having a problem with scientific truths extends not just to regressives, but to seemingly everyone who votes Democrat.

    1. A “third sex” in India, continually trotted out by SJWs to show how enlightened non-westerners are about gender.

      They fail to mention that hijra have traditionally been poor or orphan boys who were castrated then forced into prostitution.

  11. Very well put Jerry, human and individual rights should empathically not be based on biology, it is a moral question.
    It reminds me about the peaceful ‘noble savage’ that would/should need some protection. If they turn out not to be so peaceful and ‘noble’ after all, should we be allowed to exploit them as ‘inferiors’ or exterminate them as vermin? (of course not).
    Same about intelligence of races, although at present it is not really possible to determine the ‘innateness’ thereof, since the playing field is not level, it is very dangerous to base equal rights on the assumption of equal innate intelligence. What if, say, North East Asians turn out to be ‘innately’ more intelligent than, say, ‘blacks’ or ‘whites’, should we consider the latter groups to be entitled to less rights? (Of course not).
    And indeed the same applies to sexes. I think it could not have been put any better.

    [If I’m allowed a lagniappe: I noted that prostate cancer is kinda rare in females 😮 1)

    1. Ovarian cancer research also lags behind breast cancer research despite being one of the top cancer killers.

      Perhaps this is because men have breasts, but not ovaries 😉

      1. I think cervical cancer is nearly as common as breast cancer (at least in the RSA), and much more common than ovarian cancer. Luckily we have the HPV vaccine, which should reduce the incidence substantially, and I mean really substantially, like more than 90% (if the vaccine is rolled out widely, that is).
        And no, I do not really believe there is a sexual bias in cancer research. It is somehow a slur on all those cancer researchers (many of which are women, btw) to insinuate that.

        1. Cervical cancer is more common but ovarian cancer is more deadly. It has a 46% 5-year survival rate compared to cervical cancer, which has a 70% survival rate. The survival rate for breast cancer is 90%

          1. Well, in the USA there are more than 250.000 breast cancers, and the annual mortality rate is over 40.000. That is a mortality rate (different from 5 year survival of course) of close to 20%. In young and black women the mortality rate is much higher, close to 100% if under 30 (sadly my young wife fell into that category). But then those cases are not very common.
            In S.A. cervical cancer is nearly as common as breast cancer. Cervical cancer is one of those that can be healed if discovered early enough, that is why we do pap smears. However, the absolute mortality rates are frighteningly high. I do not have the numbers at hand, but they are certainly higher than the absolute mortality of the much less common ovarian cancer.

      2. I hope you’re joking there.

        I say that because ‘breast cancer’ is, I think, almost universally regarded as a women’s issue. I don’t know if men can even get it (I guess they can, because it seems you can get cancer almost anywhere) but I don’t think I’ve ever seen male breast cancer mentioned.

        So I think your implication there is quite incorrect.

        (My explanation for why breast cancer attracts all the attention would be just that it’s currently trendy. That, and maybe the fixation with female boobs that men and women both seem to share).


        1. “… but I don’t think I’ve ever seen male breast cancer mentioned.”

          Well, google it. I’ve actually seen it mentioned quite frequently. My anecdote trumps your anecdote! 😉

          Srsly, it’s a serious problem and it’s not at all uncommon to find it discussed in even the lay press.

          Women have a fixation with female boobs? I’d say any such “fixation” pales in regard to male fixation with their equipment…

          1. +1 Diane

            Btw, I have a close male friend who got breast cancer when we were in high school.

        2. No. Talking about anecdotes, breast cancer has taken more lives around me than any other cancer. Including a lady in which it went to the bones, and then doctors cut bone substance and then more and then more until she had little of the original skeleton remained.

  12. Equal rights do not depend on biology.

    That’s certainly true. But the legal enforcement of equal rights often depends heavily on biology.

    We humans all discriminate against each other constantly — in choosing our friends, our mates, the organizations we join — often on the basis of looks or intelligence or personality or ideology. But there are certain types of interpersonal discrimination — in employment, in housing, in the acceptance of business at places of public accommodation — that we prohibit. This has been due largely to the recognition of our tortuous history of discrimination against certain groups in those fields. It is also due to the recognition that it is inherently unfair to discriminate against people on the basis of certain biologically determined traits — traits, that is, they “had no choice about.”

    Thus, we prohibit discrimination on the basis of race and gender and ethnicity and handicap. (And also on the basis of religion, but the long history of invidious religious discrimination is, I think, because religion in this country has long served as a proxy for ethnicity — or at least for “foreignness.) You can, accordingly, refuse to bake a cake for a Nazi or a regressive leftist (if you can spot them), but not because someone is black or white or brown, or male or female, or Hispanic or Asian (or Protestant or Jewish or Muslim).

    We’ve seen how this has played out relatively recently regarding the broad acceptance of gay rights and same-sex marriage. That cause was aided greatly, I think, by the emergent scientific consensus that sexual orientation is not (pace the religious right and others) a mere “lifestyle choice,” but has a strong biological and genetic basis — that gay folk are, to put it colloquially, “born that way,” so it’s unfair to discriminate against them.

    What impact the contentions under consideration here, regarding the non-binary nature of sex and gender, might have on our legal traditions regarding the protection of equal rights isn’t a matter I’ve had occasion to think through yet.

  13. In between we have a “valley” of intersexes, but they’re of a low frequency.

    And what is most important biologically, intersex individuals are almost always sterile.

    Being sterile cannot in any way be considered a healthy normal condition in a species such as ours, for very obvious evolutionary reasons.

    And yes, that happened: even Freud considered women biologically inferior in some respects.

    Let’s call it as it is. Of course Freud included a lot of things that he shouldn’t have in his list of areas in which women are inferior, but that does not change the objective fact women are indeed biologically inferior in many respects, in particular the ones having to do with physical strength, speed, etc. Just as humans in general are inferior to many other species when it comes to those things.

    1. This is about equality in treatment and under the law, not in sports. Are you saying that intersex individuals and women shouldn’t have those kinds of “rights”. And are you implying that women are inferior in ANY measurable respect, or just some? IN which respects are women SUPERIOR? I may be misunderstanding you, but that comment smacks of sexism.

      1. I never said any of the things you implied nor do I have any sexist intent.

        Of course everyone should have the same rights.

        But we should also not distort objective reality in order not to offend people.

        I said that intersex individuals do not represent healthy expressions of normal variation. Objective biological fact. You are an evolutionary biologist, do I need to explain why sterile individuals (except in special circumstances such as some eusocial species) do not represent perfectly “normal” selectively neutral variation?

        Regarding inferiority of women: I never said that men are better than women at everything, I said that the differences in physical strength translate into inferiority when it comes to performing a rather long list of tasks. Again, an objective fact. When you are bigger, stronger and faster you can do many things better than those who are smaller, weaker, and slower. I don’t see how this is any way controversial. Because of that fact the set of things that men are better at is much larger than the set of things that women are better at. About the only thing I can think of that women do better than men is contortionism.

        1. Just off the top of my head, they calculate better.

          This discussion is getting distorted by the fact we use words in different ways. Take superior. Mike Tyson is superior to me, and perhaps to most of us, in strength, agility, speed, eye-hand coordination, balance, speed of reflexes, and visual acuity. Superior in that sentence is not a moral or value judgment. It would be a distortion to say I am conceding Mike Tyson is a better person. I am not.

          1. Yes, I think the terms “superior” and “inferior” in this discussion are poorly chosen. But let’s prepare for an onslaught of dictionary definitions to follow.

        2. I would agree there are very clear biologically inscribed differences between the sexes and that the article referred to above by the editors of the Scientific American is a disgrace. However I take issue with your refuting being sexist and with your actual argument against women. Its clear what you are getting at from the collective import of your various comments to this topic – that you mean men are superior in abilities and psychology etc to women and that they should be treated as such.
          I would say *wrong*
          –Firstly you exaggerate the degree to which women react on emotions as opposed to assessment of the situation. Intelligence analyses show that there is a lower percentage of women at genius level than men but fewer also at the low intelligence range- their intelligence graph is less disparate. You essentialise the sexes – Intelligence and aptitude traits are a tendency not a manufactured quality control given.
          –Secondly physical strength is no longer a given in advanced economies, although its still necessary or useful in some jobs – but then women are better in other advanced economy jobs that are also essential in the modern economy – unless you want to go back to the days of an agrarian economy.
          Moreover women in any industries requiring high levels of communication – are better at negotiating and facilitating group cohesion to reach a goal – which is why they quite often replace difficult male managers. This is part of the modern technological world which requires many levels of services, as well as technologies, infrastructure and industry.
          –Thirdly though women (as a generalisation) are in general less attuned in systematising and more attuned to human relationships than men, men are still emotional – often in competitive or aggressive forms. These are no more “rational” than other emotions – and are often tied in with status within the group. However aggressive outbursts are not seen as hysterical or irrational.

          –Fourthly – science depends on the interplay of material evidence and proof with theory. It injects exactitude via mathematical survey, measurement or calculation – and this has worked in the physical and most of the biological sphere. ***However men are inclined to rely on systematisation alone in the human sphere – a form of categorisation and tribal bias towards the ideology of a group and men prefer either ideology (which confers status or attractiveness) or religious/nationalist traditionalism (ditto).*** Thus many ideologies about human behaviour have no material evidence, let alone provide reliable prediction. Some assume that human behaviour can be reduced to mathematical rules – which it can’t except in extremely limited instances. Even probability calculations about strategic/military courses of action in specific situations – whilst they might be useful theoretically, do not reflect the reality of human options. In a military strike situation decisions rest not just on weapons and leaders but on states’ changing positions re the rest of the world and overall global stability, their foreign policy, the state of their economy, their internal social stability or political changes, global economic changes, global political, social, religious changes/ideas, natural disasters, personalities of leaders and important players, geostrategic factors etc.
          All these things are unpredictable and their outcome can only be judged as a painstaking overall assessment of likelihood involving many sources of information. Likewise what might have been a good strategy for the economy – one that would deliver a better (or even less bad) material security and opportunities to most people 30 years ago doesn’t apply now because technology, the financial sector, and global trade and security have changed. The current mode of feminism issues lots of dumb ideas – but most of those originate or are heavily influenced by male philosophers like Lacan, Saussure, Barthes, Derrida, Adorno, members of the Frankfurt school and so on.

        3. ” Because of that fact the set of things that men are better at is much larger than the set of things that women are better at.”

          GM, did you ever produce the apology that Jerry asked of you in response to your ” couldn’t even be a prostitute” slur at feminists? If so, I missed it.

          Do you have any idea of how sexist and bigoted your sweeping generalizations make you look?

          So the only important “set of things” is that which entails physical strength, speed and size? In just how much of your daily life do those sorts of situations arise? As a species and civilization we’ve largely progressed steadily away from might=right to a culture that relies on intelligence, social interaction and cooperation, coordination of effort, and addressing questions from many perspectives. Cavemen need not apply.

          1. Do you have any idea of how sexist and bigoted your sweeping generalizations make you look?

            Do you realize:

            1. That you are the one imagining (and making too) sweeping generalizations, not me

            Classic example here:

            So the only important “set of things” is that which entails physical strength, speed and size?

            Where did I ever say that? We’re working under the assumption that there are no differences between the sexes when it comes to purely mental characteristics. Then the question is restricted to areas where physical strength is relevant. And what I said is 100% correct — when there are differences, males are usually better.

            Pointing out that two statistical distributions are not the same is not at all equivalent to claiming that they do not overlap at all.

            2. How trying to get me banned for stating empirical facts makes you look?

            BTW, one of the major reasons Trump is president now is the behavior of clueless uppity detached from reality coastal liberals such as you. The sooner people like you understand it, the better it is for their own future well being.

            Your comment here:

            In just how much of your daily life do those sorts of situations arise?

            Clearly reveals that.

            Your own life might not involve anything that requires physical strength. Because you have outsourced all such activities to others. But that does not in any way mean that nobody does those things, they just happen out of sight and out of mind with respect to you.

            BTW, this is also why rabid feminism is generally a disease of the rich and upper middle class women, not of the working class and poor ones.

            The working class ones are very much aware of what exactly their male partners are contributing in their relationships because they don’t have the money to pay various contractors to carry out all those unpleasant maintenance tasks that make daily life possible for them.

            In contract, the upper middle class and rich ones can insulate themselves from the physical realities of the world they live in and mentally move to la-la land.

          2. “…the behavior of clueless uppity detached from reality coastal liberals such as you.”

            ” Because you have outsourced all such activities to others. But that does not in any way mean that nobody does those things, they just happen out of sight and out of mind with respect to you.”

            “…the upper middle class and rich ones can insulate themselves from the physical realities of the world they live in and mentally move to la-la land.”

            Is there some online profile of someone you think is me somewhere, or do you just enjoy making (disparaging) assumptions out of whole cloth?

      2. GM is a recidivistic purveyor of the “naturalistic fallacy” — though sometimes he branches out into the “is/ought.”

          1. See here and here for examples of GM engaging in the naturalistic fallacy.

            He’s been called out for it in other threads by other commenters here as well.

          2. That’s because you often commingle the two, in an effort to derive what’s right and moral from what is natural. I’m crediting you with doing this intentionally as an argumentation gambit, rather than out of ignorance or inadvertence.

          3. GM: “Of course that does not mean such people should not be treated with respect and dignity….”
            So, an explicit refutation of the Naturalistic Fallacy.

            GM: “… men want to be powerful is so that they can have access to better mating opportunities. That’s how real life works.”
            So, a statement of a basic concept of evolutionary biology and EP, with no judgement as to its desirability.

            It seems, rather, that you are committing the Moralistic Fallacy.

        1. “GM is a recidivistic purveyor of the “naturalistic fallacy” — though sometimes he branches out into the “is/ought.” ”


          I’m going to have to dig up some Dawkins for him, the many occasions on which Richard has patiently explained that just because evolutionary biology defines species success in one way, it’s far from the way he chooses to live his life and how he believes humanity should act.

    2. Women can birth children — not bad for the “inferior” sex.

      What’s next, you gonna cough up another diatribe about how fugly feminists are?

      1. Well, I do not know if it is innate, but if you are male, never get into an argument (an emotional argument, I should amend) with a woman. As a male you will come second best in about 99% of cases. Talk about superiority!

        1. ” Because of that fact the set of things that men are better at is much larger than the set of things that women are better at.”

          GM, did you ever produce the apology that Jerry asked of you in response to your ” couldn’t even be a prostitute” slur at feminists? If so, I missed it.

          Do you have any idea of how sexist and bigoted your sweeping generalizations make you look?

          So the only important “set of things” is that which entails physical strength, speed and size? In just how much of your daily life do those sorts of situations arise? As a species and civilization we’ve largely progressed steadily away from might=right to a culture that relies on intelligence, social interaction and cooperation, coordination of effort, and addressing questions from many perspectives. Cavemen need not apply.

        2. That’s interesting. A comment I already posted in a previous discussion appears here inexplicably. Please ignore this and Jerry, if you see this, please delete this second posting.

          nicky, I know you’re trying to be humorous, but the stereotypes you portray are actually quite pernicious in the long run.

          1. I’ve long been in awe of that particular distaff ability (and try to be present as often as possible when it happens).

          1. female asceticism doesnt get publicity. Historically “good” women stay anonymous. All those Tibetan nuns who set themselves on fire?

      2. Women outlive males by several years. Tha ratio of male to female babies tends in the male ‘advantage; by adulthood this advantage has disappeared, and in the over 79’s females dominate. Women are better survivors. Talk about superiority.

      3. How many males you know that take care of children and a household, while having a successful professional career? How many females? Talk about superiority!

        1. And yet you don’t see a lot of women with kids in the kind of positions that require full dedication and hard work beyond the 9-5…

      4. How many males are autistic, how many females? Well,even if we do not include the Aspies, since often such valuable contributors, what is the ratio? Talk about superiority.
        [I’ll stop now, because I do not want to infringe Da Roolz, but I can think of a few more]

      5. Women can birth children — not bad for the “inferior” sex.

        True, but it is also true that mammals are the only lineage where parthenogenesis has never been observed (with one notable exception some 2000 years ago)

        1. One notable exception? Bullocks, there are dozens of (demi-,semi-)gods born of virgins, from Buddha to Horus. Albeit admittedly less common nowadays. The real miracle is that the issue of these virgin ‘conceptions’ was male instead of female. That latter fact should give us fodder for some suspicion.

      6. Women can birth children — not bad for the “inferior” sex.

        True, but it is also true that mammals are the only lineage where parthenogenesis has never been observed (with one notable exception some 2000 years ago)

    3. Your statements whenever Dr Coyne posts on
      things feminine or woman – entailed, Mr GM,
      and a couple of others here ( I am looking at
      you, BJ and craw) on W E I T are exactly why
      I quit. I quit commenting.

      It is useless to try to provide the three of
      you, and perhaps others, with evidences to the
      contrariness of any of your positions.
      Extreme or otherwise. Such as who says
      the speed and the physical strength in and / or
      of men is superior ? Whatever .that. is ? !
      Superiority ? !

      Maybe not – so – fast and maybe not – so –
      muscular are … … w h o a, dog – forbid ! … …
      The Norm ! And that quick and brutal areN’T !
      that quick and brutish are, instead, … …
      The Other / The AB(normal) !
      (reference, eg: Dr Rosalind Miles:
      The Women’s History of the World. April y2001)

      So it is far more useful — as in
      good riddance, not ? — to me to quit.

      Bye !

      1. No, Blue, please stay! We need you here!!
        Don’t let these guys bully you out. You are not alone in feeling annoyed/pissed off by some of the above-mentioned XYs.

        1. I second that (not leaving us), and sometimes they are kinda funny too. Eg. GM could make a study about the ugliness of feminists along the Galton lines. Looking forward to that!

          1. Oh, that would be really fun.

            We take pictures of female graduate students and faculty members in Gender Studies departments from multiple universities, and we also do the same for female graduate students and faculty members in other departments, we show those to a large collection of males and ask them to rate their attractiveness.

            Then we see what we get.

            The problem is, if we get the expected result, would we be able to publish that, and what would happen to us if we do publish it…

        2. Yes, please, do not quit because of this! We’re never going to like EVERYBODY else’s comments, but I’d implore people not to flounce and leave because of that. I do my best to keep discussion civil, but of course I can’t ban or whip everybody who says something that I (or someone else) doesn’t like. It’s hard enough to keep the posts coming and the discussion reasonably civil; I can’t make everyone happy with the discussion. I try to ban nastiness and incivility, and outright lunacy or annoying people, but this is a place for discussion.

          So I’d urge you to reconsider, please.

          1. I really fail to see what it is that I have said that would trigger anyone whose skin is not several standard deviations thinner than the norm in such a way that he or she would feel they want to leave forever.

            I haven’t said anything with the intention of insulting anyone, I’ve only stated what I consider to be facts.

            If facts are offensive to you, my postings here are very far from being your most serious problem.

          2. It would be nice if, like other posters who have misrepresented and insulted other, she had to apologize. I’n no telling you what you have to do (it’s your blog, after all!) but she provided absolutely zero answers to the points made, and did nothing but insult multiple people.

        3. Hang in there with us, Blue; we’d miss your comments … and (at least for me personally, anyway) your artistic orthography! 🙂

        4. Is disagreement (and not even directly, as she rarely comments) now “bulling”? Is this supposed to be a feminist safe space now?

        5. Blue, do stay! A number of us agree with you and we need you or pretty soon we’ll all have to leave. The male superiority here lately has been soul-destroying.

          1. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, stereotypes usually exist for a reason.

            One of them is that females are more sensitive than males.

            So what do we see in this thread that relates to this stereotype?

            One female says she is leaving because she feels too offended by what is posted, then another one says that the “male superiority” on display here will soon drive her away too.

            What a way to show how wrong the stereotypes are…

            Another stereotype is that females are generally more gossipy, manipulative and prone to resorting to underhanded methods to achieve their goals. Which is why in languages in which nouns are gendered the word for snake is usually female.

            Who is deplatforming speakers left and right instead of debating them head on?


            Who is disabling comments on blogs and videos?


            Who is trying to get me banned from this blog?


            Once again, what a great way to fight negative stereotypes…

          2. “Another stereotype is that females are generally more gossipy, manipulative and prone to resorting to underhanded methods to achieve their goals. Which is why in languages in which nouns are gendered the word for snake is usually female.”

            Thank you, Mr. Science. If that doesn’t prove your assertions, I can’t imagine what does.

      2. Such as who says the speed and the physical strength in and / or of men is superior

        Who says that?

        The IAAF, FINA, IWF, and every other sporting organization I can think of.

      3. Blue much as you speak of providing evidence (when it’s not too much labor for you), I’ve never seen it happen. You only offer vague platitudes and condescension, and only when it comes to feminism.

        Now, I agree that GM often has regressive views when it come to the sexes, but your comments almost never provide counterpoints beyond condescension. I wish you would make more fruitful contributions.

        And perhaps you should not insult posters based on previous posts of theirs that you didn’t enjoy. That is quite a fallacy if I’ve ever sen one, and a lame attempt to revoke credibility from the poster.

    4. Differentiating athletic ability is (or can be) genetics, not gender.

      I have a 6’7″ wingspan and can point my toes like a Bolshoi ballerina. Someone who trains exactly like I do but with three inches less wingspan and poor ankle flexibility will never beat me at swimming…regardless of gender.

      I am sure you can think of hundreds of other sports examples. Labeling someone as slower or weaker doesn’t prove anything interesting.

      1. If they can have weight classes in boxing and wrestling, why can’t there be height classes in basketball and volleyball? I never understood that.

        1. Probably because those sports have evolved positions that take advantage of the different strengths and weakness of people of different height.

          The people who play the 5 well are not the people who play the 1 well, and vice versa

        2. Yes, good point.
          Luckily (for our smaller ones) there are some sports were being small is an advantage, such as gymnastics. Also the Mountain Kings in the Tour were generally small wiry men. And what about horse racing an jumping? I also noted that several of the greatest batsmen in cricket are on the smaller side of the spectrum.

          1. Likewise, there should be gymnastics for tall people.

            Also, an age limit. I think it’s horrible to exploit 14 year olds.

  14. It seems to me that there is not so much overlap between intersex people and trans people. Intersex persons are biologically ambiguous, due to some genetic or developmental abnormality, in a relatively clear fashion. They may end up living as one gender or another, but no one can doubt that they don’t fit cleanly into the normal binary categories.

    Trans people seem to be mostly people with a clear biological sex who wish to identify with the other sex. (There are also those who don’t want to identify solely with either sex.) Of course, at some level they must have biologically different brains compared to ‘cis’ people, but brains are too scientifically murky and we don’t normally use them in defining biological sex.

    So, while everyone deserves the same basic rights, it strikes me as kind of disingenuous when trans advocates bring up intersex cases. Intersex cases prove that sex is not a metaphysically fundamental binary. But most trans cases are people who would fit well in the binary classification except that they want to be on the other mode.

    1. Intersex seems to be tossed into the mix to cause confusion. The controversy is more about transgender rights, which now seems to be the number one issue for third wave feminism. What began as a debate on gender identification for a small minority has evolved into an orthodoxy which denies the very existence of sex differences.

    2. Intersex conditions are quite rare, and most of them are relatively minor. Most intersex individuals choose to live as one sex (gender??) or the other.

      Trans activists have latched onto intersex as a prop to their anti-science constructs.

  15. “And is there any finding of innate differences that would make us consider the sexes unequal as groups, and deserving of different ‘rights?’ I can’t think of any. So forget the biology!”

    Excellent, and same goes for any racial or ethnic differences, innate or otherwise, that might be found.

  16. SciAm long ago went from a serious science pub, to something you flip through while on the toilet. Today, it went to something in the toilet.

  17. I must have been sick throughout my education in mathematics, but I don’t remember binary ever meaning more than two. Since when can a binary of biological sex include male, female, and multiple DSD’s? This is like saying hair color is a binary because some hair colors are uncommon.

    1. People who don’t identify as either sex call themselves “non-binary.” That leaves the possibility open for an infinite number of variants.

  18. Scientific American’s editorial is not as philosophically unsound as suggested. Its key point (we’re not really distinctively different, hence equal rights) is actually embedded, implicitly, in Coyne’s own argument. The reason we supposedly don’t need biology to justify equal rights for men and women is that we judge all humans—whatever their sex and gender, and ethnicity, since we’re at it—to be sufficiently similar. But what we are, and what makes us similar, is ultimately derived from our biology. That our biological differences are considered so trivial that they should be altogether irrelevant with regard to our rights is a subjective assessment, and as such subject to change. That’s why some people fear biological differences and why, as a consequence, often resort to all kinds of mental contortions to pretend they do not exist.

    To further the point, one could argue that humans and chimps, for instance, are not sufficiently different to justify not granting chimps rights equal to ours. The reason we are not inclined to do so is grounded in biology. We understand that the biology of chimps precludes them from having the level of sentience and intelligence common to humans, hence we conclude that it would be absurd to grant them equal rights. But this is a subjective assessment as well—a moral sentiment that could well evolve towards either more or fewer rights for chimps.  

    Thus the refutation of Scientific American’s argument should not be that biology is irrelevant, but that our evolved biology has made us all so similar in what we consider the essence of being human, that we all deserve the exact same rights.

    Coyne pretty much made the same point towards the end: “…is there any finding of innate differences that would make us consider the sexes unequal as groups, and deserving of different “rights”? I can’t think of any. So forget the biology!” But I’d rather put it this way: Let’s embrace the biology, and celebrate that it has not made us, by any stretch, different enough to justify different rights.

    1. I prefer not to be called “Coyne” on my own site, as it seems impersonal. I appreciate your comment, but “Jerry” will suffice, or, if you wish, as my alter ego Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus), or PCC(E).

      1. Sorry Jerry. It was my first comment here, so I didn’t know. I’ll certainly keep it in mind next time! Thanks for your blog.

    2. Thus the refutation of Scientific American’s argument should not be that biology is irrelevant, but that our evolved biology has made us all so similar in what we consider the essence of being human, that we all deserve the exact same rights.

      Coyne pretty much made the same point towards the end: “…is there any finding of innate differences that would make us consider the sexes unequal as groups, and deserving of different “rights”? I can’t think of any. So forget the biology!” But I’d rather put it this way: Let’s embrace the biology, and celebrate that it has not made us, by any stretch, different enough to justify different rights.

      Welcome to WEIT, Cdel. Great first comment! (Great comment, period..)

  19. I’ll believe that sex is non-binary when men start getting pregnant.

    (Even a little bit pregnant would do 😉

  20. Again, too much stuff to cover. Scientific American is not merely wrong. I see again a piece of pseudoscience with an authoritarian agenda. They imply that sexuality was choice, as is fashionable today. They are asserting cognition, association-making, categorisation (“core of cognition”) can be controlled conciously, perhaps cultivated, and that the reader should do so, along some political ideology. This is what could be described, charitably, as fascistoid.

    They further strawman others. Nobody of repute believes that biology is digital and that binary means two discrete, mutually exclusive states. I only read the term “binary sexes” from the postmodern anti-science crowd who sell their culture-only extremist position as balanced, and who are on a jihad against scientists (and everyone else) who suggest nature and nuture play a role in tandem and are hard to separate. They call that “scientism” or “biologism”. This intellectual dishonesty should be added to list against Scientific American.

    The vast majority of humans are attracted to one sex (hetero- or homosexually), out of two. Unless that’s socially constructed, too, there needs to be some biological basis for that, and of course, there is. Humans are a social species, and it was always important to know with whom you are dealing with and “what” you are. You can have l’amour à trois, but reproduction relies on two sets of genes. This makes the whole affair relational to the “other”, relevant for everything beginning with courtship, dealing with rivals and mating. Clearly, the two is written all over it.

    For that and to get through any day alive, we are equipped with a cognition, which adds a second biological reason. The overwhelmingly bimodal distribution of traits (along sexes) releases two main categories. The two sets of correlations have of course common causal origins, but that’s not what is on our mind. We pick up that those people who have higher voices, have a certain physique, can get pregnant and so forth. Categories arise out of an associciation-making faculty. It’s not exact, but the basis good for rules of thumb “Don’t swim in a pond with the scaly-thing with the big teeth.”

    There are many other categories in use, for example children are sorted away into their own pair of girl and boy. Aside of making up categories, we can effortlessly have special cases, like three-legged cat. Also, categories aren’t oriented along a spectrum. That strikes me as postmodern physics appropriation. The categories can be such things as “base level”. Men and women appear to be base level, i.e. most salient. There are other pairs, girl/boy or husband/wife. That’s language dependent, too. In German, you cannot use “male” or ” female” on humans, for example, but it is the implied superordinate level above all these, too.

    Categories, including male and female, or men and women, are graded, and fuzzy (Rosch, 1970; see updated proposals in Hofstadter & Sander, 2013). There’s some good evidence that categories are also not static, but are like perception, dynamic and context dependent. Membership in a category is not always clear and persistently the same, especially the further away the member is from the category’s prototype (think “best/most typical example”) That means, the binary-as-digital strawmen is not accepted anyway.

    Ancient Greeks in theatre or trans people can change their gestalt in order to be perceived as the opposite sex. The relational part strongly locks down the “binary” even here. What they do is, first, recognize the salient categories that exist, base level appears to be women and men. So much for spectrum! And then, secondly, change whatever they can change in their gestalt to, third, launch themselves as close as possible to the opposite prototype. That’s called transitioning.

    The changeable, cultural and prototypical elements that arise out of the sexual landscape produce their own phenotypical/behavioral/gestalt prototypes too (we call them masculine or feminine), which obey the same rules as everthing else: some birds are more typical than others. These prototypes are “best examples” in a category, i.e. womanly woman, masculine men. Applied to sexes, this seem to be what gender “scholars” call gender. Butler’s performativity fits the general idea. Typical members of a sex do certain things (or are certain things). Then, there’s the relational aspect, what is hyped up as feminine is what is far away from what men do, what is masculine is what is most typical for men, while most untypical for women. All of this “constructs” genders in a sense. But by that approach, everything is constructed, in a trivially true sense.

    In the end, Scientific American’s article is authoritarian (appeal), ignorant (categorization without consulting cognitve science), inconsistent (assuming two, yet argueing not two), bigoted (attraction as choice), dishonest (strawmen binary). Perhaps worst of all, it’s postmodern: the “spectrum” is typical postmodern appropriation of physics. Fuzzy categories and discontinuous nature, or “constructing” categories are trivially true in one reading, but profound-sounding rubbish in another.

  21. It’s silly to talk about “sea” and “land”. I’ve been down the beach. Sometimes sea, sometimes land, sometimes muddy. This crucial insight will affect the design of the “cars” and “ships” of the future.

  22. Bimodal, yes, but not binary. A binary code does not consist of 99% of 1 and 0, and a few 3 and 4 here and there.

    1. On the other hand, there are fluctuations in the signals used to implement some binary codes, and they get “rounded” – to ensure stability. No need to do that with human traits.

  23. Reblogged this on Hal Conick's blog and commented:
    Great post by University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne responding to a misguided op-ed from Scientific American. The case for women’s rights is a moral argument, not a biological argument.

  24. Let’s grant ex hypothesi (and I do believe it, but that’s irrelevant) that there are more than two human sexes. How does it follow from this that there are no sex differences? I’ve never understood that argument. For example, imagine a case of complete hermaphrodism: a male has part P, a female part V and the hermaphrodite has P *and* V. (This can be extended to any body parts one likes, etc.) How is that not a difference?

    1. Well, it situational — depending on what suits those people there are differences and there are no differences.

      Thus we have some very curious situations, such as the classic one about women in STEM.

      We have:

      Claim 1. There are and can be no differences between women and men

      Claim 2. We need more women and science because…

      Now if Claim 1 was true, it would not matter at all whether the people working in STEM were 100% male, 50% male, or 100% female. There are no differences, right? So who cares? The goal is to advance science, and if there are no differences, then that goal is equally well served by any sex ratio.

      So to get away from that “slight” problem, Claim 2 is “supported” by the claim that women provide a different perspective, which is why they have to be equally represented (which doesn’t even follow — a different perspective can be provided by a small minority in a group — but let’s set that aside). But that directly contradicts the Claim 1, that there are no differences.

      Then, in order to escape that objection, the discussion moves into social constructionism and epistemological relativism.

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