The termites are dining well in the world of science, for the two most prestigious science journals in the world, Nature and Science, are both going woke. And by that I mean that they’re buying into tenets of Critical Theory Wokeness that are palpably unscientific.
There are two scientific conclusions denied by ideologues because they’re politically inconvenient. The first is that there are behavioral differences between males and females that are both partly genetic and the result of natural selection. The second is that sex is “binary.” Both of these factual statements are denied on the mistaken grounds that, if they be true, they would mandate sexism and transphobia. That’s not true, of course. As I’ve written many times, human culture has often involved overcoming our evolved biological features in the service of morality and equality. Recognizing that biological sex is binary, for example, shouldn’t fuel transphobia, and scientists should work to make sure it doesn’t. Nevertheless, the idea that sex is nonbinary and men and women are, on average, identical in their behaviors and preferences have become conventional views in progressive politics. If you deny them, you’re toast.
I won’t reiterate why biological sex (defined in animals as males having small gametes and females large ones) is binary in most animals; you can see my defense of this claim here, here, here, here and here. And if it weren’t true, biology would be in deep trouble: every paper that looks at differences between the sexes would have to be scrapped because “sexes” are now seen by the Woke as a social construct, not a biological reality. Indeed, all science journals, including Nature (as we see below) tacitly accept the binary nature of sex.
Gender is a bit less binary, as there are individuals who identify as neither male nor female, even though their biological sex is clear. But gender is still strongly bimodal, as the vast majority of individuals identify as either male or female. But let’s leave gender aside and talk about sex, which is the issue when we come to biology.
As the tweets below show, and as discussed in the Quackometer article below the tweets, Nature is starting to put disclaimers in its reportorial section about both sex and gender being nonbinary. Meanwhile, in the refereed scientific reports that have made the journal selective and famous, the researchers blithely talk about sex as a binary. The two departments of the journal really need to get their act together.
The reason for the waffling, as the article from Quackometer speculates, is “ideological capture”. But more on that later. Let me just add that the denial of the binary in animal (and human) sex has also been promulgated by three evolution societies, as I wrote about here. It’s truly shameful when scientific organizations have to deny truth so as not to anger easily offended ideologues. And it’s equally shameful for Nature to do this.
The kerfuffle was brought to my attention by Matthew, who simply sent me the following tweets. They tell the tale. The first tweet, from writer Jesse Singal, links to the Quackometer article that summarizes Nature‘s confused wokeness:
What's going on at Nature is worrisome. It is INCREDIBLY creepy that whenever sex comes up, the publication feels the need to print that parenthetical, like some sort of mantra to ward off wrongthink. This is not normal.https://t.co/GoIehi6R9h
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) September 3, 2020
Below: in one article, Nature both denies binary sex and then acts as if it’s real:
This is just embarrassing for @nature.
They report on science that shows sex needs to be taken into account with covid, but still cop out and vomit unscientific nonsense that sex is "neither binary nor fixed."
Do they also report on Bigfoot? pic.twitter.com/S0svdJwwJK
— BundlebranchblockMD👁️👁️ (@Bleedinheart2MD) September 3, 2020
You can see the same confusion here in two articles. Front of the journal = wokeness; meat of the journal (the articles) = acceptance of sex as a binary:
This 2019 @nature article on same-sex sexual behaviours clearly slipped through the net.https://t.co/6380mMl1Um pic.twitter.com/JyGUQif57z
— Siôn Jones (@sion___jones) September 3, 2020
But wait! There’s more!
cos it's not hard to find the editor of nature treating sex as a binary when highlighting papers in her journal https://t.co/pKJKeun4gw
— .. -.. .. — – (@LeithMotive) September 3, 2020
Now the summary and analysis from Quackometer in an article written by Andy Lewis (click on screenshot). This is a very good piece that captures the insanity of Nature’s behavior.
Here’s the disclaimer Nature puts in its news articles (quotes from Quackometer are indented). The journal not only “recognizes” that neither sex nor gender are binary, but doesn’t even define gender. I’ve put the disclaimers in bold:
In July 2020, a news item reported on “The gender gap in cystic fibrosis”. The article noted how women appear to have poorer outcomes than men, and die earlier,
A comprehensive analysis in 1997 of more than 21,000 people with cystic fibrosis in the United States showed a median life expectancy of 25.3 years for women and 28.4 for men1. The bacteria associated with lung decline and early death were also found to be present in women earlier than in men.
It then declared “(Nature recognizes that sex and gender are not the same, and are neither fixed nor binary.)”
Why it has put this odd disclaimer is not made clear. It makes no sense. The article is about differences in outcomes for people with different sexes (male and female). The article is quite clear about this. It talks of how “females could have a poorer response to  treatment”, and talks of genetic differences between the sexes. The article makes sense if you accept the common use of the word gender in the article title as a synonym for sex – maybe to assuage the more squeamish American audience.
But the odd disclaimer wants to make it clear that sex and gender are not the same. What the meaning of ‘gender’ is in the article then is not made clear. And it goes on to say that neither sex or gender are not binary, despite the whole article being based on the binary differential experience of women and men, boy and girls, males and females to the course of cystic fibrosis and its treatments.
An article published in August 2020 declares, “Sex differences in immune responses that underlie COVID-19 disease outcomes”. An editorial on this paper noted, “The researchers noticed that male participants’ typical immune response to infection differed from that of female participants, which could explain the more severe disease often observed in men.”
It then went on to add a similar disclaimer, ”(Nature recognizes that sex and gender are neither binary nor fixed.)”.
Who, exactly, is Nature here? The scientific papers treat sex as a binary, while the editorials make these ludicrous disclaimers.
Well, you know why the editors are doing this. Andy calls it “ideological capture”:
The only explanation for these strange and incorrect statements is ideological capture. These sentences are mantras of gender ideology – an ideology that claims that sex is not a reliable classification for humans. It is too vague, mutable and subjective to talk about reliably. The only reliable classification is ‘gender identity’ – whatever that is. This fashionable nonsense arose out of postmodernist inspired philosophies in ‘gender studies’ and sociology. As with much of these philosophies, it seeks to undermine meaning in words, to break apart and deny objective knowledge and classifications in an attempt to undermine ‘oppressive power structures’. It is a strictly political philosophy with activist aims that denies science can obtain reliable and objective knowledge and any such claim to knowledge is merely the speech of a dominant and oppressive class – usually white, heterosexual men.
But sex is, of course, fundamental to biology. No peer reviewed biology paper would characterise sex (at least in oogamous organisms like us) as not being ‘binary’, not being a material fact, and being mutable (except in sequential hermaphrodites). We cannot understand reproduction except in terms of its strict binary nature based on the fusion of two highly asymmetric haploid gametes. It is startling that Nature feels it needs to deny these things.
But Nature has form. Indeed. an opinion article published in Nature is an ideological favourite and a classic of this pseudoscientific genre.
In 2015, Claire Ainsworth published an article “Sex Redefined – The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that.” It is an exemplar of the ideological and denialist approach to sex.
I can’t tell you how annoying that I, as an erstwhile researcher in organismal biology, find this. It’s the denial of science to further ideology. And it’s the same madness we saw in the Lysenko episode, in which classical genetics was denied by a Russian charlatan in the service of Soviet ideology. Lysenko’s bogus theory of “vernalization”—really a “blank slate” idea in which inherited changes in crop production were influenced not by genes, but by environmental treatment—resulted in the death of millions by famine, both in Russia and in China, which also adopted Lysenko’s bogus theories.
Nobody is going to die from Nature‘s risible position on sex, but it will have consequences, as Andy notes:
This Nature article did not redefine sex as the title promised, but stripped it of meaning and rendered it entirely subjective.
Once you have done this, then you can dismantle women’s rights, sports and spaces (as sex is not meaningful), reject sexuality (because a person’s sex is not a reliable object of your desire) and dismantle protections and measurements to ensure fairness and representation for women in business and politics.
You also remove the ability for science to understand how your sex might have material and significant impact on your health and medical treatments.
And that is why this ideological capture of Nature is so worrying and depressing.
How can this be stopped? I don’t know if it can, but scientists can certainly speak out against this nonsense. For if it continues, every paper that separates organisms by sex will have to carry caveats. And it can’t just be humans, as sex is no less binary in humans than in other animals, for sex has to do not with how one “identifies”, but with biology. If Nature were true to its own editorial position, there would be no more mention of sex anywhere in the journal without the ridiculous caveats we saw above.
Scientists of the world, unite!
58 thoughts on “The science journal Nature goes woke, claiming that both sex and gender are nonbinary”
“Woke is just being polite to people” – James O’Brien, an ill-informed British radio presenter.
Anyways, next up at Nature, “how Lysenko was misunderstood by the Capitalist West”. 🙂
Excellent reply, I do not have words for this ridiculous and sad nonsense.
Someone should inform O’Brien that polite is being polite to people.
I subscribe to Nature. I will protest. For an internationally renowned science journal to be stooping to nonsense as described here is plainly and simply corruption.
I’ve read this article’s second paragraph several times, but this line still puzzles me: ‘The second is that sex is “nonbinary.”’
Should’t this be ‘The second is that sex is binary’? It’s meant to be a statement which the woke ideologues deny – not one they support.
Yes, you’re right, and another reader also called that to my attention. It was an error, and I’ve fixed it, thanks.
Has anyone read this book?
Yes, I read it, and it makes the case that both sex and gender are binary. It’s a mixed bag, with a lot of digressions that distract from the main points.
On whether sex is binary and gamete size. Is having or not having the SRY gene sufficient to make sex binary? Does the SRY gene ensure a small gamete and thus a male sex?
I’m a bit confused about this.
If I understand correctly, the SRY gene encodes a transcription factor (a protein that regulates which genes are turned on or off) which, when present, causes activation of testosterone signaling. The testosterone signaling then has a whole bunch of cascading effects on the developing organism, including the formation of testicles (instead of ovaries) and, eventually, formation of small gametes in said testicles.
In the vast majority of cases, having SRY = male, but not always. In androgen insensitivity syndrome, the person has SRY, but a mutation causes their body to be insensitive to testosterone, so they develop as female.
BTW, there are many ways to determine sex in the animal kingdom, and many have nothing to do with testosterone or SRY. In fruit flies, sex is determined by the number of X chromosomes per cell. XX = female, X = male. The Y chromosome has nothing do do with sex determination, although it is necessary for male flies to make functional sperm.
My old Evolutionary Professor, Dr Rattenbury at Auckland Uni in the 60s, described those who studied Drosophila as ‘Drosophilosophers’, much to our amusement as he had great difficulty in pronouncing the word.
I like that. I think PCC is a Drosophilosopher.
And that is meant as a compliment.
Those of us who study sea urchins and starfish are echinodermatologists.
Wow. When I did my PhD in Drosophila genetics, I was taught to cross male and female fruit flies together to obtain progeny, and I was taught to distinguish males and females based on observable traits such as pigmentation and shape of external genitalia.
Little did I know that my PI and my thesis committee and everyone else around me were wrong, all wrong! Sex is non-binary! I was unwittingly doing horrible violence to my flies by misgendering them! What if some of the flies I so blithely identified as male were really female, or non-binary, or genderfluid? Or vice versa? Oh, the shame, the shame! /curls up on the floor, weeping
In all seriousness, this performative wokeness is seriously disturbing. I’m on the faculty job market now, and I am feeling more than a little reluctant to speak out against it, for fear of jeopardizing my job prospects. At the same time, I realize someone must speak up! This is utter idiocy. Thank you for doing your part, Jerry!
I feel your pain. I did my PhD on the reproductive biology of bryozoans. Over 3 years I don’t know how many hundreds, maybe even thousands, of hours I spent peering down a microscope counting the male and female zooids in those little colonies growing on glass dishes. In my antediluvian ignorance I thought that the two sexes could be distinguished by the fact that the male zooids produced sperm, and the female zooids produced eggs. Now, over 30 years later, thanks to Nature, I realise the enormity of my error. I’m going to ask my university to rescind my PhD and post a retraction in every journal I published the results in.
I don’t know if you followed my kitten updates some time back in the morning threads, but I adopted a kitten a few weeks ago (or, rather, she adopted me, as she stood, sat, and slept outside my deck door for 28 hours until I took her in). When I brought her to the vet, I was informed that it was a male cat. I took her to the vet today and got a call on my cellphone while she was in there (the vet doesn’t let people into the office right now): “I’ve got big news: K is a she! We were wrong the first time.”
Now I’m wondering if I should take her to a cat psychologist so she can communicate what sex/gender she wishes to be identified as, and what pronouns she prefers.
we used to tease people like Sarah Palin by saying she probably thought the Flintstones was a documentary. Now it appears that Nature and it’s editors might possibly believe that the 1994 film “Junior” was a science documentary. I guess that makes Arnold Schwarzenegger California’s first non-binary governor.
It does of course bring to mind that old Richard Feynman nugget about the first principal being that you must not fool yourself…of course Feynman is on the list of verbotene menschen for his visits to strip clubs so I doubt that quote is used to educate undergrads anymore, as it would be considered an act of violence.
The disclaimer reminds me of the one put on many movies; “This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen.”
The movie one is intentionally ambiguous so the industry can made content edits, not admit that outright to viewers, but legally be able to say they warned people.
The Nature case is a bit different but equally disingenuous: the ambiguity seems to be geared towards letting woke people interpret it as support for their belief sex is nonbinary, while giving Nature a technical ‘out’ to claim to the scientific community that that’s not what the disclaimer means.
Well, I’d say it makes sense from a PR/political perspective; they are trying to mollify two constituencies with different views of sex. So like a politician, they stay vague.
Someone needs to nail them to the floor on this. We need a science journalist to ask the person in charge, on the record, to point blank explain whether the disclaimer means “sex and gender are not the same, and both sex and gender are nonbinary” or “sex and gender are not the same, and gender is nonbinary.”
I can agree that this is done to give them an ‘out’. But one can wish that someone over there would pause a moment, realize that this is pure bullshit and that it’s plenty embarrassing. There is no need to be cowed by a bunch of science deniers.
Scream “This is Nature!!!” and fling the po-mos’ into a pit.
Jerry, it sounds as if someone (why not you?) should organize a letter to Nature signed by as many Nobel laureates and other famous biologists of various disciplines as can be mustered to protest at this position and demand that it be stopped.
Thirded! Ask Richard Dawkins to sign it!
I’m reminded of NOMA
Perhaps we should adopt NOVA (Non-overlapping values) representing different areas of inquiry, fact vs. values.”?
Of course NOMA and NOVA seem to be failing when the religionists or wokeists don’t remain within their magisterium.
‘Nature’ should also recognize that the human hand does not have five fingers … as there are exceptions.
Insert joke about thumbs here?
Okay by me. Okay by Salt-N-Peppa, too.
Clearly Nature recognizes that it’s approaches to sex and gender are not the same, and are neither fixed nor binary?
D’oh – “its”! (I’m blaming autocorrect.)
Being a respectable scientific journal and a non-respectable scientific journal is not a binary; we can be both!
Klinefelter syndrome sure seems like a naturally occurring example of sex not being a strict binary. You don’t even need to acknowledge the existence of trans people, who approximate the phenotype of the opposite gender to varying degrees through hormone replacement and surgery, to find examples of sex not fitting a neat binary. I would certainly agree that sex is strongly bimodal, but insisting that it is strictly binary is just lazy.
I didn’t define sex by chromosomes but by gametes, and Klinefelter’s (XXY individuals) are sterile. Phenotype has nothing to do with my definition of sex. You clearly didn’t read my piece or my definition of sex.
If I’m lazy, you’re lazier for making a comment like this without even reading (or perhaps reading but not comprehending) what I wrote.
The terminology always confuses me. But the best I know is to describe those who produce eggs as female, and sperm makers are male. Not all people with Klinefelters make sperm, but if they make any gametes at all, it is sperm.
If there are arguable exceptions to the male/female binary, then we should accept that. True hermaphrodites might be one. But this is extremely rare, of course.
@Mark I agree with you, but even the existence of true hermaphrodites does not make sex nonbinary. Such very rare individuals are both male and female, but they do not fall in between male and female, and they do not constitute a third sex. Still binary.
And, contra Dave, the existence of individuals that make neither eggs nor sperm is also not evidence of a third sex. Such individuals are neither male nor female, but again they are not in between male and female, and are not a third sex.
A third sex would be a subpopulation of individuals (alongside males that make sperm and females that make eggs) that make a third type of gamete (or a third mating type in the language of yeast and some other organisms). This is very hard to pull off in diploid organisms (with two genome copies in each cell) that have genetic or chromosomal sex determination. It is unknown among animals. There are animals in which males make several types of sperm, but that’s not a third sex because all males make the various sperm types. It really is binary.
Is sex defined by genotype or phenotype? If by phenotype, I don’t think it’s true that sex is binary. Highly bimodal, yes.
There would be no contradiction advising that doctors should take weight into account when treating a disease, and then admitting that weight is neither binary nor fixed. Even if a study making this recommendation had proceeded by classifying patients as overweight or non-overweight.
Give the devil his due, folks.
This is the key confusion that somehow inspires the controversy. Clearly in terms of genotype, there a two viable sexes. There are also some sterile organisms where the sex genotype of the organism isn’t functional. [So arguably by genotype there are 3 sexes, male, female & sterile]. It is pointless to have a semantic dispute over this, but apparently arguing the controversy is collectively inevitable.
In terms of phenotype, the distinctions between sexes are more ambiguous. “Intersex” humans, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex are a small but certainly real population. While genetic “gender re-assignment therapy” doesn’t yet exist, some of these interventions clearly affect the fertility of individuals. I believe the epidemiology is still unresolved on diseases with recognized different burden based on sex.
It makes sense to consider (human) sex primarily as a genetic trait, one that is functionally bi-modal. In terms of (human) phenotypes, for various reasons “sex” is not completely bi-modal.
I am trying to parse thru it myself. It seems there is the ‘formal’, strictly biological use of terms for sex (male and female), and then the ‘informal’ use.
In Renaissance days, people writing about potentially sensitive topics had to insert paeans to God, Jesus, and the Pope in order to make them more palatable to the authorities; this didn’t always save them from the Inquisition.
In Soviet days, people writing about potentially sensitive topics had to insert paeans to socialism, Marx, Lenin, and Stalin in order to make them more palatable to the authorities; this didn’t always save them from the Gulag.
Now people writing about potentially sensitive topics have to insert paeans to wokeness, marginalized identities, and intersectionality; this doesn’t always save them from getting canceled.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
We scholars of Critical Genotype Theory applaud Nature for its recognition that genotype in regard to the sex chromosomes is neither fixed nor binary. We look forward
to Nature joining us in the insight that genotype at all chromosomes is neither
fixed nor binary. It is obviously not fixed, at least not yet, because we intend to fix it with our literature and our workshops. And it is not binary if we recognize that the infamous haploid/diploid lifecycle is a mere social construct, devised to maintain the cisheteropatriacharchal oppressive system of power.
We believe that with the right words, we can be any genotype we want to be. I myself, for example, have chosen the genotype of the Romanovs, the royal family of Russia, and I demand to be addressed at all times as
Ваше Императорское Величество.
Given how the Romanovs ended, however, I’d recommend some – any – other genotype!
I’ve seen many other people refer to Lysenkoism over the last few years, but I’ve been loathe to use the comparison, as I didn’t think things had become nearly that bad. While the sciences still haven’t yet reached Lysenkoism levels, American Lysenkoism (AKA Wokeism) seems ascendant and feels unstoppable, though I hope that feeling is unfounded. Still, to see highly respected scientific publications blurt out blatant falsehoods at every turn to placate the woke mobs, and to see scientific journals publish papers with no basis in reality simply because they promote a woke cause, makes me fear for the future. I fear that many of the institutions are already captured, and those that aren’t will either be captured soon enough or will have the people who oversee them cowed into silence.
Food for thought… if one would choose to identify as a male, then they only have a 1 in 1,000 chance of developing breast cancer, but if later choose to identify as female, does their risk then increase to 1 in 8? And what about their 13 in 100 chance for prostate cancer, does it drop to 0 in 100? And do they then develop a 1 in 125 chance for getting cervical cancer? Should one schedule a prostate exam with an OB-Gyn?
Like the medical issues surrounding race/ethnicity, reality does not concern itself with ideology.
Noting that “identifying as a male (or female)” includes a wide range of potential medical interventions. My understanding is that there are individuals who change there gender identification without any medical interventions. Clearly gender changing medical interventions are elective, and the options are ever changing (improving?). Relative to prostate cancer in particular, suppressing or eliminating testosterone production is very likely to affect prostate cancer risk. Hormone therapy to suppress testosterone production in prostate cancer patients is recognized as part of the standard of care. Impacts of hormone therapy are complicated, whether the purpose of the hormone therapy is changing gender or treating cancer.
The problem with social constructionism is that it is either trivially true or obviously false. It is certainly true with respect to sociocultural reality that concepts and definitions, theories and taxonomies, social conventions, institutions, and organizations, social customs and habits, social roles, rules, norms, legal laws, our artifacts and technologies are all man-made; but it is certainly false with respect to natural reality that phenomena such as sex are human creations or inventions.
Progress can only come through a revolutionary overhaul of language through the tool of doublespeak. Obviously, sex and gender are fixed in certain contexts, and obviously sex and gender are completely fluid in other contexts, and the Guardians of the Corp of Revolutionary Youth will decide the context, which will change when certain reactionary elements attempt to abort social justice as necessary. Just be careful, because what you said 24 years ago may result in a determination that you are a thoughtcriminal today. Best to remain silent, unless you are intimidated by a mob into showing support.
Razib Khan has commented that being a a supporter of genuine science nowadays feels like being a pagan after Christianity took over the Roman empire.
Hmm. There is a self-fertilizing vertebrate hermaphrodite genus, Kryptolebias. Its best known member is K. marmoratus. Fish.
Sequential hermaphroditism — protandry, protogyny — are both known in fishes. With some an individual’s sex depends on its situation. A female is a sometime thing. Males, too.
Protogyny, protandry, in teleost fish. I always found that fascinating.
Sadly (for the woke), in mammals, with their highly differentiated reproductive organs, it appears to be basically inexistent.
There are a couple of commercials currently airing for the pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) drugs that lower the chance of contracting HIV in high risk individuals. The ad features gay men and MtF transsexuals. The disclaimers at the end feature the usual warnings and the line, “has not been proven effective in persons assigned female at birth”. Why not say that it hasn’t been proven effective in biological females?
Thanks for covering this. It’s been depressing to note how few skeptics pay attention to this issue.
Off topic: I’m glad to see another Rowena as there are so few of us. I may have met or seen our name in use for 20 or less people.
I have to wonder why a ‘zine as prestigious as “Nature” decided to join the ranks of the Wokey-Dokes. Were the editors subtly threatened, blackmailed, bribed? Can anyone find out?
The radical left has infiltrated and indoctrinated far more deeply than you can imagine. Those inside Nature and Science aren’t doing it because they were blackmailed, but because they now BELIEVE IT.
I find this piece stupid, 2020 a new organ appears, “it most be those ideologues trying to find new ways”. Sciense and Nature are peer review this article is not. Also this same website has an article about why is bimodal lol