An ideology-infused paper on how to teach college biology

October 18, 2022 • 12:15 pm

If I could display one paper that vividly demonstrates the infiltration of ideology into biology education, it would be the one below, published last May in Bioscience.  The article tells instructors in college biology classes how to teach the subject so that teachers do not “harm” the students by making them feel “unwelcome”, by implying that their behavior—particularly that related to sex and their gender—is “unnatural”, or by failing to represent the students’ identities while teaching biology.

You can read the paper by clicking on the screenshot below, or get a pdf here.

The gist of the paper is provided by its abstract:

Sexual and gender minorities face considerable inequities in society, including in science. In biology, course content provides opportunities to challenge harmful preconceptions about what is “natural” while avoiding the notion that anything found in nature is inherently good (the appeal-to-nature fallacy). We provide six principles for instructors to teach sex- and gender-related topics in postsecondary biology in a more inclusive and accurate manner: highlighting biological diversity early, presenting the social and historical context of science, using inclusive language, teaching the iterative process of science, presenting students with a diversity of role models, and developing a classroom culture of respect and inclusion. To illustrate these six principles, we review the many definitions of sex and demonstrate applying the principles to three example topics: sexual reproduction, sex determination or differentiation, and sexual selection. These principles provide a tangible starting place to create more scientifically accurate, engaging, and inclusive classrooms.

The principles, which I’ll give below with quotes, are designed to buttress the appeal to nature (closely related to the “naturalistic fallacy”)—the idea that a person’s identity is good because it is analogous to what we find in nature.  Thus there is great emphasis on the diversity of sexual reproduction and a de-emphasis of generalizations (e.g. promiscuous males vs. picky females) that, the authors say, harm people.  (My answer, below, is to teach that the appeal-to-nature fallacy is fallacious for a reason: it draws moral principles from biological facts, which is a bad way to proceed.) Although the authors claim to be avoiding the appeal to nature, their whole lesson can be summarized in this sentence:

Human diversity is good because we see similar diversity in nature.

The explicit aim of this pedagogy is not just to teach biology but largely to advance the authors’ social program. As they say (my emphasis):

At their most harmful, biology courses can reinforce harmful stereotypes, leaving students with the impression that human gender and sexual diversity are contrary to “basic biology” or even that they themselves are “unnatural.” At their most beneficial, biology courses can teach students to question heteronormative and cisnormative biases in science and society. On a larger scale, by encouraging an inclusive and accurate understanding of gender and sex in nature, biology education has the power to advance antioppressive social change.

My response would be “at their most beneficial, biology courses teach students what biology is all about, to inspire them to learn biology, and to learn the methods by which we advance our understanding of biology.  It is not to advance antioppressive social change, which, of course, depends on who is defining ‘antioppressive’.”

Here are the authors’ six principles. The characterizations are mine:

1). Diversity first.  The authors strongly believe that educators should teach about the diversity of nature before giving generalizations.  So, for example, instead of discussing the prevalence of maternal over paternal care in animals, or of the preponderance of decorations, colors, and weapons in males of various species compared to females of those species, you should show the wonderful diversity of nature: you talk about clownfish that can change sex when the alpha female dies, about seahorses, in which females are the decorated se (but for good reasons that conform to a generalization), and discuss some groups of humans in which males give substantial parental care.

This is done explicitly to be “inclusive”:

 Recent work focused specifically on undergraduate animal behavior courses has demonstrated that presenting diversity first does not negatively affect learning objectives (Sarah Spaulding, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, personal communication, 9 April 2019).

That’s some reference, eh?

I would argue that the great generalities should be taught first, and the exceptions later, whose interests rests largely on the fact that they are exceptions.  Gaudy female seahorses are of interest mainly because in seahorse reproduction, the males get pregnant (they carry eggs in their pouches), there are more females with eggs than males to carry them, and therefore, in a form of reverse sexual selection, the males are choosy instead of the females, who compete for males to carry their eggs.  It makes little sense to me to teach the exceptions before the rules, or the diversity before the generalizations, unless you do so to advance an ideological program.

Although the authors say that teaching generalizations first itself perpetuating the appeal-to-nature fallacy by implying what is “normal”, they themselves perpetuate the same fallacy by pointing out exceptions that are said to correspond to biological phenomena, too. Here they are discussing their “teach diversity first” principle:

A second potential concern is that this principle, if it is simplistically applied, will perpetuate the appeal-to-nature fallacy—that is, the argument that anything found in nature is inherently good (Tanner 2006). This is problematic, because it can suggest that students need examples of specific behaviors or biologies in nature to validate human experiences or, alternatively, that anything found in nature is justified in humans. We emphasize that presenting diversity first should only demonstrate that we should expect diversity, including among humans, but this does not present a value argument. Rather, it combats the incorrect assumption that nonbinary categorizations, intersex characteristics, same-sex sexual behavior, transgender identities, gender nonconforming presentation and behavior, and so on are unnatural, which is, itself, often used against LGBTQIA2S + people in an appeal-to-nature argument (e.g., Newman and Fantos 2015).

Note that they are using the appeal to nature fallacy: diversity is good because it is seen in nature. Thus LGBTQIA2S+ should not be demonized because sexual diversity occurs in nature. But these brands of diversity are not are not comparable. As I wrote when reviewing Joan Roughgarden’s book Evolution’s Rainbow:

But regardless of the truth of Darwin’s theory, should we consult nature to determine which of our behaviours are to be considered normal or moral? Homosexuality may indeed occur in species other than our own, but so do infanticide, robbery and extra-pair copulation.  If the gay cause is somehow boosted by parallels from nature, then so are the causes of child-killers, thieves and adulterers. And given the cultural milieu in which human sexuality and gender are expressed, how closely can we compare ourselves to other species? In what sense does a fish who changes sex resemble a transgendered person? The fish presumably experiences neither distressing feelings about inhabiting the wrong body, nor ostracism by other fish. In some baboons, the only males who show homosexual behaviour are those denied access to females by more dominant males. How can this possibly be equated to human homosexuality?

So Zemenick et al. do advance value argument—an argument designed to shows “diverse” students that they are not abnormal and should not feel bad about themselves.  While I agree that we shouldn’t denigrate students for their sexual orientation or gender identity, or any other trait, you don’t need to teach in a way to validate the identity of all students  While the authors do give caveats about saying that teaching diversity first “does not present a value argument”, in fact it does.

2.) Present the social and historical context of science. This is another way to prevent students from being “harmed” by infusing biological history and data with ideological lessons. One example:

There are still numerous issues with testing for and reporting sex differences in scientific research, prompting calls for increased training in this area (Garcia-Sifuentes and Maney 2021). Furthermore, it is increasingly recognized that testing for only binary sex differences excludes and harms many others that fall outside this binary (Reisner et al. 2016).

Would that harm still be done if the teacher notes that more than 99.9% of individuals conform to the “binary sex difference”? We should not tailor what we teach to the goal of affirming everybody’s identity.  That is therapy, not biology.

3.) Use inclusive language while teaching. This has the same goal as above, to avoid words that make some students feel “excluded”:

Culturally loaded sex- and gender-related terms are often used in biology classrooms without careful thought and discussion. This is especially true of familiar terms, such as male, female, sex, paternal, maternal, mother, and father. Students and instructors alike may fail to notice that these terms imply and affirm cultural norms around sex, gender, and family structure that can be inaccurate and harmful. We therefore suggest, whenever possible, using inclusive, precise terminology that does not assume sex and gender binaries or traditional, nuclear family structures.

. . .Encouraging students to develop an inquiring attitude toward culturally loaded biology language may reduce the harm of these terms and help students develop important critical-thinking skills (Kekäläinen and Evans 2018).

For sex- and gender-related biology terms, we believe it is imperative to provide definitions that are as inclusive, accurate, and precise as possible.

They don’t mention that precisely defining terms like “biological sex” may not be “inclusive.” In fact, every time I give the biological definition of sex, based on gamete type, I get considerable feedback for having “harmed” people. But biology is not, and should not be, a form of social work.

4.) Show the iterative process of science. This is supposed to emphasize that science is “nonlinear and iterative”, though I’m not sure what they mean. Regardless, it has an ideological aim:

Showing the iterative process of science allows students to see how biological models often begin simple and general, to the exclusion of sexual diversity. As models are developed further, with more data and collaboration, they are often refined to encompass more complexity and diversity. For example, past sexual selection theory emphasized how sex differences in gamete size (anisogamy) and differential reproductive investment can drive the evolution of sexual dimorphic behaviors and morphology (box 4). Despite evidence suggesting that humans may be only weakly sexually dimorphic (Reno et al. 2003), early evolutionary models of animal behavior contributed to biological essentialist ideas about human males being inherently highly competitive and human females being driven primarily by the need to rear young.

Well, we may be “only weakly sexually dimorphic” compared to, say, gorillas, but we’re a lot more sexually dimorphic than chipmunks. The fact is that human males are indeed inherently highly competitive and risk-taking—a result of sexual selection in our ancestors—and human females more infant-rearing-oriented than males, largely but not entirely a result of natural selection (there is, after all,  social pressure for females to conform to those roles).

The solution to this whole mishigass is not to restructure biology courses in a Rawlsian way to avoid “harming” the most easily offended individual, but simply to teach the biology you think is important, point out that there is variation, that some of that (like the ornaments of female seahorses) actually proves the generalizations, but, above all, tell the students ONCE or TWICE that they should not draw any lessons about “right versus wrong” or “good versus bad” from biological knowledge, for that makes morality liable to change when biological knowledge changes. Yes, perhaps you can buttress the identities of gay people by saying that female bonobos engage in genital rubbing to strengthen bonds, but does it also buttress bullies and aggressors to tell them that chimpanzees also engage in deadly intra-group warfare? For every variant that buttresses someone’s identity, I can point out a variant that exemplifies something we don’t want people to do.

5.) Present students with diverse role models.  They mean “individuals from marginalized groups” here, presumably racial groups rather than individuals in the LGBTQ+ categories.  While I have no beef against role models, their absence is not the main reason why minority students drop out of STEM programs. The reason, for which we have plenty of data, is that those students aren’t well prepared for the courses, don’t do well, see a lack of success in their futures, and switch to other majors. But Zemenick et al. emphasize the “look like me” aspect:

One reason students from marginalized groups leave STEM majors is a lack of relatable and supportive role models (Hurtado et al. 2010). Role models inspire students, provide psychological support, and help them adopt a growth mindset about intelligence (Koberg et al. 1998). For students from marginalized groups in particular, relatable role models can help them perform better (Marx and Roman 2002, Lockwood 2006). Therefore, a simple way to support LGBTQIA2S + students—who leave STEM majors at higher rates than their straight peers (Hughes 2018)—is to expose them to relatable role models from diverse backgrounds and identities.

I suggest that you check out the Hurtado et al. reference to see the evidence for “relatable and supportive role models” playing a major role in minority students dropping out of STEM. I can imagine that students who feel supported might tend to stay in STEM, but what the authors are suggesting is to beef up teaching so that more importance is given to the work of minority scientists:

Despite the importance of relatable role models for marginalized students, most scientists featured in biology curricula are white, heterosexual, cisgender men, and, as a result, marginalized students often do not see their identities represented (Wood et al. 2020). Instructors should be intentional about introducing their students to biologists from diverse backgrounds and identities, and there are several approaches instructors can take to integrate this into biology courses. For example, instructors can complement or replace content about historical scientists with content about diverse contemporary scientists, or they can assign a small project in which the students research relatable role models.

What Wood et al. (2020) does show, as we’d expect from history, a lack of minority representation in the history of science. Though that representation is at odds with the kind of people doing science now, remember that textbooks concentrate on important discoveries of the past, and those involved mainly white heterosexual cisgender men. But that’s not because textbook authors are bigots. As the participation of minorities in science increases, so will their representation in future textbooks and instruction.

I wonder here, as I alluded to above, whether this problem applies to LGBTA+ people, also seen as “marginalized.” I doubt it, for gay+ people are pretty well represented in science (though I have no data on this issue!), and do we really want to talk about the sexual orientation of famous scientists as a way to avoiding LGBTQ+ people? The key here is that “represented” means “looks like”, and that directly implies race is the important factor, not other criteria for marginalization.

6.) Develop a classroom culture of respect and inclusion. I certainly think that all students should be respected in class: treated as future colleagues whose questions and views should be handled with respect, even when the students are wrong. As I tell my students, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”  One should cultivate an atmosphere in which no student should be fearful of expressing their views, asking questions, or challenging the teacher. But this is simple civility in pedagogy.

But that’s not what the authors mean:

Instructors can work to make all students feel welcome by building professional relationships with students that are founded on respect and nonjudgement. To develop and nurture such relationships, instructors must confront their unconscious biases, such as homophobia, transphobia, or interphobia, through education and self-reflection. Consider attending LGBTQIA2S + sensitivity training, often offered by campus pride and GSA (gay–straight or gender and sexuality alliance) centers.

. . . By developing an awareness of how LGBTQIA2S + identity affects students’ experiences of the biology classroom and by engaging with students empathetically and authentically, instructors can create meaningful and inclusive learning experiences (Dewbury and Brame 2019).

Somewhere along the line, the authors of this paper have forgotten that the purpose of biology class is to teach biology as it is understood today, not to coddle the identities of students. My solution, once again, it simply to say at the beginning of the class, and perhaps reemphasize it, that we are to draw no moral or social lessons about humans from the facts of biology, though biological facts can serve to prop up or militate against some moral views (like those based on utilitarianism). To quote Hitchens, the teach-biology and denigrate the “appeal to nature” view  is enough for me, and I don’t need a second.  I don’t believe, and there is no evidence adduced, for statements like the following:

Biology classrooms represent powerful opportunities to teach sex- and gender-related topics accurately and inclusively. The sexual and gender diversity displayed in human populations is consistent with the diversity that characterizes all biological systems, but current teaching paradigms often leave students with the impression that LGBTQIA2S + people are acting against nature or “basic biology.” This failure of biology education can have dangerous repercussions. As students grow and move into society, becoming doctors, business people, politicians, parents, teachers, and so on, this misconception can be perpetuated and weaponized. Our hope is that this article helps to combat that scenario by stimulating the adoption of accurate and inclusive teaching practices.

Which professors are teaching in a way that makes students feel that they’re acting “unnaturally”? I would claim that the authors are offering a solution to a non-problem.

I agree that all topics should be taught accurately, but if some students feel “non-included” by facts taught in a civil manner in college biology, that is not up to the instructor to fix. Again, a two-minute explication of the fallacy of the appeal to nature is all that’s needed, not a schedule of “LGBTQIA2S + sensitivity training.”

The whole problem with this form of pedagogy is seen in the “author biographical” section of the paper, which I reproduce in toto:

Author Biographical

Ash T. Zemenick is a nonbinary trans person who grew up with an economically and academically supportive household to which they attribute many of their opportunities. They are now the manager of the University of California Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station, in Truckee, California, and are a cofounder and lead director of Project Biodiversify, in the United States. Shaun Turney is a white heterosexual transgender Canadian man who was supported in both his transition and his education by his university-educated parents. He is currently on paternity leave from his work as a non–tenure-track course lecturer in biology. Alex J. Webster is a cis white queer woman who grew up in an economically stable household and is now raising a child in a nontraditional queer family structure. She is a research professor in the University of New Mexico’s Department of Biology, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is a director of Project Biodiversify, in the United States. Sarah C. Jones is a disabled (ADHD) cis white queer woman who grew up in a supportive and economically stable household with two university-educated parents. She is a director of Project Biodiversify, and serves as the education manager for Budburst, a project of the Chicago Botanic Garden, in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. Marjorie G. Weber is a cis white woman who grew up in an economically stable household. She is an assistant professor in Michigan State University’s Plant Biology Department and Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, in East Lansing, Michigan, and is a cofounder and director of Project Biodiversify, in the United States.

Why is this there? What purpose does it serve except to signal the virtue (or social consciousness) of the authors? Most important, what on earth does it have to do with biology—or with this paper?

59 thoughts on “An ideology-infused paper on how to teach college biology

  1. One wonders when they’ll get to the biology, the way one wonders when the old movie will start on Turner Classic Movies…

  2. As my dear nana would say “that’s just hoss shit”. Why over-complicate things? It’s not pedagogy it’s therapy.

  3. Lots of words come to mind; wow, sad, disgusting, misguided, irrelevant [the bios] ad nauseum. I might assign this paper in the genetics class, but then again, that might cause way too much “harm.”

  4. It is a sad commentary on the state of today’s academic world that the (obviously true) statement that “the purpose of biology class is to teach biology as it is understood today, not to coddle the identities of students” might be perceived by the “woke” as some form of so-called “micro-aggression”. At some point our current cultural insanity may well lead to the identification of “nano-aggressions”.

  5. Poor Marjorie Weber. I was really rooting for her to be diverse. I am happy she’s been able to rise above it.

  6. There’s not much for me to add to what Jerry has already said. I think it’s a laudable goal to make students feel welcome, but it seems to me that the goal of biology class should be to teach biology. Must similar recommendations be devised for other college courses? Must all subject matter be adjusted to validate the beliefs of the students? Surely there better ways to help students feel welcome to attend and participate in class.

    1. I think the importance of role models — that students see that there are people “just like them” who have succeeded in the area they’re interested in — is most valuable for preschoolers and kids in the earlier grades. Fight childish self-defeating biases. By the time they’re in college, they shouldn’t need that anymore.

      1. Yes. Seeing more teachers they can relate to—particularly in the early years—would be a big help. Torquing college subject matter to conform with student preferences (and prejudices) is not a good approach. Imagine what would happen to higher education if that were demanded of every subject?

  7. Cast your mind back, probably within living memory, when religion worked its way into all sorts of unrelated areas. It was a default attitude which demonstrated an individuals worthiness. You could argue that, even in the USA, the inclusion of religious ideas is no longer a default position. But people *like* to display their worthiness, hence Social Justice, and some go too far when the signalling is thought to be more important than the context.

  8. I’m not a biologist but from what I’ve read biologists say that races don’t exist in humans. But races exist in society. And that’s fine. It’s two different fields and two different definitions of race. But no one gets all aggressive at biologists that claim that human races have no basis in biology. Or is that the next thing they will be attacking?

      1. Except races do exist in society. I have to fill out forms where I have to state my race. People who might describe as woke require race based breakdowns on police violence and incarceration.
        This is not something you can put as a default woke put down.

    1. It isn’t true that “biologists say that races don’t exist in humans”. It’s more complicated than that. Sweeping statements are fraught with problems, but better to say that we biologists think that race matters in some biological contexts (for example; the epidemiology of sickle cell disease) but in most contexts it is irrelevant.

      1. The USB-deontological proof of the multiverse:
        Try one way, won’t work. Try the other way, still doesn’t work. Try the first way (or what you think is the first way) again, it works. Now you know the universe not only is “stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.”

      2. It took me ages, but I finally figured out the trick with USB-As. Now most folks probably know this and I am 20 years behind, but if you look at the male jack first, then the bar that goes across it should be on the bottom when you insert it into the female jack and so you don’t need to look where the bar is on the female jack. It will be on the top.

        If you’re plugging it into a laptop or a wall, the female jack will have its bar on the top. If you’re plugging into a device that isn’t permanently fixed, like some sort of dongle, then the bar on the male jack should most likely be on the side of the “bottom” of the device you’re plugging it into.

        And if you’re plugging it into a power strip that itself lies horizontally on the floor or your desk, well, you’re on your end.

  9. The most basic tenet about education is to teach how to think, not what to think. As soon as you start emphasizing certain facts over others in order to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion, then you’re indoctrinating, not teaching. It looks to me that’s what the author is doing.

  10. I see this as another example of forced-teaming. As you say

    My solution, once again, it simply to say at the beginning of the class, and perhaps reemphasize it, that we are to draw no moral or social lessons about humans from the facts of biology, though biological facts can serve to prop up or militate against some moral views

    Naturalistic Fallacy be damned. Feminism and gay rights are not threatened by scientific accuracy concerning how we evolved. The existence of women and homosexuality are supported by biology and that’s all it needs to do. The rest involves ethics and social justice.

    The same cannot be said for trans rights, because ethics and social justice come in only after science has first supported transgender claims about sex. The facts of biology are the issue.

    The authors link the three, but I suspect they consciously or unconsciously bring up concerns with protecting gender nonconformity and same-sex attraction as cover for what’s really concerning them.

  11. BioScience is a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal that is published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences […] The journal publishes literature reviews of current research in biology, as well as essays and discussion sections on education, public policy, history of biology, and theoretical issues. Wikipedia

    There’s part of the problem. The journal discusses both biology AND pedagogy. I’m starting to wonder if this is a conflict of interest. Have one journal for researching and another for teaching. They are sufficiently different fields.

  12. Quick take on your last question about why the detailed bios. It seems to be a tacit admission that this dreck would never have been published but for the authors’ impeccable intersectionality credentials and we can safely ignore it.

    Oh, wait, No, that can’t be it, can it…

  13. The biographical information is meant to add weight to their expressed knowledge, using standpoint theory as the frame – a bit like “indigenous way of knowing” adds epistemic weight to science, supposedly.

    I learned a new word today, while reading some opposing views on gender transitioning, desisting etc – the word is iatrogenic, and within this context, reads as distortions/bias caused by the cure of diversity.

  14. I have been thinking about WPATH and their promotion of eunuchs. Probably, I should get a life. But, here goes:
    They say that being a eunuch is a valid gender, and well they might, as that is what they are creating when children transition into sterile sexless golems.
    Never mind the ancient associations of eunuch-hood, be they singing like a prepubescent choirboy, guarding the sultan’s harem, or removing distractions from a dedicated Chinese bureaucrat, there is a more sinister side to this that even the non-paranoid might consider.
    In a world in which certain vulnerable children do not enter puberty and retain their nearly sexless bodies until they are past the age of consent at 16, you might foresee certain safeguarding issues. I won’t spell out the nastiness I mean, but this is paradise for paedophiles.
    I’m not so paranoid as to think WPATH deliberately envisaged this, but I don’t believe they considered it at all as an unwanted outcome. One that will be exploited, tragically. This must be resisted.
    Many subjects taught today come with a warning, generally on the imaginary grounds that it will trigger self-diagnosed PTSD (“somebody once said “No” to me! How could they?”) Perhaps biology of this kind should come with the sort of health warning on cigarette packets. Becoming a eunuch may harm your health…
    It all makes cigarettes seem rather innocent and harmless, and that truly is a marker of how badly we are letting young people down.

  15. “In biology, course content provides opportunities to challenge harmful preconceptions about what is “natural” while avoiding the notion that anything found in nature is inherently good (the appeal-to-nature fallacy).”
    No one, or at least no scientist. would advocate the idea that ‘anything found in nature is good’ With that statement in the abstract why would on read further?

  16. I actually appreciate the Author Biographical information. There are some in the social sciences who believe that this form of information is important as it can be seen to represent a conflict of interest.

    1. That’s a great comment, and I’d like to draw other readers’ attention to it. Now that you’ve said it, I do appreciate it, but will require further reflection.

      Personally, I always disliked how much of high school math and science textbooks was given over to describing biographical and geographical background of various theorists. The theory should be separate from the theorist.

      1. Ummm. . . . do these biographies help us evaluate the merits of the paper? I don’t think so, but if they do, please explain. Would you interpret the paper differently if the authors were not gay, or had come from impoverished backgrounds? What about Einstein’s biography would help you see if he had a “conflict of interest” about his theories of relativity?

        Remember, for every paper submitted to every journal, you’re already ASKED if you have a conflict of interest with respect to the material presented.

        1. I am concerned by the rise of activist scholars within academia and their ability to follow the principle of value neutrality. Can these researchers remain impartial, value-neutral, or unbiased while undertaking these investigations? Is the potential for a problem arising from the inherent conflict between value-neutral scholarship and a scholar’s interest and activism causing bias? If so, disclosure is one possible way to mitigate these non-financial conflicts of interest and help put the research in perspective. There is relatively rich literature on the issue, specifically among feminism scholarship.

          As for Einstein, do you believe that his views on God and religion played a role in his legendary debates with Bohr on Quantum Physics, i.e., his belief that God does not play dice with the Universe? If Einstein received one of Bohr’s papers for review, should he have excused himself for his views? Would Bohr be right to put Einstein’s name on the “non-preferred reviewers” list upon grant submission after that statement?

    2. There’s already a box to check when you submit a paper stipulating that there’s no conflict of interest. What possible other conflicts could be revealed by this kind of information? Clearly there are none because you have to stipulate it. Please tell me exactly how giving these details are relevant.

  17. “They are now the manager of the …” I can live with self-centered folks deciding to reject capital letters (had a law professor like that) and am even tolerant of “they/them” stuff, for them as who can’t stomach he or she. But if one is a “they” then they are still a single individual, and they should, particularly to highlight their wondrous pronoun brilliance, still use the singular verb. “They IS the manager of the whatsis…”.

    1. Maybe the manager is a collective made up of one human, several fleas, and a tapeworm who all collaborate in making management decisions holistically and organically.

  18. All five authors seem to be from privileged backgrounds: ‘economically stable households’ ‘university educated parents’.

    This seems to point to a general phenomenon: only the privileged have the affluence and the leisure to elevate extremely marginal issues to centre field.

  19. fwiw, at Zemenick’s website they write

    > Read here on the importance of declaring/recognizing positionally.

    and then link to this paper

    which starts out with this paragraph

    > Reflecting on, fleshing out, interrogating, and conveying your positionality relative to a research orientation is critical to ensuring the validity of your research stance. After all, no one can be 100% objective. The researcher’s beliefs, values systems, and moral stances are as fundamentally present and inseparable from the research process. In fact, even the most passive methods of data collection and quantitative analysis have some interactional aspects, and it is impossible to absolutely control for and ensure the unobtrusiveness of research applications and interventions. Power dynamics flow through every vein of the research process; therefore, it is our ethical duty to intentionally and mindfully attend to our role(s) in the contextual power interplay of the research process.

    1. This is, of course, complete hogwash, and written poorly, too. Please let me know that, if Einstein had written a “biography” about his upbringing, sexuality, race, and the like that that would help you interpret the validity of his theories of relativity?

  20. I am starting to lose the sense of what “diversity” means – what is meant by “diversity” seems more about uniformity – one of each.

    Details, of course, matter. We all know about Politics and The English Language.

  21. [ Just one more new comment, and I’ll stop ]

    This quote (my emphasis ) :

    “… instructors can complement or replace content about historical scientists with content about diverse contemporary scientists ..”

    … and done.

    1. Sorry – just one thing :

      They didn’t say in their bios if they are vegans or electric car drivers. I take that to mean it would distract the reader from the biology.

  22. During the world wars, convoys of ships were formed to protect the slowest ships from being targeted by submarines. The convoys traveled at the speed of the slowest ship and were, in theory, protected by armed escort ships.

    Faster ships sailed alone, protected only by their superior speed vis-a-vis submarines, which cruised at 15-20 knots, looking for targets.

    The end result: Faster ships most often survived the crossings, making it safely to port. The slower ships in convoys were sunk at alarming rates, losing lives and cargo to the predatory submarines. The protection of the escorts was not nearly as effective as the protection of speed.

    What do this have to do with today’s emphasis on DIE?

    Well, the DIE cabal are dedicated to the convoy approach to life. They believe that treating everyone equally means that we all have to travel at the speed of the slowest member of the group. They believe that we cannot all treat everyone else with dignity and respect unless we are all categorized and ensconced in special groups, segmented away, conforming to the convoy.

    See Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” as another example of the convoy approach to life.

    If you are human, treat everyone else with respect, you know, that Golden Rule thing.

  23. This is not an ideological paper being critiqued. This relates to post secondary education where the simplistic view of biology has already been taught and the messy details of biology, the so called exceptions, need to be introduced. There is no gender ideology but just the simple biological fact that intersex conditions exist and transgender people are real, valid and should not be discriminated against. This whole critique seeks to maintain a middle school level of understanding throughout higher education and seeks to justify discrimination against transgender individuals.

    1. In response to comment #27:
      I disagree.
      To address the most risible claim first, absolutely nothing in Coyne’s critique can be interpreted as seeking to justify discrimination against anybody.
      Also, nothing can be interpreted as seeking to simplify biology to a middle-school level, nor to leave out information about exceptions (which are “so-called” because there are, in fact, patterns and generalizations that exist and are valid and important for understsnding biology).
      Further, nothing here denies that intersex individuals exist (whatever you mean by that vague term), nor that transgender people are real, valid and should not be discriminated against.
      That you were able to read these items into a critique in which they manifestly do not appear clearly illuminates your own ideological bias.

      If, in fact, “current teaching paradigms often leave students with the impression that LGBTQIA2S + people are acting against nature or “basic biology,” an assertion I doubt, then those students ought to discuss those feelings with their professor and their therapist. We do not need to reconfigure the teaching of biology because of a few students’ allegedly hurt feelings.

    2. Give me a break. Have you ever taught introductory evolution to students? Even here they do not know the generalizations about evolutionary biology, as often almost no evolution is taught in high school. They certainly couldn’t tell you why in general male animals are promiscuous and females choosey. They have to be taught evolution from the ground up, and that means 1) here are the generalizations and then 2) here are what are the exceptions are, and some only appear to be exceptions but aren’t. You neglect the whole critique of introducing tole models, and so on, and you present a drastically truncated version of what I said. I have taught introductory evolution at Maryland and U of C. and you have no idea of the level of knowledge of evolutionary biology they have.

    3. ChasC took the easy ones, so I’ll take the tough one.

      “Transgender people are real.”

      Eric, I don’t think any person has a gendered soul that is fixed from birth (but also gender fluid), knowable by introspection (but also “real” and to be affirmed by others), and distinct from the sex of the body of that person. The gendered mind and the sexed body are not separate – this is a weird kind of modified Cartesian dualism that is false. No person is born in the wrong body.

      But there are sex stereotypes, and they can be harmful to a gender-nonconforming person if other people discriminate against that individual for not conforming to a stereotype. That discrimination is wrong. As JKR said, “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security.”

      A few people have such strongly held preferences for traits that are so far from the norm for their sex that they experience distress over the difference between their sex and their mental image of themselves. Many of these “transgender” people are autistic, feminine gay men or butch lesbian women; among the men, some of are autogynephiles.

      Those folks exist, but whether they are “real” depends on whether one means these individuals and their dysphoria exist (trivially true) or whether one means that these individuals are born in the wrong body and have a gendered soul that is in conflict with their sexed body (profoundly not true). Calling Sastra.

      Given that transgender people are not real in that second specific sense, why rearrange the teaching of university biology and evolution courses for the vast majority of students in order to avoid harming the (already disordered) sensibilities of that very small minority of people (cf. J Carr @ 26)? That’s one sense in which this article is wrong (and useless), and worth critiquing.

      OTOH transgender people deserve the same rights everyone else has, including (if they want it) access to mental health services that would help resolve their dysphoria without medical or surgical alteration of healthy body parts. Those folks are very real in that sense. It’s heartbreaking to see trans people I know navigate through the world without such help, especially to watch them divorce their long-suffering partners (check out the trans widows twitter feed) or to medically or surgically alter their healthy bodies. Adult trans people should be free to do this to themselves and their families if they want to do this, but it seems needlessly tragic and sad.

  24. The old saying applies… GIGO… Garbage In, Garbage Out. This is just the 1970’s all over again. Same weird Leftists insisting on their BS view of society and humanity… just a lot older now. Variations on the same bad ideas, soon jettisoned. Oh, and same stagflation, high energy and food prices, and same inept political leadership hell bent on “good intentions”. As the old Persian saying goes… “and this too shall pass”.

  25. Biology infused with wokeness..? Which personal pronouns does each species choose? is it “speciesist” to refer to ants as an “army” or “colony”? Is it fat shaming to still call a group of Hippopotami a “bloat” or “thunder”. It has to be racist and a hate crime to call Black Crows a “mob”.

  26. Alexandr Zinoviev, dissident Soviet era physicist: “Where communality reigns, the element of genuine science approaches zero.”

  27. LOL RE: Author Biographical!!! That is just wayyyyYYY over the top! Can you imagine if everybody did this how much paper would be wasted? And WHO CARES how supportive the familes were? I mean if that’s so important why not right a separate book which is a biography, and then each author can describe in detail all the details of their gender identity, and background, and describe their sexual liaisons. Geez Louise/Luis hahah

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