British reaction to the sex binary kerfuffle: The Daily Mail and Steven Knight

May 5, 2023 • 10:15 am

I continue to be amazed at how much dust is stirred up by simply asserting the biological observation that, in animals and vacular plants, there are but two sexes, and those sexes are defined by the reproductive equipment they have. Males are “designed” (I’m speaking teleologically: “evolved” is what I mean) to make small, mobile gametes, and females to make big immobile ones.  For decades this has been uncontroversial: A truth universally acknowledged, to paraphrase Jane Austen.

Now, however, for reasons known best to themselves, a small but vocal group of ideologues is denying the sex binary. In my coauthored paper coming out in late June, we hazard some guesses, but those of you following the controversy probably realize that it involves trying to impose one’s ideological views onto nature.

Here’s the kind of stuff that comes out of the woodwork (tweet found by reader Mike and noted in the comments below). It’s an object lesson about how to smear those who advance a scientific fact that you don’t like. (I’ve archived the tweet with a screenshot, but you can see the original by clicking on it).

This doesn’t work so easily with the sex binary, as even nonscientists can observe it with their own eyes. The result is that deniers of that binary, such as Agustín Fuentes and Laura Helmuth (editor of Scientific American who’s published several pieces denying a sex binary), face considerable pushback from both scientists—who work with male and female organisms—and “regular” people, who have eyes to see and neurons to analyze.

You might look at the comments (or “ratio-ing”) of these tweets by both Fuentes and Helmuthy (click to see original tweets and the thread of comments). You’ll see that the vast majority of comments on both tweets are critical. That’s not because of our own incisive analysis, but because Fuentes’s arguments (and Helmuth’s desperate attempts to defend them and stave off the decline of Scientific American) are so transparently weak—and ideologically motivated).

I enjoy a good dust-up once in a while, and this is one of them. Even the Daily Mail, which wrote an article about the controversy and about Sci Am, is pro-binary, though their article is not written at all well and seems to consist of fragments from interviews. Click below to read it.

They interviewed me, Fuentes, Helmuth, and Carole Hooven, and I won’t summarize the text, which, like the article itself, is a bit disjointed. (The writer was clearly not acquainted with evolutionary biology or the biology of sex.)  Let me just say three things.

First, I did not say THIS:

Dr Jerry Coyne, a biologist at the University of Chicago, told that the magazine is ‘forcing a progressive lefty agenda’ onto readers just wanting to learn about science. [Dr Fuentes] is imposing his ideology on nature,’ Dr Coyne said.

I would have said “Leftist”, though I stand by my claim that yes, Sci Am does have a political agenda. “Lefty” is a term I reserve for left-handed baseball pitchers.  It’s probably a bad transcription from our recorded interview, and may be due to my voice, which was horse from a bad colt.

Second, there are pro-binary quotes from Carole Hooven and Colin Wright (whose writings were excerpted). Here’s how Carole responded to Fuentes’s (and Helmuth’s) claim that we biologist think that sex-related characters (beyond gametes and their developmental origin) and behaviors are also binary—an position that none of us have taken because we’re not stupid.

Dr Hooven, said Dr Fuentes is misrepresenting sex and the traits an animal has.

‘No serious scientist would argue that traits are binary; it is sex that is binary,’ she explained.

‘Sex differences in hormones, strength, size, etc. are not the same as sex, but are strongly associated with it, just as an interest in construction equipment or dolls are traits associated with, but not the same as being a boy or girl.

‘In mammals, there are two sexes and two only. One can change their sex-related characteristics like hormones, mode of dress, muscle mass, even voice, but one cannot change sex.

‘The point is, biologists and others understand that while male and female are binary sex categories based on gamete size, and bodies and behavior of boys and girls, men and women are extremely diverse, there are some circumstances in which sex matters.’

Fuentes has a lame reply:

Dr Fuentes disagrees with the assessment from the biologists.

‘There are sexes and differences between them matter. That is not in dispute. But the overlaps between sexes also matter and are sufficient that the frame of a “sex binary” is misleading and inhibits better research and analyses,’ he said.

How can he possibly disagree with what Hooven said, which happens to be true?

Third, I found this the most intriguing part of the article, and hilarious in its arrant fibbing in the part I’ve bolded.

‘Scientific American publishes fascinating articles about the latest scientific research, and often this work is relevant to important and timely issues,’ Laura Helmuth, editor-and-chief of the journal, told in response.

We hope the articles we share, many of which are written by leading experts, help readers understand our world. That is my only agenda.’

Seriously? That is her only agenda? That’s simply not true: a major part of the magazine’s effort is devoted to propping up, using scientific articles and op-eds, Helmuth’s progressive authoritarianism (see my collection of posts about this bias here). If she were interested in truth, why would she flatly reject my offer to write an op-ed about the bad effects of ideology on science? (Well, that op-ed has morphed into a long article that will appear in about 6 weeks.)

Finally, to return to a sensible outlook, have a look at this piece by Stephen Knight (also known as “Godless Spellchecker”) at Spiked (click to read):

Just two excerpts here:

A dangerous strain of utopian thinking has taken hold of the ‘progressive’ left. Many now share the delusion that if we pretend certain falsehoods are true, then various forms of oppression and bigotry will magically disappear. Worse still, the proponents of these falsehoods demand their unequivocal affirmation from the rest of us.

Today’s leftists rightly insist on the importance of scientific truth when it comes to questions like climate change, vaccine safety and evolution. But they will discard scientific facts the moment they become inconvenient to their own worldview. Nowhere is this hypocrisy more pronounced than on the issue of gender, where transgender ideology has almost entirely supplanted scientific truth among the left. More alarming still is the fact that many scientists and scientific institutions, which really should know better, are colluding in this deception.

The latest scientific institution to promote gender pseudoscience is the once-venerable Scientific American magazine, which this week published an article headlined ‘Here’s why human sex is not binary’.

Make no mistake, sex in human beings really is binary and immutable. There are few things more emphatically true in our scientific understanding of the world than the human sex binary.

. . .After some silly and irrelevant trivia about the biology of lizards and fish (humans are neither fish nor lizards), the Scientific American article concludes by claiming that anyone who upholds the human sex binary is ‘trying to restrict who counts as a full human in society’. This single claim inadvertently reveals a great deal about what is wrong with the trans movement. Unable to refute the truth of the human sex binary, gender ideologues resort to demonising those who notice it as having ulterior, sinister motives.

This isn’t the first time Scientific American has lent its (now waning) credibility to gender nonsense. Back in 2018, it published an article titled ‘Sex redefined: the idea of two sexes is overly simplistic’. To this day, this piece is gleefully shared around by gender activists, emboldened by this apparent vindication of their ideology from a credible, scientific publication. However, the author of the piece has since clarified that reality actually is as simplistic as humans having only ‘two sexes’.

Here’s that clarification by Claire Ainsworth:

And yes, Ainsworth is right, but I add the caveat that for many traits, like height and weight, males and females may lie on a continuous distribution, but the distribution is also bimodal because of sexual dimorphism. Sadly, Alice Dreger, whose book Galileo’s Middle Finger was great, rejects even the concept of sexual dimorphism in humans (see bottom of tweet; nothing is “potentially sensitive” there.

And, to end, Knight quotes the wise and ever-snarky Emma Hilton:

Dr Emma Hilton is a developmental biologist at the University of Manchester and a co-founder of the women’s rights organisation, Sex Matters. When I asked her what compels otherwise sensible people to make anti-scientific claims about human sex, she said: ‘Charitably, if you remove the ability to classify (by arguing classifications are arbitrary, meaningless, etc), you remove the ability to discriminate (or at least stigmatise). So, for some, “sex blindness” is a genuine strategy for social change. But it is a stupid one.’

That last five-word sentence made me laugh out loud. Big fun!

65 thoughts on “British reaction to the sex binary kerfuffle: The Daily Mail and Steven Knight

  1. “Dr Fuentes disagrees with the assessment from the biologists.

    ‘There are sexes and differences between them matter. That is not in dispute. But the overlaps between sexes also matter and are sufficient that the frame of a “sex binary” is misleading and inhibits better research and analyses,’ he said.”

    The only way you can arrange sexual traits into bell curves is to sort humans by sex, egg producers on one side, sperm producers on the other side. The bell curves will overlap in many instances but they are two bell curves, binary. Try to make sexual trait bell-curve/s out of any other selection process.

    The overlap stuff is irrelevant, Weights of humans will overlap with weights of wolves. We are not therefore in some sense or to some degree wolves.

    1. ‘Wolves arent humans’
      Don’t let the furries hear you say that. They’ve been non binary before it was cool. Can’t wait until the ultra progressive start demanding species be decolonised.

      1. I was going to make a joke about how we need to decolonize math, but then I remembered people have already unironically claimed math is racist.

      2. This is just more bigotry. People identify as inanimate objects. For example, rocks and helicopters. This leads inexorably to pregnant rocks and pregnant helicopters. TRAR and THAH.

    2. Yes, for sure. But this is all irrelevant to Fuentes and other anthropologists. They are not interested in better research and analyses. Their goal is to oppose (and to be seen opposing) “transphobia”. They don’t have good arguments for this based on biology. All they have is misdirection as in the SciAm article, followed by demonization of anyone who disagrees with them.

      As Jerry has often said here about creationists and other religionists, the point of arguing with these folks isn’t to change their minds because they are collectively a lost cause. The point is to persuade the fence-sitters who don’t know much about the issues and haven’t taken a position.

      Fuentes and Dunsworth and their colleagues will never be persuaded they’re wrong. When the gender wang fever eventually breaks, they will all just delete their tweets and edit the pronouns out of their bios and go back to studying fossils and culture. It will be like this all never happened.

  2. I would have said “Leftist”, though I stand by my claim that yes, Sci Am does have a political agenda. “Lefty” is a term I reserve for left-handed baseball pitchers.

    Keep in mind that there are something known as the Koufax Awards, given annually to the best liberal bl*gs and bl*ggers, and named after the Dodgers’ great Hall-of-Fame lefty pitcher and humanitarian, Sandy Koufax.

      1. Readers of the The Daily Racing Form watch out for a colt from a bad horse — sire or mare. 🙂

      2. No idea how my reply to #18 appeared here so I just deleted it to avoid confusion.

  3. At risk of being over-simplistic I have often thought that one of the issues underlying this debate is that the subject matter is, or at least includes, human beings. If the subject matter was, say, possible charges on a particle, then the assertion that there are, say, three (positive, negative, neutral) and only three, would be unlikely (please!) to encounter similar opposition. This is because particles are not people, and people are not particles. But biological sex is an attribute of humans as well as many other organisms. We therefore have the question of what happens when human beings who for whatever reason see themselves as neither purely male nor purely female encounter the proposition that sex is binary.

    1. There are good reasons for why it is the bodies whose sex is defined, because gametes are the particles. In gonochoric species, sexes have to coevolve. In organisms with genetic sex determination, the complex interplay between sex-linked and autosomal genes allows a sustained trajectory for coevolution- while maintaining two different body types. Disjoin the two and organism wouldn’t reproduce. But one has to keep in mind the two separated a long time ago, working together.

      The beauty of it is- you get two sexes (bodies). The trajectories can evolve into independent lineages leading to speciation- keeping that tango of the two around.

      Jerry is the expert in this, and my language may not be precise here and I am just writing this to address why biology nicely brings together particles and people. I am sometimes tempted to write down these thoughts in context of current debate but well, in anonymity i shall remain for now.

      How do we account for people who perceive themselves as otherwise- question we must ask is what is that perception. Is it years of stereotyping behaviours? Clothing is an example- As a biologist i wondered if there is enough plasticity in our brain to change that association. There are culturally interesting questions, but they become temporary questions because we go on evolving based on the two body plans.

      1. . . .biology nicely brings together particles and people

        That is a profound insight, Ana. Biology does this through sexual attraction between (usually) the opposite gamete producers. This is not to put down homosexual attraction. The part of the brain that experiences desire to have orgasm with someone doesn’t “know” that no gametes will be intromitted in whatever coupling it seeks. My point is the attraction is sexual, not “genderal”. Indeed if gender display doesn’t match the sex organs displayed at the moment of coition, anger at false signaling is likely. Especially if the bar bill was substantial.

        A person who changes gender fails utterly to make her/himself attractive to those who are attracted to the sex s/he blackfaces as, and s/he makes her/himself less attractive to those who like the sex s/he was born as. So what has s/he achieved other than indulging in narcissism? (The wives of Eliot Page and Adm. Rachel Levine both divorced them after they transitioned. Transphobes no doubt.)

        I’m surprised that sexual attractiveness and success receives so little attention in the “transwomen are women” discussion. Does anyone find trans people of either sex sexually attractive? Woody Allen said being bisexual doubles your chances of getting a date for Saturday night. Does “coming out as non-binary”.do the same? Or does it just invite gay people to hit on you without your having to say you’re gay yourself? During the advocacy years for homosexual acceptance, licentious public promiscuity was what it was to be out and proud. The trans activists, while more often violent, are strangely chaste. Were they asexual to begin with, so it really is all about solo them?

        1. Lots to unpack there, and I think the answer would be complex. For example, if most people are heterosexuals, does your dating chance expand if you are a mtf attracted to “macho” males and you “pass” well? But if one is an ftm dating a male, one probably is reducing ones’ potential dating pool. I think these choices are not driven by reproduction other than the case that worries people, mtf attracted to females but not undergoing any medical procedures.

          From an academic perspective my first issue with this is language. This whole thing is incoherent which then leads to implications in both law, parenting and medicine. Gender is of course linked to sex, not independent of it if based on self perception. Most people are “cis” for a reason. If “cis” exists, there are 2 sexes. Gender becomes relevant only when people are sex-nonconforming, no one can be gender nonconforming. Everything is gender conforming.

          So we are down to sex nonconformity. Bimodality of traits. When we have acceptance for heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals society is inclusive. You could also simply just not try to categorize yourself and date whomever you want. Some things are really not that complex.

          1. Except that you can’t date whomever you want. The object of your desire has a veto in the matter and will categorize you however s/he likes. A lesbian woman is not going to willingly have sex with a body with a penis. The spurned transwoman can’t do anything about that except accuse her of transphobia, a hate crime, and feel justified in beating her up, as men are wont to do. And no matter how well she passes, no dice with straight men, either. Some of them will beat her up.

            Gay people can seek each other out and see what comes naturally. (Gay men no longer need to deceive straight women into marrying them for cover.) Everyone else lets them be. Trans people elicit conflict between the sex they find attractive and the sex that other person finds attractive, which the transperson isn’t but only tries to pass as. This conflict is unresolvable and is cast by trans people as transphobia. “I say I’m a woman and if you like women you should find me sexually attractive just because I display female gender attributes with female mimicry.” My thesis is that this false signaling underlies transphobia. It’s caused by trans people, not by society, because they’re telling us who we ought to find sexually attractive. Gay people never demanded that straight people fall for them as their right. Politely saying, “Sorry, I’m not that way,” was never called homophobia.

            Anyway, I was struck by your biological reasoning as there is no biology without sexual attraction. Not gender. Sex. Appreciate your response.

    2. You forget that there’s people who will make any claim they want about particles, especially if they have a belief in the supernatural or free energy.

    3. The whole point of this debate is that despite the fact that ”particles are not people, and people are not particles”, there are only two biological sexes. Yes, biological sex is an attribute of humans, but it’s also immutable. As you say, we do need to consider ”what happens when human beings who for whatever reason see themselves as neither purely male nor purely female”. However, that has nothing to do with this debate; people can see themselves as whatever they like, but that doesn’t make them a different biological sex. It also in no way supports the idea that there are more than two biological sexes, or that there exists some sort of overlap between male and female.

      The sexes are defined and differentiated by the gametes they produce, or more exactly, the gametes their body plan will ordinarily produce. That’s it. To even suggest that people’s feelings and self-perception should be considered in this debate is to lend credence to the crazy and pernicious nonsense that is infiltrating biology. There are two sexes, clearly defined, and to consider anything other than biology in this debate is to subvert science. It makes no sense.

      1. I agree with everything you say here, except perhaps ‘that has nothing to do with this debate’. All I am trying to suggest is to imagine how the debate might be experienced by human beings who for whatever reason see themselves as neither purely male nor purely female. Yes that may have nothing to do with the biological truths or falsities encountered in the debate, but it may be relevant to the human interactions involved in the debate.

  4. “It’s probably a bad transcription from our recorded interview, and may be due to my voice, which was horse from a bad colt.” – Literal LOL. Feel better soon, great article as always!

  5. To riff on what Chris Lawrence said, there is an important, though typically subtle, distinction between sex as defined in biology and “the sex of [insert name of human being here]”. Woke campaigners who forget this can do harm to both science, and to society including the people they’re supposedly helping. But science fans who forget this can also mess up the discussion.

    Paul Griffiths says it well:

    The definition of biological sex is designed to classify the human reproductive system and all the others in a way that helps us to understand and explain the diversity of life. It’s not designed to exhaustively classify every human being, or every living thing. Trying to do so quickly leads to questions that have no biological meaning.

    Human societies can’t delegate to biology the job of defining sex as a social institution. The biological definition of sex wasn’t designed to ensure fair sporting competition, or to settle disputes about access to healthcare.

  6. A sign I read yesterday, preaching “inclusivity and acceptance”, read :


    The notion of “blank slate” came to mind, Utopian, … the “acceptance” sounds lovey-dovey – also sounds Red Guard.

    1. Reminds me of Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

      Brian: Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t NEED to follow ME, You don’t NEED to follow ANYBODY! You’ve got to think for your selves! You’re ALL individuals!

      Crowd: Yes! We’re all individuals!

      Brian: You’re all different!

      Crowd: Yes, we ARE all different!

      Man in crowd: I’m not…

  7. Would any of these articles claiming that it’s scientifically inaccurate to say that sex is a binary have been written if we weren’t in the middle of a huge social dispute concerning people who don’t think their mind “fits” their sex? Scientists would of course still be exploring the human diversity of Disorders in Sexual Development and picking Nature apart from Nurture in the study of the differences between males and females, but absent the struggles and complaints of those who identify as transgender I really doubt this growing consensus that Sex is a Spectrum would have ever gotten off the ground. Which, if so, is always suspicious when it comes to science.

    People, on average, want to ease suffering and have others see them as the sort that wants to do that. But I just don’t see a way to make a case that an unhappy male who gets breast augmentation has now happily moved further towards the “female” end of the spectrum without being forced to admit that a woman with small breasts should find herself a bit closer to “male.”

  8. So, what’s the guess? Have people like Fuentes and Helmuth gone so far down the ideological rabbit hole that they can no longer distinguish truth from fiction in these matters? Or do they knowingly peddle falsehoods to the public to advance an ideological cause? Other?

    1. I was raised Catholic and this reminds me of watching otherwise intelligent people trying to reconcile scientific facts (evolution, cosmology) with their religious beliefs.

  9. A sociological question of mild interest: how did the anti-biological sex-is-a-spectrum cliché get into the woke party line? Could a few zealots, like that creepy ACLU lawyer with the comic-book name, be the primary source? I think it goes deeper, specifically to the groves of academe about one generation ago. Wokeliness just uncritically picked up everything that was affected by poseurs of postmodernism in 1980s-90s academe. Critical
    Race Theory, check. All STEM subjects are colonialist, check. Critical Gender Theory and Queer theory, check. If the American scholars of Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard etc. etc. had been fond of Astrology, today Zodiacal signs and planetary aspects would be part of the DEI scripture.

    1. A related question is how the sex-is-a-spectrum cliche acquired so much mainstream “just be kind, it doesn’t affect you” support.

      My suburban school district tentatively adopted gender ideology about 10 years ago as part of an anti-bullying program: don’t beat up the gay and lesbian kids, and don’t make fun of the gender non-conforming kids. The only people in my community arguing against this seemingly reasonable policy were openly homophobic “god hates fags” evangelical zealots, and who wants to be on their side? Thus the drag queen’s nose got into the tent.

      Does opposition to religious homophobes account for the broad but thin support for “trans rights” across the culture? Is fear of forced teaming with these odious people the reason it’s so hard for many of us to reject gender ideology? I think there’s a great cultural anthropology study to be done some day after the fever breaks.

      1. Yep, fear of the smear by association (and an arrogance that suggests that “those people” are never correct). If a modern-day Paul Revere had been a religious right-winger, then most on the left would have stayed in their beds.

        Oh, Canadian! That’s alright; you probably know more about the cultural reference than would most Americans under 30.

      2. Fear of being seen as “on the wrong team” leads to so many people saying so many things they don’t believe, and refusing to say so many things they do believe. Even the teens and tweens in my family will, when they know they’re solely in the company of others who agree with them and won’t reveal their opinions, gladly say that they think almost all of this woke buffoonery is absurd (including “there aren’t two sexes”). Get just a few people who vote Democrat in a room, and they’ll gladly admit that we have serious problems at our southern border and mass illegal immigration needs to be stopped. And on and on.

        But they would never say such things in public. Depending on the opinion, somewhere between 75-95% of the public walks around with the same opinion on an issue. But half of us are too afraid to express these opinions out loud because critical institutions that can dole out social, professional, and even legal punishment have been captured by that small percentage that is just crazy enough to punish nearly all of society if that’s what needs to be done to make everyone “think” properly. And even people who agree with the 75-95% will feign disagreement in public, lest they be branded as well.

        In other words: Havel’s Greengrocer.

  10. Speaking of horses and colts, Reality’s Last Stand has a sharp,
    funny post by Catherine Hawkins. She shows on one x-axis a pair of frequency distributions: they overlap considerably but have different means. She discusses it as follows.

    “Despite detailed rebuttals, it’s obvious from this graph that people cannot be grouped into binary categories of male and female because these categories are not separate—some of the people who produce eggs have more male-typical traits, and vice versa.
    Except, oops, that’s a plot of dog and horse body weights.
    The fact that small horses and large dogs have similar weights means that “horse” and “dog” are a false binary, and all of these animals fall along a dog-horse spectrum. Don’t scoop me before I get this submitted to Nature.

  11. . . . face considerable pushback from both scientists—who work with male and female organisms—and “regular” people, who have eyes to see and neurons to analyze.

    This is an important point. The Progressive claims about gender fly in the face of human experience. Left to themselves, most people would reject them. The only way to impose them on society is by force, including censorship, or subterfuge, such as encouraging grade-schoolers to transition secretly.

  12. It’s not necessary to speculate or conjecture as why the sex binary is an issue now. Helmer put it very clearly: “A lot of the science-ey-sounding objections to trans rights rely on claims about biological determinism that don’t hold up beyond meiosis”.

    The phrase “there are two sexes” has acquired a political connotation, as essentially meaning something like “transgender isn’t physically real”. That is a description of how the world is now, not an endorsement of the connection. I don’t have any advice as to how to change it, as there are reason that the obvious ideas aren’t going to work. However, I believe the strategy of repeatedly explaining the biology, by itself, won’t change the politics. In fact, there’s a good chance of a “backfire effect” where it keeps getting perceived as anti-transgender (again, even if not true in any way shape or form, that will still be the perception).

    The next suggestion would be to directly engage the politics, but that may not work because of the culture war around it. Again, I just don’t know.

    1. “The phrase “there are two sexes” has acquired a political connotation,”

      Yes. “Sex is non-binary” has become for part of the Left what “Covid Is A Hoax” or “Fauci Is The Devil” was for many on the Right.

  13. I feel a lot of folks like to deny sex and promote gender in the same way that they like to diminish biology in favor of culture – one seems changeable while the other more hardened (same for the subjective versus objective thing) – because you cannot get progress from a hardened stone, apparently. They often miss, to their dismay, that these forces tend to push and pull in the same direction, one amplifying the other rather than minimizing it – a good portion of the time, at least. And a highly educated and intelligent professor like Fuentes uses his intelligence to chase an off form of progressiveness rather than bankable knowledge through truth seeking. Hopefully, in the near future, General AI will smack down intelligent people who maintain clearly dumb beliefs.

  14. The attempt to force biology education at all levels to accept that sex is non-binary is entirely analogous to Lysenko-ism and motivated by the same kind of failed and failing efforts at social engineering which were taken to their most violent extreme by Stalin. The Pathological Left evolved out of the Stalinist (and Maoist) Ulltra-Left of the 1970s. It is fundamentally anti-democratic and nihilistic.

    1. Very astute and insightful. It is no accident that social engineering is being promoted by “anti racists” (mostly blacks but not all), who spread their own irrational ideologies for nefarious purposes, i.e. to get privilege and power at the expense of other races. So this same authoritarianism in addressing gender and sex was inevitably going to arise. What links these trends? I dont believe it has anything to do with past discrimination against blacks or gays, not for one minute. It is a power play and in defiance of the truly progressive movements against racial discrimination that took place in the last century and benefitted so many blacks as well as expanding the rights of women. There is no humane or compassionate objective in the campaigns (battles is a better description) being waged about race and gender. The warriors have no interest in advancing progressive or inclusive views or policies whatsoever. It is raw power and oligarchical power they seek, not any mitigation or opposition to the really dangerous lethal forces that are destroying civilization and the planet, i.e. industrial capitalist corporate growth, overconsumption, biodiversity loss and overpopulation. India has at least 20 million slaves yet is still called a democracy. Islam enslaves its women and murders gays and apostates. Brazil destroys the Amazon.
      Where are the blacks and gays and feminists on these issues?

  15. “humans are neither fish nor lizards”

    It is more than slightly amazing that such words are even needed. Sadly, they are needed. We live in very strange times.

    “And yes, Ainsworth is right”

    I disagree. I don’t see any continuum of variation in human anatomy. Are humans born with anatomy that is 50% male and 50% female? That is not a very rare DSD?

  16. “There are those, politicians, pundits and even a few scientists, who maintain that whether our bodies make ova or sperm are all we need to know about sex. They assert that men and women are defined by their production of these gamete cells, making them a distinct biological binary pair, and that our legal rights and social possibilities should flow from this divide. Men are men. Women are women. Simple.”
    —Agustín Fuentes (“Here’s Why Human Sex Is Not Binary”, 2023)

    Paul Griffiths doesn’t agree with Fuentes’ contention that human sex is not binary, but he agrees with him insofar as that…

     “The idea of biological sex is critical for understanding the diversity of life, but ill-suited to the job of determining the social or legal status of human beings as men or women.

    The real message of these critiques is that the human practices which assign human beings social or legal status as men or women cannot be reduced to establishing their biological sex. In fact,…the biological understanding of sexes is even less well-suited to this job than these critics suppose. The biological understanding of sexes has been shaped for the comparative study of reproductive systems across the diversity of life, not for making decisions about the social or legal status of human beings.”
    —Paul E. Griffiths (“What are Sexes?”, 2021)

    1. Conservative and fascist politicians have been shouting that a biologically male/female person must never be granted the legal status of a woman/man; but given that there is no logical entailment between one’s natural sex and one’s legal or social status as a woman/man, they are arguing from their own ideological point of view rather than from the scientific point of view of the biology of sex.

      1. ‘Fascist’ is the go to word for TRAs. It has many meanings. What it really means comes from an article written by Jesse Singal. The title is “The Downsides Of Calling Everyone You Disagree With A Fascist”. In other words, “I don’t agree with you, so I will call you a fascist’. For a particularly bad example, consider Grace Lavery. Of course she/he/it has used the ‘F’ word. However, she has literally called for book burning (see Of course, I you oppose cheating at sports, you are a ‘fascist’. I you oppose men in women’s prisons, you are a ‘fascist’. The TRAs are so fanatical that they have called J.K. Rowling a ‘fascist’.

      2. Not so. In jurisdictions that permit only opposite sex couples to marry and in the case of the military draft, the legal/social status of sex entails absolutely from natural gametically defined sex. And both homosexuals and hetersexuals define for the social and reproductive purposes of their attraction a concept of sex that entails also from gametic sex, even if they don’t care about the gametes themselves.

    2. I have a lot of respect for Griffiths, who is unusual among philosophers in actually knowing the biology he thinks and writes about. But his philosophy isn’t any more suitable than the definition of biological sex for “[assigning] human beings social or legal status as men or women.” I agree that a biologically male person must never be granted the legal status of a woman: he should stay out of my daughter’s lesbian dating app, Girl Guide troop, public washroom, sports league, or (god forbid) prison. That says nothing about whether I think such a male person should have all the other human rights and responsibilities that other males have (in fact I do). Does this make me a fascist? If you think it does, then I suggest that word has lost all meaning.

      1. I do not use “fascist” to refer to everyone I disagree with. I use it to refer to those people who are fascists according to the politological classification (e.g. Orban, Putin).

        To say that fascists think a transwoman/transman must never be granted the legal status of a woman/man is not necessarily to say that everybody who thinks so is a fascist, because it depends on /why/ somebody thinking so thinks so.
        If your reason or motive is that you generally regard being transgender/transsexual as a sinful abomination, or transsexuality as a pathological “state against nature”, or transpersons as perverts or subhumans, or as crazies or sickos, then you are on the far-right side of the political spectrum.

        Even if a transwoman/transman gets the legal status of a woman/man, this needn’t mean that all transpersons (no matter whether or not they have undergone hormonal and surgical feminization/masculinization) get an absolute, unconditional, exceptionless right to enter all women-only/men-only spaces.

        1. It’s not possible for you to know the reasoning or motivation of any commenters here wrt sinful abominations. So what’s the point of bringing fascism into this discussion, other than to tar the discussants as fascists? The pronoun switch from “everybody who thinks so is a fascist” in your first paragraph to “you are on the far-right side of the political spectrum” in the second makes the point clearer. This is just name-calling with extra steps. Please stop.

          1. I called no one here a fascist! This is a willful misreading on your part, because I just wrote that IF your reason or motive is THAT, then “you are on the far-right side of the political spectrum.”
            It is undeniable that there is a dangerous fascist transphobia (as we see it e.g. in Hungary & Russia)!

  17. 14 th Feb 23 the below was posted by Abby Weber, PhD Student, Department of Evolution, Ecology, & Behavior, at the Anderson Evolutionary Biomechanics Lab of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
    “Dr. Lipshutz expressed that biologists must start using specific language when discussing sexual variation instead of defaulting to binaries that we as a society have an internalized bias toward. She argues that simplifying to teaching sex binaries in the classroom doesn’t prepare students to understand sexual diversity. Another point she raises is that if biologists perpetuate this binary thinking, then society might misconstrue our work to perpetuate and justify discrimination toward people who exist outside of sex binaries.”

    Sara Lipshutz of Loyola University Chicago explored alternative models of animal sex in her talk “Multimodal models of animal sex: breaking binaries to better understand reproductive behaviors” at SICB 2023 as part of the Sexual Variation and Diversity symposium.

    I offer this up, which was below this post on WordPress AS TO WHY this stupid behaviour is being ‘perpetuated’. It had NO likes, and NO comments. It got what it deserved IMO. I would love to see our host rip into this post but I think he has enough on his plate.

    1. We usually say “motile” for life forms that move under their own power. Eggs are mobile in that they are passively carried along on currents generated by the cilia that line the Fallopian tubes.

    1. Edit: Sorry. this got posted without my byline. Leslie MacMillan

      Nicely expressed. We should be concentrating more on biological sex differences and less on gender. The transman is saying more than, “I’m a man with a cervix.” He’s really a man with a whole encyclopaedia of traits determined from conception by the absence of a Y chromosome, plus whatever medical risks added by lifelong testosterone therapy. In other words, he’s a woman. His male gender is probably the least important thing about him, medically, other than drug side effects.

      The challenges of diagnosing and treating women correctly have been recognized since the 1980s. If we really do stop realizing that the man in front of us has a female body we will miss things, and not just cervical cancer.

      Edit: My only objection to the article is that the term pseudo-hermaphroditism is no longer used because it confuses more than it illuminates. It just describes various forms of genital ambiguity.

  18. [ trigger warning : coffee was unavailable at the time if this thought ]:

    We know Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language.

    Maybe it’s time for someone to write something like it for science, e.g.

    Science and the English Language

    … not that that title is great, but the idea of it – maybe pseudoscience, or something…

    [ caffeination begins ]

  19. “And yes, Ainsworth is right, but I add the caveat that for many traits, like height and weight, males and females may lie on a continuous distribution, but the distribution is also bimodal because of sexual dimorphism”

    Is that true? I don’t think so. It is very true that average female height is different than average male height. However, it you plotted male and female heights would you really get a curve with two peaks? I don’t think this is true. For androgen levels I think you would get a curve with two peaks (one for male, the other for female).

    1. In a true normal distribution given by that exponential equation we all learn, the mean = the mode = the median. So if there are two normal distributions in there with different means, there must also be two modes, i.e. bimodal.

      In practice it can be difficult to detect true bimodality and distinguish it from real-life random variations from ideal normality, unless you have the budget to increase sample size several-fold and run the experiment again. Or unless the modes and means are very far apart compared to the standard deviations of both populations, as with testosterone levels. A notch in the middle where most of the observations lie may be just noise or it might be a clue to some important dimorphism not previously recognized.

      For most bio-medical studies, the researchers figure out the smallest sample size that, for the hoped-for effect size, will give p < 0.05 or the equivalent confidence interval that doesn’t include zero, and then set to work on the experiment. Much as we should, studies are rarely powered to detect such important bimodal differences in effectiveness of the treatment between men and women. Doing studies big enough to pick up difference between subgroups is very expensive and gives a greater chance that, say, women will falsely appear not to benefit from the treatment and so will be denied it in practice, even if in truth they actually would benefit, and would have appeared to if their results had been folded into the statistically more robust whole. There are many advocates who want to know if a treatment works differently in their pet sub-group. A recent paper looking at outcomes of female patients operated on by male surgeons was criticized because the authors didn’t subdivide the patients and the surgeons by gender as well as by sex.

      Bi-modality plagues medical research and there’s is no clear agreed-upon approach. A trade-off between efficiency and equity I suppose.

      For research where you have to collect a lot of specimens from a small number of patients,, the temptation is to use only men because women have more variance owing to menstrual cycle and have trouble peeing into little bottles.

      1. Sorry, I put my response in the wrong place.

        I tested your claim using RStudio and got contrary results. For females, I used a mean height of 164.7 centimeters and an SD of 7.07. For males, I used a mean height of 178.4 centimeters and an SD 7.59. I then combined the curves (easy to do in RStudio) and plotted the result. The result had only one peak. If I used a higher number for male height (factually wrong, but a good test), I got two peaks. I can provide the RStudio code if you want/need it.

  20. I tested your claim using RStudio and got contrary results. For females, I used a mean height of 164.7 centimeters and an SD of 7.07. For males, I used a mean height of 178.4 centimeters and an SD 7.59. I then combined the curves (easy to do in RStudio) and plotted the result. The result had only one peak. If I used a higher number for male height (factually wrong, but a good test), I got two peaks. I can provide the RStudio code if you want/need it.

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