Another science kerfuffle in which a biology journal pushes ideology and denies the binary nature of sex

May 7, 2023 • 10:30 am

One by one, biology journals—and other science journals, as noted in our new “merit” paper—are placing at the top of their priority list “progressive” authoritarian Social Justice, often presenting misguided science because it comports better with progressive ideology.

Here we see another journal voluntarily leaping down the rabbit hole: BioScience, published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences.  I found this out because a colleague and I wrote a perfectly civil letter to the editor in response to a big paper about how to present “inclusive” biology in the classroom. The editors accepted and published our letter, and I thought that would be the end of that. A normal scientific exchange.

Oy, was I wrong: nothing is “normal” when sex and gender ideology are at stake.

First, the editors allowed the authors of the original paper to respond, which is perfectly normal in the literature—except they gave them twice as much space as they allowed us.  Well, that’s okay, too; I’m not going to beef much. But THEN three of the journal’s editors—the editor-in-chief, the senior editor, and then the “past editor in chief” (?)—wrote a joint op-ed opening the journal, whose purpose was not only to flaunt virtue and show how devoted the journal was to inclusivity, but also to spank my coauthor and me for what we said in the very letter that the journal accepted.  Talk about overreaction! But it’s in the interest of the journal and its associated society to assert ideological purity, so the editors just had to weigh in.

Fortunately, all the papers, letters, and op-eds are online and accessible below, so you can judge for yourselves.  I’ll put each step in the sequence of four publications:

a.)  Zemnick et al. wrote a long paper about how to teach biology in college in a way that would “embrace gender and sexual diversity” among the students. Their outline of teaching rules (I’ll mention only one) was intended to convince students who were either trans or of diverse genders that their behavior was not “unnatural.” To do this, they recommended to begin biology courses by teaching the diversity of sexuality in the animal kingdom so that gender diverse students could be heartened by seeing that they weren’t something outside of nature.

Click on the paper below to read it, or get the pdf here. 

The main problem with the piece, which of course was motivated by empathic concerns, is that the authors propose a teaching method that relies on the naturalistic fallacy, the idea that if something is natural is must be “good”. (I use “good” here in the sense of the sexual identity of a student, which is to be buttressed by the authors’ pedagogy.) But then they vehemently deny that they’re using the naturalistic fallacy.

Their aim:

In the present article, we focus on teaching approaches aimed at inclusivity related to gender and sexual minorities. Broadly, we include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and two spirit people, as well as identities that do not fit neatly into those labels (LGBTQIA2S+) to fall under the umbrella of gender and sexual minorities, and the needs of this population are the focus of this article. We acknowledge that LGBTQIA2S + students are not a homogenous group and that the students’ needs will also depend on race, class, disability status, and other identities.

Despite advancements in recent decades, sexual and gender minorities face considerable obstacles and inequities in scientific culture. Undergraduate students belonging to sexual minorities are less likely to complete their STEM degrees than their heterosexual peers (Hughes 2018). Many LGBTQIA2S + scientists consider quitting their jobs because of harmful workplace climates (Gibney 2019) and are more likely to intend to leave STEM altogether than are their peers (Cech and Waidzunas 2021).

I’d urge you to check out the references. For example, Hughes 2018 says this:

This interaction term was significant: sexual minority men’s expected probability of retention in STEM was lower than that for heterosexual men (0.45 versus 0.54), whereas sexual minority women’s expected probability exceeded that of heterosexual women (0.39 versus 0.32).

That is, being a sexual minority woman actually increases your probability of staying in STEM—just about as much as it lowers men’s probability. This isn’t mentioned, nor does the original study control for other variables, like psychological issues, that may influence dropping out of STEM independent of any bigotry or lack of inclusivity.

But I digress. The teaching method proposed by Zemenick et al. has six components. Here’s the first one.

. . . For many topics, instructors must make decisions about how to simplify biological complexity so that it can be understood by students. A common strategy is to focus on a simple and general biological “rule” first, and then, if time allows, discuss “exceptions to the rule” only after the basic pattern has been established. For example, when discussing sex determination, educators might begin and end with a simplified discussion of developmental pathways in humans and animals with XY determination systems. Intersex and other developmental pathways (e.g., Bachtrog et al. 2014), if they are discussed, are presented as deviations from the norm, and, in humans, are often unnecessarily pathologized.

We propose presenting diversity within and across species first as opposed to last. This can help avoid the misconception that the average or most common phenotypes in one taxa, species, or population is what is “natural” or “normal” among all populations or species. By presenting diversity first, students learn that variation and diversity in sexual reproduction strategies, sex determination systems, and sex-associated behaviors is vast and normal; in other words, diversity the biological rule, not the exception!

. . . Presenting diversity in the class can have three main benefits. First, it can help normalize human diversity in the classroom. Students may be more able to understand why there is so much variation in humans and that there is nothing fundamentally “unnatural” about not fitting into narrow cultural norms of gender identity, behavior, or sexuality.

. . . 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.

If that isn’t the naturalistic fallacy (or the related appeal-to-nature fallacy), I don’t know what is. Now the authors do claim that they’re not adumbrating either fallacy, but this seems to be a confusion on their part. By teaching “diversity first”, their explicit aim is to show LGBTQIA2S+ students (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, intersexual, asexual, and everything else under the “+” ) that their diverse sexuality is not at all unnatural, because animals show similar “diversity” (they don’t, of course; see below).

Here’s their caveat, which we found unconvincing:

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).

This seemed to me and my colleague Nelson Fagundes deeply confused. The authors say it’s not a value argument, but then assert that showing biological diversity tells students that their behavior is “natural,” and combats arguments against diverse sexuality based on its supposedly being “unnatural.” This is cognitive dissonance, and of course I’ve battled this kind of argument for years, as you can see in one paragraph I wrote below.

b.) A colleague and I write a response in BioScience. Nelson Fagundes, a Brazilian biologist, was also concerned by this paper, and asked if I wanted to collaborate with him on a letter to BioScience. I did, and so we wrote a letter to the journal, reproduced in indented form below the screenshot. Click on the screenshot to see it, or find the pdf here.

Here’s our published letter (493 words; we were told not to exceed 500 words). Note the paragraph in bold, which came from a review I did of Joan Roughgarden’s book Nature’s Rainbow.

Few sentences capture so aptly the awe biologists feel toward nature as does the final passage of On the Origin of the Species (Darwin 1859): “From so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” Indeed, biologists are trained to study—and wonder at—the almost infinite diversity of life forms. In a recent essay, Zemenick and colleagues (2022) discussed how we should promote a more inclusive and welcoming environment for biology teaching, including LGBTQIA2S+ students, and suggested six general principles for achieving this goal. Although we agree with most of their principles, we would like to add one: Teach the naturalistic fallacy first.

Zemenick and colleagues (2022) stated that many students may feel uncomfortable if their bodies, gender, or sexual orientation are depicted as “unnatural.” Even though the authors seem to recognize the perils of the naturalistic (or appeal-to-nature) fallacy—the idea that what is natural is inherently good or should dictate our behavior—they suggest instead that we should teach “diversity first,” giving students a broad array of biological examples to show that there is nothing “unnatural” about not fitting traditional cultural norms about sexuality or gender.

Well intentioned as this suggestion may be, our opinion is that it actually caters to the naturalistic fallacy by promoting positive “natural models” of sexual or gender behavior. But most philosophers and rationalists have recognized that nature is incapable of providing a moral guide or role models for humans (Tanner 2006). For example, whether or not animals have gender is irrelevant to a moral discussion about human gender roles. In addition, lethal aggression, sexual coercion, and infanticide not only exist in nature but represent adaptive strategies. Surely, we cannot just pick out the “good” diversity of nature as a model while ignoring the equally adaptive “bad” forms of diversity. Furthermore, if ethics or rights depend on observations of nature, then those values become susceptible to change if our understanding of nature changes.

Culture, rights, ethics, and moral equality are phenomena unique to our species. As one of us wrote about the perils of using nature to draw lessons about human behavior,

“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 behavior are those denied access to females by more dominant males. How can this possibly be equated to human homosexuality?” (Coyne 2004)

Emphasizing the problems of the naturalistic fallacy would show students that they do not need to find examples in nature to affirm their genders or sexual identities. Instead, their identities should be respected based on human rights (OHCHR 2019). Nature cannot be—and should not be—any guide to human rights and morality.

This shows the profound fallacy of trying to buttress people’s identities, sexual or otherwise, by showing them the diversity of nature. For some of that diversity could be used to show that all kinds of nefarious behavior in humans is also “natural”, including infanticide, murder, necrophilia, and theft. Here’s another paragraph from my review that we didn’t reproduce.

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.

Do Zemenick et al. want to teach that kind of diversity? I don’t think so. They want to teach only the kind of diversity that buttresses their ideology [and own sexual identities, see the postscript below]. This is not biology instruction, but ideologically-motivated propaganda.

I thought this exchange was pretty anodyne, and that our letter would be the end of it. But that doesn’t seem to be the case when biologists promote “progressive” views, and so. . . .

c.) The authors respond to our letter. Click screenshot below to see it, or read the pdf here.  The authors got 973 words to respond, just about twice what we were allowed. So be it.

Their main point is to assert that they took care to prevent raising the naturalistic fallacy, quoting the caveat in their original paper. They then go ahead and reprise that same fallacy by reiterating what they said in their original article:

Therefore, our article is in alignment with the need to avoid the naturalistic fallacy, which we argue can be effectively done in conjunction with a diversity-first model of teaching. Second, Fagundes and Coyne misunderstand our article as arguing that educators should make moral arguments based on the natural world in an effort to combat the perception that LGBTQIA2S+ students are morally wrong. In fact, we argue that educators should use a diversity-first model not to combat the perception that sexual and gender diversity is morally wrong but the perception that it is “unnatural.” We are concerned that traditional biology education models can lead students to infer their bodies or experiences are not part of the natural world, that they are an anomaly or something biological science cannot explain. As such, biology education should aim to impress on students that diversity and variation are the norm in biology, not to teach them about “good” (or “bad”) diversity.

As we state in our original article, 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). A risk in biology education is that LGBTQIA2S+ students will feel unnatural, erased, or invisible or that they will be unable to align their realities with their understanding of biology (Amarati Casper et al., 2022).

. . . Finally, although students may not need to find examples in nature to understand their own biology—they are already valid because they exist—they can benefit from such examples. We have found that, without relying on the naturalistic fallacy, showing students examples from biology can give some students comfort, curiosity, and joy by illustrating they are part of a universal pattern of biological diversity.

Translation: “Students don’t need examples from nature to buttress their sexuality, but it’s way better if they get the examples, and we recommend providing them.” To me this bespeaks a deep confusion on the part of Zemenick et al. And of course if this is your aim, then it helps determine what kind of biological examples you’ll use.

But that response was apparently insufficient for the journal’s editors (who accepted our letter).

d.) Three BioScience editors decided to double down and publish an editor’s op-ed at the beginning of the journal, taking us to task and giving us an editorial potsch in tuchas.  You can read the Big Editorial below by clicking on the screenshot, or get the pdf here. This response amused me, except for the editors’ denial (see below) that sex is binary in nature. Here we see a blatant distortion of the facts in the service of ideology, and it’s made by the editors themselves.


I’ll be brief. They reiterate Zemenick’s claim that we got the original paper wrong because Zemenick et al. denied using the naturalistic of appeal-to-nature fallacy. Ergo our criticism was misguided. I’ll give one quote and then a corrective:

Although Zemenick and colleagues were clear to place diversity as the primary reason and method to make the classroom more inclusive, rejecting nature-based arguments as moral guides, it seems that Fagundes and Coyne failed to see this message. It is worth reiterating that the key point of contention is that natural models cannot serve as or provide “moral guides or role models for humans.”

No, the main point is that you should not look to nature to buttress human identities or behavior, for that is a slippery strategy—a two-edged sword.  Zemenick et al. did in fact use natural variation as a form of moral guidance: a way to show students that their behavior wasn’t wrong or immoral because, after all, we see it in the “diversity of nature.” (If you can show me a natural analogue of gender dysphoria leading to medical sex change in nature, let me know.)

But the most disturbing part of the editors’ screed comes right after the bit above, and it’s this (bolding is mine):

We do believe that we can learn much about ourselves through the study of related animals. Humans are products of evolution. Evolution works on variation. The binary concept of sex and sexual behavior is counter to the variation we see around us.

No, sexual behavior is not binary, but it’s bimodal in general, with males being promiscuous and females choosy. The bad part is the editors’ palpably false assertion that “The binary concept of sex is counter to the variation we see around us.” Really? Have they looked around themselves?   So here’s another incipient letter to the editors:

Dear BioScience editors:

Sex in animals and nearly all vascular plants is binary: males with the equipment to make mobile gametes and females with the equipment to make large immobile gametes. Are you denying this? If not, then please publish a correction, for your statement is damaging the public understanding of biology.

Jerry Coyne

Yes, sex is binary, and it does no credit to the editors of this journal to deny that in the interests of ideology. And make no mistake about it: this editorial is buttressed by ideology. Here’s the ending:

Although the study of nature may not provide moral direction, as scientists or science facilitators, we cannot escape the higher obligations of knowledge discovery to which we knowingly commit. Embracing all aspects of moral excellence, including the ways that we treat others, is an essential standard of science. Third, if the American Institute of Biological Sciences has made inclusiveness and diversity the foundation of its organizational blueprint, then we can surely embrace higher diversity concepts in our classrooms. We encourage you to thoughtfully read and consider implementing the suggestions found in Zemenick and colleagues’ original article, and we look forward to reading about the effectiveness of such endeavors, hopefully in the pages of BioScience

Here they explicitly place MORAL OBLIGATIONS as not only an “essential standard of science,” but also assert that “inclusiveness and diversity” is “the foundation of [The American Institute of Biological Science’s] organizational blueprint.”  Whatever happened to making the main purpose of biology organizations to teach and promulgate biology?

POSTSCRIPT:  After I finished this draft, I looked up who the authors of the original paper were (they’re at the end of the references in the pdf file, so I hadn’t seen them). And, lo and behold, here are the authors’ “positionality statements”.  They don’t affect my arguments at all, but may explain the thrust of the original paper and the doubling-down by the editors.

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.

I don’t think these positionality statements are either necessary or relevant unless you’re into politics or psychology. Authors’ arguments, whether about pedagogy or science, should be judged on their own merits, regardless of the arguers’ identities.

Finally, this post represents my own views, not those of Dr. Fagundes, though I suspect he’d agree with many of them!

51 thoughts on “Another science kerfuffle in which a biology journal pushes ideology and denies the binary nature of sex

  1. Is the degree of economic stability or the parental support that these authors grew up in something that now will be required in the biographies of all authors regardless of what they are writing about? What does that have to do with the topic these authors chose to write about (biology) or quality of the article?

  2. Hard to say whether the cherry-picking of evidence for discrimination (Hughes) or the cherry-picking of positive examples of sexual diversity from nature (clownfish) is more regrettable. It’s cherries all the way down.

    The claim that “biology education should aim to impress on students that diversity and variation are the norm in biology, not to teach them about ‘good’ (or ‘bad’) diversity” is obviously false given the absence of examples of infanticide, rape, and other reproductive traits that are the norm in biology but would (one assumes) be deplored as crimes by the editors.

    And speaking of absences, would the original authors teach “diversity first” by emphasizing the vast majority of animal and plan lineages in which there is zero variation in sexuality or “gender” (whatever that is)? The equivalent of the missionary position: grasses and worms and a vast array of other organisms that broadcast their gametes into the wind or the ocean currents, never to be seen again, where boy never meets girl but sperm occasionally meets egg, and no behaviours or adaptations or diversity of sexual interactions is required? One doubts it, but maybe they would? Again, only positive diversity examples need apply, and uniformity will be safely ignored.

    Also Jerry I love that you keep posting about these issues, but please be careful. As we now know, there are conservative fascist politicians who also oppose the intrusion of gender ideology into science. Nobody here is calling you a fascist, of course, but you (and we) should all be careful not to be seen agreeing in public with guys like Orban. Apparently it’s a very bad look or something. /s

  3. I thought that LGBTQ+ was about as far as we were going to get in the war of the virtue-signaling acronyms. Boy, was I wrong.

    The “Author Biographical” section had me looking for a rope to hang myself with. First, I can’t get past the singular “they/their.” (And yes, I’m familiar with the historical antecedents.) But “economically stable household”?

    Doomed, is we. Please kill me.

  4. Can we look forward to a BioScience editorial which recommends that Biology teaching begin with a discussion of aneuploidies? This would avoid implying the idea that mitosis and meiosis are organized to assure a normal chromosome number. The very idea of normal is, of course, offensive, harmful, and violates the principles of DEIism.

    In fact, perhaps all courses in all the sciences should begin with Paul Feyerabend’s “Farewell to Reason”, which challenges scientific rationalism from the start. This will not only soothe the feelings of otherwise marginalized neurodiverse students— it will help them to bring their diverse conceptions of the world into physics, engineering, aeronautics, medicine, and dentistry. Feyerabend, an icon of postmodernism a generation ago, is the patron saint of all the cults of this or that Other Way of Knowing.

  5. Obviously, the end goal of all of these arguments is to let trans women in to all traditionally cis women’s spaces. I think that trans women in cis women’s spaces is fine in cases where it doesn’t violate principles of fairness or safety.

    I (and I assume most readers of this site) would agree that trans women in women’s sports violates the fairness principle. As for bathrooms, I honestly don’t have a horse in that race, but I haven’t seen compelling evidence that allowing trans women in women’s bathrooms is more unsafe than our current set up. I get that it makes some people uncomfortable, but I don’t know if that alone is enough to justify not allowing trans women in, but I could go either way on that.

    For sports, I wish some rich person would just set up a few women’s events of non-team sports with objective metrics (running, swimming, weightlifting) for data collection purposes. The events can have a huge pot for the winners to incentivize participation, and trans activists can set the standards of qualification for the event. If there was a large enough sample size of trans and cis women (the pot would incentivize this), you would have a good data set to prove the fairness of the activists women’s qualification metrics. If the activists are right, this would vindicate them, and if they are wrong, it would put this whole issue to rest once and for all. I suspect trans athletes, even with hormones would perform better than expected using cis women as a control, but this could prove it.

    I could see this having opposition from trans activists just due to the risk of them being proved wrong, and I could also see true transphobes opposing this due to the risk of giving trans winners money, but this would effectively be paying for the hard data to settle this. Anyway, it’s an interesting thought experiment.

    1. Ryan, I’m sympathetic to your pov but disagree with parts of it.

      I don’t want male teens in my daughter’s high school washroom for the same reason trans activists don’t want to use the men’s washroom: 18-year-old males are potentially dangerous in enclosed spaces where everyone is taking some of their clothes off. My daughter shouldn’t have to be a human shield or a validation vending machine for transwomen.

      The real problem is male aggression, and we should fix that (we really should), but not at the expense of safety or opportunities for females.

      1. Like I said, I don’t have a horse in this race, so I could could be convinced that it is not a good idea. I don’t think that the scenario in high school locker rooms is as ripe for abuse as it is portrayed, though. I haven’t been in high school in 13 years now, but, at my high school, the locker rooms were always supervised. I think there are definitely potential risks, but I don’t think we can automatically assume it is more dangerous without data (this might already exist, but I am ignorant of it).

        You do have a valid point on male aggression, with which I agree.

    2. I don’t think that’s the goal of all these arguments; at least that didn’t cross my mind. I thought their goal was what they said it was: to buttress the self-esteem of those who don’t conform to majority “gender” types. I don’t think this thread should go off into these sort of trans issues; it’s a diversion.

      1. I see your point, and I apologize for veering off topic. I was too presumptuous of their goal, as the best assumption is their goal is as stated. If you could kindly remove my initial posting, I’d greatly appreciate it.

        1. Taking the words of social justice activists at face value is the most rookie mistake you can make. Their goal is the complete destruction of society as we know it in order to build a social justice utopia on it’s ruins. It’s not like we haven’t seen this dynamic before in the past 125 years. Their ideology is born from Marxism and so they follow the same tactics, the same trajectory as Marxist revolutionaries have done in the past. Just because they don’t state that specifically, doesn’t mean it isn’t obvious if you’ve been paying attention to what they are constantly saying and reading between the lines.
          But hey, maybe this time millions of people won’t be murdered, starved or condemned to die by denial of science in favour in ideology. I’m sure this time it will be different, because that could totally never happen in the present day.

    3. It’s well documented that incidents of voyeurism, secret filming, and sexual assault predominantly occur in mixed-sex changing rooms etc.

      Letting transwomen use women’s facilities makes them mixed-sex, completely undermining the reason that separate single-sex provision was created in the first place. Many women are unable to use mixed-sex facilities for religious reasons and many others have been victims of sexual assault and are too afraid to use facilities where they are vulnerable – undressing, etc. – if men may be present. Women’s public toilets were created to eradicate the “urinary leash”, but for too many women that leash is being reinvented.

      The problem of men who identify as women being unwilling to use the facilities provided for their own sex isn’t one that women should have to solve.

    4. “I think that trans women in cis women’s spaces is fine in cases where it doesn’t violate principles of fairness or safety.”

      Maybe you should leave that decision to actual women, which I’m assuming you’re not, Ryan.

      1. I am literally not making any decision in this, so I do not appreciate the implication. As PCC(E) said earlier in this thread, this discussion is a diversion from the topic of this thread.

    5. It’s about erasing women altogether. Look how you used the prefix “cis” to talk about natural-born women, as if we are a subset of something else. WE’RE NOT. Transwomen are men. If anything, they’re a subset of MEN, not women.

      It’s not about bathrooms. It’s not about sports & fairness, although that’s important. It’s about political power. It’s about how words are used & that is power.

      1. I agree. I never use cis-woman except when I need to make it crystal clear that I’m talking about women but the context allows the activists to exploit the confusion that might arise without the cis. But try to avoid it. Instead of saying, “Only cis-women should be allowed into women’s shelters,” say, “Men should not be allowed into women’s shelters. And so there is no confusion, this exclusion applies also to men even if they identify as women.”

        Don’t let them make you call yourself a pejorative. It’s like making you call yourself “Whitey”.

        There is no excuse for anyone saying something like,”Cis-women have a body plan that makes large immobile gametes and can become pregnant.”

  6. Please, Please stop calling this Toxic Offendedness (your Woke) progressive. It. Is. Not. Progressive. It is not part of the liberal ideology. As you’ve noted over and over again it is not rational, it is not tolerant, it is not liberal. It sure as F**K is not progressive. [sorry, it seems I get a bit heated about it sometimes.] It is not even ideology, though I think you’re using the word a little differently than I.

    1. Perhaps it is the case the Progressivism in not actually liberal. Progressivism seems to have at its heart using the power of government to force people to live in particular ways that go beyond liberal constraints to behave lawfully in a pluralistic society.

    2. I put progressive in quotes. By god, I can’t use any word without someone calling me out on it. Please be civil on this site. If you want to get heated, do so somewhere else.

  7. I think your letter in reply to the journal was excellent.

    In fact, we argue that educators should use a diversity-first model not to combat the perception that sexual and gender diversity is morally wrong but the perception that it is “unnatural.” . . . Finally, although students may not need to find examples in nature to understand their own biology–they are already valid because they exist–they can benefit from such examples.

    Given that unnatural is a common term indicating “bad,” it sure sounds like they are saying that examples from nature are good.

  8. Their argument appears to be that they avoided the appeal to nature by never claiming that gender/orientation diversity is ‘good’ or ‘moral’ but merely that it is ‘natural’.
    Because diverse sexual behavior has been observed…in Nature.
    So people with diverse sexual feelings should not feel ‘unnatural’.
    No further implications intended.

    But of course it’s the actual examples chosen that do indeed do the implying. I doubt the classic example of the cane toad attempting amplexus with a flattened, desiccated corpse is mentioned, for example.

  9. Yes, there is something other than science going on in this paper. For those who have busy day jobs and have not had the pleasure of encountering Queer Theory, I submit the below summary (source linked below).

    “Queer Theory exists, in a nutshell, to antagonize norms, normativity, and the normal—that is, anything that can be considered normal by society (even in accurate, neutral description) and thus that carries or can be construed to imply a morally normative expectation about it, which it deems intrinsically oppressive. This attitude is probably most clearly understood in the binary dichotomy “normal” versus “abnormal,” noting that there is a relatively positive connotation to “normal” as compared to a relatively negative connotation to “abnormal.” Considering ways that society tends to expect one’s behavior to be within certain bounds of “normalcy,” and everything falling outside of that is “abnormal,” “perverted,” or “crazy,” may clarify this understanding. Queer Theory wouldn’t merely seek to expand the boundaries of “normal” to include circumstances like homosexuality or, stretching the idea further, intersex conditions but to abolish the idea that “normal” is anything but constraining and oppressive entirely (see also, violence of categorization).

    Queer Theory seems to deliberately confuse anything that is descriptively normal, in the sense of being commonplace, e.g., heterosexuality or the sexual binary, with that automatically carrying an implication that any variation from that sense of falling within the general norm must be understood pejoratively and seen as somehow illegitimate.”

  10. The religion of the identity-politics left is ‘inclusion and diversity’ (plus ‘equity’). Anyone who disagrees is (by definition) against God. Sadly, this new religion is utterly dominant in much of life in the US and elsewhere. Logic is waste of time with religious fanatics.

  11. Kerfuffle is right!
    A classic case of having your cake and eating it. Commit the naturalistic fallacy when it suits, reject it when it doesn’t – what tosh. Everything we seem to know about nature is that it is a mechanistic system. I’m sorry but here I feel the need to get shouty: Nature can tell us NOTHING about what we SHOULD do. All human value systems must be inferred by looking at the universe at a completely different level of interpretation: a level above the one defined by arbitrary and soulless processes like natural selection and the world of selfish genes: namely in the world of feeling: (I’ve described this in more detail in a series of podcasts, I’ve written as) [Jerry, feel free to delete the forgoing statement in parenthesis if you feel it’s self-promotional – it’s just that I feel strongly about this and there’s a lot to say.] the world above, and the world below, what I’ve called the Awareness Horizon.
    However, because we know we evolved we know that everything about what it is to be human must have been defined by the mechanistic system below the Horizon which is characterised by survival of organisms – or not, and the intergenerational transmission of genes – or not, and has no interest whatever in what is best for human wellbeing, emotions or human flourishing.
    The real problem is that the amoral influence from the world below the horizon has cursed us with the cruel instinct for in-group/out-group behaviour: behaviour programmed by lying genes that tell us that the LGBTQIA2S+ (and any additions alphabetic soup of human “difference”) including Black, Asian, Jewish and all the other imaginary tribes of humanity, are different from the mainstream, when they aren’t – everyone is just a human being.
    (Readers of my earlier posts might rightly infer that I suspect the circle of humanity might have to be expanded to include some of the more complex of the non-human animals – but that needs to be another post.)
    It is the tribal instinct that should be the focus for our attack; skewing the teaching of biology for ideological reasons is almost certain to be completely unproductive. It is only through an accurate understanding of what it is to be this particular kind of animal, the human animal, by means of teaching of our origins, which are obviously part of biology, that will help us to understand the real problems facing minorities in our society today, and our species as a whole.

  12. “…Biology classrooms represent powerful opportunities to teach sex- and gender-related topics accurately and inclusively.”

    In other words: “Thank you very much for letting us substitute ideology for science in the classrooms! We surely won’t miss the opportunity to do so!”

  13. “Although the study of nature may not provide moral direction, as scientists or science facilitators, we cannot escape the higher obligations of knowledge discovery to which we knowingly commit.”

    Translation: Although the study of nature MAY not provide moral direction, it CAN if we scientists are the ones doing it! We’ll acclaim anything we like as “natural”! Try and stop us, you bigots!

    Joking aside, the religious undertones of this slop are evident in phrases like “the higher obligations of knowledge discovery.” Who established these higher obligations? What happens to heretics who have different obligations?

    Do the editors not understand that one could just as handily cherrypick examples from nature to show that diversity is “bad” and “unnatural”? What we’re witnessing is the postmodern degradation of science into a weapon in the culture wars. How soon before the right wing follows suit? These scientists are doing the same thing as academics in the humanities: sawing away at the tree branch they sit on.

    1. You could argue that the ‘higher obligations’ includes not using unethical research means, such as what you might have gotten from Mengele. But those kind of obligations come naturally to so many people as to not even be worth mentioning. After that, ‘moral obligations’ starts to sound a lot like “Let us not have any counter-revolutionary thoughts, comrade.”

  14. LBG was really ok, but then the T +++ and other crowds came along.
    Note i think trans people need to be treated normally, but they should not be allowed to cheat in women’s competitions. Note, thfey are ‘ natural ‘ ,vut deviant, deviant from at least 98% of the population.
    Thia SOGD among well to do , mainly white girls has nothing to do with actual gender dysphoria, they would have anorexia nervosa decade or two ago

  15. In fact, we argue that educators should use a diversity-first model not to combat the perception that sexual and gender diversity is morally wrong but the perception that it is “unnatural.”


    When Religious Conservatives said that homosexuality was “unnatural” they meant that it was a perversion from what Nature (i e God) intended. The implication was that some sinful humans were deliberately choosing to violate “Natural Law” — a theological hybrid of the scientific laws found in nature mixed up in Divine teleology, the purposes we and our bodies were created for.

    Gay Rights supporters immediately brought up examples of homosexuality in other species. This didn’t really rebut the argument though because the religious promptly did the obvious and threw back murder, infanticide, cannibalism and other negative traits found in other species, just as Jerry and Dr Fugundes did. As their letter pointed out, you can’t fight the Naturalistic Fallacy with more Naturalistic Fallacy.

    Because Religious Conservatives believe morality is infused in Nature, their real problem is infusing morality in Nature in the first place, not a lack of zoological examples. We fight this by instead dealing with morality as a matter of causing harm to others. Homosexuality doesn’t cause harm.

    But that’s the LGB part of the sex and gender alphabet soup: sexual orientation. Transgender is a completely different concept. If we were to focus only on the matter of morality/harm here we’d be asking if it hurts anyone if some men want to be treated as if they were women and some women want to be treated as if they were men. That’s not enough.

    We are concerned that traditional biology education models can lead students to infer their bodies or experiences are not part of the natural world, that they are an anomaly or something biological science cannot explain.

    I don’t think this here is about sexual orientation, with the references to “bodies” and “experiences.” It’s about using science to shore up the belief that we are all born with an internal sense of being a male or female which is more fixed, consistent, and reliable than biological sex if we want to figure out who is male and female. Because they can’t use examples of clownfish “having distressing feelings of inhabiting the wrong body,” they need to sow confusion about the binary nature of sex using other species.

    Biological science can’t be used to tell sex, there’s always been too much variation and outliers. Therefore, you’re valid.

    1. Excellent analysis, Sastra. There’s also an assumption of dualism in gender ideology that goes unacknowledged in the increasing number of scientists who have jumped on this bandwagon. Gametes are material entities that organisms develop around to produce, in all the anatomical and physiological diversity we observe, and yet, that is deemed insufficient to determine sex. We must instead rely on non-physical experiences and feelings to know one’s gender (which is then conflated with sex).

  16. I’ve been a weirdo my whole life. And as far back as I can remember (which, given my bad memory, isn’t saying much) I’ve been annoyed by the thought of ‘weird is bad’ and ‘normal is good’. I’m different than most people in meaningful ways. That’s a statement of fact, not a value judgement. Newton was different than most other people. So was Joseph Stalin. The carpenters working my house are perfectly normal people. So are the thieves who rob houses. Both Newton and my obviously rural carpenters are good men who make my life better. Stalin and thieves ruin lives and society. That one of each set is a more common type of person, and the other is a less common type of person, doesn’t even enter into the discussion, except in so far as I would be more likely to make a friend of Newton than the carpenters.

    The earliest I can remember elaborating on this concept was with regards to homosexuality. To me, homosexuality wasn’t normal. It was both uncommon, and contrary to human reproduction, which is what we are designed to do, whether according to god or evolution (yes, I believe in the latter, but when religion agrees with science, I think it’s worth noting the broad agreement). Therefore, trying to convince anyone that homosexuality was normal was fighting a losing battle.

    Rather, they should try to argue that this particular abnormality is morally acceptable. That it is not equivalent to an exceptionally short temper that compels the person to hurt others on a regular basis. That to be different is not to be bad, and that people should be judged on their merits.

    This article runs contrary to this concept that I understood a long time ago. That I’ve accepted as someone who doesn’t fit in. It bothers me that people like this try to impose their abnormalities onto all of society. After all, not everyone who doesn’t fit in agrees. I don’t want these peoples ideology enforced on me any more than the normal christian ideology. We are not allies just because we’re both not Christians. All I’ve ever wanted is for people to tolerate me, and in return I try not to freak out the normies too much, and to be a productive member of society where I can. And as a minority, there is a greater burden placed on me to adapt to them, than for them to adapt to me. That way, fewer people have to change and accomodate others.

    And while I’m on the subject… I remember when I first heard “Born this way” as a pro-homosexuality argument, I remember thinking that it was a really terrible idea to make an argument that could apply equally well to pedophiles. As it was once again this argument from nature, or some version of what normal is, that disregarded the actual argument. Homosexuality is morally acceptable not because it is innate, but because it isn’t a harmful act in and of itself. I never really brought up that point much back then, but every few months, I hear about people who seem very keen on adding a ‘P’ to LGBT, and using the exact same kinds of arguments. While never really catching on, they’ve been remarkably persistent, and what little footing they’ve been able to claim is far more than they ever should. I think those that are too progressively minded to be any earthly good find themselves unable to refute their naturalistic argument, having used the same thing their whole lives, and therefore cannot shun pedophiles as much as they should.

    And so, whatever benefit their might be to teaching kids this “No, but actually yes” naturalistic fallacy, is outweighed by disarming them of the ability to refute anyone trying to use it for less benign ends.

    1. Imagine that our best science had discovered that homosexuality was virtually unheard of in any species but human, and that it wasn’t fixed at birth but a choice that might be temporary or mutable: is it now morally wrong?
      Only if we accept some version of the Naturalistic Fallacy.

      1. The problem is that people keep convincing themselves that there is something like an objectively correct morality which can be derived from a certain source. Religious people do it and cite god/allah and the bible/quran, and “secular” progressives do it just as badly citing anything from “the science”, “human rights”, and nature, to impenetrable academic papers by postmodern philosophers or even just “the government”.

    2. I’ve posted the link to this article before. Might bear reposting?

      Researchers used genome-wide association studies to find genetic variants associated with same-sex sexual behaviour. They found that the same genetic variants are associated with *higher* success attracting mates in individuals with opposite-sex sexual behaviour. If you get a few of those variants from your parents, you’re sexy; if you get a lot of those variants, you’re gay. Potentially accounts for the evolutionary persistence of homosexuality.

    1. From :

      “People with this disorder feel pronounced discomfort in forming and maintaining social connections with other people, primarily due to the belief that other people harbor negative thoughts and views about them.[6]”

      Ref. 6 :
      Schacter DL, Gilbert DT, Wegner DM (2010).
      Worth Publishers.

      [ end quote]
      ^^^I have no idea about anything of ref. 6 – I just passed it on.

    2. And – because CBT was noted in the In Defense of Merit paper (bolding added) :

      “Treatment for personality disorders is primarily psychotherapeutic. Evidence-based psychotherapies for personality disorders include cognitive behavioral therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy especially for borderline personality disorder.[10][11] ”


  17. Walrus males have harems of females.

    [ looks up ]

    Many other species as well. So special treatment would have to be made to avoid harming students who are polygamous.

    ^^this argument from absurdity is to make a point, I don’t think polygamy is ethical.

    Isn’t including students in science enough?

    Science is a pursuit that one should be thrilled to be included in. But it seems it is not enough.

  18. It’s probably all been said, but:
    Let us grant that LGBTQIA2S+, for argument purpose, IS unnatural. The whole shebang – it is an outlier and a deviation from the norm etc etc etc.
    That says nothing about our own moral system and how we should treat LGBTQIA2S+ people. As a secular humanist, I treat them with compassion, and strive to increase their wellness and decrease harm.
    And so when I see these treatises in (scientific or other) journals, it seems to actually REDUCE the LGB ‘community’ to a sort of sexual/gendered essentialism (which they should be fighting against).
    I know – I’m preaching to the converted,
    I mean, Jerry, like us all, treats everyone with empathy and compassion – and we take issue with bad ideas, flase narratives etc. Just because those bad takes are on the subject of sex/LGB etc, does not mean we are attacking thier personhood.
    Ugh – I just needed to vent. Thanks.

    1. I get it.

      FWIW how about looking at something completely different : music:

      Percentage of people who like polka?
      Or ragas?
      Or the sounds of bowling?

      Uncommon interests in certain areas and times.

      But so what? It doesn’t mean society needs to dismantle and re-center the music industry or re-invent music that has happily existed simultaneously but of specialized interest.

      BTW I like polkas (SOME polkas) and ragas, and heck, I’d give the sounds of bowling a listen for a spell – but I know it’s not for everyone.

    2. Re essentialism.
      What you say certainly applies to gay people. We and they agree that they are what they say they are. Even if we thought homosexuality should be suppressed (because it is unnatural or because it is socially maladaptive), we all would be agreeing on what we were suppressing. Those who opposed suppression would agree on what they were trying to protect. The argument would be (and was) about whether it was harmful. We were able (mostly) to agree that it wasn’t. We never had to argue over whether homosexuality was real.

      Trans ideology is different. It wants us to endorse a truth claim that 50 years from now will be regarded as absurd, that people so claiming are the sex opposite to what they objectively are. Men are women to us (not just in their own minds) if they say they are. If Bobbi flirts with Ted over drinks after work, Bobbi is not a homosexual man (as Ted’s eyes and Spidey sense tell him) but is instead a heterosexual woman. He has the breasts and wardrobe to prove it. And Ted, being straight, should reciprocate the affections of a woman like Bobbi. But he won’t. He’ll be polite and socially appropriate but there is no way he’ll see Bobbi as a woman. Bobbi will be angry at being rebuffed by transphobe Ted.

      If Bobbi had presented as a gay man, which he really is, he wouldn’t have flirted with Ted in the first place because Bobbi’s gaydar would have told him Ted wasn’t gay. And no one would have got angry.

      Because trans people say they want to participate fully in society according to their true gender (instead of being left alone to be sexual in private), it is hard not to reduce them to a gendered essentialism. That is just what it means to “participate fully in society according to their true gender” when it so obviously contradicts their observable sex. You’d like your next tenure-track hire to be a woman. Do you hire Bobbi and think you’ve done the right thing by women just because you refer to Bobbi as “her”? Questions like that don’t come up with homosexuality because it’s not relevant socially anymore. With trans it is.

      When an ideology revolves around a contestable truth claim the pushback from truth-seekers is of a different type from the pushback against an ideology that merely seems to be against nature. Our moral structure ought to be able to accommodate the unnatural. It is not possible for a moral structure to accommodate a false claim that asks so much of society, including the demand that we disseminate the claim to schoolchildren. That’s why so many truth-seekers are atheists.

    1. Not all Indigenous cultures embraced this concept, one of the major exceptions was the Iroquois. To think that all Indigenous peoples had the same culture, religion, outlook on life is cherry-picking in the extreme.

  19. If you thought creationists were a threat to rational teaching of biology…
    Now the people who battled the creationists, including the likes of Dawkins and our gracious host, are faced with the fact that the bigger threat is actually progressive ideology, which has taken over academia and virtually all other institutions to an extent creationists (whose numbers surely must be dwindling with each passing year) could never even dream of in the modern era.

    And I think mr Coyne still gives them too much credit for good intentions. These people will destroy science and our society in the name of their ideology. The insertion of social justice ideology into biology and medical science will lead to thousands (or more) deaths if not stamped out forcefully and thoroughly. Trying to argue by writing letters to journals which have been thoroughly captured by radical left ideology isn’t going to make one iota of difference at this point. You’re lucky you even got published this time, they’re almost certainly going to reject anything from you from here on out, and probably try to cancel you, get you fired or even kill yourself if they can manage that.

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    1. Creationists had good intentions too. They genuinely believe they were helping to save souls, and to reveal to others the glory of god. I’m sure many of them were good people.

      I have less faith in the radical progressives. First off, a Creationist denies the evidence of evolution, which is difficult to see with your own two eyes. The E. Coli experiment is a rare case of complex evolution visible in real time. Otherwise, most of it is from evidence gathered that require you to trust the sources, and put together complicated theories. Evolution is obvious because we stand on the shoulders of giants. But I cannot blame someone for mistrusting any given giant. After all, we do stand on the shoulders of Christian giants. We do not trust everything they say. I just think the Creationists placed their trust in the wrong sources.

      Radical progressives, however, deny the truth right in front of their eyes. It is impossible to go through life and not realize that humans have two sexes with meaningful differences beyond merely reproductive in both biology and personality (on average, of course). This is much more twisted. To disbelieve your ancestors traditions and ideas? That is reasonable, they are right in some things, and wrong on others. But they deny that men and women are different, a sentiment as fundamental as the sun rising in the east.

      What kind of person can believe this? I think it speaks poorly to the mind that does. They are either fools, easily lead astray, or with ulterior motives. And with the strange ‘popularity’ of the movement, the last category may very well make up way too much of them.

      I don’t approve of Creationism, and the rise of religious authority it would herald. But there is much less danger in the rise of an ideology that still managed to get us to where we are today, that asks you not to put two and two together when thinking of ‘sacred’ things, than in the rise of an ideology that asks you to deny the very existence of the number two as it stands before you.

      Christianity is so heavenly minded, it’s often no earthly harm. Radical progressives make no such claim about unreachable realms where all of their beliefs matter most. And so it must intrude upon reality far more often. I’d rather have the religious right back than the radical progressives.

      1. One of the lessons science has taught us over the years is that what’s apparently clear and obvious isn’t always the case. The universe is stranger than we thought.
        I think it’s plausible that some of the people on the left who appreciate this fact could get carried away with it.

  20. I do NOT understand why any subject taught at any college or any university is required to make a student “feel good” about his or herself, whether it’s their sexuality, gender identity, religion, body image, clothing, or whatever. That’s not why you go to college. You go to college to learn (& party, let’s be honest).

    Feeling good about yourself is a job that you have to do YOURSELF. If you get help along the way, hey that’s great. Many of us found inspiration in books we read, dynamic professors who taught us, movies we saw, people we met & friended & loved or maybe hated & fought with. It’s a lifelong process.

    But nobody is required to help you with this. Certainly not the classes you take. I would be insulted if a class I took taught along these lines. College is about learning how to think critically, not learning how to feel good about yourself. Some people will never feel good about themselves … this is just the way it is.

  21. I wondered the same thing as SAQ in #24. Do 18-20-year-olds really need this kind of coddling? Or were the authors just conjuring into existence a culture that did, in order to give some social justification for their destructive theories and methods, which will confuse everyone as intended while giving the illusion of being useful.

    But PCC(E) asked a question related to the Appeal to Nature fallacy: Are there examples in non-human species where an individual suffers gender dysphoria and undergoes medical sex change to rectify it? I wouldn’t take that bet but I do ask seriously, Are there any non-human critters were males suppress their male behaviour (“gender”) enough to infiltrate themselves into female social grooming groups, so as to successfully mate with them when the opportunity arises? This could be a strategy for males not likely to be successful in competing with other males for mates in the usual manner. Almost like a eunuch being sent to guard the harem who turned out to be more than met the sultan’s eye.
    This is a serious question. With mimicry and camouflage so widespread I’d be surprised if some selfish male DNA hadn’t figured this out before us.

  22. Thank you, PCC(E) for fighting the good fight. I prescribe a large and stiff (don’t get excited!) gin and tonic. You have earned it.

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