Colin Wright, who’s turned out a number of clear and well written pieces on gender issues, has by so doing inserted himself into a maelstrom, for there are no activists so authoritarian and unforgiving as gender activists. In fact, their actions in getting a paper retracted is the subject of Wright’s latest piece in City Journal (click on first screenshot below)m which recounts a fracas that I think we should know about.
Why? Because it shows very clearly how ideology can distort science, and how activists can get a paper retracted for no good reasons, just to discredit the contents of that paper. Much of the science around gender issues is currently unsettled, including the notion of a syndrome called Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD), its possible influence by social pressure, and, of course, whether puberty blockers can cause permanent damage or are completely reversible.
Instead of allowing open discourse on these issues, activists try to shut down all discourse, including scientific publication, in favor of their own views: that ROGD doesn’t exist, that children “know” instinctively if they’re in the wrong body, and that any child or adolescent who’s confused about their gender must immediately receive “affirmative therapy”, which appears to involve enthusiastic rather than objective support by therapists coupled with a nearly instantaneous prescription for puberty blockers.
Any deviation from this scenario produces a storm of opprobrium. You already know about the demonization of Abigail Shrier’s 2020 book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters, which proposed that ROGD might be real and might be promoted by social-media pressures. Shrier’s book was briefly canceled and taken out of bookstores, and an ACLU lawyer called for its banning. But the concept of ROGD itself came from Lisa Littman earlier (passages from Wright’s article are indented):
Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD), a newly proposed pathway to gender dysphoria, was first described by the researcher Lisa Littman in 2018; the theory may help explain the documented surge in cases of gender dysphoria among adolescents and young adults who had previously exhibited no gender-related issues. Littman proposed and provided supporting evidence that social factors have at least partly caused the surge, especially among girls.
. . . Littman’s 2018 paper generated intense backlash from activists, who successfully pressured the journal that published her findings (PLoS One) to take the unusual step of initiating a second round of post-publication peer review. The paper was republished with a “correction” that offered a more detailed explanation of its methodology, specifically focusing on its dependency on parental reports, and a clarification that ROGD is not a clinical diagnosis. Importantly, however, the paper’s central conclusions concerning the probable role of social influences remained unchanged. Activists repeatedly disrupted further attempts by Littman to explore ROGD using online surveys.
Now there’s a new paper by two authors on ROGD, and that one (click on second screenshot below) has generated all the scandal:
I’ll try to be brief and give a numbered sequence of events.
1.) First, the paper below was submitted to Springer Nature’s journal Archives of Sexual Behavior (ASB). It was accepted and published. (Diaz is a pseudonym for a parent who helped collect data, Bailey is on the faculty at Northwestern:
2.) As Wright notes, the paper, as you can see by its title, didn’t conform to the preferred gender ideology, describing as it did a whole pile of possible cases of ROGD. Wright describes its contents:
The paper in question, “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria: Parent Reports on 1655 Possible Cases,” was authored by researchers Suzanna Diaz (a pseudonym) and Michael Bailey and published in ASB on March 29. Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD), a newly proposed pathway to gender dysphoria, was first described by the researcher Lisa Littman in 2018.
. . . . . Such a hypothesis might appear plausible, or at least a straightforward empirical matter to be decided through evidence-based examination. But it violates the dominant narrative favored by medicalization activists that the rise in trans identities stems from an increase in societal acceptance of “gender diversity.” Evidence supporting ROGD would call into question the “gender-affirming” model of care, an approach premised on the notion that kids can know their “gender identity” from very early on and will rarely, if ever, change their minds about it. This philosophical belief system, which flies in the face of centuries of accumulated wisdom on human development, has been pithily summarized with the phrase: “trans kids know who they are.” The affirmative model guides health-care providers to “affirm” (i.e., agree with) a child’s self-declared identity and facilitate access to hormones and surgeries, all in order to align the child’s body with his or her felt gender identity. Consequently, activists have exerted intense efforts to undermine ROGD research at every opportunity.
Littman’s 2018 paper generated intense backlash from activists, who successfully pressured the journal that published her findings (PLoS One) to take the unusual step of initiating a second round of post-publication peer review. The paper was republished with a “correction” that offered a more detailed explanation of its methodology, specifically focusing on its dependency on parental reports, and a clarification that ROGD is not a clinical diagnosis. Importantly, however, the paper’s central conclusions concerning the probable role of social influences remained unchanged. Activists repeatedly disrupted further attempts by Littman to explore ROGD using online surveys.
But Diaz and Bailey’s new paper lent further credence to the ROGD hypothesis. They examined parental reports of 1,655 potential ROGD cases through an online survey. The sample size dwarfed that of Littman’s original study, which was based on 256 parental reports. This data bolstered Littman’s findings about the onset of gender dysphoria after puberty, predominantly in girls, in conjunction with preexisting mental-health conditions, heavy social-media usage, and peer influence. They also corroborated Littman’s 2018 finding that an overwhelming majority (90 percent) of concerned parents are politically progressive, undermining the common narrative that criticisms and concerns about gender affirmation originate in conservatism.
What else did the paper find? In the sample, gender dysphoria manifests approximately two years earlier in females compared with males. Females are more than twice as likely to pursue social transition. However, among those who experienced gender dysphoria for at least one year, males were more likely to undergo hormonal interventions. Moreover, a majority of parents reported feeling coerced by gender specialists to affirm their child’s new identity and endorse his or her transition. Parents who facilitated their child’s social transition reported that the child’s mental health “deteriorated considerably after social transition,” and that their relationship with their child suffered.
These findings are crucial. They provide further corroboration to a growing body of evidence supporting the ROGD theory, indicating the need for a new, specialized treatment approach for youth with gender-related distress.
3.) Gender activists started besieging the journal because the results violated the dominant gender-activist narrative. Not attacking the paper’s thesis, they went after a technical matter: the data supposedly did not pass approval of Northwestern’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), a university body that must approve all human research before it’s done. However, the authors had written approval from the subjects to publish the results of the study. (The journal replied, in effect, “but not in this scholarly journal.” However, as we’ll see, the authors effectively did have IRB approval, and the journal had also published at least six papers by other people without such approval. In other words, the journal was inconsistent in its standards.
4.) With pressure from individuals and the International Academy of Sex Research, as well as a petition, the journal began querying the authors. The authors replied that they had written approval for publication, though the first author didn’t answer to an IRB since he/she is a private individual not affiliated with a university.
5.) The authors pointed out the approval for publication was given though the study wasn’t vetted by the IRB, for it couldn’t have been. HOWEVER, as Wright reports, there’s a very important exception:
Northwestern’s IRB representative informed Bailey that, though the IRB could not retrospectively approve the pre-collected data, it would permit him to coauthor a paper on those data provided they were expunged of all personal identifiable information. Significantly, Springer’s own policy explicitly states that in situations where “a study has not been granted ethics committee approval prior to commencing. . . . The decision on whether to proceed to peer review in such cases is at the Editor’s discretion.” Thus, all efforts to undermine the study or discredit Zucker’s decision to review and publish it on the grounds of IRB considerations appeared futile.
6.) On top of that, author Bailey responded that he found at least six papers in the journal using human data without IRB approval. Given this and the material in #5, there seemed to be no good reason to retract the paper.
7.) Nevertheless, the paper (as you can see above) was retracted, on the grounds that Bailey didn’t get IRB approval and the subjects didn’t agree to have their data published in a scholarly journal.. The editor of the journal, however, did have the discretion to publish the paper anyway, and Northwestern’s IRB had no overt objections to Bailey and “Diaz” publishing the paper. This is a matter of censorship on the grounds of the paper’s content.
The paper appears to have been retracted not because of the IRB issues, but because its survey didn’t give the results that activists wanted. As you see, it is still online, which is normal for retracted papers, but has a big RETRACTED ARTICLE warning at the top. As Wright explains, this makes a difference to activists:
Such retractions, regardless of their reasoning, are routinely exploited by activists to tarnish the reputation of the involved researchers. Lisa Littman’s original paper on ROGD was merely “corrected,” and no results or conclusions changed; nonetheless, she has been smeared relentlessly online and in the press. Brown University, Littman’s employer at the time, felt compelled to affirm its “long-standing support for members of the trans community” in response to the paper’s publication. One science writer critiqued Littman’s study as “scientifically specious” and claimed that “ROGD provides political cover for those who wish to rollback trans rights and healthcare.” The controversy even led to Littman losing her consulting job following demands for her dismissal by local clinicians.
The authors, though, haven’t given up:
In the wake of the retraction, Bailey and Diaz are re-submitting the manuscript to the Journal of Open Inquiry in Behavioral Science (JOIBS), a fledgling publication founded by scholars devoted to the principles of “free inquiry and truth seeking” and the belief that ideas ought to be scrutinized rather than suppressed. Regrettably, among medical journals this commitment appears to be increasingly the exception, not the rule.
The retraction, though it has nothing to do with the scientific results of the paper, is being used to discredit those results. Such are the sleazy tactics of activists. At least allow the issues to be argued out in the scientific literature!
We need to know if ROGD is a real syndrome.
We need to know if social pressure promotes the frequency of gender transition.
We need to know the long-term effects of puberty blockers, and whether they are reversible.
We need to know if “non affirming” therapies, involving empathic listening but no agenda by the therapist beyond listening to the patient, will lead to resolution of gender dysphoria without having to change genders (e.g., getting children to accept that they’re gay).
We need to know the frequency of transgender people who desist, or decide to change their minds. This is part of getting informed consent for medical procedures.
The entire medical establishment of the U.S., and nearly all gender advocates, are trying to prevent the resolution of these issues, for they pretend to already know the truth. And that’s not the way we progress in understanding the world.