I’ve mentioned this result before, but only as an item in Nellie Bowles’s weekly news summary. Now one of the authors of a controversial paper, J. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern who works on sexual behavior (and whose work up to now is well known and respected), has written extensively about how that coauthored paper was retracted by the prestigious journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. But it wasn’t retracted because the data were wrong, fraudulent, or plagiarized. No, it was retracted because the topic, “Rapid onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD), has been rendered by activists too taboo to discuss, and because a mob of scientists attacked its publication—as well as attacking the editor who accepted it, Kenneth Zucker.
In light of this pushback, Springer, the journal’s editor, retracted the article. The grounds for retraction were very flimsy: that Bailey and his co-author, a pseudonymous mother of a girl who had what seemed to be ROGD, hadn’t obtained permission for the data of the investigated group to be published in this particular journal. But in fact they had obtained permission from the subjects for their data to be published—just not in this particular journal. That is a distinction without a difference. The paper was almost certainly rejected because one is simply not allowed to discuss ROGD in public. If you do, you get called a “transphobe”.
As Bailey notes:
Retraction of scientific articles is associated with well-deserved shame: plagiarism, making up data, or grave concerns about the scientific integrity of a study. But my article was not retracted for any shameful reason. It was retracted because it provided evidence for an idea that activists hate.
If you’d like to see the original article, reader ThyroidPlanet has published a link to it below; the paper is here.
Click the screenshot to read his piece, which is in The Free Press. (If you think that places like the NYT or Washington Post would publish this, you’re living in a dream world):
ROGD, like the effects of puberty blockers, is one of those gender-related issues that really needs study since the phenomena are understudied but have very important implications for the study of gender and especially for how to deal with children or adolescents suffering from gender dysphoria. The taboo on discussing both of these issues is thus particularly unfortunate, but is part of the program of some gender activists who don’t want their views questioned or discussed.
You might remember that Abigail Shrier, whose book on the topic, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, was attacked viciously on social media for even talking about ROGD, with the odious ACLU gender-activist lawyer Chase Strangio saying that he wanted the book banned. (It was banned for a while at Target, but then reinstated.) Here’s Strangio’s tweet, which he’s now deleted. It’s beyond belief that an important figure in the ACLU would call for the banning of a book and its ideas (Strangio is transgender). This is censorship: the banning of Wrongthink.
But exactly what is ROGD? It is a postulated syndrome, involving social contagion, suggested to explain the recent rapid rise in girls asking to change their gender from female to male—that is, to become trans men. ROGD seems to be different from “classical” gender dyphoria and thus provoked a new explanation:
ROGD was first described in the literature in 2018 by the physician and researcher Lisa Littman. It is an explanation of the new phenomenon of adolescents, largely girls, with no history of gender dysphoria, suddenly declaring they want to transition to the opposite sex. It has been a highly contentious diagnosis, with some—and I am one—thinking it’s an important avenue for scientific inquiry, and others declaring it’s a false idea advocated by parents unable to accept they have a transgender child.
I believed that ROGD was a promising explanation of the explosion of gender dysphoria among adolescent girls because these young people do not have gender dysphoria as usually understood. Until recently, females treated for gender dysphoria were masculine-presenting girls who had hated being female since early childhood. By contrast, girls with ROGD are often conventionally feminine, but tend to have other social and emotional issues. The theory behind ROGD is that through social contagion from friends, social media, and even school, vulnerable girls are exposed to the idea that their normal adolescent angst is the result of an underlying transgender identity. These girls then suddenly declare that they are transgender. That is the rapid onset. After the declaration, the girls may desire—and receive—drastic medical interventions including mastectomies and testosterone injections.
There is ample evidence that in progressive communities, multiple girls from the same peer group are announcing they are trans almost simultaneously. There has been a sharp increase in this phenomenon across the industrialized West. A recent review from the UK, which keeps better records than America, showed a greater than tenfold increase in referrals of adolescent girls during just the past decade.
But there have been virtually no scientific data or studies on the subject.
ROGD is considered taboo for several reasons, mainly because it invokes social contagion as a cause of the desire to transition. This idea is apparently repugnant to those who think that the desire to transition is innate, not malleable to pressure from others, and, of course, must be “affirmed” through therapy, hormones, and possibly surgery. (This is my take on the issue; those who demonize ROGD don’t often talk about why they despise it.)
At any rate, Bailey wrote an article with a pseudonymous mother, “Suzanna Diaz”, an article called “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria: Parent Reports on 1655 Possible Cases.” It appears to be a load of self-reported case studies about the phenomenon, and at this stage a huge number of case studies is useful, particularly if there is any commonality in them. Because they were self-reported, you can’t use their prevalence to show that social contagion is a primary cause of ROGD, but you can show, if the data be credible, that it is not vanishingly rare. And, of course, if you find no social contagion, that supports the thesis of gender activists. So I think the studies are of value, and apparently the journal did, too.
Here are the findings, which implies something we already know: gender dysphoria is connected with psychological distress, and in this case, the distress often preceded the desire to transition, which appears to have been largely prompted by “gender specialists”. More than half the parents reported that they felt pressured by the gender specialist to practice “affirmative care”: facilitating the gender transition.
Our article was based on parent reports of 1,655 adolescent and young adult children. Three-fourths of them were female. Emotional problems were common among this group, especially anxiety and depression, which many parents said preceded gender issues by years. Most of these young people had taken steps to socially transition, including changing their pronouns, dress, and identity to the other sex (or in some cases, to neither sex). Parents observed that after their children socially transitioned, their mental health deteriorated. A small number—seven percent of those whose parents answered Suzanna’s survey—had received medical transition treatment, including drugs to block puberty, or cross-sex hormones.
Disturbingly, those young people with more emotional problems were especially likely to have socially and medically transitioned. The best predictor of both social and medical transition was a referral to a gender specialist. Some 52 percent of parents in our study who had received a referral said they felt pressured by the gender specialist to facilitate some sort of transition for their child.
Note that the authors were explicit in their paper about the study’s limitations, particularly the cherry-picking of parents who responded:
Our study had two obvious limitations: the way we recruited parents guaranteed that only those who believed their children had ROGD would participate, and we had only the parents’ perspectives. We clearly acknowledged and discussed these in our paper, beginning with the words “At least two related issues potentially limit this research” followed by three paragraphs laying out the limitations.
These are rather serious limitations, at least insofar as assessing the prevalence of ROGD. There’s no mention in this piece, though perhaps there is in the article, about other social influences besides “gender specialists”. But the fact that referral to a “gender specialist” was a huge predictor of social and medical transition needs to be studied further. So does the observation that social transitioning was injurious rather than salubrious for mental health.
Then the mob descended, forcing retraction. I don’t find Springer’s reason convincing, especially because I think the journal has been lax in enforcing the “consent” issue and, in this case, there was consent, which Springer deemed the wrong kind of consent.
On May 23 [the paper was published on March 29 of this year], we received an email from Springer informing us that they were retracting our article. The ostensible reason:
The Publisher and the Editor-in-Chief have retracted this article due to noncompliance with our editorial policies around consent. The participants of the survey have not provided written informed consent to participate in scholarly research or to have their responses published in a peer reviewed article. Additionally, they have not provided consent to publish to have their data included in this article. Table 1 and the Supplementary material have therefore been removed to protect the participants’ privacy.
We appealed after consulting a lawyer, but Springer retracted our paper on June 14.
Springer’s reasoning was preposterous and simply an excuse to retract an article they wanted to go away in order to stop the controversy. Springer accused us of not obtaining informed consent from the parents in our study. There are two aspects to informed consent in research: you should understand what you’re being asked to do, including any substantial risks and benefits, and you should be able to opt out. All parents completing Suzanna’s survey knew they were being asked questions about their children’s ROGD, and they decided to answer. Parents were promised privacy of personal information, and they got it.
Springer’s additional complaint was that we did not have consent to publish survey results. This is plain wrong. We did inform participants that we would publish their data. At the end of the survey participants were told: “We will publish our data on our website when we have a large enough sample. . . ”
My assessment: the journal used the “consent” issue as a confected reason to reject a paper whose thesis was ideologically unpalatable. (That’s what Bailey thinks, too.) While the paper may not be dispositive about the prevalence, presence, and causes of ROGD, it was worth publishing as an impetus to do a bigger and more thorough study.
And that is what Bailey and his co-author are about to do, although of course they’ll never find funding for it (and thus they appeal to the public below). Note, too, that the paper got a fair amount of approbation:
The campaign against our article, from the open letter to the final retraction, has generated immense publicity by academic standards, so far largely favorable. Our academic article has been viewed online more than 100,000 times in not quite three months, an astonishing number for an article of this nature. This reflects a thirst for knowledge about this important subject.
Speaking for myself, this episode has guaranteed that I will study ROGD until we understand it.
That’s why I am about to launch a large, long-term survey of adolescent gender dysphoria, in collaboration with Lisa Littman and Ken Zucker. We will survey both gender-dysphoric adolescents and their parents, following them for at least five years. Among other things, we’ll have better information about adolescents’ early gender dysphoria, mental health, and sexuality; about parents’ attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs; and about the correspondence between adolescents’ and parents’ accounts of the same phenomena.
I guarantee two things. First, it will be a huge, important study with the potential to establish the validity of ROGD. (And if ROGD is an incorrect idea, we will show and publish this.) Second, between the three of us—Littman, Zucker, and me, three previously cancelled scientists who are among the world’s foremost experts in what we are studying—we don’t have a chance in hell of receiving government funding for this project.
We’ll do it anyway. (You can help if you want.)
Censors have tried to stop scientific progress before. Now, as then, the pursuit of truth requires scientists and researchers who refuse to cow to puritans, ideologues and activists.
The one thing I do think is true is that gender dysphoria leading to gender transitioning, rapid or not, can be promoted by social pressure. I’ve seen some of the back-and-forth on the Internet showing how those who transitioned urge those who are questioning to follow in their “affirming” pathway. If you’re in psychological difficulties that often accompany puberty and early teen years, the internet and one’s peers can provide a supportive and comforting environment that facilitates gender transitioning. It’s almost as if it’s “cool” to transition, while being gay is dull and boring.
The problems with this are twofold: most cases of gender dysphoria (I think around 80%) resolve themselves without medical intervention, often by the dysphoric child ultimately becoming gay—a much less dangerous and less medicalized outcome. Second, therapists have started mimicking this supportive environment: instead of exploring a child’s feelings, therapists who are “affirmative” simply agree with their patient’s notion that they’re in the wrong body and often prescribe hormones (including blockers) after just a visit or two.
The effect of social environment is plausible, but not scientifically tested. The data on resolution of un-“affirmed” dysphoria and eagerness of some therapists is already known (viz., the Tavistock Gender Centre in London). All, in all, this paper shows that there is a phenomenon that needs to be investigated more closely because of its huge implications for how to treat dysphoric youth. The Bailey and “Diaz” paper is just a start, and they’re prepared to accept and publish the fact that ROGD is a myth—if that’s what they find. But they are immensely courageous to continue along this path. Concern for young people demands that they do so.