Article on gender dysphoria retracted, probably for ideological reasons

July 11, 2023 • 9:15 am

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(and whose work up to now is well known and respected), has written extensively about how that coauthored paper was retracted by the prestigious journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.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 No, it was retracted because the topic, “Rapid onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD), has been rendered by activists too taboo to discuss, and because a mob of scientists attacked its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: plagiarismmaking 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 It was retracted because it provided evidence for an idea that activists hate.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.

21 thoughts on “Article on gender dysphoria retracted, probably for ideological reasons

  1. I will attempt to reproduce the following accurately and usefully :

    Michael Bailey on Twitter :

    “It has come to my attention that the retracted version of our article on Rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) is hard to read because of its defacing (Retracted Article on every page) by the publisher Springer Nature. Here’s a link to the original version:”

    Hope that helps

    1. I think the “Swiss Army chainsaw for PDFs” software will strip page overlays like that out in a few clicks of a mouse button (if you choose to d/l the GUI version from your software source ; otherwise it’s a few characters on the command line). It’s been a few years since I felt the need to use it though.
      Alternatively, if you like to do it the hard way, your Office application should be able to open the defaced PDF as a “presentation” (with Impress, or whatever else), and you’ll have to remove the overlay from each page separately.
      As I said somewhere else recently – the only real purpose of PDFs is to make editing harder for the unskilled. They are always editable, somehow, if not undetectably editable. (PDF is, after all, a programming language dressed up as a presentation format.)

  2. IMHO : worth a long excerpt from Wikipedia :

    “Controversy surrounds the concept of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD), proposed as a subtype of gender dysphoria and said to be caused by peer influence and social contagion.[1] ROGD has not been recognized by any major professional association as a valid mental health diagnosis, and use of the term has been discouraged by professional and academic institutions due to a lack of reputable scientific evidence, major methodological issues in existing research, and likelihood to cause harm by stigmatizing gender-affirming care.[2][3][4][5]”

    1. … and likelihood to cause harm by stigmatizing gender-affirming care.

      The claim is that there’s an unacceptable number of misdiagnoses — and basically their rebuttal is that entertaining this possibility might slow down treatment.

      Advocates of Gender Identity doctrine keep insisting that all the objections to childhood transition are replicas of earlier objections to children coming out as gay or even behaving in non stereotypical ways. “It’s just a stage.” “They were influenced by the other kids.” “It was that book they read.” Connecting ROGD to conservative desires to keep children in line with traditional gender roles and opposite-sex attraction is all they feel they need to damn it as ideological.

      But if we look at the nature of the claim (“there’s a reason you feel you’re living an inauthentic life”) and the way it appeals to common needs and desires (“you can fix this; we will help you” and “there are other people like you being stigmatized”) it’s clear that the pattern resembles similar cultural delusions of the past (MPD; RMS) which spread through a combination of social contagion and iatrogenic therapies.

  3. It would be useful, too, to have some studies on the methods by which children are propagandized about the idea that they are trans. This would include teachers, social media, the entertainment industry, and other media of socialization. It would seem that ROGD is tied to a spike in such propaganda, which one would expect.

  4. “recent rapid rise in girls asking to change their gender from male to female—that is, to become trans men.”
    Did you mean from female to male? I find it hard to keep all the transitions straight (no pun intended) so I thought I might have missed something.
    Thanks for this summary. This is one of the issues that could cause much regret decades down the road, and keep the lawyers busy with court cases.

  5. “No, it was retracted because the topic, ‘Rapid onset gender dysphoria’ (ROGD), has been rendered by activists too taboo to discuss.”

    A related point: when I worked as an editor at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, studies that found an association between vaccination and autism were squelched because the topic was considered too taboo to discuss. More specifically, the CDC, whose mission is to protect public vs individual health, decided that publishing the findings would create a false impression about the extent of the association. This is a fairly common practice with the CDC but unfortunately contributes to the demonizing of parents who rightly claim that their children are victims of the association. In this instance, as with the ROGD taboo, we need to keep in mind Ricky Gervais’ comment from his interview with Richard Dawkins: “If someone says you shouldn’t question it, you’ve GOT to question it.”

    1. The second part of your comment requires evidence. Kaiser Permanente’s website states that no links have been found between autism and childhood vaccinations. How do you define ‘association’, anyway?

      1. “How do you define “association”, anyway?”

        By “association” I mean that one variable provides information about another without implying causation. The study in question found an association between vaccination and whooping cough and an association between whooping cough and autism. The CDC required these findings to be published separately, so that they could still maintain that no association was found between vaccination and autism. I’m aware that my witnessing is not “evidence,” but I edited both papers and learned the above when I questioned the PI about why they had to be published separately.

        1. You say “The CDC required these findings to be published separately, so that they could still maintain that no association was found between vaccination and autism.”

          That is NOT why the CDC keeps them separate (and it’s a bald attempt to poison the well); it’s because they are separate, as the relationships are only associative. This kind of slippery language is difficult to accept. I hope you have simply mispoken.

          But I’m not sure. In your OP, you made this comment; “….demonizing of parents who rightly claim that their children are victims of the association.”

          Now THAT is one hell of a claim and one which you did not give evidence for.

    2. As Evan Plommer asks, what do you mean by association? And further, what does it mean for parents to “rightly claim that their children are victims of the association”? Parents ought not to be demonized for sincere false beliefs but they shouldn’t be endorsed, either, or paid settlements. The association between vaccines and autism was a manufactured fraud. If you are referring to studies done before the fraud was exposed I might be more accommodating but that doesn’t change the truth that vaccines don’t cause autism. A parent might want to claim, “Well, in my kid they did”, but this has no probative power absent evidence of causation, one piece of which is a robust statistical association.

      That said…
      This is about the best we can do around causation in medicine where our mechanistic knowledge will always be imperfect. Contrast this with the Mission Impossible glockenspiel simulation featured here yesterday. Several readers deduced that it was fake, i.e., the falling ball was not causing the sounds we were hearing in the sound track. We can deduce this even in a sample size of one gadget because we can specify the system exactly and rule out causation from a single careful observation. In a human being or other biological system, we can’t rule out causation so easily. When a parent observes that autism (or any other rare-ish adverse event) followed vaccination and claims causation, we do have to keep an open mind that the vaccination might have caused autism in this one uniquely susceptible child . But then we’re not talking association at all but one unique (but unspecifiable) human “gadget”. Unfortunately for the disappointed parent there is no way to rule in causation of a single event.

      I do concur with the maxim to question things that you are told not to question.

  6. Last comment from me:

    Keep an eye out for “non-binary gender dysphoria”. I read that terminology in one of the Portland, OR publisher Limerence Press “guide” books. Apparently not the same as gender dysphoria, .. if I follow.

  7. A phenomenon comparable to the one Dr. Bailey describes was observed among academics during the 1940s in a galaxy far away: Rapid Onset Mendelian Genetics Dysphoria (abbreviated РОМГД), One theory was that the condition stemmed entirely from a fear of losing one’s job, of being arrested by the NKVD, and of being sentenced to the Kolyma gulag. However, no public discussion of this theory about РОМГД was allowed.

    Incidentally, the technicality the journal contrived to retract the Bailey paper is similar to the absurd technicality that Portland State University contrived to censure Peter Boghossian for his experiment on the standards used by grievance study journals.

  8. RE the “odious” (Jerry’s word, but I agree) Chase Strangio (a transman, and the ACLU figurehead for transgender issues at the newish ACLU – the one that has given up on the principle that all people, no matter what their political, social, philosophical views, have certain rights, civil, political, & social):
    Strangio not only tried to get Abigail Shrier’s book The Transgender Craze (2020) banned. Strangio also beclowned herself by claiming this:

    There is plainly no one type of body that we could accurately label a “male body.”
    It is a choice to refer to some bodies as male and some bodies as female, not a fact.
    Our bodies are complex and dynamic, and if we classify people as male and female, such classifications should only be made based on a person’s gender identity.
    To say, “I am a transgender woman, meaning I was born with a male body” is a normative—not a descriptive—statement
    I want to advocate for a world where our bodies are not sexed by the presence or absence of a penis
    I [Chase Strangio] was assigned female at birth, but I have never had a female body.
    Chase Strangio: What Is a “Male Body”? July 2016

    So Strangio is also a denier of biological science when it conflicts with her activist views.

    Bailey mentioned the support by FAIR. You can see that here:
    Open Letter in Support of Dr. Kenneth Zucker and the Need to Promote Robust Scientific Debate
    *Sponsored by FAIR in Medicine
    May 5, 2023

    Maybe of interest as well (from the United Kingdom):
    Joanna Williams: Gender Wars: why the trans lobby hates debate. May 31, 2023
    Channel 4’s Kathleen Stock documentary reveals the delusions at the heart of gender ideology.
    The documentary, 48 minutes long, is here:

    For fans of the French language or those who don’t mind auto-generated English subtitles, I recommend this documentary:
    Mauvais genre – une épidémie mondiale. 2022 [with auto-generated English subtitles, among other languages*]
    Documentaire de 92 minutes, réalisé par Sophie Robert
    *at the bottom right of the screen, click on the cog wheel, and then choose your preferred language
    Info about the film director:
    Sommes-nous face à une épidémie de transidentité chez les jeunes ? D’où vient-elle et comment expliquer ce phénomène ? Quelles en sont les conséquences ? Qu’est-ce que le transgenrisme ?
    « Mauvais genre – une épidémie mondiale » pose la problématique générale, questionne la réalité de cette épidémie et les différents facteurs qui ont concouru à l’explosion des chiffres. Il met en évidence le phénomène des influenceurs trans, la contamination par les pairs, la fragilité spécifique des jeunes autistes/TDAH, des jeunes homosexuels (en particulier des jeunes femmes non conformes aux stéréotypes de genre) et des jeunes avec antécédents psychiatriques vis-à-vis de cette propagande. Ce film déconstruit les arguments des transactivistes et les confronte à la réalité. Il met en évidence que ce qui est présenté comme un mouvement de mode spontané chez les jeunes, de personnes victimisées et brimées, est piloté par de puissantes associations caritatives richement dotées et une stratégie de lobbying redoutablement efficace issue des pays anglo-saxons, qui rayonne dans toute l’Europe de l’ouest.

    Transition de genre à l’école : toboggan vers le pire. 2023, 17 mins [with auto-generated French subtitles only, so far]
    un extrait du deuxième long métrage documentaire de Sophie Robert sur l’épidémie de transidentité, “Mauvais genre – un scandale sanitaire” (en cours de post production).
    Robert est à la recherche de financement.

    1. A bit choquant to think that la épidémie de transidentité has reached France. But if the lobbying in this direction emanated from les pays anglo-saxon, it is just part of a well-trod path. Think of the MacDonald’s on the Boul Mich, the Buffalo Grill chain, the Quintette du Hot Club de France, and the phoneme “OK”.

  9. It’s bad medical practice to offer adolescents life-altering and sometimes irreversible therapies unless it can be shown that those therapies are both necessary and efficacious. This is what evidence-based medicine is all about.

    The Bailey article suggests that recipients of gender-affirming treatments in their sample are worse off emotionally than before treatment. This raises questions about efficacy that need to be examined more fully and with better sampling.

    The idea that social contagion may be responsible for the recent increase in numbers of adolescents—particularly girls—seeking gender-affirming therapy casts doubts on whether such treatments are necessary.

    Both need and efficacy are at issue here. Both need to be studied further, and it is very wrong of Springer to impede such work. Scientific investigation can and should determine where we go from here. Gender activists do care about the well-being of their constituency, don’t they?

  10. Don’t worry, the story gets worse. Target banned the book before (the next day) unbanning it. Amazon did not ban the book (a group of Amazon employees tried to get it banned). Amazon did suspend a paid advertising campaign for the book. Quotes from “Irreversible Damage” ( Target later resumed banning the book.

    “In June 2020, Amazon suspended a paid advertising campaign for the book one week prior to publication. Amazon stated this was because the book “infers or claims to diagnose, treat, or question sexual orientation.””

    “In April 2021, a petition was launched to have the Halifax Public Library system remove their two copies of the book from circulation. The library refused, citing intellectual freedom and stating that removal would constitute censorship. Following this, Halifax Pride announced it would no longer hold events at any Halifax library locations.”

    “In July 2021, the American Booksellers Association, a non-profit trade association that promotes independent bookstores, issued an apology for including the book in a monthly mailing, calling the decision to do so a “serious, violent incident” and characterizing the book as “anti-trans”. This set off further controversy, with some arguing the association was now trying to censor the book, and others saying the apology was insufficient.”

    “Skeptic and physician Harriet Hall published a positive review of the book on the website Science-Based Medicine in June 2021, stating that Shrier “brings up some alarming facts that desperately need to be looked into”, that care centered on gender affirmation “is a mistake and a dereliction of duty”, and that the current political climate has made scientific study of these matters nearly impossible. The site’s two other editors, Steven Novella and David Gorski, took the unprecedented step of retracting this review, which was republished in Skeptic.”

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