More mishigas: Two anthropology societies cancel an accepted symposium on sex and gender because it would “harm” their members

September 27, 2023 • 12:30 pm

I’m probably late to the party, but the latest gossip about the Authoritarian Left involves the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA) deciding to deplatform an entire symposium on sex and gender in anthropology—all because of the claim that it could cause mental “harm”to some people.

There are three letters involved, all of which you can see at a site set up by Elizabeth Weiss, a physical anthropologist at San Jose State (I’ve written about her before, as she’s been professionally demonized for wanting to scientifically study Native American remains).

You can see all the letters in the tweets below from Colin Wright, or at Weiss’s site.

Here’s the skinny in three parts

1.) Six women anthropologists proposed to hold a symposium at the AAA and CASCA’s joint meeting in Toronto called “Let’s Talk about sex, baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology.” (The title comes from a popular song by Salt N Pepa.) You can see their proposal here. It’s a mixed bag, with some intriguing talks, like Weiss’s, and some others that are postmodern or confusing.  But that’s irrelevant to what happened. At any rate, you might intuit from the title why the seminar got ditched. Guess!

Kathleen Lowery at the University of Alberta organized the symposium. Here’s the summary:

Session Descripton: While it has become increasingly common in anthropology and public life to substitute ‘sex’ with ‘gender’, there are multiple domains of research in which biological sex remains irreplaceably relevant to anthropological analysis. Contesting the transition from sex to gender in anthropological scholarship deserves much more critical consideration than it has hitherto received in major disciplinary fora like AAA / CASCA. This diverse international panel brings together scholars from socio-cultural anthropology, archaeology, and biological anthropology who describe why in their work gender is not helpful and only sex will do. This is particularly the case when the work is concerned with equity and the deep analysis of power, and which has as an aim the achievement of genuine inclusivity. With research foci from hominin evolution to contemporary artificial intelligence, from the anthropology of education to the debates within contemporary feminism about surrogacy, panelists make the case that while not all anthropologists need to talk about sex, baby, some absolutely do.

Elizabeth told me that the contributions, which you can see at the link, were so diverse and wide-ranging that it was likely that the six panelists would have disagreed with each other.

As I said, the proposal was accepted by the AAA and CASCA for the meeting. But then they has second thoughts—and rejected it (see below).  I suspect that the main issue was Weiss’s talk, which maintained that “skeletons are binary”, which is true, but not something that cultural anthropologists, at least, would find comfortable. THERE IS NO BINARY IN WOKEWORLD!

Here’s Elizabeth’s own proposed presentation, which I think helped scupper the symposium (not her fault!):

No bones about it: skeletons are binary; people may not be. Sex identification – whether an individual was male or female – using the skeleton is one of the most fundamental components in bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology. Anthropologists have improved their ability to determine sex since their initial studies on skeletal remains, which depended on subjective assessment of skeletal robusticity to say whether someone was male or female. An understanding of physical differences in the pelvis related to childbirth, hormonal impacts on bones, and extensive comparative studies have provided anthropologists with an array of traits, such as those in the Phenice Method, to determine sex using just bones. The use of DNA to identify sex in skeletons by their 23rd chromosomes enables anthropologists to say whether infants are male or female for use in both criminal abuse cases and archaeological cases, such as in recognizing infanticide practices. Anthropologists’ ability to determine whether a skeleton is male or female is not dependent on time or culture; the same traits can be used to make a sex estimate in a forensic case in Canada, or to estimate sex in a Paleoindian dated around 11,500 years ago in Brazil. As anthropologists study more remains from more cultures and time periods, sex identification has improved, because sex differences are biologically-determined. In forensics, however, anthropologists should be (and are) working on ways to ensure that skeletal finds are identified by both biological sex and their gender identity, which is essential due to the current rise in transitioning individuals and their overrepresentation as crime victims. —Elizabeth Weiss

Note that Weiss even mentions that there may be forensic ways to identify gender identity (e.g., she mentioned the presence of “signs of plastic surgery” to me). But I suspect the assertion of the binary nature of skeletons is what eventually raised hackles,

At any rate, the symposium was still accepted and scheduled for the meetings.

2.) But then, in November, the two societies decided to deep-six the panel, and here are the reasons they gave:

Dear panelists,

We write to inform you that at the request of numerous members the respective executive boards of AAA and CASCA reviewed the panel submission “Let’s Talk about Sex Baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology” and reached a decision to remove the session from the AAA/CASCA 2023 conference program(me). This decision was based on extensive consultation and was reached in the spirit of respect for our values, the safety and dignity of our members, and the scientific integrity of the program (me). The reason the session deserved further scrutiny was that the ideas were advanced in such a way as to cause harm to members represented by the Trans and LGBTQI of the anthropological community as well as the community at large.

While there were those who disagree with this decision, we would hope they know their voice was heard and was very much a part of the conversation. It is our hope that we continue to work together so that we become stronger and more unified within each of our associations. Going forward, we will undertake a major review of the processes

There’s a lot to say about this, but you can see the problem: the assertion of “our values” (which of course are unstated and surely not shared by all), the ritual invocation that the panel would harm “the safety and dignity of our members” (you’d have to be a fool to buy that), and the ludicrous claim that the sessions would “harm” members of the trans and LGBTQ1 anthropology community and “the community at large” (my response is “no they wouldn’t”).

This is all nonsense, of course. If scientists can’t listen to presentations like the ones accepted without being “harmed”, they need therapy, not canceled talks.  And, of course, the societies are imposing ideological standards on the community that will chill dissent: exactly what you don’t want in science.  That’s clear from the last paragraph, which implies that all symposia will be vetted in the future for political correctness.

Here we see a good example of how science is being bowdlerized via some topics being declared taboo. It’s infuriating, and the two societies should be embarrassed.

3.) In a very good defense of their symposium, the panelists wrote back to the societies; you can see their letter here.

But of course despite their good objections, the AAA and CASCA aren’t going to move.  The symposium is considered “harmful”, and so it can’t go on.

How many of these things have to happen before scientists realize that the chilling of speech, the declaring of topics taboo to both research and discuss, and the ritual invocation of “harm” to minority groups by the to-and-fro discussion inherent in science—that all of this is going to kill off science as we know it? But they don’t care, for their main concern is not the discovery of scientific truth but adherence to the current liberal and orthodox ideology.

Colin’s tweets on the fracas:


50 thoughts on “More mishigas: Two anthropology societies cancel an accepted symposium on sex and gender because it would “harm” their members

  1. Anthropology has long been a lost cause. One of the first to adopt the mantras of wokeness, and this doesn’t surprise me at all. What scares me is when the hard sciences and mathematics start this nonsense.

  2. Forensic anthropologists also charge individuals whose skeletons they investigate with being dead. This brings harm to the vitally challenged community, and makes itsj members feel unsafe. It also flies in the face of our current understanding that live and dead are on a spectrum, revealed by such inter-living examples as Sen. Mitch McConnell.

  3. I sent the AAA the following:

    Why would any self-respecting scientist want to attend the meetings of a society that cancels such symposia as “Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology” based on the specious notion of “harm” and the nonsense of “the safety and dignity of our members, and the scientific integrity of the program(me)”. Ramona Pérez and Monica Heller should be ashamed for their cancellation of the symposium, their capitulation to unnamed persons who object to rational discourse on serious controversies, and their unfortunate letter of cancellation, which will be widely panned.

  4. “If scientists can’t listen to presentations like the ones accepted without being “harmed”, they need therapy, not canceled talks.”

    Apparently a large percentage of the population needs therapy. (In fact, I support counseling and therapy and believe it can assist people in need.)

    There is another concern I have in addition to this attack on free speech and open inquiry. Supposed adults who can’t hear opposing ideas without being “harmed”- the actual purpose of that position to shut down debate- coincident with adolescents and young adults who truly believe they are going to fall apart if they are, for example, misgendered or dissed in any way.

    Why are there so many troubled young people? Where is this fragility coming from? Instead of valuing mental and emotional toughness, and encouraging it in young folks coming of age, these types of activists are promoting weakness: as if being in a near state of emotional collapse is admirable.

    1. Chris Rufo, perhaps overstating matters a little (but not much), argues that our culture is becoming dominated by individuals exhibiting the narcissistic and histrionic personality disorders classified in Cluster B of the DSM. If he is correct, a simple prediction follows.
      At some future meeting of the American Psychology Association, a move will be made to eliminate narcissistic and histrionic personality disorders (or perhaps personality disorders altogether) from the DSM. After all, merely mentioning them could make members of the relevant “communities” feel unsafe.

    2. Why are young people so increasingly fragile?
      A few possible reasons:
      1.) supervised, scheduled childhoods with insufficient opportunities to play or develop independence and coping skills.
      2.) overemphasis on safety, dangers like kidnapping.
      3.) social media with exaggerated examples of role models and destructive ability to monitor and shame
      4.) a culture teaching the “3 Untruths” — what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; the world is divided between good people and evil people.
      5.) a demand/desire to be economically comfortable when this is become increasingly difficult.
      6.) Other things.

        1. From adults, peers, and social media.

          The steep increase in mental health problems among teenagers has reportedly lead to the assumption that if you don’t have one, there’s something wrong with you.

          1. To give a quick idea before searching for this sprawling topic :

            SEL is designed. It has been used in K-12 ed since 1994 from The Fetzer Institute.

            To supplement reading about SEL – but will be less apparent – see Education in the New Age by Alice A. Bailey (Lucius Trust, 1954).

            But what is Social-Emotional Learning? Some sort of thing* to organize behavior in K-12 children, schools, and communities (WSSC model) that appears to be a transformation of Education in the New Age. Adding to that is Comprehensive Sex Education (relevant in particular here) – and the UN Sustainable Development Goals which explicitly state SEL is helpful (somehow) for achieving those goals.

            At least millions and millions of dollars have been spent on it from WEF and UNESCO. So it is worth knowing about and me going on a bit – it isn’t just a homebrew “play nice” guideline.

            *IMHO Very close to if not exactly repackaged New Age religion to control K-12 students and their towns, though nothing says that. That’s my conclusion from following James Lindsay’s analysis (at least).

            This comment seems long but wait til you read about it.

          2. I’d like to edit to make my opinion part more accurately state:

            “SEL is the doctrine of a New Age religion”

      1. I live in a quiet and safe neighborhood, with a fenced in path that goes directly from our street to the local elementary school whose playground literally backs up to our lot. There are many children here, and yet not a single one walks to school — an experience that I grew up with and cherish, having walked every day for many blocks even along busy streets. Instead, parents either drop them off at school, or they take the school bus. And even that is sheltered, with a cluster of SUVs and watchful parents waiting as the kids stand for the bus. After school, the SUV herd reappears again to pick them up from the safe and quiet bus stop next to my house.
        Rant over.

      2. 8) No real and actual problems. If youths today were subsistence farmers, with a choice of working in the fields dawn til dusk, or starving in the winter, then First World problems such as micro aggressions, mis-gendering, and cultural appropriation, would cease to matter.

      3. 9. Delayed reproduction. The older parents of a young child (increasingly parents have just 1) have a lot more at stake in the success of that kid because they have few opportunities to have another kid if that one doesn’t work out.

    3. The fragility likely comes from trans people being aware that they aren’t really their target sex – but wanting not to be aware, wanting to de-emphasize or deny that.
      It’s a fantasy they try to make into a reality, but they can’t completely achieve that.

  5. I saw on X that Carole Hooven was cancelled from something (besides a professorship). – perhaps this is it. Kathleen Stock made a note too.

    I’m in haste and can’t locate the eXcommunications. Perhaps a reader might help.

    1. Yes, Carole Hooven was going to be on this panel, although in the event was unavailable anyway.

      As has been pointed out elsewhere on Twitter/X, without first identifying the sex of a skeleton there’s no possibility of looking at the person’s possessions and saying whether they conformed to the prevalent gender stereotypes of their times or not. So the gender identity ideologues are cutting off their noses to spite their faces. (Although given their propensity for approving the surgical removal of healthy body parts, perhaps they don’t care?)

  6. In religion, something becomes a sacred mystery beyond debate and analysis when the primary evidence supporting it is the willingness of believers to believe it’s true. The weakness of the offended isn’t just their emotional fragility; it’s their recognition that the sacred truth is balancing precariously on an emotional consensus.

    If any fraction of the narrative which surrounds trans identities — from the spectrum of sex to the primacy of gender to the safety and necessity of gender affirming care — is challenged, then trans people might not get to do everything they want. The thought of this possibility is what makes them feel unsafe.

    1. “… then trans people might not get to do everything they want. ”

      ^^^just worth hearing that again, I think – my emphasis added.

  7. “This decision was based on extensive consultation …”
    In other words, “we asked some people we thought would object, and when they did, we allowed them to veto the event”. Who are these anonymous people with the power of veto, and how does one apply to become one?

  8. From details here, it is clear that many of the talks that were cancelled along with the panel were impeccable by their litmus test.. It would not surprise me that in part II of this, that those speakers are invited back.

  9. What an informative post.
    -Coverage of the latest woke controversy in the sciences. (I was unaware of it.)
    -Info on the identification of sex through skeletons.
    -Clear-eyed and firm censure of the corruption of science.
    This is why I’ve been coming here everyday since WEIT began.

    1. +1 from me. The clarity of our host’s voice is easy to overlook given his prodigious output. I’ve learned SO much here over the years.

    1. Actually, many members of the APA have made the point that they don’t regard anthropology as a science. I believe they even removed science from their mission statement years ago.

  10. Friends, I’ve read your comments with great interest, as always, and they’ve moved me to make a few myself.
    • I think the comment that anthropology was early to wokeness is partially correct. I studied anthropology in college 40 years ago when it was taught as a hard science, but at that time there were inklings of political correctness in cultural anthropology, and this PC is now full-blown indeed. Physical anthropology and archaeology appear to me to still be practiced as hard sciences. Jerry alluded to this difference in his post, and it seems the practice of anthropology as a hard science was the core point of the cancelled conference.
    • IRT children walking outside, my personal anecdote per contra some others: My wife and I just returned from walking around our lovely middle-class neighborhood at the time the school buses were dropping the kids back home after school. It was chilly and drizzling. Cars and SUVs were not to be seen at the bus stops. After they got off the buses, the kids were full of beans, laughing and goofing off on their walks home, some for many blocks. My wife and I couldn’t help but smile. This scenario is a regular occurrence. I love my neighborhood.
    • Social-emotional supports and training are good for kids; they make them better learners. Oh, based on my experience as an adult literacy tutor, they work for grownups, too.

    1. In case it didn’t come across – because I tried (so hard) to just be super-simple:

      See above for my quick once-over of the multi-million-dollar “Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)” before venturing out to read about it.


  11. As a member of the American science community, I am deeply embarrassed by this cancellation. Perhaps I should sue for the ‘mental anguish’ they’ve caused me.

  12. Let’s see, Ron De Santis wants to forbid the discussion of certain topics because it might upset some of the fragile school children of Florida; these societies want to forbid the discussion of certain topics because it might upset some of their fragile members. Don’t see much difference.

    1. It’s not so much upsetting the children of Florida (and where I live) as giving them false information about their bodies with the motivated intent to queer them. Perish the thought that scientists would ever do such a thing to each other ….or to the poor fragile trans people of Toronto who might be passing by the convention venue on their way to beating up parents not happy with the Gender Unicorns.

  13. I’m seeing the phrase “Reality is transphobic” more and more often these days in response to folks crying “transphobia” to stated facts like the binary nature of sex, daring to point out that transwomen are male and transmen are female (not conflating gender and sex), and so on. But that usually is the kind of thing you see on social media, from students at universities or in “news” stories. It’s sad to see professional scientists doing the same thing. Again it invites comparison to religion and blasphemy or political movements like China’s cultural revolution where dissent from non-scientific beliefs isn’t acceptable.

  14. The idea of harm is interesting. In everyday life, we’re expected to have something of a thick skin to handle what life throws at us. We should be able to tolerate not finding a good parking place or getting pushback for a comment we made on some blog. Even something like not getting that hoped-for promotion is something we should bounce back from fairly quickly.

    On the other hand, there are plenty of people in society to whom you can’t tell them to shake it off or grow a thicker skin or similar–people who have become homeless, been diagnosed with cancer, had a death in the family, and so on. These are serious matters, and a mentally strong person could be expected to suffer from this blow.

    So where are we with a scholarly discussion of sex/gender (to which attendance wasn’t mandatory)? Is it possible that hearing these presentations this might hit someone hard, like a cancer diagnosis? Or is it more like the pushback to our blog comment?

    I argue that it’s the latter.

    1. Whenever we hear about “harm”, I try substituting “Demiurge” – this I think clarifies the nature of the problem.

    2. The idea of harm and treating trans people’s self-perception as fragile and in need of protection by guarding them against factual truths, comes from trans people being aware of those truths – but wanting not to be aware, wanting to de-emphasize or deny them.

  15. My thoughts on the large numbers of upset people just adds to the even larger numbers of mentally upset people that seem to cover the United States. Also should add the prisons are full of our mental problems as well. In California, due to the good year round weather and extreme prices we have more than 70,000 people living in the streets. Apparently around half of these people have various mental problems as well. At some point we need to admit the large mental hospitals we once had all over the country were a good idea and we may need to bring them back. With more modern medicine we we would need hundreds of these facilities to work on all these mental people and cases. We had many of these people in such facilities, then simply closed them down issued drugs to the patients and set them out into the world. It was a big mistake and society has been paying the price ever since.

    1. That’s an idea whose time has come again, I think. State and provincial mental hospitals could be made more therapeutic than the insane asylums of yesteryear for people who really can’t cope in the community.

  16. How many people who aren’t conservatives, tend to agree with conservatives on this subject, and perhaps are keeping their heads down and their mouths shut about it? How many anthropologists are privately appalled by this?
    It seems essential that people who are generally liberal but see sense in a lot of what conservatives say about transgender ideology, speak up.
    The conservatives believe these things as part of a package of conservative ideas, a lot of which aren’t good ideas, like anti-vax. So what they say is discredited and not very well heard because of that.
    The liberals can perhaps be more credible as critics of gender ideology; and help society find solutions that work reasonably well for all interested parties, such as in conflicts about transwomen in women’s spaces.

  17. What Laure wrote, #21 above. Keeping heads down and mouth shut. I could give examples. Thus I chose a screen name. I’m still picking my way through Material Girls (Kathleen Stock) recommended by Thyroid Planet. It’s not a difficult book, but the stuff she has to call out — it’s dispiriting, the arrant nonsense. And the dense prose (Not K. Stock’s) — the deliberately obscurantist style of, say, Judith Butler — to conceal lack of content.

  18. I found a “new” insight to “gender”. (It is of course not new nor mine).

    Originally, I set the 1960s as the origin of the development of “gender identity” ftom Robert Stoller and John Money – as Kathleen Stock explains in Material Girls, and observed in Google Ngram plots.

    But the notion of “gender” goes back further : check these excerpts, from 1908:

    Chapter 13:

    “The great Seventh Hermetic Principle—the Principle of Gender—embodies the truth that there is Gender manifested in everything—that the Masculine and Feminine principles are ever present and active in all phases of phenomena, on each and every plane of life. At this point we think it well to call your attention to the fact that Gender, in its Hermetic sense, and Sex in the ordinarily accepted use of the term, are not the same.”

    Chapter 14:

    “The student turns back the pages of occult history, and away back in the dim beginnings of occult teachings he finds references to the ancient Hermetic doctrine of the Principle of Gender on the Mental Plane—the manifestation of Mental Gender. And examining further he finds that the ancient philosophy took cognizance of the phenomenon of the “dual mind,” and accounted for it by the theory of Mental Gender.”

    See the whole thing, esp. chapter 13 “Gender” and chapter 14 “Mental Gender”.

    What are the chances, that Stoller and Money simply grabbed “gender” from a weird, obscure cult book The Kybalion, because nobody would notice? Or Judith Butler read The Kybalion? I’d say 100% chance.

    It is hermetic alchemy which goes back to antiquity.

    The Kybalion
    The Three Initiates
    The Yogi Publication Society
    Masonic Temple
    Chicago, IL
    1908, 1912, 1936, 1940

    1. Just one more excerpt – I know this is long but I think this is illuminating – from chapter 14 :

      “But the student soon finds that this is not all that he finds within his inner consciousness. He finds that there exists a mental Something which is able to Will that the “Me” act along certain creative lines, and which is also able to stand aside and witness the mental creation. This part of himself he is taught to call his “I.” He is able to rest in its consciousness at will. He finds there not a consciousness of an ability to generate and actively create, in the sense of the gradual process attendant upon mental operations, but rather a sense and consciousness of an ability to project an energy from the “I” to the “Me”—a process of “willing” that the mental creation begin and proceed. He also finds that the “I” is able to stand aside and witness the operations of the “Me’s” mental crea​tion and generation. There is this dual aspect in the mind of every person. The “I” represents the Masculine Principle of Mental Gender—the “Me” represents the Female Principle. The “I” represents the Aspect of Being; the “Me” the Aspect of Becoming. You will notice that the Principle of Correspondence operates on this plane just as it does upon the great plane upon which the creation of Universes is performed. The two are similar in kind, although vastly different in degree. “As above, so below; as below, so above.” “

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