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:
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:
🚨BREAKING: The American Anthropological Association the Canadian Anthropology Society have cancelled the panel "Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology" scheduled to take place at their annual conference.
The reasons… pic.twitter.com/5G3I6Y1vqG
— Colin Wright (@SwipeWright) September 26, 2023
Below is the program entry for the now cancelled panel. pic.twitter.com/3ex95wSNpn
— Colin Wright (@SwipeWright) September 26, 2023