The NYT touts miracles again

September 17, 2023 • 9:15 am

The NYT headline below is in line with the paper’s recurrent penchant for touting religion while at least admitting that some people doubt God’s existence. In general, though, if you read the headline, your first thought—if you’re not a diehard skeptic—is “yes, it’s a miracle!” (See the word counts at bottom.)

The miracle is a familiar one: a religious person is dug up after some time and their bodies are found to have been incorrupted—that is, they didn’t rot, shrivel, degenerate, or decay. Catholics often consider this a miracle, and the Vatican has a whole policy of inspection for incorruptibility, which can be seen as a miracle helping qualify the Incorrupted Person as a saint.

A famous example of this is Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), or Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. This case, once touted as showing miraculous incorruptibility, now shows the weakness of judging someone as “not decayed.” Although Soubirous was designated a saint based on other miracles, when exhumed 30 years after death, her body was declared to be in perfect condition. reports on three exhumations of Bernadette, the last in 1925. The inspecting doctor said this:

“What struck me during this examination, of course, was the state of perfect preservation of the skeleton, the fibrous tissues of the muscles (still supple and firm), of the ligaments, and of the skin, and above all the totally unexpected state of the liver after 46 years. One would have thought that this organ, which is basically soft and inclined to crumble, would have decomposed very rapidly or would have hardened to a chalky consistency. Yet, when it was cut it was soft and almost normal in consistency. I pointed this out to those present, remarking that this did not seem to be a natural phenomenon.”

Remarkable! Except if you look even at Wikipedia, you see that not only are the visible parts of Bernadette’s body (on view in the town of Nevers) covered with wax, but there’s also this note with the photo below (my emphasis):

The body of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes with wax face and hand coverings, declared to appear incorrupt by a committee in 1909 (subsequent exhumations indicated corruption). (January 7, 1844 – April 16, 1879).

Atlas Obscura is even more skeptical:

As part of the canonization process, her body was exhumed three separate times, in 1909, 1919, and finally in 1925, when she was moved to the crystal casket. Her body was pronounced by the church as officially “incorrupt,” but it seems the qualifications for that term may have been somewhat lax. In the words of the attending doctor in 1919: “The body is practically mummified, covered with patches of mildew and quite a notable layer of salts, which appear to be calcium salts… The skin has disappeared in some places, but it is still present on most parts of the body.”

After a few ribs were removed to be sent to Rome as relics, it was decided that the “blackish color” of her face might be off-putting to pilgrims, and so a “light wax mask” was in order. Her new face and hands were designed by Pierre Imans, a designer of fashion mannequins in Paris.

Yep, she was not incorruptible. She was rotting away.

Now it’s possible that Bernadette rotted somewhat more slowly than a normal body (perhaps due to special physical features of the body, casket, or soil; see below), but I can’t rule out with absolute certainty that God did it. (As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, science can’t be 100% certain about anything). But if God did it, why didn’t he just preserve her in perpetuity, with no need for wax or remaking of faces and hands? God can do that, you know, for He can do anything! Here we have another vexing question for Sophisticated Theologians™: why does God act so erratically with respect to the bodies of saints?

But on to the NYT, which reports on another “incorruptible” nun, whose face also has been be covered with a wax mask. There’s a racial dimension to this one, too, for as far as I know, this is the first incorruptible nun who was black. The NYT plays that up, of course, but I find the science of more interest.

Click on the screenshot below, and I also found the piece archived here.

An excerpt:

In life, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster was known to her fellow nuns for her devotional poetry, her sense of humor and her fierce piety. “I’m Sister Wil-hel-mina,” she was known to say. “I’ve a hell of a will and I mean it!” A biography published by her order after her death at age 95 in 2019 described her as the little nun “who persevered in faith.”

In death, Sister Wilhelmina has become something much larger to some: a potential saint, a pilgrimage attraction, a miracle.

The transformation started this spring at the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus, run by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, a small but growing conservative order whose headquarters are nestled in the rolling hills north of Kansas City. Four years after burying Sister Wilhelmina, the order’s founder, in a simple wood coffin in a corner of the property, the sisters decided to move her body into a customary place of honor inside their church.

My emphasis below in what seems to be a bit of fudging:

When they opened the coffin, expecting to find bones that could be easily cleaned and placed in a new box, they instead found what looked and even felt remarkably like Sister Wilhelmina herself. Her face was recognizable, even after years in a damp coffin, and the sisters said that her beloved habit was “immaculate.”

For the Benedictines of Mary, this immediately signaled that Sister Wilhelmina may be an “incorruptible,” a term the Catholic Church uses to describe people whose bodies — or parts of their bodies — did not decompose after death. Believers in the phenomenon say there have been more than 100 examples worldwide, mostly in Europe.

Michael O’Neill, who hosts a national radio show called “The Miracle Hunter” on the Catholic station EWTN, said that the case of Sister Wilhelmina, who was Black, was especially distinctive. “There’s never been an African American incorruptible; in fact there’s never been an American of any sort who’s an incorruptible,” he said. “So this is big news.”

Incorrupted, but after a paltry four years. But was she really that well preserved?

Here’s a photo of the body *(uncredited) from The Pillar, a Catholic publication:

Note that only her face and hands are visible (well, it would be salacious to show other parts), but The Pillar adds this:

In the case of Sister Wilhelmina, it is not clear how much of her body may be incorrupt. Photos circulating online seem to show a life-like face that has resisted decomposition, while skin on the nun’s hands appears leathery and dehydrated, but not rotting.

. . .The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints has norms on the examination process, which emphasize the respect due to the human body, he said. But there are no specific norms governing an investigation into whether a body is incorrupt.

In the recent Missouri case, Sister Wilhelmina’s canonization cause has not been opened, making the veneration of her mortal remains — and the prospect of an investigation — somewhat unusual.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph released a May 22 statement, which noted the need “to protect the integrity of the mortal remains of Sister Wilhelmina to allow for a thorough investigation.”

But when asked by The Pillar about what the investigation will entail — and who is responsible for it — a spokesperson for the diocese was not able to give a clear sense of the next steps.

Angelus, another Catholic publication, says this:

Cleaned and protected with wax, Sister Wilhelmina’s remains are now on display for veneration at the monastery. Following a May 29 rosary procession, the body will be encased in glass at the altar shrine, the religious community stated, adding that once devotion to Sister Wilhelmina has become “well established,” her cause for canonization “may be introduced.”

Another Catholic site shows her face (below), saying it’s covered with a “light transparent face mask”. If that’s true (and why any wax?), it is a remarkable case of preservation:

The NYT doesn’t say anything about a wax coating, or Sister Wilhelmina’s rotting hands. But they do manage to throw in one doubter toward the end, even though they dismiss science in the very next sentence. Bolding below is mine:

Inside the abbey walls, few openly question what they see before their eyes. To experts in forensic science, there are other potential explanations.

“It’s impossible to make many conclusions at all,” said Marcella Sorg, a forensic anthropologist and research professor at the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. One of several explanations is the phenomenon of dry mummification, which can take place naturally if the body’s soft tissues stay dry enough. Factors include the person’s body fat, their diet in the days before death and the dryness of the wood used for the coffin.

For others, science is hardly the point.

Madeline Whitt, a clerk at the Hy-Klas grocery store in Gower, shrugged when asked if Sister Wilhelmina’s preservation was a miracle. “Even if it’s not,” she said, “if it brings more people to come and question things, then it is.”

Ms. Whitt, 17, has visited the abbey three times to see Sister Wilhelmina.

She attends a nondenominational Protestant church and said she had not ever seen a nun before her visits to the abbey. It was a “culture shock,” she said. But in a quiet, small town, it was also something to do.

In a 1,672-word piece. then, the NYT devotes 96 words, or 5.7%, to just one alternative naturalistic explanation. And there are others: after all, parts of Sister Wilhelmina are starting to degenerate, and for some unexplained reason they put wax on her body. If they are really looking for a miracle, leave off the wax!

And THEN they have the temerity to say that “science is hardly the point.” In fact, it is the entire point. Either there’s a naturalistic explanation for the incorruptibility of this nun’s body, or there’s not, and it’s supernatural. (I’m betting on the former.) And that distinction is precisely what Madelin Whitt meant when suggesting that people should see the body and “question things.”

Better yet, read up on forensic anthropology.  An Internet search for naturalistic explanations yields very little, even in the Wikipedia article. I’m sure there are explanations out there, though, and I suggest that readers look for them. In the meantime, although the NYT has mercifully ditched its weekly lucubrations on Jesus from Pastor Tish Harrison Warren, it continues to be very soft on religion. After all, the paper wouldn’t want to anger its “believing-in-belief” readers by acting like that nasty old skepic James Randi. Such doubt wins you no plaudits in religious America.

And I still want to know why God can’t make a saint’s body incorruptible without the use of wax.

h/t: Mike

The Guardian touts Māori ways of knowing as ways of science

July 15, 2023 • 11:15 am

The other day I wrote about a Māori-themed school on New Zealand’s North Island whose curriculum was run by the phases of the moon—a school that seemed deeply steeped in astrology, and thus unlikely to provide anything more than a parochial and ethnic education to a class that was only 9% Māori, but whose educational plan was based on astrology and local lore for the first eight years of schooling.

Now the Guardian, with the excuse of celebrating the Matakiri, the Māori lunar New Year (marked by the rising of the Pleiades, a star cluster, and the occasion for a new national holiday), has taken it upon itself to report how indigenous “ways of knowing” are creating both a social and scientific renaissance in New Zealand.

The Guardian piece, which you can access free by clicking the screenshots below, is not nearly as bad as some of the palaver that comes out of New Zealand, but it’s so soft on the value of indigenous “ways of knowing” that at least four readers (all Kiwis) sent it to me. I’ll point out some of the “ways-of-knowing” pandering below, and give a few comments by my rapporteurs, but let me hasten to add—as I always do—that Mātauranga Māori (MM), or Māori “ways of knowing” do contain some empirical knowledge that falls within the ambit of science’s “practical knowledge.” Some of this knowledge, like using astronomical or seasonal data to judge when to catch eels and to plant or harvest food, are given in the article.  (MM, of course, also contains tradition, spirituality, legends, ideology, spirituality, and morality.)

But at least to me, and to the people who sent me this piece, the article seems a justification for all of MM, and especially for its value for understanding the natural world.  Some of that came from the sub-headline, asserting that the “ancient knowledge systems” of the Māori explains EVERYTHING, including natural phenomena. The response to that is “no, it doesn’t.”  One has to wonder whether the Guardian, like the NYT, has a penchant for touting woo. After all, it did tout the bogus claim that the Polynesians (ancestors of the Māori) discovered Antarctica in the seventh century A.D.

Here are some excerpts from the piece and some comments from me and from the Kiwis who sent it to me. Bolding is mine:

So far, the public face of the holiday has been preoccupied with star-gazing. But as Matariki comes to prominence in New Zealand society – bolstered by its status, since 2022, as a legally enshrined public holiday – Māori leaders say they are hopeful the country can learn more of the celebration’s ancient roots, in which the positions of the moon and stars are the foundation for understanding almost every aspect of the natural world.

“This knowledge system explains weather patterns, understanding environments, planting patterns, and understanding nature and the movements of fish and eels,” says Rereata Makiha, who is a specialist in mātauranga Māori (Indigenous knowledge), and served on the government’s Matariki advisory group.

Yes, the positions of the moon and stars may be helpful in guiding planting or catching fish, though I doubt they’reof much use in explaining at least short-term weather patterns and “environments”, whatever that means.  But what we can say with certainty, even if author Graham-McLay didn’t write the sub-headline, is that the position of celestial bodies does NOT explain “almost every aspect of the natural world.”


The establishment of the national holiday comes at a time when Indigenous sciences, astronomy, and environmentalism are experiencing a renaissance in New Zealand, reversing decades of dismissal and scorn of the subjects as rooted in myth. Since the 1970s, a slow and quiet resurgence of the customs among Māori – who are 15% of New Zealand’s population – prompted a call to formally recognise Matariki.

The resurgence of customs and knowledge of the Māori is a good thing—good for acquainting Kiwis with the history, sociology, and anthropology of their land, and with some current customs of the indigenous people. And it’s fine that Matariki is a national holiday.

But much of MM is indeed myth. One of the myths, which I’ve mentioned before, is the legend that the ancestors of the Māori, Polynesian voyagers, were the first people to discover Antarctica—in 650 A.D. (see also here).  This is a false claim, but one that is still being pushed by its authors, who got $600,000 to investigate the false narrative (it’s based on a mistranslation of an oral legend). In reality, the Russians were the first to glimpse the Antarctic continent—in 1820.

Other myths like this continue to pervade MM. If you read enough about this stuff, you see that the revival of MM also has a bad side, for the “authority of the sacred victim” that has come with the revival of MM has allowed those in favor of pervasive indigenization to silence their opponents out of fear of losing their jobs, and had led to a power struggle between “colonists” and  Māori that damages science, education, and indeed, New Zealand itself.

Below we see modern science and the customs of European colonists dismissed with a new epithet: “northern hemisphere traditions”:

“It’s challenging, because you’re up against the northern hemisphere traditions that were brought down here many, many years ago,” says Makiha. But the counter-cultural force of mātauranga Māori has outlasted attempts to destroy it before, he adds.

But the most bizarre claim in the whole piece is the one below.  Why? Because the Māori had no books when Europeans came to New Zealand!  Māori was a spoken language only until it was put into writing about 1820—by “colonizers”. Yet the author of the piece quotes Rereata Makiha without checking this obviously false claim (my bolding):

When the British colonised Aotearoa, “heaps” of the astronomical and scientific knowledge that brought his Polynesian ancestors to New Zealand by celestial navigation was lost, Makiha says. “Our books and teachings only survived because our old people were stubborn enough to move them around to different places so they couldn’t be tracked or found.”

(Rereata Makiha is “a specialist in mātauranga Māori [Indigenous knowledge], and served on the government’s Matariki advisory group.”)

As one correspondent emailed me, “This is unbelievable. Especially the claim that they had books when in fact they had no written language before colonisation.”

I’ll quote one more bit from the Guardian:

The fledgling recognition of Māori sciences has not been universally embraced. This month some teachers criticised the inclusion of mātauranga Māori in a leaked draft of New Zealand’s proposed new science curriculum for schools.

Indeed, for MM is not the same thing as “Māori sciences”, yet many in the academic and government establishment of NZ continue to equate MM, a “way of living”, not a “way of knowing,” with modern science.

Everyone who sent me this article cited the subheadline about “indigenous knowledge systems explaining everything”, though of course you could say, “well, we were only talking about weather and fish,” but even the “weather” bit is wrong, and the tenor of the Guardian article is that MM is more broadly explanatory.  Another correspondent wrote this:

I guess in addition to changing the meaning of the words racism, violence, genocide, etc., they’ve now changed the meaning of the word “explain”. Clearly, these people don’t understand the difference between cause and correlation.
A while ago one of the comments on your blog quoted the old saying about you can have your connotation but you can’t have your own denotation. This game of changing denotation to ring fence your argument is behind a lot of this nonsense, as is, of course, ignorance of what science is.

But let it not be said that all Māori have bought into MM, or its nonscientific bits like astrology, as a form of “knowledge”. Here’s a self-described “Māori Atheist/Freethinker” (he follows me on Twitter!), who is sensible about MM and its astrological claims. It’s people like Te Henare who can really forge a fruitful melding of indigenous with colonial cultures. But they are vanishing rare.

D. J. Grothe pushes back on the NYT for romanticizing Uri Geller and calling him a “victor”

July 11, 2023 • 1:00 pm

In the Nooz two days ago both Greg Mayer and I weighed in on a very weird article in the New York Times declaring that swindler Uri Geller (you’ll know him as the “spoon bender”) had come out victorious over his critic James Randi, who exposed Geller’s “psychic” manipulations as pure hokum. Nevertheless, the NYT extolled Geller. Here’s what both of us said:

*From Greg:

The New York Times‘ fondness for woo continues to grow: a big homepage article today declares that Uri Geller has “emerged the victor“. The evidence for this: Geller is rich and has opened a museum about himself; an Australian has written a coffee table book about him; and he has outlived his critic James Randi (who was 18 years older than Geller, and died in 2020 at the age of 92). And besides, what harm can there be in cultivating the habits of mind that allow people to believe in telekinesis? The Times used to be a little less credulous about such things, and the harm they can cause.
The article is in the “Business” section, so I guess how much money you have is the right way to judge who ‘wins’. But there’s nary a mention of the size of Randi’s estate– how can we be sure who really won?
From the NYT:

It’s a fortune he might have never earned, he said, without a group of highly agitated critics. Mr. Geller was long shadowed by a handful of professional magicians appalled that someone was fobbing off what they said were expertly finessed magic tricks as acts of telekinesis. Like well-matched heavyweights, they pummeled one another in the ’70s and ’80s in televised contests that elevated them all.

Mr. Geller ultimately emerged the victor in this war, and proof of his triumph is now on display in the museum: a coffee-table book titled “Bend It Like Geller,” which was written by the Australian magician Ben Harris and published in May.

My take:  The victor? The VICTOR?  The NYT then admits that Geller wasn’t really banding spoons or was psychic; it was all trickery:

And the point is that Mr. Geller is an entertainer, one who’d figured out that challenging our relationship to the truth, and daring us to doubt our eyes, can inspire a kind of wonder, if performed convincingly enough. Mr. Geller’s bent spoons are, in a sense, the analog precursors of digital deep fakes — images, videos and sounds, reconfigured through software, so that anyone can be made to say or do anything.

That’s bad writing, and is in fact not true, since Geller never admitted he was doing trickery (see below).

And get a load of this from the NYT:

If Mr. Geller can’t actually bend metal with his brain — and civility and fairness demands this “if” — he is the author of a benign charade, which is a pretty good definition of a magic trick. Small wonder that the anti-Geller brigade has laid down its arms and led a rapprochement with the working professionals of magic. He is a reminder that people thrill at the sense that they are either watching a miracle or getting bamboozled. And now that fakery is routinely weaponized online, Mr. Geller’s claims to superpowers seem almost innocent.

My take: No,  civility and fairness don’t demand the “if”—the possibility that he really was bending spoons with his brain. His followers now more or less admit it, and magicians like Randi could do it regularly.  By saying that Geller “won”, and putting in that “if”, the NYT is once again pandering to woo. And if it wasn’t woo, but just magic, then Geller lost and Randi won. Oh, and the NYT also lost.

Now D. J. Grothe, whom you may remember as a voice in the “new atheist movement” as well as a magician and a good friend of James Randi, takes out after the NYT for its extolling of Randi. Click below to read Grothe’s Substack post:

First, the take of reader Stephen, who brought this link to my attention

Mr. Grothe is criticizing The New York Times for the way they’re telling the story of a swindler, quote: Geller’s history of fraud is surreally romanticized in the New York Times profile — he’s audaciously portrayed as a mere magician somehow performing his deceptions in the public interest! and the NYT article treats James Randi as “little more than a footnote”, dismissing him as just spewing “vitriol” against a poor Uri Geller, who is portrayed as just an “almost innocent” fellow entertainer, a mean-spirited and joyless Randi tilting at the inocuous windmill of Uri Geller.
I’m surprised that a serious newspaper publishes something about a crook, but trying to convince us is not.

Indeed, Grothe admits that Geller has bamboozled people because he has an amiable and endearing personality, but he still bamboozled them:

He built his valuable brand on this falsehood that he was real, and in the process, offended many in the magic community, skeptics, and anyone else who values the truth and cares when the cognitively vulnerable are being defrauded by charlatans. This offense his critics felt — a kind of moral outrage — has led them to debunking Geller countless times, and yet he’s always remained undeterred. And his unscrupulous deceptions weren’t confined to the stage; I think it was and continues to be his very identity, a dangerously misleading persona ethically identical to conscienceless faith healers and psychic charlatans who knowingly dupe the gullible for personal gain.

I’ve only met Uri Geller twice, and I can confirm others’ accounts: he is a beautiful huckster. When I first met him, he made me feel like the center of the universe — he was so warm and attentive, even affectionate, and he honestly seemed like a genuinely nice guy.  I found him to be extremely likable. Even though I knew his history of destructive fraud and deceit. It should be no wonder that someone with his history could be so beguiling.

Two things in this piece surprised me. First, Geller has never admitted that his psychic ‘tricks’ were a form of magic (i.e.,deception): (Bolding is mine.)

That the magic community, with some notable if rare exceptions, has recently turned a blind eye to Geller’s history is not at all due to the fact that Geller has finally confessed to being a fraud, and to bilking his victims out of literal fortunes over the years, because Geller has never confessed to this, nor has he ever tried to make good, nor tried to make his victims whole. Instead, I think magicians have welcomed Geller into their community because magicians as a group are charmed by his personality and especially by his celebrity — magicians are nothing if not starfuckers, and ethics aside, Geller is a bona fide very charming celebrity.

Second, I didn’t know that Geller loaned his name to various scams that did hurt people, including medical misinformation:

But Geller wasn’t — and isn’t — any sort of noble Carl Sagan type. He was a con man who hurt people. And his scams were not just confined to lucrative pseudoscientific oil prospecting cons, as the Times article suggests. In the 90s, Geller’s magazines in England were promoting things like dangerous spiritualistic healing of very physical medical ailments. Found on the magazine racks throughout the country (I bought one in person on my first trip to London in 1996), issues were packaged with “Uri Geller Empowered Quartz Crystals,” with step-by-step instructions for supposedly curing very real diseases. He didn’t perform benign magic tricks merely refusing to disclaim them as mere tricks. In my opinion, he was a spiritualistic fraud. And continues to be.

If Geller is still deceiving people by pretending he has spiritual or psychic powers, we should feel sorry for those credulous folks. But we shouldn’t feel sorry for the New York Times, which actually makes a kind of hero out of Geller, declaring him victorious over James Randi, who in my view is the real hero, or at least a thoroughly admirable man. Why is the Times so eager to push woo?

The Associated Press’s Orwellian recommendations for journalists

June 22, 2023 • 10:00 am

If you’re going to use the adjective “Orwellian” to refer to authoritarianism and unsavory manipulation of people’s thoughts, you must have read at least two of his pieces: the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), and his essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), free online from The Orwell Foundation. They are of course connected; both involve the psychological manipulation of people for bad political ends, the former by government actions and the latter by manipulation of words.  Here are two bits from his essay:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.

. . . Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

I’m sure that investigative journalist Gerald Posner didn’t write this piece out of right-winged animus or transphobia (he used to be the investigative reporter for The Daily Beast), but rather out of outrage about how other people are trying to change language to achieve political ends. And, at any rate, what matters is not his politics, but the veracity of his reports, which you can check for yourself.  His issue is the language around coverage of transgender politics, and his object is the Associated Press Style Guide, which, as he notes, is

. . . . the leading style and usage guide for many newspapers, magazines, newsrooms, and public relations offices. Journalists and editors largely abide by its grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules and specific styles for everything from numbers to acronyms.  AP editors are supposed to regularly update the Stylebook in order to keep up with changes in language and societal norms.

Modern woke political language however, doesn’t undergo a natural evolution over time; rather, it is imposed from above, and here it’s imposed by the AP Style Guide.

Click to read the piece on his “Just the Facts” Substack site:

Posner is approaching the 3,000 word (!) article on “Transgender Coverage” as an investigative journalist, giving examples of recommended and un-recommended usages. But he does come to a conclusion: it’s ideological and inaccurate.  You can see the data at the “Transgender Coverage Topical Guide” entry at the AP Stylebook.

And here’s Posner’s take on it all. Most of it I agree with, but one or two of his criticisms seems to me not wrong, but a tad exaggerated.

The revised Transgender entry runs 3,000 words, setting forth what it says is the acceptable standard for journalists when “writ[ing] about and interview[ing] transgender people.”  It starts with what seems like a good rule, that reporters must use “accurate, sensitive and unbiased language.”

The editors then proceed to trash the concepts of accuracy and “no bias.” The guide dictates the use of language that in some cases is factually incorrect. Or, as Orwell might have said, the AP editors did their best “to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Language matters.  Unfortunately, those in charge of setting the rules for the use of it are titling the standards to affect the coverage.

Sometimes, the AP Stylebook contradicts established science, other times ignore inconvenient evidence to the contrary, and repeatedly adopts rules that endorse only one side of what is a vigorous ongoing controversy.

Here are two examples of bad recommendations and one that I think doesn’t matter all that much. Posner’s words are indented, and the AP Stylebook recommendations in bold, italic type. My words are flush left.


 “Use the term sex assigned at birth instead of biological sex, birth gender, was identified at birth as, born a girl and the like…. Avoid terms like biological sex, along with biological male and biological female.”

On the issue of biology being so passé, the AP is insistent. A dozen times the style guide reinforces that a person’s gender is “assigned” at birth.  Richard Ostling, a former AP national reporter (now a GetReligion contributor), notes that, “That’s central to LGBTQ+ insistence that each infant’s gender is arbitrarily imposed from outside and subject to change, so this word allies the news media with one outlook in an intense societal debate.”

Ditching biological sex in one species of animal but not in every other species is unconscionable.  Why is human “gender” (they of course mean “biological sex”) assigned at birth instead of recognized at birth? When I divide piles of fruit flies into sexes, I am not “assigning their sex”, but recognizing it based on sexually dimorphic characters that are nearly perfectly correlated with biological sex. (Remember biologists define sex by the nature of the reproductive system that produces either large, immobile gametes [“females’], or small, mobile gametes [“males’]). I’ve dissected gazillions of male and female flies, and I’ve never seen a “normal-appearing” male with ovaries. (We very rarely get gynandromorphs: flies that are part male and part female, produced when an X chromosome gets lost during cell division in an embryo. But these are developmental accidents, not a “third sex”, and gynandromorphs occur in many animal species).  It would be strange indeed if sex was defined and recognized in animals and plants—except in H. sapiens!

This wording in bold is, of course, there to reinforce the gender activists’ wrongheaded claim that sex a “spectrum” and not binary.  And they claim this because gender (social sex roles) are more of a spectrum—though still bimodal.  It’s the reverse naturalistic fallacy: what you want to be true in nature is what you must see in nature. This language is used to reinforce that fallacy.


If children meet guidelines and are showing signs of puberty, they can begin taking puberty blockers — fully reversible prescription medication that pauses sexual maturation, typically given in injections or skin implants.

The AP editors — without any supporting citation or caveat — set the rule that journalists writing transgender stories must remember that puberty blockers are “fully reversible.”  Mixing some incorrect science into the style guide might be simple enough but has serious consequences.  That is especially true when the science shows there is a litany of serious, long term adverse effects to children who have been on those drugs. I highlighted some of those side effects in my recent WJS piece, “The Truth About Puberty Blockers.”

At least the style guide admits that “the evidence is mixed” about whether hormone treatments and surgery resolve the “stress, depression and suicidal thoughts” to which “transgender youth and adults are prone.”

The effects of puberty blockers, as we are coming to learn, are almost certainly not “fully reversible.” Nor are they without side effects. Nor are they able to “pause” puberty fully and innocuously while a child makes up its mind. This language is straight-out deceptive, and again plays into the agenda of extreme gender activists, who argue that there’s no harm involved in stopping sexual maturation while you decide whether to assume a gender different from the one you have.


“[In reporting on transgender people in sports] Don’t refer to male or female hormones. All people have the same hormones; only their levels vary. If discussion of hormones is needed, name the specific hormone(s)…. If transgender players of any gender are banned from playing on teams in line with their gender, say that.”

This is embarrassingly disingenuous. Men and women do indeed produce estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone but the ways their bodies manufacture those hormones means they have completely different blood concentrations and interactions with organs and muscles.

By ignoring the differences between male and female hormones is to ignore the differences that are key to why biological males have a physical advantage over biological females in athletics. Bone size and strength, greater muscle mass, and higher rates of metabolizing and releasing energy cannot be fully reversed after puberty. Males are, among with biological advantages, are more powerful at kicking and hitting; jumping higher; extra endurance; faster swimming and running speeds.

The results of a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2020 showed that different hormones between transmen and transwomen made a significant difference in “body composition and athletic performance.”

I think by now people know this, but the levels of testosterone and estrogen do differ on average between males and premenopausal females, with average testosterone levels very different and the distributions virtually nonoverlapping.  Posner is right that hiding hormone names is a way to minimize the profound effects that different levels of testosterone and (to a lesser extent) estrogen have on secondary sex traits, especially those involved in sports like size and musculature.  But I don’t really care if they use “testosterone” instead of “male hormone” because, as the AP says, both hormones are found in both sexes. So long as writers emphasize the effect that different levels of these hormones (especially “T”) have on secondary sex traits, I’m satisfied.

I do recommend, by the way, that you read Carole Hooven’s book T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us. It’s a good, accurate, and enlightening read.

There are others recommendations from the A.P. that you can read and assess, and Posner finishes with the AP’s suggestions about how to use phrases that actually “present still contested concepts as settled,” like that it’s fine to use “pregnant people” instead of “pregnant women,”

Posner finishes with a two-sentence zinger that sums up his take on these Orwellian attempts to control language. He puts the AP recommendation in bold italics:

Of course, these rules are often more about following an ideology than acting as the premier style guide. If anyone doubts that, “Do not use the term transgenderism, which frames transgender identity as an ideology.”

A comment on the MSM’s coverage of trans issues

June 12, 2023 • 11:10 am

On my recent post called “The UK’s National Health Service bans puberty blockers for minors except for clinical trials; NYT reports it without mentioning potential physical harms of blockers,” reader Peter left a very good comment that I’m reproducing here in case you missed it.  (I’ve changed some of the bolding to dispel confusion.)

I agree with dd and disagree with Mike:  The New York Times’ coverage on transgender youth medicine and trans issues in general is subpar. And this is not because the Times does not have excellent journalists. It’s because of editorial decisions made at the top of the Times hierarchy.

This is from a journalist who left the Times in July 2016, after almost 12 years as an editor and correspondent:
Michael Cieply: Stunned By Trump, The New York Times Finds Time For Some Soul-Searching. Nov 10, 2016

. . . it’s important to accept that the New York Times has always — or at least for many decades — been a far more editor-driven, and self-conscious, publication than many of those with which it competes.

. . . Historically, the Los Angeles Times, where I worked twice, for instance, was a reporter-driven, bottom-up newspaper. Most editors wanted to know, every day, before the first morning meeting: “What are you hearing? What have you got?”

It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.

Reality usually had a way of intervening. But I knew one senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. Once, in the Los Angeles bureau, I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?”

Here are four indicators to judge the quality of journalism when the topic is transgender stuff:

1) Does the article claim that puberty blockers are reversible? – We don’t know that. The evidence we have rejects this claim.

2) Does the article tell you that many medical associations in the US support gender affirming care? – True, but misleading. There is not one medical association in the US that has based its statements in support of gender-affirming care on a rigorous systematic review of the evidence. Not one! Not the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not the Endocrine Society – it’s guidelines are about the how of gender transition not about whether puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are a good idea in the first place.

3) Does the article claim that the rate of detransition is low or that experts believe it to be low? – This rate is unknown. There are no good-quality studies on this issue. Even the statement that experts believe that rate to be low is misleading. What is low? Who cares about what experts believe if these believes are not supported by scientific evidence?

See Scott Gavura: Fooling myself.(June 2, 2016)

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. – Richard Feynman

“The three most dangerous words in medicine: in my experience.” – Mark Crislip

And here: David Isaacs & Dominic Fitzgerald: Seven alternatives to evidence based medicine. British Medical Journal (BMJ), 18-25 December 1999, Vol 319, page 1618

4) Does the article use the expressions “culture war” or “moral panic” to avoid telling the readers what opponents of the radical trans agenda think?

There are some journalists whose writing on trans issues are trustworthy: Lisa Selin Davis, Jesse Singal, Bernard Lane, Leor Sapir (not a journalist, Harvard Ph.D. in political philosophy or political science, writes for City Journal, published by the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, New York). The first three are mainly writing on Substack. Coincidence? Certainly not!

I’ve been reading the New York Times for 25 years. In the last three years the Times has published about 6 good-quality articles on trans issues. The overwhelming majority of Times articles on trans issues are distorted and misleading because the issues are viewed through a partisan/woke lens. Transgender people, because of a history of discrimination, are viewed as sacred victims. Hence, what radical transgender activists say goes. They can’t be wrong. If you criticize their views, then you are ipso facto transphobic. You are charged of arguing from a position of hate, fear or ignorance. (Analogous to Jerry allegedly “punching down,” when he criticizes the howlers that were published recently in Scientific American.)

Now the NYT presents ghost stories as serious assertions

May 15, 2023 • 9:30 am

Perhaps readers can help answer the question, “Why does the New York Times keep touting woo, publishing pieces about ghosts, dowsing, reincarnation, and, especially astrology?” Not only does it present stories of woo like this without ever questioning them, but it does so repeatedly. Is woo supposed to be a replacement of religion for the “nones” whom the paper is wooing (yes, that’s a double entendre)? Or is it simply sensationalism? Your guess is as good as mine, but one thing is striking: the country’s most serious and respected newspaper presents superstition and the supernatural over and over again, but never prints articles debunking it. For more examples, see the link in my first sentence.

Today’s story is by Rachel Louise Snyder, identified in the piece as “a professor at American University, is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Women We Buried, Women We Burned.’” She has an estimable background as a writer and traveler, so this piece defies me. At the very least it shows that an educated and aware person can believe in complete nonsense.

Click to read:

The background: Rachel’s mom died of breast cancer when the child was but 8. Her father remarried, giving her a stepmother and two stepsiblings, but they fought so violently that the evangelical parents kicked all three kids out of the house. Eventually, Snyder made her way to Cambodia, where she learned about spirits of ancestors and ghosts—and finally encountered one in the form of her mom:

My travels eventually took me to live in Cambodia. Many Khmer people believe that there is a world of spirits who live parallel to our human world. Spirits can inhabit the tops of tall trees, make trouble in the life of the living, inhabit the bodies of dogs. The spirits are not those of spooky monsters and creaky homes. They are often ancestors to which we the living must pay homage, to remember them and give them offerings so that they don’t suffer in their next life.

As an American, I rejected such beliefs. As the years went by, though, I began to hear more stories of ghosts, not just from Cambodians but also from expat friends. There was the ghost who’d shake my friend Wynne awake in the night and not stop until Wynne said soothing things out loud: “You’ll be OK. I mean you no harm.” There was the State Department friend who woke in a hotel room one night to see a man walk across the floor and disappear. In the morning, her husband told her he’d seen him, too.

And then one afternoon, 30 years after my mother’s death, her spirit came to me in my Phnom Penh apartment. It was monsoon season, the light in my living room a mustardy yellow, and I was alone. What do you say when the person you love most in the world returns? I told my mom how much of my life she’d missed. I told her of relatives who’d died. I spoke aloud, into the humid air.

And then I knew there was only one question I truly had for her. “I wish you were here,” I said, “to help me decide if I should have a child.”

Her mom’s ghost (a Cambodian-like spirit of an ancestor) replied that this was a decision Snyder had to make, so she went ahead and had a kid. She also decided to let her kid make annual visits to Snyder’s previously alienated dad and stepmother. When her stepmother also got cancer, the relationship with Rachel strengthened. The stepmother then told Rachel that her biological mother died of cancer, which Rachel hadn’t really gasped. As her stepmother approached death, she turned more and more to Jesus, and Rachel accepted the religious woo.

I asked my stepmother, “Are you afraid?” She had just returned home from yet another hospital visit.

“I was afraid,” she told me. But then a chaplain came and talked to her and my father, and finally, she told my father: no more. She told him he could still hope, and she would hope, too, for a miracle. But in the meantime, she said she felt ready and she needed him to be with her. She said her angel had been in her room all week; she could see him as clearly as she could see me now. I thought of how in Cambodia death is just the end of a cycle, making space to start all over again.

Well, I’m not going to disabuse a dying person of her false beliefs, but Rachel’s own belief that death is part of a cycle is dubious at best, and religious woo at worst. It goes on.

Then [Rachel’s stepmother] said, “Can I talk to you about the Lord? I just have to because he’s my life.”

I nodded.

Jesus was on her right side at that moment and her guardian angel was on her left. She could see them. They didn’t talk, except once to say that everything would be all right. She just wanted me to know she could see them, her angel and her Jesus, that they had come to help her on her journey to wherever and whatever came next.

I nodded, listening. I believed her. Of course I did. We travel with our ghosts. Who better to lead us to what comes next? Our next life, our heaven, the birth of a daughter, a new mother, an old one.

I understood then. She wasn’t telling me a story of Christianity or faith or spirituality. She wasn’t even telling me a story about God. She was just telling me a love story. And I was part of it.

Now I’m not sure what the love story is here—perhaps I lack the emotional perspicacity to be moved by this tale. But what bothers me is Snyder’s dogged belief in ghosts—not as metaphors but as real apparitions. Further, the return of her mother’s ghost implies that those who die live on in some form.

Is there no fact-checking in op-eds? I know that when Anna and I wrote our op-ed for the WSJ, we had to vouch for every claim that we made (notice the links in the online version) and answer a passel of editor’s questions.  Is there no fact checking about whether Rachel saw a ghost? Of course there couldn’t be, as there’s no documentation, but everything we know about such claims testifies to the fact that there is no evidence for either ghosts or an afterlife.

You may think I’m being too picky: calling out claims about ghosts and the afterlife in what is supposedly a “love story”.  But what this does is simply buttress other people’s faith in woo, and in the pages of a respectable newspaper, too. In other words, it enables faith: here faith in ghosts, Jesus, angels, and the afterlife.

When I finished the story, I thought, “Jeez, the credulity of the paper is just begging for a Sokal-type hoax. Somebody should make up a story with the wildest claims about woo, embellish it so it’s also a heart-tugging tale, and then submit it to the Times.”  I won’t be the one to do that, but the paper’s penchant for this kind of stuff is real and, ultimately, harmful. What would you think if the paper retold a story about someone who really went to Heaven and met Jesus. who was riding on a rainbow-colored horse?  Oh, I forgot: there was a book about this, and it was a bestseller, earning millions.

From Flickr and the National Archives.

h/t: Greg

More biased reporting on Israel and Palestine

May 4, 2023 • 11:30 am

Once again we see the familiar pattern: Palestinian terrorists attack Israel (either attacking an individual Israeli or firing rockets at civilians), Israel then retaliates with targeted strikes on terrorists, and finally the mainstream media reports it as if it was an Israel-initiated strike. This article below, which appeared the other day at the Associated Press, is a good example. I’ll first give the headline, then below a bit of the actual report. Click this headline to read the story:

 Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip killed a 58-year-old man and wounded five others on Wednesday, Palestinian health officials said, even as the latest spasm of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in the enclave appeared to ebb.

Israeli fighter jets struck targets in Gaza in response to salvos of rockets launched by Palestinian militants at Israeli territory on Tuesday. But after sunrise, the violence seemed to subside as both sides signaled they wanted to avoid a wider conflict.

The exchange erupted when a prominent Palestinian detainee died in Israeli custody after an 87-day hunger strike. The death of Khader Adnan, 45, a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group credited with popularizing hunger strikes as an effective form of activism, reverberated across the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, where he is revered as a national hero.

Note how the AP leads with the death of a 58-year-old man, as if he were surely a civilian at that age. But as I wrote at the first link above, Israeli attacks are targeted at terrorists, and their rate of killing civilians is far, far lower than the rate of Palestinian terrorists, who deliberately target civilians.

Finally, note that the Israeli army has the lowest rate of civilian deaths during military operations in the world:92.5% of Palestinians killed by Israel this year were members of terror groups or were actively involved in terror attacks (74/80 in 2023). Contrast this with the rate of Israeli civilian deaths killed by Palestinians.  The 92.5% is the lowest rate of civilian casualties in the history of urban warfare, and shows the care Israel uses when retaliating. (In contrast, the proportion of U.S. civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan were much higher, and more than 50% of Irish killed by the British in the 1969-2007 Operation Banner during the Troubles in Northern Ireland were civilians.)

These headlines are a way of implicating Israel as initiating violence when in fact that is vanishingly rare: Israel responds to violence by attacking terrorist targets. (Look at the eight headlines I posted a while back.)  This is the way that the mainstream media produces a narrative of Israeli aggressiveness; how many people read beyond the headlines? Once you recognize this pattern, it’s hard to see it as anything other than a tacit agreement among the media to demonize Israel. Why do they do this? You tell me.

Nation article attacks bans on trans women competing in sports against biological women

March 9, 2023 • 9:30 am

This is one of the most despicable, deplorable, duplicitous, devious and deceptive articles I’ve seen in a long time from any magazine of The Nation‘s reputation.  It’s by Dave Zirin, the sports editor at the magazine, who just proved that he’s not qualified to be the ethics editor at The Nation. 

Ciick below to read it, or find it archived for free here.

The jumping-off point for Zirin’s screed is a new law proposed in Congress:

The GOP is pushing forward a federal ban on trans people playing sports. On Wednesday, we will have the first hearings on the nauseatingly misnamed Protection of Women and Girls in Sports ActGreg Steube, an election denier from Florida, introduced the bill, HR 734, in February. It seeks to amend Title IX—the 1972 federal civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination—to define sex as that which is “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”

Before we start, I am not in favor of this bill as it’s written. But I’m in favor of much of it pending further research.

I’ve discussed in detail the reason many of us want to take a hard look at the issue of trans women competing in sports against biological women. It’s because trans women, particularly those who transition from biological men to transgender women during or after puberty, retain considerable athletic advantages over biological women—advantages in bone density, body size, muscle mass, upper body strength, grip strength, and other traits. This differential may be lessened by treatment of trans women with testosterone-reducing drugs, but data shows it’s never completely eliminated (go here for my many posts on this issue).

Thus trans women have, on average, an inherent athletic advantage over biological women, an advantage shown by the many trans women athletes who were mediocre competitors on men’s teams but, after transitioning, became champions. Biological women athletes see this differential as unfair, and they’re right.

The reason I don’t favor a complete ban (as the bill proposes) is because there may be some sports in which biological men have no average physiological or bodily advantage over biological women, and in that case there’s no reason on grounds of fairness to ban women from competing with men. I can’t think of any such sports, but ultra-long-distance running may be one. If such sports exist, the bill does create some unfairness.

Alternatively, there may be hormonal or other treatments that create a truly level playing ground for trans women vs. biological women on one hand, and trans men versus biological men on the other. Right now we have no such treatments. The Olympics, for example, used to set upper limits for testosterone levels for competing in women’s events. But the situation is now so muddled, with research showing a persistent athletic advantage in trans women, that the Olympics have basically bailed on its standards, leaving each sport to set its own criteria.

This poses a problem: what to do about trans women’s desire to compete in sports? Nobody wants to tell them that they can’t compete, for that’s quashing what may be a very strong ambition. (In fact, the bill bans them from competing.)

Readers have suggested several solutions. One is a “three-class” system of competition: biological men, biological women, and “other.” This, however, would create a stigma in the third class. Another is to allow anybody to compete in men’s athletics. But that may lead to more injuries in trans men, whose bodies are more liable to injury in rough sports. None of these solutions is perfect.

I don’t know the solution, but I do know that it shouldn’t involve trans women competing against biological women—not until we find a way to level the playing field.

Because of the caveats above, I can’t go along with HR 734’s total ban, but there are good ethical and data-driven arguments about banning trans women, for the time being, from competing in women’s sports. That doesn’t make me a transphobe, a Republican, a misogynist, or a rape-enabler, but Zirin thinks that my views make me all four (see below).

Now, on to his piece:

There are several points to Zirin’s pile of journalistic rubbish, which you can discern from its title and subtitle:

1.) Banning trans athletes (and the main issue is banning trans women from competing against biological women) is transphobic.

2.) Those “transphobes” who favor such bans have the ultimate goal of getting rid of all of Title IX, the American law that bans discrimination on the grounds of sex. In other words, favoring bans on trans athletes is just the first step in allowing discrimination based on sex—either biological sex or assumed sex, as in trangender women.

3.) Those who favor such bans are bedmates of Republicans and misogynists. Zirin’s article traffics heavily in ridiculous forms of guilt by association, like this:

The sports bill is also, tragically, supported by a few prominent women athletes who believe that they are somehow protecting women’s sports by allying with people who not only want to destroy Title IX but also to reelect a misogynist and alleged rapist as president. Strange bedfellows indeed.

and this:

Not surprisingly, the same GOP rallying in lockstep behind this bill is also pushing Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) “Protect Children’s Innocence Act,” which would make it a felony for doctors to provide gender-affirming health care to transgender minors. That is also going to be taken up this week. The GOP establishment is all in. The bills are strongly supported by the Conservative Political Action Conference and its leader, Matt Schlapp, who is accused of sexually assaulting a male staffer.

You don’t have to be in favor of the entire bill HR 734 to favor a provisional ban on transsexual women from competing in women’s sports, and you don’t have to favor the bill’s complete ban on trans men competing in men’s sports. The latter decision is up to the individual sports associations and to the trans women themselves, based not on athletic advantages but on the likelihood of injury. To claim that this position makes you a Republican, a transphobe, or a supporter of “misogynist and alleged rapist” Trump is worse than stupid. I am not a misogynist, I’m a registered Democrat, and I despise Trump.

Once again Chase Strangio, a trans man who’s the Deputy Director for Transgender Justice and staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) weighs in with his bile. The man is a blot on the ACLU, for he’s a lawyer who stomps on the rights of biological women, women who would get athletically trounced were Strangio’s efforts to bear fruit. Further, he once favored the banning of Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage. Can an ACLU lawyer have any credibility if he favors book banning?  (I have to add here that the Freedom from Religion Foundation, of which I’m an honorary director, also favors allowing trans women to compete against biological women since they see this as a church-state issue. I have complained about this stand, and it will be interesting to see how they come down on future bills.)

Here are some of Strangio’s misguided ideas, claiming that favoring a moratorium on trans women competing against biological women in sports is nothing other than transphobia:

Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney who has been fighting these laws, told me, “The introduction of HR 734 is both a troubling reflection of where we are in the national landscape of attacks on trans people, particularly trans youth, and an ominous sign of what is to come. With so many threats to women’s sports, what a sad commentary on our society that the action being taken in Congress is one that targets a subset of women and girls—those who are trans—and singles them out for discrimination.”

He went on to say, “If we are to fight back against the many threats to bodily autonomy that we are seeing in state legislatures and in Congress, we need a meaningful and coordinated resistance to legislation like HR 734, and we need to challenge the notion that targeting and demonizing trans people protects anyone.”

Yes, perhaps some supporters of the bill are transphobes, but many who call for such bans on a provisional basis are simply doing so on the grounds of fairness to women, not hatred of trans people. Strangio is either too dumb to see that, or, more likely, is so bound up in transgender activism that he fails to see (as J. K. Rowling does see) that those rights sometimes conflict with the rights of cisgender women.

I repeat Zirin’s paragraph from above:

The sports bill is also, tragically, supported by a few prominent women athletes who believe that they are somehow protecting women’s sports by allying with people who not only want to destroy Title IX but also to reelect a misogynist and alleged rapist as president. Strange bedfellows indeed.

That’s guilt by association, pure and simple. Does Zirin not see that many prominent women athletes who oppose trans women’s participation against biological women are NOT “rapist protectors” and Trumpites?  In fact, in the next sentence Zirin says so:

One Olympic gold medalist who supports a trans bans and has written upon it extensively is the swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who founded the organization Champion Women. As Dr. Johanna Mellis, cohost of the End of Sports Podtweeted to me (and I reprint with permission): “Enraging how several cishet [cisgender, heterosexual] white women like NHM [Nancy Hogshead–Makar] who ostensibly vote Dem and believe in abortion rights are trans panic-ers and boosting their platform off such bigotry.”

Another women supporting trans women’s sports bans is Martina Navratilova, a Democrat, supporter of LGBTQ rights, Trump hater, and donor to the Democratic Party. She’s not “cishet”, either, as she’s gay. Funny they left her out. . .

Below are some of Zirin’s histrionics.

I guarantee that these very forces will at some point call for Title IX to be thrown out. No one should give these people one droplet of credibility. Anyone who cares about women’s athletics should be aghast to see Title IX, some of the most important legislation for gender equality ever produced by this country, used as a cudgel to keep trans kids off the playing field. They should call that what it is: an obscenity. Either Title IX is a shining example of inclusion or it is not. For it to be used months after its 50th anniversary as a tool for bigots is the true perversion in this story.

No, I will not call for Title IX to be thrown out, and neither will our.many readers who favor some sports bans but also oppose discrimination on the basis of sex. (I’m speaking about biological sex here, for I cannot bring myself to agree that “trans women are women” in every single sense.)

The paragraph above is so miguided that it’s not even wrong. If you care about women’s athletics, the best way to preserve them as a going concern is to support Title IX for nearly all purposes, but not to allow trans women on teams comprising biological women. To do otherwise is to doom women’s sports, particularly because some states and officials (including Joe Biden’s administration) don’t think any hormonal or surgical modification of a biological male need be done to allow that male to compete as a woman. All that’s needed is that the male claim self-identify as having a female gender and (sometimes) to live as a woman for a limited period. In other words, some states and laws allow unmodified biological men to compete against biological women. Given the data, in what world is that fair?

Zirin’s ending is particularly ironic:

We need to be willing to discuss any issue that may invariably arise with transgender athletes and the sexual binary that defines sports in this country. It could be an exciting moment to reimagine how we organize young people to play sports, especially at the youth level. Instead, the issue has become yet another cleaver by the right—with minimal resistance from muted Democrats—used to distract, divide, and demonize. Republicans are not stopping with sports in their project of trans eradication. Either we stand with our trans friends, or we lose them. Either we stand with our trans friends, or Title IX will at some point be a memory. Either we stand with our trans friends, or we’re next.

What a baseless assertion! We can stand with our trans friends in allowing them every basic human right except for a handful, excluding the “right” of trans women to be put in women’s prisons, to be rape counselors, or to compete against biological women. But unless you buy Zirin (and Strangio’s) whole hog, you can’t buy any pork at all. It’s a Manichean view of the issue.

And what’s most ironic is that although Zirin claims to favor open discussion of this issue, he really doesn’t, for his guilt-by-association ploy puts many who favor discussion automatically in the same class as misogynists, transphobes, rapist-protectors, and Trump supporters. How can you discuss something when you’re demonized by the opposition at the outset? But there’s really no reason why favoring Title IX should automatically make you support the right of self-identified women to assume every single right of biological women.


I’ve now used up my free access to The Nation, and can’t see new comments (they aren’t of course archived), but last night I was glad to see that that most readers weren’t buying Zirin’s claims. Here are two that I copied, and if you have free access to his article check out any new comments:


Lastly, what I reject most about this woke article is rather than encourage debate, it rejects debate as if only neo-nazis would dare challenge any part of the trans narrative.


. . . I would have been grateful to see an engagement with the arguments of Nancy Hogshead-Makar rather than just a summary dismissal of her. Many, perhaps most, of the people who normally support progressive causes have been confused by current transgender perspectives and, in the course of seeking to become better informed have not had explanation, but vilification. A spirit of intimidation has stifled the dialogue so that a fear of being recklessly labeled transphobic has intimidated questioners into silence — a silence that is far from persuasion. The fascists have been only too happy to fill that vacuum. They are gaining ground. The Dave Zirins need to own responsibility for that.


The New Zealand Herald does a hit job on Dawkins

March 4, 2023 • 11:00 am

Richard Dawkins made a short visit to New Zealand last week, during which he went after the concept of Mātauranga Māori (MM)—the indigenous “way of knowing”—as a supposed replacement for science. (The government has decreed that MM be taught as coequal to science in secondary-school classrooms, although this “way of knowing is a melange of practical knowledge, religion, traditional stories, morality, and superstition.) I posted about Dawkins’s visit here, noting that he’d written a “diary piece” in the Spectator that was critical of MM as science (though not as anthropology or sociology).

I knew this would cause a kerfuffle, and, sure enough, the New Zealand Herald, the country’s biggest newspaper, put out a hit piece on Dawkins. Click below to read it; if it’s paywalled you can read it archived here.

The piece first describes what Dawkins said in his Spectator piece, not neglecting to mention that Elon Musk issued a brief tweet seconding Richard’s thoughts. When you read the piece, notice the dry, almost sarcastic way that Dawkins’s views are reported—in a manner guaranteed to irritate the woke. He even mentioned the giant flightless moas which were, of course, hunted to extinction by the Māori. That’s almost taboo to say, though it’s true. (Richard didn’t mention that they also destroyed much of the North and South Island’s forest by burning and agriculture. Some “stewards of the environment”!)

Where the knife goes into Dawkins is when the paper calls for comment only on one person: Dr. Tara McAllister, a Kiwi (and Māori) freshwater ecologist whose research career  has largely morphed into a series of papers attacking the racism and white supremacy of Kiwi science and trying to gain scientific equity for MM. In fact, McAllister won a research award from New Zealand’s Royal Society largely for an incendiary paper called “50 reasons why there are no Māori in your science department.” Although she says the article was “somewhat cheeky”, it is in fact dead serious, basically accusing the whole New Zealand academic establishment—and the seven Auckland Uni professors who, in the infamous Listener letter, said that MM was not equivalent to science—of being riddled with racism.  Here are the first eight reasons (the people named in #1 are the signers of the Listener letter):


UPDATE:  McAllister actually won the award for a paper that’s just as misguided, “Why isn’t my professor Māori?“, which details the “inequities” in universities and blames them on racism. Here’s a table from that paper (and remember, it got a prize for being a research paper):


I’m sorry, but the Māori are not victims: the government is turning education inside out trying to give indigenous people more research money , positions, and power, and people like McAllister are furthering this enterprise by claiming that, contrary to facts, they are all victims. (Yes, they were once discriminated against by “colonists”, but now they’re the most lauded group in the country.) It’s not wrong to say that McAllister is making her career by playing the “racist” card to gain more power for MM.  And shame once again on New Zealand’s Royal Society for giving her an award for such a vile, divisive, and inaccurate paper.

At any rate, McAllister is the only Kiwi scientist quoted about what Dawkins said in the Spectator piece, and everything she says is negative. So much for getting different points of view! (And yes, they exist, though most Kiwis who oppose the government’s police censor themselves lest they lose their jobs.)

McAllister criticizes Dawkins for his lack of expertise in MM and, of course, for being a racist. Her quotes take up half the article, and remember, this paper represents New Zealand’s most mainstream media. Here’s the article’s second half:

Dr Tara McAllister, whose research has sought to address the under-representation of indigenous scholars in academia, responded to Dawkins’ column.

“It is boring, embarrassing, inaccurate and full of racist tropes,” she told the Herald.

“It is clear Richard Dawkins has no expertise on mātauranga.”

She said Dawkins’ comments were damaging and – like the public letter from the University of Auckland professors – “function to embolden other racist scientists in Aotearoa”.

“Dawkins’ comments are, however, a great example of how clearly white supremacy is ingrained in Western sciences globally, and how colonising scientists continue to attempt to undermine the global resurgence of indigenous knowledge, which I will incorporate into my teaching and research,” she said.


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“It is abundantly clear that Dawkins knows nothing about mātauranga Māori.

“We have plenty of experts in mātauranga, like Rereata Makiha, Rangi Matamua and Ocean Mercier. Richard Dawkins is clearly not one of them. He has no relevancy here in Aotearoa.”

McAllister said there was “a very long history” of mātauranga Māori being excluded and marginalised in Aotearoa since colonisation.

“I believe that its incorporation into the curriculum, in principle, is an important step in the right direction,” she said.

Notice her claim that Dawkins and the signers of the Listener letter were racists and colonizers, that Dawkins can’t criticize MM as science because he knows nothing about it (believe me, you don’t have to be an expert to see that it’s by no means coequal to science), that all criticism of MM is “racist” (it isn’t; read Dawkins’s piece, for he says nothing racist), and that MM should be incorporated into the curriculum, certainly as science. If the last bit is what she truly feels, then she knows LESS about MM than Dawkins does. Part of MM involves empirical knowledge, but most of it has nothing to do with what we think of as modern science.

Four things are clear to me from reading this article and from following the government’s woke path in New Zealand

1.) Scientists there are fighting a losing battle, largely because they are prevented from speaking out by fear of losing their jobs (see Richard’s Spectator piece). Yet despite this, I get at least one or two emails a day from Kiwi scientists objecting to the takeover of academia and science by MM.

2.) The indigenization of Kiwi academics is being helped along and promoted by the mainstream media who crank out biased pieces like this.

3.) The fear of Kiwi scientists and other academics to speak out on this issue—and a frank discussion really is needed—is driven by their fear of being called “racists”.. And nobody is better at wielding the “racist” and “white supremacist” trope than the prize-winning Dr. McAllister.

4.) New Zealand’s Royal Society remains a joke. Imagine giving a “research prize” to McAllister for her promotion of MM as science, especially the victimization narrative in her “50 reasons” paper.

CNN article seemingly exists only to widen racial divisions in America

February 21, 2023 • 10:40 am

Reader Bill Boecklen sent me this CNN Business article with a headline and content that, it appears, exist only to stoke the flames of animus between black and white people in America. Or so Bill thought (I give his quote at the bottom), and I think he’s right. Read it for yourself by clicking on the headline:

The headline clearly implies some kind of racism or bias in the tax code that penalizes black people more than whites. In other words, income taxes are structurally racist. (The end of the article implies that as well.)

But in fact that’s not a scintilla of racism involved, structural or otherwise. The higher on-average taxes levied on married black couples than on married white couples result purely from their differences in work situations. Remember, race is not specified or requested on your income tax forms.

So what is causing the difference here? To use the condescending trope we see above: “Here’s what”:

First to reiterate absence of any racism (my bolding throughout):

Generally speaking, when US tax filers of any race get married, they can get hit with either a “marriage penalty” or a “marriage bonus,” meaning they pay more or less in taxes as a married couple than they would as two singles.

Penalties are more likely when both spouses in a couple work than among one-earner couples. And they are higher when two spouses each make about the same amount of money. Penalties are also more likely when a couple has children.

If the financial facts of a Black married couple were identical to those of a White married couple, there would be no difference in their tax burdens, said William Gale, co-director of the Tax Policy Center and a coauthor of its marriage study.

But here’s the “here’s why” (my bolding):

But the economic facts of Blacks and Whites on average are different.

For example, Black married couples are more likely to live in a two-earner household; each spouse is more likely to earn about the same amount as the other; and they are more likely to have dependents.

“We find that Black couples are more likely than White couples to experience an income tax penalty from marriage and to face higher penalties. We show that these patterns arise because, controlling for income, Black spouses have more equal earnings than white spouses … and because Black couples are more likely to have dependents,” the authors of the report write.

Researchers found that among couples hit with a marriage penalty, Black couples paid less in dollars ($1,804 versus $2,091) but more as a share of their income than White couples (1.8% versus 1.4%).

When researchers specifically focused on households with adjusted gross income between $50,000 and $100,000 under the tax law in effect for 2018, they found 59% of Black couples faced a marriage penalty versus 51% of White couples. Black couples paid about $150 more on average.

Only 33% of Black couples got a marriage bonus compared to 44% of Whites, and those bonuses were roughly $170 smaller on average.

Note first that there is no racism going on here; the government decided that there would be a marriage penalty and it would be higher with more equality of income among spouses. Note as well that the average tax difference is small—$150 in penalties or $170 in bonuses—a relative pittance and nothing to get worked up about.

Now I’m no tax expert, so I don’t know why the government decided to levy a higher penalty for married couples having more equal incomes (readers?). But what I do know is that this small difference in taxes paid has absolutely nothing to do with racism: it is purely the result of a decision the government made a while back to produce a tax code they saw as fair for everyone. It is ridiculous to think that the government knew about income differences in black and white married couples in advance, and then wrote the tax code to penalize African Americans!

Why, then, did CNN think this story was worth publishing? Because they wanted to sell it as an example of bias that disadvantages blacks. This becomes clear when you read the end of the article, which sees this disparity in tax penalties as a racial issue. For example:

It’s still early days when it comes to detailing how tax and other federal policies affect racial equity and how differences can be cured, said Gale. “We’re maybe in the second inning. There is so much work to be done.”

And so on. . .

It’s time for people to realize that finding scents of racism everywhere, even when it does not exist, only exacerbates divisions between blacks and whites. I believe that they’ve found that antiracist bias training in schools, for example, can actually exacerbate racial animus because, by concentrating on racial differences, it can produce resentment among white people who are told they’re racist and therefore guilty.

This article instantiates a related situation: the implication of racism when it does not exist—and in this case the nonexistence is clear. To me, dividing the data by race, and finding a difference that penalizes blacks, was deemed a “story” for the paper. Had the results shown a tax penalty for whites, it would not have been printed. And I bet you can find some tax data in other areas that would give that result.

This kind of article serves not to create equality among the races, but to gin up animus between them, and to give ammunition to those like Kendi who think that every aspect of every policy in the government is either racist or antiracist, with nearly all policies falling in the former class. If a policy disadvantages blacks, it’s racist. But only in the most ludicrous construal of “racism” (i.e. Kendi’s) can you decide that a demographic difference having nothing to do with bias is an example of racism.

Bill, who called this piece to my attention, certainly was upset about it, and he sent me the following along with the link (I have his permission to use his name and his words):

This is an unctuous example of race baiting geared to generate more clicks. As such, it must be view as a callous marketing strategy designed to take advantage of the country’s (or the MSM’s) obsession with race.

The article states, “If the financial facts of a Black married couple were identical to those of a White married couple, there would be no difference in their tax burdens, said William Gale, co-director of the Tax Policy Center and a coauthor of its marriage study.”

So, what’s the problem?

All this achieves is to increase the level of animus in the country.

Yep. It’s time to start reading the media taking account of this possibility. It’s not that they deliberately want to inflame racial divisions—I am sure that’s not true—but by finding racism everywhere, they get a good story and more clicks. Stories of racism are what sells. And the click-mania of the media leads to the kind of distortion generated by this article.