Katie Herzog and Jesse Singal discuss the “dueling articles” of Dawkins and Rose

August 2, 2023 • 10:00 am

I could listen only to the free 17-minute beginning of Katie Herzog and Jesse Singal’s podcast episode, “But really, what IS a woman?”, as I don’t subscribe (I would, but I now subscribe to more sites than I can keep up with). At any rate, if you click below you can hear the 17-minute take for free, and then, if you want to subscribe and hear the whole thing, go here.

They introduce the controversy about “what is a woman” discussed by Richard Dawkins and Jacqueline Rose (see here for my link and the link to Dawkins’s and Rose’s pieces), and then go into the mistakes made when one violates the standard gamete-based definition of biological sex—mistakes famously promulgated by Anne Fausto-Sterling and repeated to this day by gender activists (though Fausto-Sterling’s calculation has long since been corrected by others). No, people, the frequency of intersexes is not 2%, they are not as common as people with red hair, they do not represent “other sexes” and thereby violate the sex binary, and, most important, people with intersex conditions are not the same thing as transgender people.

One plaint: Herzog mentions me and says that I “blog like it’s 2003,” which I gather means more than once a day, but what’s wrong with that? And what’s with the 2003?

That aside, the first 17 minutes of discussion is good, and if the podcasters loved me—since they do read this “blog”—they might give me free access. I know they’re reading this website (not a “blog”)!

In which I am canceled as a transphobe

July 11, 2023 • 10:45 am

A while back I was invited to go on a video podcast to talk about evolution. I agreed and was fully prepared to talk only about evolution, as requested.  Then the host, whom I won’t name, had a family emergency and had to cancel the podcast.  There was no mention about rescheduling the show for a later date.

After a few weeks, a reader asked me about the podcast, which I’d mentioned before, so I wrote the host inquiring about it, asking whether we could reschedule. In the reply was this, which shocked me down to my soles:

Since our last message, I have been advised that our Q&A would unfortunately not likely remain focused on evolution so much as on recent comments from yourself regarding the trans community. This being a live show, that would be unavoidable. I am not comfortable speaking for groups to which I do not belong, especially not on a topic where I, like you, have no formal education or experience. Though I do have close relatives on both sides of my family, as well as dear friends who are trans. I will support them (like the activist I have always been) against our State legislators who have begun targeting their own constituents. ‘Muricah!
I have always admired your voice as an advocate of evolution, but other fields of science overlap human rights issues where you and I disagree, and this would inevitably come up. That is not the show that I had hoped to have.

I responded politely, pointing out that I have never been a transphobe but have questioned the “rights” of trans women to occupy “female spaces,” most particularly women’s athletics. As you know, this view is based on scientific grounds: data showing convincingly that biological men who transition to women during or after puberty retain a significant level of male physiological and morphological traits (greater muscle mass, grip strength, bone strength and density, etc.) that would give them an athletic advantage over biological women.  To me that is unfair, which is a moral conclusion drawn from the data. If there were no such advantages, I wouldn’t be at all opposed to trans women competing against biological women.

As you also know if you read here regularly, my only other objection to trans women occupying women’s spaces are places like women’s prisons, shelters for battered women, and rape-counseling centers. That’s as far as I go. And I’ve said a gazillion times, in all other respects I think that trans people, whether they identify as men or women, should have all the rights, respect, and equal treatment by others. I also have no issue with calling people whatever pronouns they like.

If I sound defensive here, I’m really not: I want to point out that this person has clearly no idea of what my views on trans people are, or, if the host does, then we have an honest disagreement which isn’t “transphobic.” And there is some scientific support for my position on sports, at least.  Although I wrote a polite response, upon thinking it over I think that what the host wrote is ignorant, offensive, and absurd.

In my response I also reiterated that I wanted to talk only about evolution, not gender issues, and I would certainly not have brought the latter up. I’m not sure whether this podcast takes questions from viewers, but even so the gender issue could easily have been avoided by simply announcing that we’re talking only about evolution.  I have no idea why talking about trans issues would have been “unavoidable.”

I’m curious who “advised” this host, but the host should have done their own research. The “advice” was simply bad.

Finally, I am not speaking “for” trans people, but about them, and I know enough, I think, to have an opinion about athletics and other moral issues. This is like saying that we can have no opinion on any issue involving minorities or oppressed people unless we are one of them. It behooves us to listen, of course, but it doesn’t behoove us to turn off our brains.

In the end, I am appalled that this mentality exists. It’s one thing to damn someone as a hater of trans people, but another completely to punish someone—yes, that’s what this person is trying to do—for discussing the athletic and ethical implications of a limited set of trans “rights.”

As for the host, it’s their loss. The result is that people don’t get to hear about evolution simply because I have “wrongthink” on an issue that wouldn’t even have arisen. What a world!

Oh, I should add that I use the word “canceled” above as a bit of hyperbole. A host has the right to boot a guest off their private podcast, even if it’s for things not connected with the topic at hand. But it might as well have been cancelation, because I’m banned for. . . . well, it’s really not clear!

Our CFI podcast/discussion

July 8, 2023 • 11:15 am

The Center for Inquiry has put the discussion that Luana and I had this week, along with Robyn Blumner moderating, on YouTube. (You can also see it at the SI site.)  It was fun, but of course given the material we covered in our paper, there’s no way that we could do more than give a brief summary in an hour (45 minutes, really, with 15 minutes of questions at the end.) As usual, I haven’t watched it because I hate to see and her myself talking (not unusual, I think).

If you want to read our paper, “The Ideological Subversion of Biology,” it’ll be online forever, and you can find it here.

Videocast discussion of the Coyne/Maroja paper this evening

July 6, 2023 • 9:00 am

Just a reminder that this evening, starting at 7 p.m. Eastern Ti9me, Luana Maroja and l will discuss our Skeptical Inquirer paper “The ideological subversion of biology” (free at the link.) It would be nice if you read it beforehand, but it’s not essential. The discussion will be started and moderated by moderated by Robyn Blumner, the head of the Center for Inquiry and of the Richard Dawkins Foundation,

The total time should be about an hour, and there will be a few questions for us, posed by listeners, at the end.

My announcement of the even was here; and the official site and registration are here, or click on the screenshot below. You have to register to get the link, but it’s only a matter of providing your name and email.

Fom the site:

In “The Ideological Subversion of Biology,” the cover feature of the July/August 2023 issue of Skeptical InquirerJerry A. Coyne and Luana S. Maroja deliver a powerful and provocative warning about the dangers of trying to make scientific reality conform to the political winds. It’s an absolute must-read for anyone who agrees that science must be objective and empirical—not ideological.

Join us on Thursday, July 6, at 7:00 p.m. ET for a special Skeptical Inquirer Presents livestream with Jerry A. Coyne and Luana S. Maroja, hosted by Robyn E. Blumner, CEO and president of the Center for Inquiry. They’ll discuss how the field of evolutionary and organismal biology has been “impeded or misrepresented by ideology,” how the erosion of free inquiry in science due to progressive ideology is damaging both intellectually and materially, and, most importantly, what can be done about it. If things don’t change, they warn, “in a few decades science will be very different from what it is now. Indeed, it’s doubtful that we’d recognize it as science at all.”

See you there!

Live interview with Aron Ra tomorrow

May 28, 2023 • 10:30 am

Aron Ra has asked me to be on his live video podcast tomorrow, and I’m glad to oblige. It will be about evolution. As Aaron told me:

Ideally, we would like to do a half hour of you talking about your career in defense of science against creationism. Then we would do another half hour of taking selected questions from the chat.

The show is at 10 a.m. Chicago time (11 a.m. Eastern time) tomorrow, and you will be able to watch it by clicking on the link below.

My conversation with Coleman Hughes

May 27, 2023 • 12:00 pm

UPDATE: I’m told the video will be out next Tuesday, so if you want audio and visuals (recommended), I’ll put the YouTube conversation up then



Not long ago I did a podcast (which I think will eventually become a video) with the young writer, musician, and podcasthost Coleman Hughes, who has a Substack page, a YouTube page, a homepage that lists his video podcasts, a list of all his audio podcasts, and, on top of all that, he’s a rapper and plays jazz trombone. His political views seem to be of the McWhorterian/Lourian stripe: heterodox from a minority point of view, which of course draws flak.  I found him a delightful interviewer, wanting to talk about evolution along with everything else—and he came well prepared to discuss it.

We talked for a bit over an hour, and you can hear our conversation by clicking on the screenshots below. As always, I can’t listen to myself talk, so I heard about two minutes before I had to turn it off. Perhaps you’ll be able to stand more of it, so I’ll put it up here.

Here’s Coleman’s summary of the interview:

My guest today is Jerry Coyne. Jerry is an evolutionary biologist and geneticist. He received his PhD from Harvard in 1978, after which he served as a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution for over two decades. His seminal work is on the speciation of fruit flies. Jerry is also the author of two books, including “Why Evolution Is True”, which is also the name of his blog, and “Faith Versus Fact”.

In this episode, we talk about the tension between evolution and the biblical origin story. Jerry goes over the basics of the theory of evolution by natural selection. We talk about sexual selection. We talk about the teaching of intelligent design in schools and how that compares to the battle over CRT in schools today. We dicuss the attack on evolutionary psychology from the political left. We discuss epi genetics and the concept of intergenerational trauma. We talk about how humanity has evolved genetically in recent history and the consequences of birth rate differences between different groups of people. We talk about gender dysphoria and gender ideology. Finally, we go on to talk about the unanswered questions that remain in the field of evolutionary biology.

When you click on the screenshot, you’ll be taken to a site where you can access the conversation:

What is wokeism? And a conversation with McWhorter, Loury, and Goldblatt gets banned from YouTube

May 1, 2023 • 11:15 am

Mark Goldblatt, a writer, teacher, and journalist who you can hear below in conversation with Glenn Loury and John McWhorter, wrote this book that came out last October (click on screenshot to access Amazon page). I have no idea why I haven’t heard of it, but I’ll read it very soon:

The link just below gives the ten-minute video discussion and a transcript, part of which I’ve posted:

As you see and hear, Goldblatt sees subjectivity as a defining characteristic of Wokeness, in the short video below from The Glenn Show, featuring Loury and his colleague McWhorter.

Part of the discussion:

JOHN MCWHORTER: The summary of the book is this. This works perfectly.

People often grouped under the umbrella term “woke” share more than a perpetual sense of grievance and attraction to street theater and an intense dislike of straight white guys who drink cheap beer and wear their baseball caps backward. They share a devotion to subjectivism. Their gathering principle is the idea that subjective belief, if it’s heartfelt, trumps whatever objective, verifiable evidence may be brought against it. For these social justice warriors, if you sincerely and passionately believe and injustice is being done, then the effort to determine whether that belief corresponds with reality is a further injustice.

So this sounds like people who are clinically insane, and yet you’re not referring to people who are clinically insane. They are thoroughly sane, usually highly intelligent. What are these people? What do they do?

MARK GOLDBLATT: You know, a couple of weeks ago there was a woman, a conservative author, who was out on a book tour about wokeism and who was asked to define woke, and it just stumped her. So I’ve been working on a generous definition of “woke.” I want to give the people who advocate it the benefit of the doubt, insofar as I can. I think wokeism, in generous terms, is a cluster of advocacy positions that are designed to promote an understanding of and equity for historically marginalized people, historically marginalized communities.

I think on that level, it’s impossible to object to it. It’s the methodology by which that promotion proceeds that is the problem with wokeism. Because wokeism is a religion. I completely agree with you on that. The first time I heard it referred to that way, I think, was Andrew Sullivan talking about “the Great Awokening,” which I think sets it in its past well.

This is good, but it stints the important part: the methodology itself. What about the methodology? Well, for one thing, it tends to be afflicted with grievance, a sense of dogmatism, and, especially performativeness. True Wokeists like to kvetch about societal problems but don’t do anything about them (they equate kvetching with activism).  This is the difference between Social Justice (Wokeism) and genuine “social justice”, like that demanded by Dr. King.  It is this new methodology that has taken the original term “woke”, meaning a sensitivity to societal injustice, and turned it into a pejorative term.

It’s curious that those who are in favor of language evolving nevertheless take the hard line on “woke”, insisting it must retain its original meaning. That, of course, gives the Woke the right to go after anti-wokeists like the three men above, saying “they don’t even know what the term means”, or “it means simply compassion for the downtrodden”, as if these were criticisms of the arguments they’re making. The squabble over whether to use “woke” or some other term like “The Elect” (McWhorter’s original choice) or “Authoritarian Leftists” (one of my choices) is a way of diverting an argument over substance into an argument over semantics. As I said, I will use “woke” in its pejorative sense, as that is now its primary meaning. But I’ll use other terms as well.  My attempt to get readers to suggest the perfect replacement for “woke” ran aground, with most readers just saying, “Oh, hell, just use ‘woke’.”

You can see the entire hourlong conversation by clicking on the “repost” screenshot below. Why wasn’t the whole video left on YouTube? Loury explains it below:

As you may have noticed, the episode of The Glenn Show I posted on Monday, April 24 is no longer available on YouTube. It was removed because it allegedly contains “hate speech.” I, of course, disagree. I do not think any reasonable person can listen to this conversation and honestly call anything either John, Mark, or I said “hate speech.” We do discuss trans issues, and at times the conversation becomes critical toward aspects of the discourse surrounding trans issues. But at no point does anyone suggest that transgender people, as individuals, deserve anything less than full dignity and respect.

YouTube’s policy on hate speech removal stipulates that they “remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups” that fall into a long list of categories. The idea that anything in the above video promotes “violence or hatred” against trans people or anybody else is absurd. It was removed merely because it questions some of the premises of progressive discourse on trans issues. That is censorship, plain and simple. It is outrageous. And, ironically, it proves exactly the point that Mark makes when he notes wokeism’s prioritization of subjective feelings over empirical facts.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. We’ve reuploaded the video directly to Substack. You can watch it right here in this post, and it’s not going anywhere. No doubt I’ll be discussing this incident further on future TGS episodes. Until then, feel free to share this video widely as you can.

Yes, do watch it.

I listened to most but not all of the hourlong video, and it’s perfectly clear that it was banned from YouTube because Goldblatt makes statements like “a transgender man is a woman, simply as a matter of. . .if language can convey truth, a trandgender man is a woman.” Speech like that is considered “hate speech”, although it’s a perfectly reasonable point of view if by “woman” you mean “biological woman” (this is the way I take it).  Yet a sentence like “a transgender woman is a biological man who identifies as a biological woman” is considered hate speech.

Click below watch the entire video, and I recommend watching it if you have a spare hour. It goes into far more depth than the ten-minute excerpt above.

And the part that led to the banning clearly begins at 26:45., when McWhorter asks Goldblatt why he has a “bee in his bonnet” about the definition of “men” and “women.” In response, Goldblatt makes the heretical statement that sexes in humans are binary and it’s perfectly clear what a man versus a woman is (sadly, both McWhorter and Goldblatt use the “chromosomal” definition rather than the real biological definition based on gamete size). Goldblatt sees “gender” as a mystical kind of “sexed soul”, and McWhorter asks him whether what one feels is in fact a denial of reality or just a statement of observed reality: someone feels they’re of the sex other than their natal sex.

What is ineffably sad about this kind of banning is that Goldblatt says nothing hateful or tranphobic: he merely maintains that, although trans people have almost the same claim on rights as non-transpeople (as usual, sports are an exception), the claim that a “trans woman is a woman” is in one sense a lie.  And it is, if you take the second “woman” as meaning “biological woman”.  This is a perfectly discussable point, but one that’s been rendered taboo by trans activists. McWhorter participates in this discussion, asking Goldblatt in effect, “well, language changes, why can’t we just accept this as another language change?” Good question, but, as Goldblatt notes, it changes more than just language, it requires that we all must sign onto not just a semantic change, but an ideological change it. If we don’t affirm the mantra, we are bad people. At this point Loury jumps in to defend Goldblatt, but it’s clear that McWhorter has not yet applied his many neurons to the sex and gender question.

Anyway, I’ll leave you the pleasure to listen for yourself. If you want to start on the sex/gender stuff, just start the video below at 26:45.

McWhorter and Loury on equality vs. equity—and music

March 24, 2023 • 12:45 pm

Below is an hourlong of John McWhorter making his every-other-week appearance on Glenn Loury’s podcast, the “Glenn Show”.  The YouTube notes for this bit are indented (their bolding):

John McWhorter is back, and fresh off an appearance on Bill Maher’s Real Time that provides plenty of fodder for this conversation. It’s always an interesting experience comparing the relatively unrestrained version of John that I record with three times a month and the carefully crafted version of himself he presents on other programs, when he knows he only has a few minutes to make his point. This is something all of us who regularly appear in the media have to grapple with: How do we distill all of the thinking, reading, and writing we do within our areas of expertise into audience-friendly sound bites that will give some sense of our deeper reasoning? John has mastered this art, and I have to say, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it, too!

We begin by discussing that Real Time appearance. John is turning into one of Maher’s regular guests, but he wasn’t always such a skilled communicator. He recounts an earlier Bill Maher appearance where he dropped the ball. John was invited on to talk about equity and equality, and we take the opportunity to talk more expansively about the difference between the two. We are both advocates for equality, and we both think that equity is a poor substitute. We also both think that black Americans have the potential to perform at the same level as everyone else, but the test scores tell a different story. So how do we know that potential is real and not just wishful thinking? It’s a tough question. The most zealous DEI advocates come from the ranks of educated middle and upper-middle-class blacks, and I’m reminded of E. Franklin Frazier’s classic critique, Black BourgeoisieWe move on to the question of standards in the arts, and John says it’s not such a big deal if African Americans don’t have proportional representation in classical orchestras and audiences.

We get a pretty unfiltered version of John in this one. Anybody who catches him only on TV or in the New York Times is missing out!

It’s a wide-ranging conversation, going from equity to music, and is well worth listening to. I’ll highlight just a few landmarks:

10:56: Equality vs. equity. McWhorter, who dominates this hour, argues that there’s a certain arrogance in pretending that “equity” just means “equality”, but it’s okay for the woke because the conflation “battles white power”.  He adds that only under equity is racial “tokenism” seen as okay, but the notion of equity creates a “wormy and arrogant social policy.”

16:57: Loury makes the devil’s advocate case for equity, saying that “equality” avoids the hard questions: how do you assess talent,  opportunity, and the moral obligations of society? What good, he asks, is equal opportunity if people start from different points of advantage and disadvantage? He then describes the cartoon below, which you’ve seen before:

19:30: McWhorter calls that cartoon not only misleading, but deeply insulting to black people, because it implies that people will think “black people are born dumb” (i.e., they start with a shorter box). My response is that the short box isn’t mental difference, but cultural difference that ultimately can be ascribed to slavery, oppression and bigotry and that results in lower performance on test scores.  McWhorter eventually does claim (and I agree) that black people are culturally rather than genetically disadvantaged. But his constant claim is that to overcome racial differences in achievement and test performance, black people must begin setting themselves standards and goals and meeting them—not kvetching that they’re disadvantaged by racism and need the compensations associated with equity.

It becomes clear that both Loury and McWhorter do believe that we should not relax standards of merit for promotion or achievement, but that black people, insofar as they don’t perform as well as whites, should simply work harder.  It sickens McWhorter, he says, to see the call for holding black people to standards different from those to which we hold white people.

McWhorter then mentions the tweet below, which I found on his website. He says he issued it deliberately, not to self-aggrandize but to make the point that “equity” is patronizing toward black people by holding them to different standards.  As he says (or maybe it was Loury), “we cannot exempt people from having to display competency.”

The last part of the discussion turns to classical music, one of McWhorter’s great loves. He deals with whether there should be equity in orchestras (no), whether symphonies should program music that more people of color would want to hear (no), and why classical music is so great.  But he then argues—and here I agree with him—that the only reason that opera is seen as more highbrow than many Broadway musicals is because opera is in a foreign language. He argues that there’s no reason to think Puccini any better than, say, the musical “Showboat,” and at that point I stood up and cheered.

Anyway, the hour is divided into two distinct parts: equity and music, and though they’re connected, it’s worth hearing the show simply because I love the way these guys interact.



And to show the greatness of musicals, here’s the inimitable Paul Robeson singing a song that always brings tears to my eyes. It’s “Old Man River,” and was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, two white Jews. This is a scene from the 1936 movie version of “Showboat.”

A Māori scholar/musician explains mātauranga Māori

August 14, 2022 • 11:15 am

A Kiwi sent me this just-posted “Shape of Dialogue” video, which, although quite long for me (2 hours!), has an explanation of mātauranga Māori (MM) by a part-Māori scholar and musician, Charles Royal.  Royal’s webpage shows that he’s not only an expert in “indigenous knowledge”, but also “Advise[s] and Lead[s] Projects and People, particularly to do with the ‘creative potential’ of the indigenous Māori dimension of Aotearoa-New Zealand.”

My correspondent recommended this interview with Royal as “a very good resource for those seeking to understand mātauranga Māori. Charles is very smart, reasonable and balanced, and I’d encourage you to have a listen.” The correspondent adds, “You will see that they go back and forth on the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science, but there’s no doubt that Charles is pro-science.”

The podcast is also here if you want to download it.

I listened to the whole thing, and you’re welcome to do it, but unless you’re interested in a lot of NZ history, I’d concentrate on three segments. And if you’re interested in the relationship between MM—”indigenous science”—and modern science, just listen from 1:24:40 to the end (see below).

Here are three relevant bits.

25:25-about 35 minutes.  Royal’s definition of MM. The term “mātauranga Māori” doesn’t seem to have been used in New Zealand before 1980, but it did exist as a “fragmented, incomplete, and disorganized” body of traditional knowledge held by the indigenous people, though parts of this “way of knowing” are more organized than others. Royal discusses where the repositories of this knowledge are to be found. As we’ve learned in earlier posts, Royal affirms that it’s largely “practical knowledge”: things like how to fish or harvest plants.

1:06:58-to about 1:15:00 Royal’s definition of “indigeneity”.

1:24:40 to the end of the podcast. The discussion turns to the relationship between MM and science—the fracas started with a letter to “The Listener” by seven professors at the University of Auckland.  Royal does see MM as a “kind of science,” , and “intergenerational body of knowledge” (“efficacious knowledge”), but not equivalent to modern science.  He adds that MM is not a mature science but a “way to live in the world”. but it might have become a mature science had it not been suppressed by colonization. I don’t agree with him, especially because he claims it’s not really the same as modern science, nor does it aspire to be.

Note: at 1:44:30: Royal discusses whether MM should be taught in science classes as coequal to modern science—per recent national curriculum guidelines. Royal can’t answer that question, and says that “there isn’t the research” to address it.  But I think that we already know enough, based on the non-empirical nature of much of MM, its concentration on practicality rather than theory, and its addition of theology, morality, and legend, to say that while teaching MM is necessary and valuable in New Zealand to educate the citizens in the sociology, history, and anthropology of the country, it should not be taught in science class as the Maori alternative to modern science.

I’d recommend, then, that if you’re interested in the compatibility of MM and modern science as forms of science teachable in school, listen from 1:24:40 to the end of the podcast—about 42 minutes.