Robyn Blumner of CFI discusses trans women athletes

November 15, 2023 • 11:15 am

The Center for Inquiry (CFI), founded in 1976 by luminaries like James Randi, Martin Gardner, Isaac Asimov, Paul Kurtz, and Carl Sagan, has this mission:

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to defending science and critical thinking in examining religion. CFI’s vision is a world in which evidence, science, and compassion—rather than superstition, pseudoscience, or prejudice—guide public policy.

To make a better world, we need to use our heads and our hearts. To confront the challenges that face us as a planetary civilization, we need to use the tools of science and reason guided by compassion and respect for the dignity of every individual.

To move forward, we need to discard old superstitions, prejudices, and magical thinking and embrace facts, evidence, and critical thinking.

It’s about more than whether or not God exists. It’s about more than whether ghosts roam among us, aliens hover above us, or psychics can see within us.

And now there’s a new brand of pseudoscience: that deriving from wokeness. Like the other forms of pseudoscience like psychics and homeopathic medicine, the distortion of science to conform to so-called “progressive” ideologies is damaging to society, largely by injuring our organs of reason, making us see in nature what we want to see rather than what is.

Robyn Blumner is the current President and CEO of the CFI as well as the executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.  As part of the CFI’s mission, she’s now written two articles decrying the ideological distortion of reality. The first, “The truth matters and secular humanists should defend it,” was published in Free Inquiry, one of the organs for CFI. I discussed that piece on this site, quoting her criticisms of science distorted by the “social justice police”, including touting indigenous ways of knowing as coequal to science, the opprobrium attending any studies of behavioral genetics, and the unwise rush to use of puberty blockers to treat gender dyphoria. (She also went after older forms of religious distortion of science, namely creationism, as well as right-wing attempts to interfere in issues of sexuality and gender transition.)

Although attacking both woke and right-wing distortions of science was a bit of a departure from the normal fare of the CFI, it adhered strictly to the organization’s mission of showing the “the truth matters.” To that end, Robyn also helped Luana Maroja and I publish our paper “The ideological subversion of biology,” dealing largely with left-wing distortions of evolutionary biology, in Skeptical Inquirer, another organ of the CFI. And of course a few disgruntled skeptics wrote in saying that our piece was a wrongheaded departure from the normal fare of the magazine. Why discuss how many sexes there are in animals when the magazine should be attacking psychics and homeopaths?. But our piece was attacking the equivalent of psychics in biology: those who make claims about reality that are not only false, but harmful to society.

At any rate, Robyn’s now published a new piece in Skeptical inquirer that you can access by clicking below. The topic, of course, is a hot potato, but also ripe for scientific discussion. Robyn’s discussion is one of the most fair-minded takes on the issue in print, and is a good piece to show to ideologues who argue that, on the basis of fairness to transgender women (biological men), they should be allowed to compete in athletics against biological women.  Robyn concludes that no, this shouldn’t be allowed because trans women (even under hormone treatment) have, as we’ve discussed before, athletic advantages over biological women in strength, musculature and other traits that give them an unfair advantage in competition.

Click to read:

First the question is raised, and although in the end it’s a moral issue, it also depends heavily on scientific data. If by suppressing testosterone, trans women lose all athletic advantages over biological women, there would not be an issue. Is this in fact the case?

But an issue has arisen that requires us to look more carefully at something we took for granted: Is it truly necessary to segregate sports by sex? The issue arises because transgender women athletes who have undergone male puberty are seeking to compete with natal women athletes. In the name of transgender rights should this be permitted, or does it inherently undermine the fair playing field that sports demand?

The question is a legitimate one, and people who ask it shouldn’t be maligned as transphobes and bigots. We need to lower the temperature on these discussions. There are competing interests at stake. For transgender women, it’s a way to be treated as women—full stop. For natal women, it’s a question of fairness. There are incontrovertible biological differences between biological males and females that puts the question of transgender women in sports into the realm of science in addition to public policy.

Robyn goes through the advantages of male over female athletes, true in nearly all sports, and then asks if a biological male suppresses testosterone, one step in becoming a trans female, are these sex-based advantages eliminated? Increasingly, data show that they’re not:

If we eliminated sex categories for most sports, there would rarely be female winners. For natal women to be able to compete in a way that gives them a fair chance at victories, there have to be sex segregated sports.

The question then becomes whether that advantage can be mitigated through testosterone suppression. That is a matter of scientific inquiry, and the longitudinal biomedical findings to date suggest that “the effects of testosterone suppression in male adulthood have very little impact” on physiological outcomes such as muscle strength, muscle mass, or lean body mass, according to a paper titled “When Ideology Trumps Science” by six international leading researchers (Devine et al. 2022). They cite a cross-sectional study from 2022 that measured the performance of transgender women and found the “advantage may be maintained after 14 years of testosterone suppression.” (For a thorough vetting of the subject, read “Transgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage” by researchers Emma Hilton and Tommy Lundberg, published in the journal Sports Medicine [Hilton and Lundberg 2021].)

Certainly that does not mean that every transgender woman athlete will win against all natal women, just as many natal male athletes would lose against better women athletes. In Serena Williams’s case, all but perhaps the top 100 men tennis players would lose in a match with her. [JAC: Actually, the #203-ranked male player beat both Venus and Serena.] It’s just that the innate advantages conferred by male puberty are not significantly dissipated through hormone adjustments. So the initial reason we sex segregate sports remains valid: to ensure a fair opportunity for women to compete and potentially win championships.

The counterargument that it’s a non-problem because there so few transgender women want to compete with biological women doesn’t stand up because although trans women athletes are relatively few, they’re not absent, and they tend to win a lion’s share of the prizes.  To keep things fair to biological women, there had to be a ban. It happened in cycling, swimming, and now, as I recall, rugby.

Reportedly there are now dozens of transgender women competing in women’s cycling, and they are starting to take top honors and cash prizes—including American transgender woman cyclist Austin Killips, who won a women’s stage race at the Tour of Gila.

So, what happened?

Soon thereafter, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the governing body of cycling, decided in July to ban transgender women who had gone through male puberty from women’s competition. They can compete in a “men/other” category instead. This follows on the heels of a decision in May by British Cycling that banned transgender women from women’s competitive events.

Previously, the rules for international cycling had included limits on testosterone levels. But that didn’t suffice to make the playing field level. In fact, some top women cyclists, such as Hannah Arensmen, a thirty-five-time winner on the national cyclocross circuit, announced they were quitting the sport due to this unfairness. Arensmen was repeatedly beaten by transgender women cyclists, including one nearly double her twenty-four years, and she had had enough.

The international governing body for swimming, World Aquatics, announced in July that it would establish an “open” category that would be open to all transgender athletes, thereby giving natal women their own category for competition.

For now the solution appears to be either an “open” category for all transgender athletes (but what about the transgender men, who have an athletic disadvantage against transgender women?), or to allow all transgender athletes to compete in the “men’s” category.  That’s not optimal, but at least allows trans athletes who do want to compete the chance to do so.

In the end, it’s simply unfair to biological women to force them to compete against trans women who were natal men and suppressed their testosterone. Given the rapid grown of in numbers of both trans men and trans women, the problem of fairness is not going to go away.  But keeping women’s sports for natal women seems to be the fairest solution; for surely, with the growth in numbers of trans women, if they compete against biological women then biological women will gradually leave sports, as did Hannah Arensmen. They simply lose their chance to win, which is a huge motivator in sports. In fact, Robyn thinks that the “progressive solution”, which depends on the mantra “trans women are women” (i.e., exactly equivalent to women in all rights, including the right to compete in women’s sports), may be counterproductive:

I am sympathetic to the argument that transgender women are socially disadvantaged and stigmatized. And the way to combat it is to integrate them into womanhood without differentiating between natal women and transgender women. But I wonder if that’s truly the case and if forcing open women’s sports to transgender women hasn’t exacerbated the problem.

A recent Gallup poll shows that a larger majority of Americans now say transgender athletes should only compete on teams that match their assignment at birth than in prior years. Sixty-nine percent now oppose transgender women in women’s sports compared with 62 percent who objected in 2021. And only 26 percent of people endorse the idea of transgender athletes playing on teams that match their gender identity. That’s down from 34 percent in 2021. The appearance of transgender women athletes competing—and at times winning—in female sports categories is not ameliorating the social stigma. If anything, it is driving people away from sympathies with transgender rights.

Christian nationalists and some Republican lawmakers are whipping up a backlash against the transgender rights movement to solidify and energize their base. On the other side, the identitarian Left is demonizing anyone who doesn’t go along with every element of the transgender rights agenda, including transgender women in women’s sports.

Sophisticated people who care about both science and social fairness need to separate the signal from the noise. These are complicated issues that need to be parsed to do the least harm possible to the most people. In that calculation, I stand with the natal women athletes who want to compete against each other.

In ethics, this is a consequentialist and utilitarian solution: the higher social well being comes from not allowing trans women to compete against biological women. But I see no other solution that won’t cause widespread resentment—which reduces well being.

But of course not all people embrace a consequentialist morality, and there are deontologists, opposed to Robyn (and my) view, who simply finesse the problem by saying that “trans women are women,” and that settles the issue. I think they’re wrong because it will ultimately lead to the death of women’s sports, but, as always, there is no objective system of ethics. At the least, though, you can inform your ethics with data, and the data show that, in terms of athletic ability, trans women are not (biological) women. Holding that mantra in the face of statistics makes gender ideologues the equivalent of psychics: they claim to be helping people, but have to ignore the data in fulfilling what they see as their mission.

Once again, Scientific American screws up an article claiming that the binary definition of sex is harmful and limiting

October 26, 2023 • 9:30 am

Scientific American just can’t help itself; it has to keep pounding away at the biological definition of sex, which is based on differential gamete size. Just the other day they published a full article in the “evolution” category, arguing that women hunted just as much as men in ancient times (and in hunter/gatherer societies today), but part of that article claimed that sex and gender were both “spectrums”. To quote from my post on this execrable and tendentious piece (my bold):

For the purpose of describing anatomical and physiological evidence, most of the literature uses “female” and “male,” so we use those words here when discussing the results of such studies. For ethnographic and archaeological evidence, we are attempting to reconstruct social roles, for which the terms “woman” and “man” are usually used. Unfortunately, both these word sets assume a binary, which does not exist biologically, psychologically or socially. Sex and gender both exist as a spectrum, but when citing the work of others, it is difficult to add that nuance.

Now the magazine has a new op-ed arguing the same thing: a binary view of sex is not only wrong, but constricts us; is also harmful to people who don’t see themselves as “male” or “females”, like transsexuals (who do in fact see themselves as members of their non-natal sex); and doesn’t work for people who don’t produce gametes (note: postmenopausal women aren’t female under this criterion). But I digress. This piece is short, but is full of distortions and mistakes. Also, one of the authors (Cara Ocobock) also coauthored the article on hunting mentioned above. She gets a lot of space to propound her views, while the magazine prohibits me from writing an op-ed.that contradicts some claims of other op-eds. It is in effect a journalistic dictatorship that prohibits dissent.

I’ll put the authors’ claims in bold, and have indented their quotes:

The authors claim that sex is defined by gamete type, but we don’t check people’s gametes when judging their sex.  And people who don’t have gametes are problematic.

When we ask, “How many sexes are there in humans?” we can confidently answer “two,” right? Many people think sex should be defined by a strict gamete binary in which a person’s sex is determined by whether their body produces or could produce eggs or sperm. But when you are out and about in the human social world, are you checking everyone’s gametes? And what of the substantial number of people who do not produce or carry gametes?

Well, yes, in public we judge people’s sex by characters correlated with sex: appearance, including size, shape, presence of breasts, vocal timbre, and so on. So what? When doctors diagnose jaundice, they first look at the patient’s color, and then examine the underlying condition: liver function. There is no problem here; the idea of secondary sex characters, imperfectly but highly correlated with biological sex, is well ensconced in the literature. That doesn’t affect the definition, which is there because it clearly shows the binary and leads to many interesting lines of research.

And the claim that people who don’t produce gametes—sterile males, postmenopausal females, castrati, and so on—these pose no problem. They are male or female. Postmenopausal women should be furious at the implication that they are not biological women.

The authors raise the old, tired, and refuted “clownfish fallacy”. Clownfish switch sexes: when the sole alpha female in a group dies, a male fish changes sex to take over as the boss female. But there are still only two sexes. The article confuses the reader by bringing up other aspects of sex that involve how it’s determined.

The vast majority of life-forms—including bacteria and archaea—do not reproduce sexually. But if the question concerned the number of animal sexes present in a given tide pool or backyard garden, the answer would need to account for organisms that switch sexes, sometimes mate with themselves or switch back and forth between sexual and asexual reproduction.

. . . We have to appeal to a multiplicity of binaries, however, because sexual reproduction has evolved many times and in many different ways across the living world. Reproductive capacities in birds and mammals largely involve inheritance of different combinations of sex chromosomes, whereas in many reptiles, sex is determined based on environmental cues such as temperature.

Yes, but again, all animals have two sexes. They can arrive at that binary using temperature, chromosomes, environment, and other cues, but in all cases they wind up with two sexes. (And that binary hasn’t blinded us to working out how it’s attained in organisms like reptiles!).  The ubiquitous binary is scientifically useful because it raises the question, first raised by evolutionists Ronald Fisher, of “why are the sexes only two?”.  And we think we know the answer now. As I’ve said, there are many paths to sex but only two destinations: males and females.

The authors claim that defining sex is a bottom-up project and we should arrive at our definition from the “top down”: by asking questions.

We think the ongoing discussion about sex might benefit from a fundamental change in approach by turning the question around such that we ask, “If ‘sex’ is the answer, what was the question?”

They have a point here, and have used, as have I and others, a comparison with the definition of biological species. The species definition is fundamental because it explains an observation of and question about nature: “Why, in one area, do animals and plants come in neat packages, like the birds in my backyard. Why isn’t nature a spectrum rather than comprising discrete groups?”

The value of this [“questions first”] approach becomes clear when you consider the long-running debate in biology over how to define species. One definition, the biological species concept, posits that species are groups of actually or potentially interbreeding organisms capable of producing fertile offspring. It is not universally applicable because, as noted earlier, most organisms do not reproduce sexually. It does, however, provide a framework for asking questions about how sexually reproducing organisms can evolve ways to avoid mating with organisms distinct enough that their offspring’s survivability or fertility would be compromised. This framework has led to a bounty of work demonstrating that speciation in organisms living in the same area is rare and that physical separation among groups appears to be a key component of evolving reproductive barriers.

We can extend this “ask questions first” framework to concepts about sex.

What the authors don’t seem to realize here is that the Biological Species Concept, based on reproductive barriers between groups, itself started with a question: “Why is nature discontinuous?” And that question led to the definition of species.  The discreteness of species in sexually reproducing creatures living in the same area is based on reproductive barriers.

Likewise, the definition of sex, based on equipment to produce one of two types of gametes, is also based on a question derived from observation: “Why do there seem to be two classes of organisms in animals, classes that have different reproductive roles and (usually) different appearances?”  Once we arrive at a gamete-based species definition, that helps us answer all sorts of questions, most notably ones involving sexual dimorphism and sexual selection.

So the top-down, question-asking method succeeded for both sex and species. The authors are kvetching about nothing.

Other aspects of organisms don’t adhere to a strict binary.

Binaries start to fail us once we move into questions about how organisms live out their lives. This can be seen in the example of transgender athletes. Arguments revolving around including or excluding trans athletes often rest on notions of strict binary differences in hormone type and concentration that associate female individuals with estrogen and male ones with testosterone. This assumes testosterone is at the root of athletic performance. These hormones do not hew to a strict binary, however. Female and male people need both estrogen and testosterone to function, and they overlap in their hormone concentrations. If we are interested in how estrogen and testosterone affect athletic performance, then we need to examine these respective hormone levels and how they correlate with athletic outcomes. We cannot rely on gross average differences between the sexes as evidence for differential athletic success. Adherence to a sex binary can lead us astray in this domain of inquiry.

My response is basically “This is irrelevant to whether sex itself is a binary.”  It also shows the ideological motivation of the paper, which is the usual motivation for denying the sex binary: “If sex is binary, then that erases people, like people of dual gender or trans people, who don’t feel that they belong to one of the two sexes.”  Well, that’s not true, as many trans people do feel they belong to one of the two sexes; they just feel they were born in the wrong one. But the biological definition of sex is irrelevant to the moral and legal rights of people of nonstandard gender, and, as I’ve always said, these folks should be treated with the respect and dignity their beliefs afford.

As for hormones not being in a strict binary, testosterone, for example, forms nearly a completely disjunct distribution in males and females, so the overlap is virtually nil.Below is a graph of hormone titers given by Carole Hooven in her book T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us. The distributions are bimodal and almost nonoverlapping (a tiny bit of overlap, from people with sex disorders, isn’t shown because of the scale), with men at the higher mode and females at the other (h/t Robert):

But this is irrelevant, for, many sex-related characters, like height and strength, also show more overlap. The question is whether sex itself is bimodal, not sex-related traits.  And we know plenty about overlap in those traits, so the sex binary has not impeded us from studying things that overlap!

Further, people are already examining how hormone levels affect athletics-related traits.

Importantly, the fact that the Olympics and other groups used to use a hormone cutoff between athletes allowed to compete in “male” versus “female” categories has nothing to do with the sex binary. This is an artificial classification binary imposed on people for allowing them to compete in the two classes. (And it didn’t work.)  The authors are deliberately conflating two distinct issues here: the binary of sex and an artificial binary subjectively imposed by athletic organizations.

Other species, say the authors, don’t hew to a sex binary. 

Further problems arise when we compare humans to other species. Some organisms are incapable of reproducing. Some that are capable may end up not reproducing. Others may alternate between reproducing asexually and sexually, and still others may switch sexes. Such organisms provide fascinating insights into the diversity of life. But when we refer to clown fish changing sex to emphasize the diversity of ways in which sexual beings move through the world, we risk losing sight of the issues of consent, autonomy, well-being and self-determination that form the bedrock of all dimensions of human health, sexual or otherwise.

Every animal we know of has two, and only two, sexes, though sometimes they reproduce asexually. Alternation of sexes still leaves two sexes; like clownfish, organisms can change from one to the other —but there are no cases involving three or more sexes.

And what on earth do “consent, autonomy, well-being, and self determination” have to do with the sex binary? These are social issues that have nothing to do with how many sexes we have.  The authors are committing a form of the appeal to nature here, saying that because human sexuality is complicated by our social system, there must not be two sexes in nature!

This paper is deeply misguided, and its aim is to cast doubt on the utility of the sex binary because it distracts us from other stuff.  But the other stuff they mention has already been investigated and discussed extensively. In the end, I can conclude only that this is part of Scientific American‘s continuing “progressive” effort to convince us that there are more than two sexes in humans.  (For articles other than the two mentioned here, see here, here, and here). They won’t succeed, for Nature can’t be fooled. It’s infuriating that a science magazine repeatedly tries to deny empirical fact to serve a political agenda.

Yes, there may be good article in Scientific American, but there are also abysmal articles and op-eds, and I lay these at the door of the editor.


For more kvetching about the magazine, see “The Fall of Scientific American” in Spiked, published two days ago.

Scientific American is back to distorting the facts to buttress its ideology

October 24, 2023 • 11:00 am

It’s been a while since Scientific American has published misleading and distorted articles to buttress its “progressive” Left ideology, and I hoped they had shaped up. (To be honest, I haven’t followed the magazine, and got the following link from a reader.) My hope was dashed yesterday when I read this new article claiming that women constituted a high proportion of hunters in early hunter-gatherer societies.  It is full of misconceptions and distortions (some of which must be deliberate), neglects contrary data, is replete with tendentious ideological claims, and even misrepresents the claim they’re debunking.  You can read it for free by clicking on the screenshot below or by going here:

First, the idea that they’re trying to debunk is that women were “second class citizens” in early societies, forced to gather food because they were tied to childcare duties, while men did all the hunting. This is apparently an attempt to buttress the editors’ and authors’ feminism. But feminism doesn’t need buttressing with data on hunting; women’s equality is a moral proposition that doesn’t depend on observations about hunting. In other words, women have equal moral rights and should not be treated unfairly because fair treatment is the moral thing to do. If women never hunted, would we then be justified in treating them as second-class citizens? Hell, no!  Here’s their thesis:

Even if you’re not an anthropologist, you’ve probably encountered one of this field’s most influential notions, known as Man the Hunter. The theory proposes that hunting was a major driver of human evolution and that men carried this activity out to the exclusion of women. It holds that human ancestors had a division of labor, rooted in biological differences between males and females, in which males evolved to hunt and provide, and females tended to children and domestic duties. It assumes that males are physically superior to females and that pregnancy and child-rearing reduce or eliminate a female’s ability to hunt.

Man the Hunter has dominated the study of human evolution for nearly half a century and pervaded popular culture. It is represented in museum dioramas and textbook figures, Saturday morning cartoons and feature films. The thing is, it’s wrong.

The story is in fact the cover story of the November issue, so the magazine will never, ever issue a correction or clarification:

Click to read for yourself:

First, note that I’ve written at least five pieces on the “woman hunter” hypothesis: here, here, here, here, and here. The source of the hypothesis was a PLOS One paper arguing the following (from the PLOS One paper):

Of the 63 different foraging societies, 50 (79%) of the groups had documentation on women hunting. Of the 50 societies that had documentation on women hunting, 41 societies had data on whether women hunting was intentional or opportunistic. Of the latter, 36 (87%) of the foraging societies described women’s hunting as intentional, as opposed to the 5 (12%) societies that described hunting as opportunistic. In societies where hunting is considered the most important subsistence activity, women actively participated in hunting 100% of the time.

According to the authors’ data, then, 36 out of 50 societies in which there were data on women hunting (72%), the hunting was intentional.  That is the important result: in most societies, women participated in hunting.  The present paper also implies that this was not rare participation—say a few women included in a big hunting party—but that women constituted a substantial proportion of those engaged in hunting, and that a substantial proportion of hunter-gatherer societies had women hunting.  Here’s how the new Sci Am paper ends:

Now when you think of “cave people,” we hope, you will imagine a mixed-sex group of hunters encircling an errant reindeer or knapping stone tools together rather than a heavy-browed man with a club over one shoulder and a trailing bride. Hunting may have been remade as a masculine activity in recent times, but for most of human history, it belonged to everyone.

“Hunting. . .  belonged to everyone” clearly implies, as the paper does throughout, that women’s hunting was nearly as frequent and important as men’s hunting. This is an essential part of the authors’ ideological contention, for if women hunted only rarely, or constituted only a small fraction of hunting groups, that would imply intolerable hunting inequity.

But the authors’ defense of their hypothesis is deeply flawed. Here are six reasons, and I’ll try to be brief:

1.)  Nobody maintains that, as the authors assert, “men carried this activity out to the exclusion of women”. This may have been a trope in the past, but even those rebutting Obocock and Lacy’s (henceforth O&L’s) data these days do not claim that women never hunted. Of course they did, and no scientist would say that “no women ever hunted” because we cannot document that. The question, which the authors don’t address, is how frequently they hunted and what proportion of hunters did they constitute?  (See below for more.)

2.) I don’t know anyone (I may have missed some) who argues that men evolved to hunt: that is, natural selection acting on hunting behavior itself caused a difference in the sexes in their propensity to hunt. The alternative hypothesis—and one that is far more credible—is that sexual selection based on male-male competition and female choice led, in our ancestors, to the evolution of greater size, strength, musculature, and physiology in men than in women. Once that had evolved, then men would obviously be the sex that would participate in hunting. (And yes, childcare by women is also a possible reason.) The authors’ claim that “males evolved to hunt and provide, and females tended to children and domestic duties” is thus misleading in that males probably got their generally superior athletic abilities (see below) as a result of selection, and their hunting then became a byproduct of that. Similarly, women tend to their children more because that’s another result of sexual selection (women have greater reproductive investment in children), and their lower participation in hunting could also be a byproduct of that.

O&L don’t mention this alternative hypothesis in their paper.

3). The authors neglect important data casting doubt on O&L’s conclusions. Soon after the original paper by Anderson et al. appeared, other anthropologists began to find fault with it. To see examples of how Anderson et al.’s data is dubious,  see my posts here, here and here giving other people’s rebuttals.

Here are the conclusions from one critique, which does recognize women’s value in hunting small animals:

100% of the societies had a sexual division of labor in hunting. Women may have participated with men in some hunting contexts, typically capturing small game with nets, but participated much less in large game hunting with weapons or by persistence. Even within these contexts, it was usually the case that the role of women during the communal hunt was different. For example, women flushed wild game into nets while men dispatched the game.

These are my subjective ratings based on the papers I read in Anderson et al. (2023) and the supporting literature I cited. You may disagree and assign some different ratings. The point is that there is substantial variation across cultures in sex-based hunting roles. Additionally, none of the societies truly have an absence of these roles.

. . . Why did the perception of “man the hunter” arise? It’s likely because we see many sex-segregated hunting practices, particularly in hunting large game with weapons. Additionally, when you think of hunting, the first thing that comes to mind may not be chasing birds into nets. You probably think of a man with a spear — usually a man, not a woman, with a spear.

Here are tweets from another anthropologist looking at many societies, about which I wrote this:

Before I go, I’ll call your attention to a series of tweets by Vivek Venkataraman (start here on Twitter), an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology of the University of Calgary. His university webpage describes his interests:

Dr. Venkataraman is an evolutionary anthropologist who is broadly interested in the evolution of the human diet and food systems, and their relation to life history and behavior. He is assistant director of the Guassa Gelada Research Project ,and also the co-founder and co-PI of the Orang Asli Health and Lifeways Project (OAHeLP)

Venkataraman is somewhat dubious about some of the PLOS One paper’s results, especially the 80% frequency of women hunting among all hunter-gather societies. On the other hand, like me, he applauds any new data that can change our views of biology, and thinks the frequency of hunter-gatherer societies in which women hunt is somewhere between 13% and 80%; but he also thinks that women’s hunting was even more frequent in the past than it is now (see below)

Have a look at these. . . .  tweets, which involve examining many more “forager” societies:


The O&L paper does not mention these criticisms, and therefore does not answer them.  They are relying on data that has come into severe question because of its incompleteness and possible cherry-picking. They simply cannot be unaware of these data; they just ignored them.  (Note: I haven’t looked for more recent data addressing O&L’s claim,)

4.) The authors repeatedly imply that, in effect, males and females are equal in athletic performance, undercutting the idea that men hunted because they were athletically better equipped to hunt. But O&L’s claim of “athletic equity” is false. The authors note that women outcompete men in some endurance sports, citing this:

Females are more regularly dominating ultraendurance events such as the more than 260-mile Montane Spine foot race through England and Scotland, the 21-mile swim across the English Channel and the 4,300-mile Trans Am cycling race across the U.S.

I looked up the Montane Spine Foot race, and the Wikipedia tables for summer and winter events give the results of 17 races, one of which was won by women. (I presume they compete together; if not, the women’s times are still slower.)

Likewise, in all English Channel crossings in which there are men’s and women’s records (there are two- and three-way crossings in addition to single crossings), the men have faster times.

Finally, in all the Trans Am Bike Race results given on Wikipedia (11 are shown), a woman won only once: Lael Wilcox in the 2016 eastbound race. In all other races save one, in which a woman finished third, no women ever placed in the top three.

I conclude that O&L’s claim that women “regularly dominate” in these events is at best a distortion, at worst a lie. There is no “dominance” evident if a woman only had the fastest time in a single event.

Further, while it may be the case (I didn’t look it up) that women more often win events in archery, shooting, and badminton, in every other competitive sport I know of, men do better than women. Here is a table from Duke Law’s Center for Sports Law and Policy giving men’s and women’s best performances in 11 track and field events, as well as boys’ and girls’ best performances. In every case, not only was the record held by a man, but the best boy’s performance was better than the best women’s performance.

There is no doubt that, across nearly all sports, men perform better than women. That’s expected because of men’s greater upper-body strength, bone strength, athletic-related physiology, and grip strength. I didn’t look up sports like tennis, but we all know that the best men outcompete the best women by a long shot, something Serena Williams has admitted.  And. . .

She and her sister Venus were both thrashed by Germany’s world No.203 Karsten Braasch at the Australian Open in 1998 while trying to prove they could beat any man outside the top 200.

If I erred here, please correct me!

Here’s a quote by O&L (my bolding)

The inequity between male and female athletes is a result not of inherent biological differences between the sexes but of biases in how they are treated in sports. As an example, some endurance-running events allow the use of professional runners called pacesetters to help competitors perform their best. Men are not permitted to act as pacesetters in many women’s events because of the belief that they will make the women “artificially faster,” as though women were not actually doing the running themselves.

Here the authors are wading into quicksand. In fact, the entire quote is offensive to reason, for it implies that, if women were treated the same as men in sports, they would do as well. Given the differences between the sexes in morphology and physiology, such a claim flies in the face of everything we know.  The “pacesetters” argument is purely hypothetical, and I’m betting that women who had pacesetter men (note: not pacesetter women), would not turn women into winners. But of course it’s worth a try if O&L are right.

5.) O&L claim that both sex and gender are a spectrum, and sex is not binary. Here’s their quote (emphasis is mine):

For the purpose of describing anatomical and physiological evidence, most of the literature uses “female” and “male,” so we use those words here when discussing the results of such studies. For ethnographic and archaeological evidence, we are attempting to reconstruct social roles, for which the terms “woman” and “man” are usually used. Unfortunately, both these word sets assume a binary, which does not exist biologically, psychologically or socially. Sex and gender both exist as a spectrum, but when citing the work of others, it is difficult to add that nuance.

No, Scientific American: I know your editor thinks that biological sex is a spectrum, but she’s wrong and so are you. The “sex is a spectrum” mantra is another ideological tactic mistakenly used to buttress trans people or people of non-standard genders. But Mother Nature doesn’t care about ideology, and, as Luana Maroja and I showed in our paper on “The Ideological Subversion of Biology” (see point #1, about sex), sex is binary in all animals. In humans, for example, the frequency of exceptions to the binary is only 0.018%, or 1 person in 5600. That is about the same probability of flipping a nickel and having it land on its edge, but we don’t say “heads, tail, or edge?” when calling a coin toss.  For all practical purposes, sex is binary, and if you want to argue about it, don’t do so here. And, as Luana and I emphasized, whether or not sex is binary has no bearing on the treatment (or nearly all rights) of trans and non-standard-gender folks.

6.) Whether or how often women hunted is irrelevant to our views of men and women. Really, why does ideology push Scientific American, and in this case O&L, to distort the facts and to leave out contrary data, when the rights of women don’t depend in the least on whether they hunted or on their relative athletic performance?  Women’s rights rest on morality, not on observations of nature. Yes, there are some trivial exceptions, like those of us who don’t think that transwomen should be allowed to compete athletically against biological women, but there are many feminists who agree with that.  The real feminist program of equal rights and opportunities for women has nothing to do with whether they hunted as much as men in ancient (or in modern) hunter-gatherer societies.

In the end, we have still more evidence that Scientific American is no longer circling the drain, but is now in the drain, headed for, well, the sewers. It used to have scientists writing about their field, with no ideological bias, but now has ideologues (these authors happen to be scientist-ideologues) writing about science in a biased and misleading way.

Apparently this trend will continue, and apparently the publishers won’t do anything about it. So it goes. But those of you who want your science untainted by “progressive” ideology had best look elsewhere.

Group of “science-savvy” UK liberals urge denial of the sex binary

October 6, 2023 • 12:30 pm

This is an object lesson not only in the pollution of science by ideology, but also in how to make a fool of yourself by not learning about other areas of science before you pronounce on them.

A reader affiliated with a UK earth-sciences department sent me a letter circulated around that department, but it’s also circulating widely. The link goes to the whole letter but I’ll reproduce only part of it:

From an authority figure:

I know that many of us are concerned with the current ‘kicking woke ideology out of science’ rhetoric.  An open letter drafted by a number of scientists urges politicians to reject that:  ttps://  Please do sign and share as you think appropriate.

Note the urging to sign the letter, which, since it comes from a university official,  be considered a violation of the Kalven Principle of Institutional Neutrality if it were in Chicago.


Thank you for expressing an interest in signing the letter to the Prime Minister, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology and Chairman of the Conservative Party, regarding their position on ‘kicking woke ideology out of science’.

The text of the letter is given below. This text has been generated collaboratively by scientists from different disciplines, people with expertise in the relationship between science and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), and those with lived experience of marginalisation. Some have signed the letter, while other valued contributers have felt unable to sign publically. A fully referenced PDF version of the text is available at Open Letter to UK Government.

Here’s a bit of the letter. You can see the full text at the link.

Dear Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology,

We are writing to express our anger and disappointment at the speech given by the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology at the Conservative Party Conference 2023, and accompanying social media post. These state that government policy will be ‘kicking woke ideology out of science’ and that Conservatives are safeguarding scientific research from the denial of biology and the steady creep of political correctness.’ This was described as a plan “to depoliticise science”.

We are extremely concerned about both the content and possible implications of the speech, and what it says about the government’s views on both science policy and inclusion. We address these directly as follows:

And here’s the invidious bit involving denialism of scientific fact in the name of ideology (it’s apparently in response to the speech discussed above):

  • ‘Denial of biology’. From the Secretary of State’s speech it is clear that this refers to the government’s increasing adoption of policies that put the lives and wellbeing of trans people at risk. When it comes to sex determination it is simplistic binary arguments, such as those used by the Prime Minister himself, that deny biology. The biology of human sex is significantly more complex than just XX chromosomes = female and XY = male. There are multiple levels of “biological sex”, including genetic, anatomical, physiological and hormonal, which may not align with each other 11,12. Even within genetic definitions of sex, there are multiple interacting genes involved in complex networks 11,12. Sex determination at birth is on the basis of external genitalia, so does not consider the multiple factors contributing to “biological sex”. Additionally, up to 1.7% of the population have Differences in Sex Development (DSD) or are intersex 11–13. To appeal to “biological sex” as the Secretary of State has done is over-simplistic, unscientific and exclusionary rhetoric under the pretence of objectivity 14. Furthermore, as the Secretary of State acknowledges, biological sex and personal/social gender identity are distinct. At least 0.5% of the UK population identify as a different gender to their sex registered at birth 15. Combining DSD, intersex, non-binary and trans communities, this represents nearly 1.5 million people in the UK that the government implies should be excluded from participating in biomedical, sports science and other research. Research in many contexts does not need to (nor should) restrict itself to a binary definition of sex or gender, and can be inclusive of intersex, non-binary and/or trans participants without losing scientific rigour. The Secretary of State directly criticises initiatives such as the Scottish Chief Statistician’s guidance with respect to sex and gender 16, but such pragmatic advice ensures accuracy in data collection and research design, and alignment with legislation including the Equality Act 2010 and the Data Protection Act 2018. We find it disturbing that over-simplistic or scientifically illiterate arguments about complex biological systems are being used to stoke so-called culture wars and make the UK increasingly hostile towards people identifying as intersex, non-binary and/or trans. Reductive and discredited biological models have been used to underpin historical and contemporary human rights abuses through scientific racism and eugenics 17,18, and have no place in modern scientific inquiry.

Virtually everything in this section is a distortion or outright lie. First, if you’re defining male and female, then you don’t use chromosomal complement, even in humans, but rather determine whether someone has the equipment to make small mobile gametes (males) versus large immobile gametes (females). Determining someone’s sex is as simple as that, though the other stuff, like chromosomes, genitalia, and hormones, are highly correlated with biological sex. It’s a big mistake, but a deliberate one, to conflate the definition of sex, which shows that sex is indeed a binary, with the correlates of sex, which are bimodal and almost binary, but could be called “strongly bimodal.”

The “it’s complicated” argument floated above is made for only one purpose, and that purpose is outlined in the first sentence:

From the Secretary of State’s speech it is clear that this refers to the government’s increasing adoption of policies that put the lives and wellbeing of trans people at risk.

No, the “simplistic binary notion of sex”, which happens to be true, does NOT put the lives and wellbeing of trans people at risk. Biological truth doesn’t have the ability to do that. What would risk the lives and well being of trans people is true transphobia: the fear and hatred of trans people that could translate into mistreatment and denial of their fundamental rights. That’s a question of morality, not biological fact.

And this bit is wrong in three ways:

Additionally, up to 1.7% of the population have Differences in Sex Development (DSD) or are intersex 11–13. To appeal to “biological sex” as the Secretary of State has done is over-simplistic, unscientific and exclusionary rhetoric under the pretence of objectivity 14. Furthermore, as the Secretary of State acknowledges, biological sex and personal/social gender identity are distinct. At least 0.5% of the UK population identify as a different gender to their sex registered at birth 15. Combining DSD, intersex, non-binary and trans communities, this represents nearly 1.5 million people in the UK that the government implies should be excluded from participating in biomedical, sports science and other research.

Once again, we see exaggeration of the proportion of people who don’t fall into the sex binary. It is at most 0.018%, not 1.7%, the latter a frequently-seen  and erroneous figure based on wonky data from Anne Fausto-Sterling, a figure that even she retracted later.

Second, trans people are not the same as intersexes. Trans people are, most often, people of one of the two sexes who want to assume the persona of a member of the other sex. The sex binary has nothing to do with invalidating trans people; in fact, trans people, being of one sex but wishing to be of the other, demonstrate the binary nature of sex.

Third, except for participation in sports, I don’t understand how the 0.018% of people who are true intersex, or people of different genders (a social construct) are “excluded from participating in biomedical and other research.” Perhaps the tiny number of true hermaphrodites would be excluded from being in the category “male” or “female”, but they could still be subject to biomedical research.  As for sports, well, transwomen should not compete with biological women in athletics, and that’s the one “exclusion” I support.

The people who are circulating this letter are damaging science by denying scientific truth, as well as using outmoded data that we all know is wrong. They also damage the debate over trans people by pretending that their treatment must somehow depend on whether there’s a sex binary. Once again I’ll say it: the binary nature of human sex has no bearing on the debate about the rights and treatment of trans people. 

To say that the sex binary is “overly simplistic” or “scientifically illiterate” is to brand oneself an idiot.  If this reflects the conventional wisdom of the Labour Party (for the attacks above are on positions apparently espoused by two Tories), then Labour is in trouble.  First they got in trouble by being anti-Semitic, now they’ll get into more trouble by being anti-biology.

USA Fencing will allow males who self-identify as females to fence against biological women; ACLU defends “affirmative” surgery and drugs on minors

September 29, 2023 • 11:45 am

It amazes me that, in light of the science showing that trans women who have gone through male puberty retain significant athletic advantages over biological females, even when taking therapy to reduce testosterone, people still insist that trans females should be able to compete in women’s sports against natal females. And many people maintain this even if the trans females are simply males who claim that they’re females, without having had any surgery or hormone therapy.

Various sports organizations are starting to cotton on to this brand of unfairness, banning trans women from competing in women’s sports. That’s not a perfect solution, of course, because trans women who want to do sports should have the opportunity to compete. The only two solutions that seem feasible are to allow all trans people to compete in the “male” category (which of course will disadvantage trans women and probably trans men), or to create an “other” category for people who aren’t either natal males or females.  But the previous system of using hormone titers or, in some areas, allowing self-identified or medically treated trans females to compete with biological women, is not a fair solution.

In view of this, the Olympics have bailed, throwing up their hands and saying that each sport can decide using its own criteria. (This is an impossible requirement.) But other groups, including World Rugby. FINA (the international body governing women’s swimming), and World Athletics (the body governing running and track and field) have banned transgender women from competing in elite women’s sports.

There are a few holdouts, though, and this report, from Reduxx (click to read), notes that USA Fencing, the body governing fencing with foil and saber, will continue to allow transgender women to compete against biological women—regardless of whether the former have had medical treatment. If you’re a man who self identifies as a woman, you can fence with women. And this despite the reports, documented amply in the article, that men who were mediocre fencers against members of their own sex have after identifying as women, suddenly started winning lots of medals. Fencing is not exempt from the fact that men have physical and physiological advantages (probably not effaced by hormone treatment, though we don’t know) that give them athletic advantages over biological women.

Click to read:

An excerpt:

A number of trans-identified males have been dominating women’s fencing championships despite the fact that many of them floundered in the men’s category. A source has now revealed that many women in the sport fear losing opportunities if they speak out against the inclusion of men in women’s fencing.

In November of 2022, USA Fencing adopted a Transgender and Nonbinary Athlete Policy which stated that division placement would be determined based on self-declared “gender identity” or “gender expression” rather than on biological sex.

“USA Fencing will not discriminate on the basis of gender identity, regardless of sex assigned at birth, or any other form of gender expression for participation in any division,” read the policy. “As such, athletes will be permitted to participate in USA Fencing sanctioned events in a manner consistent with their gender identity/ expression, regardless of the gender associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.”

The policy also stipulated that an individual’s classification will remain unaltered when transferring over to the sporting category of the opposite sex. “Transgender athletes will be permitted to keep the fencing classification that was held prior to transitioning. For example, a transgender woman who held an A classification in the men’s division will keep her A classification in the women’s division.”

But Reduxx has now learned that USA Fencing had permitted males to self-identify into the women’s category for nearly a decade prior to the adoption of the new policy, resulting in a small number of trans-identified players dominating the sport. Of the five that have been identified, most of them had performed poorly while competing in the men’s category.

Thus if you are in a high fencing subclass when you fenced as a male, you keep that subclass when you start fencing against biological women. That’s doubly unfair.

I don’t have much to say about this beyond what I’ve said before and above; the article gives examples of the unfairness.

But one thing did catch my eye: this paragraph from the article:

A vocal trans activist, Wilson has expressed disapproval over a bill in his home state that would prevent the medical transitioning of minors. Kentucky’s Senate Bill 150, which was blocked by a federal judge at the end of June at the behest of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), would prohibit health care providers in the state from administering puberty-halting drugs and performing “gender-affirming” surgeries on children.

Now this is one of those bills passed in the South that is a bit dicey because it could be construed as anti-trans; for one thing, it involves issues like pronoun usage. But the part of the law that actually was blocked by the judge was the part that prohibited “gender surgeries on children,”.  But it turns out that the ACLU was fighting for the “right” of minors to have not just gender-affirming care, but care that included drugs and surgery. On minors.

From WLKY, a CBS station in Louisville, published on June 29. Emphasis is mine:

A federal judge has blocked parts of a law that bans gender-affirming care for trans youth in Kentucky the day before it is set to take effect.

U.S. District Judge David Hale granted the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky a temporary injunction blocking parts of Senate Bill 150 from going into effect on Thursday.

SB 150 was passed by the Kentucky general assembly during this year’s legislative session.

It includes many things, like blocking teachers from using a student’s preferred pronouns and requiring certain bathroom policies.

It also would ban health care providers in the state from performing gender-affirming care for transgender children. This is the part of the bill that is being blocked.

Gov. Any Beshear vetoed the bill, but it was later overridden by the general assembly.

The ACLU filed for an injunction in May, saying that lawmakers are violating the rights and freedoms of parents and their children in Kentucky.

That “gender-affirming care”, as you can see from the bill, includes drugs like puberty blockers and surgery, done on minors (defined as someone under 18). That’s what the ACLU is favoring.  Now we can quibble whether a 17-year-old has the right to get surgery or hormone treatment, but the bill says minors in general, so the ACLU is, I think, favoring kids of any age getting drugs and surgery.  And that’s bad.

But the ACLU says it’s okay because it’s the right of minors to have drugs and surgery. From the WLKY article:

The ACLU filed for an injunction in May, saying that lawmakers are violating the rights and freedoms of parents and their children in Kentucky.

“We are grateful to the Court for enjoining this egregious ban on medically necessary care, which would have caused harm for countless young Kentuckians,” said ACLU Kentucky legal director Corey Shapiro in a news release. “This is a win, but it is only the first step. We’re prepared to fight for families’ right to make their own private medical decisions in court, and to continue doing everything in our power to ensure access to medical care is permanently secured in Kentucky.”

The problem, of course, is that the safety of some gender-affirming care, like the long-term effects of puberty blockers, or even the long-term effect of genital surgery, hasn’t yet been sufficiently studied. That’s why an increasing number of countries are treating puberty-blocker administration as “clinical experimentation” instead of standard care. People are starting to realize that those drugs may have long-term harms that we don’t know about.

But this doesn’t bother the ACLU, which, under the guidance of its gender expert, the unhinged Chase Strangio, believes that it’s the “right” of any minor to get possibly risky medical treatment.  I’d say we should wait until the clinical studies are completed.

Like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU has changed from a civil rights organization into a Social Justice organization.  It now preferentially defends the civil rights of “progressive” groups and people rather than all people, and we should keep an eye on it.

Neil deGrasse Tyson goes after women’s-only spaces

September 25, 2023 • 10:15 am

I’ve never been a huge fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson, but at least he was good at conveying the wonders of physics and cosmology.  My one problem with him as a science communicator was that he tried too hard to cater to his audience, as if making them like him was one of his main goal. (Ergo his former issues with being called an “atheist” rather than the gentle and acceptable “agnostic.”)  And, by and large, people did like him, for he was smart and enthusiastic.

Now, however, he’s gone into another area, and here he hasn’t been so successful. The area is sex and gender, and in his 14½-minute diatribe below (for that’s what it is), his blustering is directed at nothing other than trying to eliminate women’s-only spaces, like changing rooms, sports, jails, rape counseling centers, halfway houses for battered women, and any number of places in which biological women would feel uncomfortable if  biological males who identify as trans females, were to be present.  Note that Tyson addresses and dismisses only the concern of biological females, not biological males.  Why is that?

He also gets angry, arrogant, and pedantic in a way that’s profoundly unappealing but gives us a window into his psyche. He may not be an unpleasant and haughty character, but he sure seems like it here.

Here’s the relevant video. It’s short, so I urge you to watch it.

Tyson has gone down this road before (I posted on it here), but in this case he devotes time not only to the gender “spectrum”, misconstrued as people feeling “X% female and 100% – X% male”, but, more important, also to getting rid of women’s only spaces, which he thinks is merely a scientific problem that’s not too hard to solve in a way that allows men into women’s-only spaces. He’s wrong, because here he fails to recognize that we’re dealing with a complex and largely insoluble problem dealing with both human emotions and the inevitable differences between men and women in both thought and physicality.

First, the YouTube summary:

Konstantin Kisin questions Neil deGrasse Tyson about his views of gender on a spectrum. They discuss societal constructs of gender, female-only spaces and debate the future of sports and how to resolve the issue of trans athletes.

You all know Tyson, but perhaps not Kisin, described by Youtube as a:

Russian-British satirist, podcaster, author and political commentator. Kisin has written for a number of publications including QuilletteThe SpectatorThe Daily Telegraph and Standpoint on issues relating to tech censorship, woke culture, comedy and culture war topics in the past but currently publishes articles on these subjects on his Substack. He has co-hosted Triggernometry since 2018, a YouTube channel and podcast featuring fellow comedian and co-host Francis Foster.

There are two parts to this conversation. The first involves Tyson’s claim, which he made in a video before, that gender is a flexible spectrum because “people wake up feeling 80% female and 20% male and thus put on makeup.” Or, if the proportions are reversed, they put on a “muscle shirt”.  The claim is not only that people dress and adorn themselves based on their assumption that they’re a separable mixture of male and female notions, leading to a “sex spectrum”.  Tyson wants to be the good guy, so he says that people should be able to dress how they want depending on how they feel.

Kisin notes, properly, that that is not in any sense the problem because everyone already agrees with that. The problem is that there are two discrete biological sexes and that they (especially females) should be able to have some privileges, including female-only spaces, depending not on a spectrum of gender but on their discrete biological sex.

I’ve discussed this before, and I can only repeat myself: the world doesn’t seem to work the way Tyson thinks it does.  There are two issues here. First, people recognize members of their and the other sex not based largely on how they adorn themselves, but on visual cues about how their bodies look, including features like size, musculature, throat morphology, and so on. That’s discussed in this tweet by Carole Hooven (read her whole tweet):

Second, if a woman goes to a party and puts on makeup and a nice dress, does that mean that she feels “more female” than a woman who wears jeans and a tee-shirt to class? I don’t think the world works that way, or that people think that way. If you told such a woman, “Well, I guess you feel more like a man today,” you’d probably get chewed out. And you’d deserve it. Here’s a response I put up before to this fatuous claim by Tyson. It’s a bit heated, but I’d be upset too if, when I put on a nice aftershave before a date, somebody told me I must feel 10% female:

But the important part is the second half of the discussion, in which Kisin reminds Tyson that he’s been dealing with a non-controversy, and that the real controversy is whether we should have sex-limited spaces.  Tyson seems to feel that this devolves only on “the bathroom issue”, which, he says, has already been solved by having two-sex bathrooms with stalls.

It hasn’t.

I used to think that that was a good solution, but I’m not so sure any more. I’ve talked to several women about this issue, and they just don’t want men next to them in a stall taking a large dump, nor do they want men in the room when they’re putting on makeup.  (Bathrooms with a single stall are one solution, but that creates another problem, one that you can see by looking at bathroom lines at halftime during a sports event.)

Women also object to the fact that men’s bathrooms are dirty (we all know that men pee on toilet seats).  The bathroom issue is discussed by Helen Joyce in her book Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, a book well worth reading.  I now think that yes, you can have single-sex bathrooms with stalls, but there should also be separate men’s and women’s rooms if you want multiple stalls, a necessity in a large facility. And, needless to say, there should be separate men’s and women’s changing rooms in sports.

And this brings us not only to sports, an area where Tyson’s ignorance of biology is palpable, but also to other issues that he seems to have forgotten: women’s prisons, rape-counseling centers, halfway houses for battered women, and yes, even genital waxing.  Tyson seems to think that all of these are problems that can be solved by allowing men or trans women to occupy spaces previously claimed by women. It is, he thinks, like a physics problem.  And while the bathroom issue can be addressed (provide several alternatives), what do you do with biological men who abused women and then claimed they were  trans women, just so they can get into women’s prisons and abuse more women? The solution is not to find some halfway position, but to just say “no”.  There’s no good solution that will allow men who say they are really women (and yes, that’s the ubiquitous claim) to enter women’s spaces.

That’s even truer with sports. Tyson shows a profound ignorance of why women’s and men’s sports are separated when he first claims it’s all due to hormone differences. Kisin reminds him that that’s not true, and there are differences in musculature, physiology, grip strength, and so on.

And that, at about 8:20, is when Tyson gets really peeved, starts interrupting Kisin, and becomes loud and arrogant, saying that if the problem of male wrestling or rowing can be solved by creating weight classes, then surely we can solve the sex-differentiated sports issue by “finding ways to slice the population so that whatever the event is interestingly contested.”  But how many classes do you need to have “equal” competition between men and women if you incorporate factors like hormone titers, musculature, previous performance, and so on? I can say two things in response. First, whatever solution you find will still be unfair to women, and second, you’ll surely going to have a ton of different categories, not just two. It’s unworkable.

Reminded of this, Tyson gets more ticked off and yells: “So fix the playing field, dammit. . . . We’re in the middle of solving that problem now.”  Well, we’ve “tried” to solve the problem, like banning trans women from women’s cycling and women’s rugby, but that’s not the solution Tyson wants. He wants men and women to compete against each other, and no matter how you slice the bologna, if you include trans women as biological men, which they are, you’re going to create an unfair solution for women.  The best solution is not making up a bunch of different categories of competition in the Olympics (the Olympics has already bailed on this issue!), but to either retain the sex-segregated categories, create three categories: “men’s”, “women’s” and “other”, or have two categories “women’s” and “other”.  Tyson, of course, wants a lot more categories, though he can’t even begin to suggest how that would work. He just thinks that, like all scientific problems, it can be solved. (No, not all scientific problems can: we’ll never know what the first replicating organism looked like.).

In the end, I was disappointed by Tyson’s apparent lack of understanding of the problem, by his arrogance and anger at those he considers his intellectual inferiors, by his apparent indifference to the fact that yes, there are two sexes that differ biologically in both athletic abilities and ways of thinking, and above all by his casual indifference to the reason why women are demanding their own spaces.  He may be an okay physicist, but as a social thinker he’s inferior to the many women (and some men) who have thought seriously about this issue.


h/t: Hoovlet

Oberlin investigates women’s lacrosse coach for wanting women’s sports reserved for biological women

August 31, 2023 • 9:15 am

Just after it paid off millions of dollars to settle the Gibson’s Bakery case, Oberlin is back in the news again, and not in a particularly favorable way.  According to the video below, and the two news stories below it (click to read), the college has started harassing and investigating its women’s lacrosse coach, Kim Russell.  Why? The text just below is taken from the first news source, the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), which made the video as well, but the New York Post gives an identical story. And the video tells pretty much all the story, so watch that first:

From IWF:

In a documentary IWF produced telling her story, Russell talks about loving her lacrosse student-athletes as her own children. But following an Instagram post where Russell congratulated swimming star Emma Weyant for being the “real winner” of the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA championships in 2022 after she officially came in second behind UPenn’s Lia Thomas, one of her own lacrosse players reported Russell’s post to Oberlin’s athletic director. The report triggered a series of lengthy disciplinary meetings and a full-fledged character assassination campaign against her involving Oberlin faculty and the women’s lacrosse team.

[JAC: Lia Thomas is of course a biological male who has become a trans female and a winning swimmer when competing on women’s teams. And the disciplinary meetings were apparently recorded by coach Russell, and you can hear them in the video.]

Evidence now available to the public, the audio recordings depict the onslaught of verbal attacks Kim was met with from Oberlin administrators:

“Unfortunately, you fall into a category of people that are filled with hate in the world.”

“It’s acceptable to have your own opinions, but when they go against your college’s beliefs, it’s a problem. For your employment.”

“What Oberlin College subjected Kim Russell to for simply believing biological truths was nothing short of a modern, Maoist struggle session,” said Andrea Mew, storytelling coordinator at IWF and producer of the documentary.

Of course multiple investigation meetings constitute chilling of speech; they are punishment in themselves. As Russell says, “Every time I’ve spoken up, I’ve been silenced, which to me is the opposite of what I thought Oberlin would be.”

Apparently, Oberlin lacrosse players have drunk the Kool-Aid, as several women on the team speak up against Russell.

Now Russell was speaking as a private individual on an Instagram post, so her speech was not representing Oberlin College or its policy. Nevertheless, Oberlin College does in fact have a policy for participation of trans women on women’s teams, and it says this (I’ve bolded the relevant bits):

1. A trans male (FTM) student-athlete who has received a medical exception for treatment with testosterone for diagnosed Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for purposes of NCAA competition may compete on a men’s team, but is no longer eligible to compete on a women’s
team without changing that team status to a mixed team.

2. A trans female (MTF) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication for Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for the purposes of NCAA competition may continue to compete on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression

Any transgender student-athlete who is not taking hormone treatment related to gender transition may participate in sex-separated sports activities in accordance with his or her assigned birth gender.

• A trans male (FTM) student-athlete who is not taking testosterone related to gender transition may participate on a men’s or women’s team.

• A trans female (MTF) transgender student-athlete who is not taking hormone treatments related to gender transition may not compete on a women’s team.

According to this, trans females can’t compete on women’s teams unless they are taking hormone treatments, and, even in that case the womenh’s team has to be changed to a “mixed team,” which doesn’t seem to be the case for women’s lacrosse at Oberlin.  It’s conceivable that although Russell was speaking as a private individual and has the right to free speech, if there were trans women on the team her sentiments could be interpreted as invalidating the participation of those trans women, creating a hostile “athletics environment”. And that may violate Oberlin’s policy to the extent that they could discipline her.

What’s not clear in this policy is whether, if all trans-women on the lacrosse team have completed a year of testosterone suppression, the team can now revert to a women’s team. In that case, Russell is indeed attacking members of the team she coaches.  Oberlin needs to rewrite #2 above to clarify this.

But given that there is no “mixed lacrosse team” at Oberlin, and no sign that it was once a “mixed team” that has reverted to a “women’s team”, I can’t see Russell violating University policy in any way with her Instagram post, and therefore she didn’t deserve the pile-on she got from Oberlin officials.  Read more about this in the two articles below.

From the Independent Women’s Forum (click to read):

As I’ve written before, given the scientific data that men who have completed male puberty retain body-related athletic advantages over women for years, even if they’re taking hormone treatment, such trans women shouldn’t be allowed to compete in athletics against biological women. And it almost goes without saying that it’s unfair for biological men who identify as women but haven’t been medically treated to compete against biological women.

What’s not clear here is whether Russell violated Oberlin policy. My feeling is that she didn’t, since there is no “mixed” lacrosse team at her college, and she was speaking as a private individual.  Still, although I agree with her sentiments, given her position as coach, I wouldn’t have put up that Instagram post

And it’s unconscionable for Oberlin officials to investigate and discipline Russell without clear charges of what exact policy she’s supposed to be violating.  It appears that she was persecuted for violating the “college’s beliefs,” but colleges shouldn’t have “beliefs” on this issue; they should have policies. And although they do, the policies are unclear.

My own view is that Oberlin should either have three teams: men’s, women’s (reserved for biological women) and mixed; or, alternatively, trans women should be allowed to compete on the men’s team, which should then be designated as “open”.

From the New York Post (click to read):

h/t: Jez, Mark

Guest Post: What a student pharmacist thinks about puberty blockers

August 29, 2023 • 9:30 am

Today’s post comes from Joseph Shen, a pharmacology student in Chicago. He has guest-posted here once before (see link below), and this week sent a contribution on what he’s learned about puberty blockers. I am not a pharmacologist and haven’t checked all the claims in this post, so please do so yourself if you have concerns. Also I am not giving any medical advice here and am not responsible for whether people decide to take or not take these drugs.

Shen is worried about the overuse of puberty blockers in “affirmative care” by doctors and therapists who don’t know about possible side effects of these blockers or the fact that they haven’t been tested properly for their effects on blocking puberty.

Finally, there’s a felid lagniappe to this post that I’ve put below the fold.

Without further ado (and see the “Update” at bottom.

What a Student Pharmacist Thinks about Puberty Blockers

Joseph Shen

He­llo readers, I have been on this website once before when Prof. Ceiling Cat (Emeritus) kindly shared my post about UIC’s mishandling of the Jason Kilborn controversy. What I didn’t mention at the time was that I am a pharmacy student. The ultimate role of the pharmacist is to optimize drug therapy, which means following best-practice guidelines, understanding side effects, and avoiding unnecessary therapies. You can see how this will connect to the transgender debate around puberty blockers.

I’m sure most readers here are familiar with articles giving critiques of puberty blockers like the one in the New York Times and the ones by Jesse Singal on his Substack site. While their content is good, I wanted to share with you how I viewed this topic through the lens of a pharmacist, focusing more on the drugs: what they are and how they are (mis)used. My goal is to inform you so that the next time you tell an affirmative care supporter that puberty blockers are not safe, they retort “what do you know about them?” or “why do you care that they need to be safe?”, you will have an answer.


Background Knowledge.

To understand drugs like a pharmacist, you must do a basic review of anatomy and physiology, specifically the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis pictured here.

From Wikipedia

For anyone unfamiliar with this, the simplified version is that the hypothalamus releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) into the pituitary gland in front of it. The pituitary gland secretes two more hormones, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). FSH stimulates cells around immature ova and spermatozoa to help them mature. More importantly, LH triggers other cells nearby to synthesize progesterone, testosterone, and estrogens. This process triggers all the changes in puberty.


What, Exactly, are Puberty Blockers?

To block puberty, you have to interrupt the effects of the HPG axis. The most popular way is to inhibit the function of LH so that no hormones are synthesized. GnRH agonists are synthetic peptide molecules that mimic GnRH. They bind the same receptor and trigger the release of LH. At first, there is a release of LH and temporary increase in sex hormones. But after around 10 days, the stores of LH are depleted and desensitization reduces the number of receptors for GnRH, so releasing LH becomes harder. There are also GnRH antagonists: other synthetic peptides which bind the same receptors but don’t trigger any reaction, stopping the cycle immediately. While they work faster, these drugs are more costly and have more side effects, making them far less popular. When a person stops taking either class of drug, the HPG-axis resumes its cycles. This is what leads activists to claim that their effects are reversible. The cycles may resume on the molecular level, but that does not mean puberty will resume as normal on the bodily level.

Among GnRH agonists, just a few are used in most cases. Leuprolide is the most common drug in the class. It can be injected as a suspension into the muscle/fat every month, or it can be a biodegradable implant. Two other very similar drugs are goserelin and triptorelin, though they are available only as an implant and injection, respectively.

While known to the public as “puberty blockers” thanks to the controversy, GnRH agonists have several uses. They are first-line treatments for all stages of prostate cancer, depriving the tumor of growth-stimulating testosterone. They can also be used to treat endometriosis, in which uterine-like tissue grows somewhere else in the body, causing severe pain. Since that tissue is stimulated by sex hormones, GnRH agonists make it inactive. And during in vitro fertilization, a woman takes a dose to make sure she doesn’t ovulate early.

Notice anything about these uses? They are all either short-term or used to correct a hormonal abnormality. What GnRH agonists are not well-supported for using is stopping normal onset of puberty, leaving the body in a developmental limbo. Leuprolide, in fact, has a shady history. Its initial approval by the FDA was based on very limited data, with some small sample sizes and short durations. Some post-market studies carried out after approval also had issues, with serious side effects such as bone disease omitted from a 2010 study. The poor literature means we can’t definitively predict what will happen when you start and stop using the blockers. Human bodies going through puberty are not tardigrades that will hibernate when the environment is hostile and later restart as if nothing happened. Pausing puberty is more like pulling on a Slinky: leave it stretched too long—and it may never slink again. With no big longitudinal studies, we just don’t know.

The thing most people want to hear about GnRH agonists are their side effects, and there’s a lot to discuss. Mainstream articles frequently mention poorer bone health. Sex hormones trigger the cartilage known as the growth plate in the femurs to grow and then turn to bone. They also maintain a balance between bone growth and breakdown. For someone on puberty blockers, the growth plate may not mature, and the balance shifts towards bone breakdown, both of which make fractures more likely. Sexual issues are another real possibility. The lack of sex hormones can reduce or eliminate development of libido in both trans boys and girls. What I haven’t seen discussed is what happened to many girls who were given leuprolide for years to delay puberty so that they grew taller. Decades later, these girls who had normal puberties and who have never been on other treatments developed osteoporosis, weak joints, and fibromyalgia. What reason is there to believe similar cases won’t happen with trans kids without normal puberties? Beyond that, leuprolide and the others currently carry warnings for increased risk of heart attacks, dizziness and fainting, and a host of other conditions, all based on thousands of cases of reported adverse effects—how can these drugs possibly be perfectly safe?


A Pharmacist’s Concerns

It confuses me why all the debate over these drugs rarely involves pharmacists, who are the drug experts. Doctors may know treatments, but it’s pharmacists who are more keenly aware when a drug therapy is lacking evidence.

Improper prescribing is a huge, pharmacist-specific concern. Contrary to popular belief, pharmacists don’t just fill prescriptions made by physicians without question. Pharmacists are required by law to exercise “corresponding responsibility” and dispense drugs only when they’re safe and appropriate. I see the transgender controversy as having some of the biggest potential for improper prescribing. Without solid guidelines and with influence from various organizations like WPATH, pharmacists are put into a bind. We can either sign off on unwarranted med orders or refuse to fill them and be condemned by societal and professional peer pressure. We will have to stand up for our profession by saying NO when decisions are not based on good science. It is our duty to stop potential harm to patients, sometimes even if it’s what they want.

Another pharmacist-specific concern erodes trust in modern medicine. Physicians live by the Hippocratic Oath, often condensed into the phrase “first, do no harm.” At times, doctors withhold information from patients to spare them emotional and psychological harm (e.g., giving “affirmative” advice without telling parents so that they can’t be obstacles). This causes doctors to butt heads with pharmacists who, in contrast, live by the Oath of a Pharmacist [side note: the 2021-2022 updated oath includes the line “I will promote inclusion, embrace diversity, and advocate for justice to advance health equity.”] We tend to emphasize patient autonomy, being truthful, and giving enough information for them to make rational choices. It is unethical to deceive patients about a drug’s safety to increase the likelihood of using that drug. This kind of behavior makes practicing medicine seem like it’s based on reckless opinion rather than on evidence from clinical trials. When patients think their doctor’s suggestions are just opinions, then all they need to refuse a suggestion is their own opinion—the same kind of opinion that could make them refuse vaccinations or turn to alternative medicine.



This controversy would not exist if there was simply enough evidence. But we can’t do large-scale, longitudinal studies because they’re ethically and practically impossible. Subjects would have to be prepubescent and started on these drugs for years with consent from their parents. No thinking parent would allow this. Studying only children who claim to have gender dysphoria seems like the clear next option. But sample sizes would be much smaller, and the zealous proponents of affirmative care don’t want to wait years and delay transition. Observational studies are the best we can do, and we know their results so far are not promising.

I genuinely sympathize with the young, dysphoric people who are in a catch-22. If they use blockers but then lose their dysphoria, they may incur irreparable damage to their bodies for nothing. If they wait until they’re sure they want to transition, but their bodies develop, they may never be satisfied with themselves. But when I choose patient safety over satisfaction, I’m doing it not out of malice but because I care enough to value their wellbeing.

I apologize if this sounds like a polemic. While I speak from the principles taught to me as a pharmacist, I speak only for myself. I hope this piece was at least somewhat engaging and not as dull as the actual lectures we all had to sit through to learn this. I’ll end on a high note. As is customary for a cat’s staff member, I must share pictures of my boss. They tell a comedy in 3 acts.


One commentor (#9 below) correctly pointed out that I implied without evidence that physicians are frequently not discussing the risks of GnRH agonists with patients. This was wrong of me. What I should have written was that the medical field (at least in the U.S.) is largely supporting GnRH agonists regularly despite the lack of evidence for their safety, and not admitting to that. It is this air of support, not individual people, that concerns me. If and when individual physicians downplay the risks, then that is even more unethical; I’m certain that’s not the vast majority of doctors treating gender-dysphoric kids.

Here is the evidence for that support. The Endocrine Society (ES)’s 2017 guideline claims “pubertal suppression is fully reversible,” implying that long-term side effects are negligible. They “recommend,” (a strong statement) not “suggest,” (a weaker statement) that puberty suppression be used when indicated. They give a lukewarm review of the effects on bone and say next-to-nothing about brain development. Wikipedia conveniently lists the American organizations. that give position statements supporting GnRH agonists and/or the ES’s position. Position statements are not scientific evidence but carry scientific credibility in people’s minds.

This is exacerbated by mainstream media, in which articles from progressive-leaning venues (see here, here, and here) cite individual professionals who claim that puberty blockers are “well-studied, well-documented, and well-tolerated”, are “a benign medication”, and that the side effects are “not enough of a reason to allow a child … to continue going through puberty.” This small number of professional opinions (one of the lowest forms of scientific evidence) can shape what the public perceives to be the state of medicine. And again, it’s aways about what the doctors think in these articles, not the drug experts. Doctors are not always perfectly scientific and rational, needing pharmacists to help guide them with drug therapy. It’s just that no one in the media bothers speaking to a clinical pharmacist.

Guidelines are the starting-point resources for doctors before they make their own professional decisions. It is not a good thing when they hold poorly supported statements and when people are hesitant to challenge them because of social pressure. It is misleading at best and needs to be addressed with evidence and compassion, not instinctively calling critics transphobic.


[JAC: Read the story below the fold (click “

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