WaPo buys into the “appeal to nature” with respect to sexual behavior and orientation

July 1, 2022 • 12:15 pm

Yesterday I wrote a post about how London’s Natural History Museum had embarked on a video “LGBTQ+ tour”, showing examples of same-sex sexual behavior or some cases of parthenogenesis (producing offspring without fertilization) as a way to show that non-“cis” sexual behavior in animals is common.  What this does do is dispel the idea that such behaviors are “unnatural” in our own species, though it tacitly assumes that the psychological and evolutionary basis for such behavior is similar in humans and other species.

What it does not do is show that non-“cis” behaviors in humans are “moral”, or give us a reason not to criticize them. While I have absolutely no problem with any sexual behavior or gender identification of any human adult, so long as a behavior is consensual, we should never point to behavior in animals as a “justification”, moral or otherwise, for similar behavior in animals. This is an example of the “appeal to nature”, which Wikipedia describes this way:

An appeal to nature is an argument or rhetorical tactic in which it is proposed that “a thing is good because it is ‘natural’, or bad because it is ‘unnatural'”. It is generally considered to be a bad argument because the implicit (unstated) primary premise “What is natural is good” is typically irrelevant, having no cogent meaning in practice, or is an opinion instead of a fact.

I had previously called this argument “the naturalistic fallacy“, but that in fact is not exactly the same thing, as was pointed out to me in a comment by reader ThyroidPlanet. According to Wikipedia, the naturalistic fallacy is this (it’s also distinguishes it from the appeal to nature):

In philosophical ethics, the naturalistic fallacy is the mistake of explaining something as being good reductively, in terms of natural properties such as pleasant or desirable. The term was introduced by British philosopher G. E. Moore in his 1903 book Principia Ethica.

Moore’s naturalistic fallacy is closely related to the is–ought problem, which comes from David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature (1738–40). However, unlike Hume’s view of the is–ought problem, Moore (and other proponents of ethical non-naturalism) did not consider the naturalistic fallacy to be at odds with moral realism.

The naturalistic fallacy should not be confused with the appeal to nature, which is exemplified by forms of reasoning such as “Something is natural; therefore, it is morally acceptable” or “This property is unnatural; therefore, this property is undesirable.” Such inferences are common in discussions of medicine, sexuality, environmentalism, gender roles, race, and carnism.

So I’ll use the proper term “appeal to nature” from now on. That is “what is natural is good” as opposed to “what is natural is what we ought to do.”

These days, biology is now being infused with wokeness to the extent that this appeal to nature is becoming increasingly common. It’s now moved on to the pages of the Washington Post, as you can see from the title of its magazine’s article below.  Now “catching on” probably means here that scientists have previously ignored or covered up “homosexuality” in animals, same-sex bonding, or other behaviors that are considered “queer” in humans. And that is true: many biologists didn’t want to admit that such behavior existed because it was seen as shameful or degenerate. A great example, which I discuss in my lectures in Antarctica, is George Levick’s studies of sexual behavior in Adélie penguins.

But “catching on” could have a double meaning: that “the observation of such behaviors in animals somehow justifies LGBTQ+ people and activities as good or moral because they are seen in other species in nature.” In fact, one researcher in the article below, written by graduate student Eliot Schrefer, admits as much—the ideology drives the research, but the research is then said to buttress the ideology. It’s a self-justifying kind of circular research.

As I’ve said many times and don’t really want to repeat (but will), one should not justify human sexual proclivities, behaviors or identities by pointing to similarities in nature. First of all, showing that, say, homosexual behavior exists in some animals does not necessarily call for the approbation of gay behavior in humans. Long before researchers knew that animals like penguins and birds and other primates have same-sex sexual behavior, homosexuality was still denigrated in humans. That’s because it was considered “abnormal” in our species, and what happened in other animals was pretty much irrelevant. Oscar Wilde spent two years in jail not because Adelie penguins try to copulate with other males, but because homsexuality was seen as abnormal and degenerate in humans.

That view has now changed, but it didn’t because of observations of animal behavior. Yes, these observations of same-sex sexual behavior or pairing are of great value to the study of behavior, but they haven’t been a major factor in changing our views of gay people, transsexuals, and other members of the LGBTQ+ alphabet. Those changes have come about from changes in human morality: the realization that different people have different constitutions and impulses, and that their activities, far from damaging society, enrich it because we can imagine ourselves in such positions and recognize that the diversity is not in the least harmful. It didn’t take the observation of “races” in animals (yes, they exist, defined by botanists and zoologists as genetically distinguishable populations) to justify racial equality in humans.

Further, if we’re going to point to sexual behavior of animals as “natural” and therefore justifiable in humans, you’d have to accept stuff like forcible copulation in animals (i.e. “rape” in humans), copulation that can kill females (as in ducks), necrophilia, the consumption of your mate after copulation, hypodermic insemination (as in bedbugs, which bypasses a female’s choice), pedophilia (animals sometimes try to mate with juveniles), and so on. Not to mention other “natural” behaviors like infanticide, theft, adultery, murder, and the whole gamut of sins and immoral acts. Yes, the “appeal to nature” should not be a part of biology, nor used to justify human behaviors or proclivities. We have our own tools—the rationality and morality of our big brains—to adjudicate human behavior.

So I’m not a fan of articles like the one below. Click to read a long article on the appeal to nature.

You can read the piece for yourself by clicking on the headline; I’ll give just a few quotes to show its tenor. One argument that I won’t discuss much now, but needs discussion, is the idea that same-sex pairing, bonding, or copulation might actually be an evolved adaptation, even though it would seem that this would impede the production of offspring. (Natural selection, of course, would not favor the appearance of such an impediment.) This may be true in some cases, but in others is certainly not. In my fruit flies, for example, males have evolved to try to mate with nearly anything, while (as is often the case in animals) females are choosier and resistant to copulating with just any male. You might often see males courting or trying to copulate with other males, but that’s just a “spandrel” of their hypersexuality and the fact that they lose little by seeing nearly anything—including a small ball of dust—as a potential mate. Some of evolved same-sex behavior in other species may be examples of such spandrels. But more on that another day.

A few quotes. First, an ideological rationale for the work:

As a graduate student in animal studies, I’ve often faced an unpleasant prospect: The theory of natural selection, at least as it’s classically considered, could argue that queerness shouldn’t exist. In a Noah’s Ark conception of life, with dutifully procreating male-female pairs for each animal species, non-straight behavior seems to disrupt the natural order by preventing the transmission of genes over generations. This conundrum has started to feel far more than academic in recent months, as multiple states have passed legislation restricting reading about or even discussing LGBTQIA+ identities in schools. The logic behind such laws, it seems to me, goes something like this: If queerness doesn’t come about naturally, then it can be walled out of human populations by limiting access to the very idea of it.

The recent surge in same-sex animal scholarship, however, offers a powerful challenge to that thinking. For hundreds of years, it turns out, we’ve been looking at animal sex through too narrow a lens — with significant consequences for our beliefs about what counts as natural in our own species.

Ideological motivation for the work:

Evolutionary biologist Mounica Kota is a fan of Laysan albatrosses, for whom up to a third of the nests are female-female. “They’re like my lesbian moms. I have a big photograph of them in my office,” she told me. She’s part of the new generation of openly LGBTQIA+ scientists who are frank about how their personal identity aligns with their professional research, even if it opens them to accusations of partiality. Kota, who is a lesbian, struggled with coming out earlier in life, and she was heartened by a class in animal behavior that she took as an undergrad.

This is a slippery path to tread, because it almost begs your research results to align with your personal identity. How would you feel if it didn’t?

Some researchers are conscious of this bias, though, and try to compensate for it:

Sidney Woodruff, a PhD candidate in ecology at the University of California at Davis, has been studying conservation of the western pond turtle, which lacks sex chromosomes and whose sex is instead determined by incubation temperatures — a phenomenon turtle researchers dub “girls are hot, boys are cool.” Woodruff, who identifies as nonbinary and queer, feels kinship with animals who also cross sexual binaries — but they treat this personal element as a source of caution as much as anything else. “I have to keep in mind that if I’m researching sex and wildlife species, I’ll want it to be a certain way because of my own gender and sexual identity,” Woodruff told me. “It’s a lot of power that we have, but in our quest to find inaccuracies in previous research, we have to make sure we’re also being humble enough to know that we’re not always going to get the answer we want.”

When the article gets to the notion that same-sex behavior or bonding might actually have evolved by natural selection, however, the desire by some researchers to find an adaptive reason seems compelling, which could lead to “just so” stories. In contrast, though, we have anthropologist Paul Vasey, who after years of looking for evolutionary rationales for female-female sex in Japanese macaques, concluded that they do it “simply because they derive pleasure from it.” Like masturbation or sex between prison inmates, it need not be an adaptation, but a spandrel of evolved sexual desire.

To me, the article, though it does have caveats, seems like a long discussion motivated by the “appeal to nature,” and I wish the author would have discussed the fallacy of that kind of argument. Indeed, near the end of the article, Schrefer comes close to that in this sentence:

Like the Edinburgh penguins, many animals are sexually monomorphic, meaning males and females are indistinguishable to human eyes. This makes it all too easy to map our own assumptions onto their sex lives — and to tell ourselves a false story about which actions are “natural” and which are not.

And the article’s description of the variety of sexual behavior in animals is generally good, though of course it neglects the many species that do NOT have LGBTQ+-like behaviors, giving a biased view of sexuality in animals. And, at the end, author Schrefer can’t stop himself from nudging up against the appeal to nature:

We might have known about the sheer diversity of animal sexuality a long time ago if we, as a culture, had managed to lower our blinders. “We like to think we derive a lot of our ideas from the animal world, but it’s actually the opposite,” says Kota. “We put a lot of our ideas onto the animal world.” Now, we have begun to see a more complicated truth about animals — and also, perhaps, about ourselves.

I wonder what that “complicated truth” is.

London’s Natural History Museum commits the naturalistic fallacy—repeatedly

June 30, 2022 • 9:15 am

It appears, from the tweet below, that London’s famed Natural History Museum has taken its place in the Woke Parade, for the tweet below clearly means to validate different human gender identities and parade the Museum’s pro-LGBTQ+ credentials by publicizing the several lizard species that don’t require male sperm to have offspring. This phenomenon is called parthenogenesis, meaning “a form of asexual reproduction in animals that does not require fertilization by sperm.” In effect, all members of a parthenogenetic species (if one can call them “species”) are female.

What irks me is that this has NOTHING to do with LGBTQ+ people, who do not reproduce without fertilization. None of us do! This is simply virtue-signalling using animals to support human behaviors (I suppose it’s relevant to gender identity in this case, or if you are an extremist, the superfluity or toxicity of males). And vindicating human behavior by pointing to animals is a form of the “naturalistic fallacy“: the view that “whatever is natural must be good.” If you think I’m overinterpreting the intention of this series, have a look at the second video below or full Monty tour (a 26-minute video) produced by the Natural History Museum.

Of course humans don’t have parthenogenesis, so connecting it with LGBTQ+ in a video tour (see below) is simply mistaken. The naturalistic fallacy, too, is mistaken: that’s why they call it a “fallacy”.  There are plenty of natural animal behaviors that we would not want to see in our species, including infanticide, murder of conspecifics, cannibalism, eating one’s mate after copulation, robbery, adultery, theft, and the whole gamut of crimes and sins.

Yet Leftist biologists in particular are prone to this fallacy, constantly pointing to the diversity of sexual behavior in animals to somehow justify the diversity of sexual behavior in our own species. If I hear one more person bang on about how the clownfish—a sequential hermaphrodite that can change from male to female when a female in a group dies—I’ll scream. (Note that there is a definite change from one binary sex to another: a change from producing sperm to eggs.) Gender or sex change in humans need not be justified by pointing to its occurrence in nature: it’s something to accept and respect regardless of whether it occurs in nature. (And if it didn’t, would that make transsexuality bad because it’s “unnatural”?)

The orange clownfish (Amphiprion percula) much beloved by biologists who commit the naturalistic fallacy. Nemo is of course one of these.

But I digress. Offspring produced without male fertilization are common among invertebrates, especially insects. Vertebrates can have it too: it’s been seen not just in lizards, but in snakes, sharks, fish, and birds. In some of these (like the Komodo dragon), parthenogenesis may occur alongside normal reproduction, and so two sexes are not just present, but “needed”, for without males, the parthenogenetic variant would eventually disappear. (Whether to call parthenogenetic lineages that are genetically different as “different species from each other” is, as I implie above, a matter of taste.)

Komodo dragons MATING. Yes, males are needed to keep the species going.

Parthenogenesis in reptiles, is, as the video below shows, usually results from hybridization between two species. The hybrid offspring have two different genomes, one genome from each of the parental species, and this may mess up the normal process of meiosis that forms sperm and eggs. If it gets messed up in hybrids that, without fertilization, eggs can go on to develop into adults (and these eggs must still have two genomes), we have parthenogenesis.

Sometimes the asexual reproduction persists and we get a new “species”, but a feature of parthenogenesis like this is that it is very often an “evolutionary dead end.” For reasons probably connected with a lack of genetic variation, parthenogens don’t hang around for long as a group. They tend to go extinct well before other species. We know this because looking at the genes of the parthenogenic individuals show that they’re very similar to those of the parental species, which means that the new asexual form hasn’t been around long enough to genetically diverge from the two parental species. The “dead end” nature of this asexual process isn’t mentioned by the Natural History Museum!

Even in parthenogenesis, two sexes are sometimes “needed”, because in many forms of the trait, even in reptiles, sexual activity is needed, even without fertilization. This can take the form of a female mounting another female (“pseuocopulation”), or even copulation with males from one of the parental species—copulation that doesn’t cause fertilization. For some reason we don’t understand, the process of egg development may require a behavioral trigger of copulation or pseudocopulation. Thus the Natural History Museum is also misleading in saying that “two sexes aren’t needed.”  In some cases they are, though they’re needed in one of the two parental species.

Finally, the Natural History Museum errs by saying that all parthenogenic reptiles are clones (genetically identical to the mother). This isn’t true. There are a variety of ways that animals can produce offspring without sex. Some of these involve all the offspring being clones, producing eggs by simple development of an egg that happens to have the same genomic constitution of a mother, i.e. two copies of each chromosome. This form, called apomixis, produces offspring that are all genetically identical to themselves and to their mother. These are all clones.

But there’s another way of reproducing without sex that produces genetically diverse offspring. It’s called automixis, and can occur in several ways. One is that meiosis (production of gametes) produces genetically diverse egg cells, two of which can fuse to form a diploid egg that’s capable of becoming an adult. Since the eggs themselves are genetically different, the diploid eggs will differ from each other too, and  thus the offspring that result will not be clones of each other—or of the mother. Some lizards use this method of reproduction, and so the offspring are not “clones”.

That’s the biology lesson, so you can see that there are at least two errors in the Natural History Museum tweet that I’ve put below again.. However, the tweet’s purpose is not scientific accuracy, but to imply that reproduction without sex somehow supports LGBTQ+ people. As I said, it doesn’t, for no LGBTQ+ folks, or any other human, reproduces parthenogenetically. Readers may wonder what mindset made someone decided that parthenogenetic lizards are part of the “LGBTQ+ tour.”

The video below, labeled above and on YouTube as another part of the LGBTQ+ natural history tour, is pretty anodyne, and in fact doesn’t even mention the L+ sequence. But look at the one below that,designed to vindicate human homosexuality by showing that some beetles have same-sex behavior!

Oy vey! The advantage of the video below is that it’s short. It describes same-sex sexual behavior in insects. Why? Because it’s meant to show that homosexual behavior in humans. because it occur in animals, is “natural”. Ergo, we can’t criticize it. But as I said in my review of Joan Roughgarden’s book Evolution’s Rainbow, a review published in the Times Literary Supplement, this argument doesn’t hold water:

But regardless of the truth of Darwin’s theory, should we consult nature to determine which of our behaviours are to be considered normal or moral? Homosexuality may indeed occur in species other than our own, but so do infanticide, robbery and extra-pair copulation.  If the gay cause is somehow boosted by parallels from nature, then so are the causes of child-killers, thieves and adulterers. And given the cultural milieu in which human sexuality and gender are expressed, how closely can we compare ourselves to other species? In what sense does a fish who changes sex resemble a transgendered person? The fish presumably experiences neither distressing feelings about inhabiting the wrong body, nor ostracism by other fish. In some baboons, the only males who show homosexual behaviour are those denied access to females by more dominant males. How can this possibly be equated to human homosexuality?

Ironically, while narratorJosh Davis, says that the early entomologists describing same-sex copulation in insects did so to justify homosexuality as “natural” in humans, Davis doesn’t go on to say that this whole endeavor is meaningless.  What if there were no same-sex behavior in insects or other animals? Would that mean that human homosexuality should be deemed abnormal and deplorable? Of course not!

This whole “LGBTQ+ four of the Natural History Museum appears to rest entirely on the naturalistic fallacy (see the  26-minute video, too). Whatever happens vis-à-vis sex in animals has nothing to do with how we regard homosexuality (or any other non-cis sexual behavior) in humans. We do lots of things that animals don’t, and judging our behavior, morally or otherwise, must rest entirely on human considerations like the morality we’ve developed that isn’t seen in animals. It’s ironic that in their desire to be au courant with woke ideology, biologists have reverted to adopting a fallacy that they rejected long ago.

The Natural History Museum has fallen into a real trap here, and it’s embarrassing that it are producing these videos. But of course science is now increasingly prey to “progressive” ideology, and so much worse for science.

Be sure to watch the long video that claims that “some sheep are homosexual”—in the human sense. That is, they choose to be homosexual—as if human gay people choose. It’s all a big mess.

h/t:  Luana, Greg Mayer


Emily Yoffe on Biden’s rollback of Title IX regulations

June 27, 2022 • 1:00 pm

I keep saying that one good thing that the Trump administration did was to reform of the disciplinary procedure for sexual assault and harassment on campus as stipulated by Title IX (see posts here).  Those determined to maintain that everything that the Trump government did was bad has to argue that the DeVos reforms, which really created a fairer procedure for prosecuting these accusations, was somehow bad. But DeVos’s reforms included allowing the accused to know the charges against him (yes, usually a male), giving the accused the right to face the accuser, and with a lawyer or “helper”, and allowing a form of cross-examination. Further, in many cases, the investigator was the same person who judged whether the accused was guilty or not. That was ditched under DeVos.

Finally, the DeVos rules stipulated that guilt required not just a “preponderance of evidence” (greater than a 50% that the accused did the act) but a higher bar: “clear and convincing evidence”. That is, conviction required that it must be “highly probable or reasonably certain” that harassment or assault was done by the accused. This is conventionally interpreted to mean a likelihood of 75% or higher.

When I took a poll of what standards readers thought were best, they went with “take it to the police first”, and only then, if the accused was convicted, would they go with the “clear and convincing evidence” standard in a college investigation. In fact, since these are crimes (with the exception of some forms of what is defined as “harassment”), that’s a good idea.

Here are the results of our poll (note: this is not a scientific poll!):


And as I noted in June, one of the bad things that the Biden administration is now doing is rolling back DeVos’s reforms to the days when the rules (suggestions, really) were  codified in a “Dear Colleague” letter from Obama.

Now Emily Yoffe, whose writings I’ve found eminently sensible and who specializes in writing about Title IX and accusations of sexual misconduct, has a piece on Bari Weiss’s site agreeing that Biden’s changes are for the worse. Click to read (it’s free, but  subscribe if you read Weiss often).

A few quotes. I like this one because I’ve agreed with it (emphasis is mine):

Joe Biden has fulfilled one of the first promises he made upon becoming president. His administration has just announced a comprehensive set of regulations—701 pages worth—that will gut due-process rights for college students accused of sexual misconduct.

. . .Then Donald Trump was elected president, and Betsy DeVos, decided to reform what the Obama administration had done. In one of the most uncharacteristic acts of that chaotic presidency, DeVos went through the lengthy and burdensome process of writing actual regulations (the Obama administration had only issued “guidance”). The rules she released were, on balance, careful and thorough, providing necessary protections for the rights of both accuser and accused. I spent several years reporting on what was unfolding on campuses, and I wrote at the time that the DeVos regulations were an example of an immoral administration doing the moral thing. (See, for example, here and here.)

The DeVos rules went into effect in August of 2020, in the midst of campus covid shutdowns, so they have hardly had a chance to be tested. Now they will be struck. They will be replaced by some of the most pernicious procedures of the Obama era. (These dueling Department of Education regulations come under the aegis of Title IX, the fifty-year old federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.)

And so it’s back to the bad old days:

The new rules recommend a return to a “single investigator” model that was barred under the DeVos reform. This means one administrator can act as detective, prosecutor, judge, and jury on a Title IX complaint. The new rules also undo many of the procedural protections for the accused—including the right to see all the evidence, inculpatory and exculpatory, gathered against him. “It’s an evisceration of the procedural protections given to the accused,” says historian KC Johnson, co-author of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities.

Under the DeVos rules, adjudication of a formal complaint required a live hearing be held that included cross examination. The Biden administration lifts this obligation. The Biden rules also call for a return to investigations initiated by third parties, even if based on rumors or misunderstandings, in which male students can be subjected to Title IX proceedings over the objection of their female partners. (Robby Soave at Reason has a good summary of the Biden proposals.)

“It’s a document that validates all of the concerns we had about due process and free speech being on the chopping block,” says Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.  He adds that the administration is giving schools the blessing of the Department of Education “to cut many corners that are essential for fundamental fairness.”

I can’t imagine how people could say that the new rules make the process fairer than using the DeVos rules. How can it be fair when the prosecution is identical to the jury? How can it be fair to not see all the evidence against you? How can it be fair to prohibit cross examination of the accuser? After all, this process can ruin your life; so it must be adjudicated with at least the care of a court case. (And the standard for legal guilt is even harsher: guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.)

As predicted, men found guilty under the Obama-era procedure began filing lawsuits against their colleges for “unfair treatment”. There have been around 675 of these, and many that have been adjudicated have decried the college procedures and fined the universities.  That itself should raise a red flag for Biden’s proposed regulations.

There are other things discussed in Yoffe’s piece, including Biden’s stipulations about gender identity, participation in sports, and the new industry of hiring thousands of Title IX bureaucrats, but I’ll leave you to read and judge these issues for yourself.  Here’s just one more quote:

But no matter what the new regulations demand, it is likely that at the end of the Biden administration, the president will have to concede that he failed to make a dent in accusations of sexual misconduct on campus. This won’t be because campus administrators are indifferent to mass criminal activity by male students. It will be, in large part, because of the bureaucratic expansion the Obama administration instigated. They helped establish an industry of Title IX officials, investigators, lawyers, and consultants.

. . . Then there is human nature itself. Young men and women are going to engage in sexual exploration. Sometimes it’s going to go badly. In many cases, no matter how many hundreds of pages of regulations are churned out by the federal government, turning to Title IX bureaucrats is not going to make things better.

I’m a Democrat, and I voted for Biden. But I am not going to lionize everything that his administration does. The return to the old Title IX regulations for trying cases of sexual misconduct is one of the Biden administration’s clear mistakes.

Fallout from FINA’s ruling on transgender athletes: Soccer and other sports likely to follow, rugby bans transgender players from international competitions

June 21, 2022 • 9:30 am

Here’s a bit of fallout from yesterday’s decision on the participation of transgender people in swimming.

As I discussed yesterday, FINA, the governing body of international swimming, diving, and other water sports, has issued its new (but possibly provisional) rules on competition of transgender athletes. They call for the exclusion of transgender women from competition with biological women if the transgender women have gone through the most critical part of male puberty; the allowing of all transgender athletes to compete in the “men’s” category; and the creation of a new “open” category for transgender women who have gone through most of puberty.

This seemed to me a sensible solution, since it’s male puberty itself that gives transgender women an athletic advantage, while basing the rules on testosterone level and period of lowered testosterone (or on nothing at all in some places) is confusing and less supportable by research.

Now, according to this article in the Times of London (click on screenshot), the FINA rules may soon be applied more widely. The article actually has appeared twice with the same link but two different headlines (the newer one includes rugby news), so I’ll put the second headline below. Click either to read, though you may get paywalled:

Let’s leave rugby for the end, as the first story reflects what may be a wider decision.

World Athletics is the world governing body for amateur sports, except apparently water sports. It also governs who can compete in the Olympics. Wikipedia describes its mission like this:

World Athletics is the international governing body for the sport of athletics, covering track and field, cross country running, road running, race walking, mountain running, and ultra running. Included in its charge are the standardization of rules and regulations for the sports, certification of athletic facilities, recognition and management of world records, and the organisation and sanctioning of athletics competitions, including the World Athletics Championships. The organisation’s president is Sebastian Coe of the United Kingdom, who was elected in 2015 and re-elected unopposed in 2019 for a further four years.

President Coe just issued a statement implying that his organization is likely to follow FINA in other sports, and these sports may be many. As the Times reported in the earlier story:

World Athletics is likely to follow swimming in imposing a ban on transgender athletes from elite women’s races, with its president, Lord Coe, stressing that “biology trumps gender” when it comes to fairness in competition.

Football’s world governing body, Fifa, is also considering following the international swimming federation Fina’s new policy, which states that anyone who has gone through male puberty cannot take part in female competitions regardless of whether they have transitioned to become a woman.

Fina plans to create an open category and a protected female category. Coe said athletics’ rules are being reviewed but he made it clear which side of the argument he falls on and applauded swimming for its stance.

“We see an international federation asserting its primacy in setting rules, regulations and policies that are in the best interest of its sport,” Coe said. “This is as it should be. We have always believed, and repeated constantly, that biology trumps gender and we will continue to review our regulations in line with this.

“My responsibility is to protect the integrity of women’s sport and we take that very seriously. If it means that we have to make adjustments to protocols going forward, we will. And I’ve always made it clear.

“If we ever get pushed into a corner to that point where we’re making a judgment about fairness or inclusion, I will always fall down on the side of fairness. You have to, you have to, and that’s my responsibility.”

. . . On the debate around the participation of transgender athletes specifically, Coe added: “Transgender is a societal issue, it’s not a new issue. But, in sport, it certainly is. And, as you know, in 2019, we brought into alignment our DSD and our transgender regulations. And, again, in transgender, that is something that we are also looking at.

“Biology trumps gender” is the operant phrase here, but I’m not sure how much influence Coe has on the rules concocted by his association.

Below Coe takes up the issue of whether these new sports rules reflect “transphobia” or other animus against transgender people, and he denies it, as do all of us who think the issue of sports deserves a carve-out among transgender issues.

“If one of my colleagues here in my team suddenly becomes transgender, it doesn’t make a difference to me. They will continue to do the same job, they will continue to do the same job with skill and aplomb in exactly the way they were before they made that transition. This is not possible in sport. It is fundamental to performance and integrity and that, for me, is the big, big difference.”

Further, the FINA rules dictate that athletes with the “46 XY DSD” syndrome, who have a male X/Y chromosome constitution but with abnormal or ambiguous genitalia, must also compete in the men’s category. I believe Caster Semenya has this syndrome, but she was allowed to compete in the Olympics against biological women, winning several medals. If the FINA rules are adopted by World Athletics, she must compete against men.

As for football (soccer), the governing body is also contemplating adopting FINA’s rules, though I haven’t heard of any issues around transgender females competing in women’s soccer. (As always, the issue is about women’s sports: few people have any qualms about allowing transgender men to compete in men’s sports.)

Football’s world governing body, Fifa, is also considering following the international swimming federation Fina’s new policy, which states that anyone who has gone through male puberty cannot take part in female competitions regardless of whether they have transitioned to become a woman.

The FA’s [Football Association, the governing body of UK soccer] chairwoman Debbie Hewitt also said that any policy had to ensure fairness as well as inclusion. The FA is working on guidelines for grassroots football which may be different to those in elite competition.

Finally, the rugby news was added since I first read this piece two days ago.

Transgender athletes have been blocked from competing in women’s international rugby league matches, including this year’s World Cup, with football and athletics set to impose similar bans.

The International Rugby League (IRL) said it would use the end-of-year event to help develop a “transwomen inclusion policy” for the future which “takes into consideration the unique characteristics of rugby league”.

Note that there are two types of rugby: Rugby League football is a full-contact sport with 13 players on each team. Ruby union has less contact and 15 players on each team. Right now they have different rules about how transgender women can compete with biological women: Rugby union will adhere to the FINA standards, but right now rugby league uses a testosterone titer (see below).  The International Rugby League, which governs the rugby league version of the sport, may well also revert to the FINA standards.

As noted below, the rules about who can compete in women’s leagues is a confusing farrago depending on the sport. Rules often rely on testosterone titer and duration of treatment, and there is no uniform standard. As the athletic advantages of male puberty apply across nearly every sport, I see no reason not to apply a uniform standard across all sports in which males gain an athletic advantage through puberty. Based on current research, the FINA standard seems to me the best present alternative. It can and should, of course, be re-examined as future research comes in. 

Here are the current standards for transgender women’s participation in various sports as given in the Times:

Olympics The IOC encourages international federations to have their own individual policies and has dropped its previous guidelines for testosterone levels to be below 10 nanomoles (nmol) per litre for 12 months.
: Players who have gone through male puberty are not allowed to swim in elite female competition.
: World Athletics’ policy is under review but its existing rules state that transgender women can compete in female competition if their testosterone levels have been below 5 nmol per litre for 12 months.
: Fifa is conducting a consultation process but senior figures say it is likely that players who have gone through male puberty would not be able to play in elite female competition, or only with greatly reduced testosterone levels. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis at present.
: The UCI last week cut the maximum testosterone level allowed in transgender women riders to 2.5 nmol per litre instead of five, with a two-year transition period instead of 12 months.
: The ECB is reviewing its policy for domestic cricket which allows transgender women to take part in elite female competitions subject to approval by the governing body. The ICC’s policy allows trans women to play women’s cricket at international level if their testosterone level has been under 5 nmol per litre for 12 months.
Rugby union
: Transgender women who transitioned post-puberty and have experienced the biological effects of testosterone during puberty and adolescence cannot currently play women’s rugby.
Rugby league
: The international federation is expected to announce a new policy by the end of the year. At the moment it also has the rule of testosterone levels being below 5 nmol per litre for 12 months.
: The ITF also follows the rule of testosterone levels being below 5 nmol per litre for 12 months.

As far as I know, the American Civil Liberties Union hasn’t yet weighed in on the FINA swimming guidelines, but if you look at their page of assertions about transgender athletes, it’s likely they’ll raise a ruckus.

Here are the four FACTS asserted by the ACLU in large, bold type:

FACT: Including trans athletes will benefit everyone.

FACT: Trans athletes do not have an unfair advantage in sports

FACT: Trans girls are girls.

FACT: Trans people belong on the same teams as other students.

None of these are facts; they are all opinions, and the first and second opinions can in principle be tested.  But I’ll leave the ACLU alone for now. By dying on this hill, they’re only making themselves look bad.

FINA, the governing body of international swimming and water sports, largely bans transgender women from competing in “elite” events

June 20, 2022 • 10:45 am

Those of us who have questioned the fairness to biological women of allowing transgender women to compete against cisgender women in sports have been tarred with the adjective “transphobe”.  That’s palpably unfair, but such slurs are often used to shut down debate, as they have been in this case.

I wonder, then, what trans activists will call this new decision of FINA, the body governing international competition in water sports like swimming, water polo, and diving. (“FINA” stands for Fédération Internationale de Natation, or “the international swimming foundation”.)

The organization, advised by a board that included a “science group”, an “athlete group,” and a “legal and human rights group”, including transgender swimmers, has decided largely against allowing transgender women to compete internationally against biological women. (The policy passed with 71% of a vote from 152 members of FINA.) You can see FINA’s eligibility standards here, and read a summary of the conclusions by clicking on the NYT or BBC screenshots below.


From the BBC

The scientific basis of the regulations, which I’ll summarize in a second, came from this bit of the FINA report, which rests on a conclusion that’s pretty firm, and one we’ve discussed before (bolding is mine):

According to the Science Group, if gender-affirming male-to-female transition consistent with the medical standard of care is initiated after the onset of puberty, it will blunt some, but not all, of the effects of testosterone on body structure, muscle function, and other determinants of performance, but there will be persistent legacy effects that will give male-to-female transgender athletes (transgender women) a relative performance advantage over biological females. A biological female athlete cannot overcome that advantage through training or nutrition. Nor can they take additional testosterone to obtain the same advantage, because testosterone is a prohibited substance under the World Anti-Doping Code.

The policy, with the main points below, applies to all international (“elite”) competitions, but is likely to be adopted by other swimming (or athletic) organizations, which until now have had a confusing mixture of eligibility criteria based on levels of circulating testosterone over various periods. (USA Swimming, which regulates American college meets, recently changed its policy, which is still based on testosterone suppression and circulating hormone levels.)

  • Trangender females can compete in “elite” events only if they have either not gone through male puberty or only part of it. As the BBC notes,

“The 34-page policy document says that male-to-female transgender athletes can compete in the women’s category – but only “provided they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 [which marks the start of physical development], or before age 12, whichever is later”.

The “Tanner Stages” of puberty, of which there are five, define Stage 2 for women as follows:

Stage 2 marks the beginning of physical development. Hormones begin to send signals throughout the body.


Puberty usually starts between ages 9 and 11. Visible changes include:

In males, puberty usually starts around age 11. The testicles and skin around the testicles (scrotum) begin to get bigger.

Puberty usually starts around age 11. Changes include:

    • Testicles and skin around the testicles (scrotum) begin to get bigger.
    • Early stages of pubic hair form on the base of the penis.

If you’ve gone past Tanner stage 2 by the age of 12, you appear to be ineligible. This would rule out transsexual swimmer Lia Thomas—who went through full male puberty before deciding that her gender was female—from competing in the “women’s” category. In fact, it rules out anybody who’s gone through full male puberty from competing. But the statement about age 12 is a bit ambiguous, and any readers who want to explain it are welcome.

A 46, XY disorders of sexual development (DSD) is a condition in which an individual with one X chromosome and one Y chromosome in each cell, the pattern normally found in males, have genitalia that is not clearly male or female. Infants with this condition tend to have penoscrotal hypospadias, abnormal development of the testes, and reduced to no sperm production. Some individuals with 46, XY DSD have fully to underdeveloped female reproductive organs (e.g., uterus and fallopian tubes), while others do not. People with with 46, XY DSD may be raised as males or females.

The FINA rules for these individuals are that they must compete against biological males. From the FINA report:

All male athletes, including athletes with 46 XY DSD, are eligible to compete in FINA competitions and to set FINA World Records in the men’s category, regardless of their legal gender, gender identity, or gender expression.

  • The rules for female to male transgender athletes are these, which allows them to compete against biological males (from the FINA report):

Female-to-male transgender athletes (transgender men) are eligible to compete in FINA competitions and to set FINA World Records in the men’s category, except that: i. For the disciplines of Water Polo and High Diving, the athlete must provide to FINA an assumption of risk form (in the form set out in Appendix One to this Policy) signed and dated by the athlete or, if the athlete is a minor, by their legal proxy.

The risk form is in the FINA rules; this frees FINA from any responsibility for injury to transsexual males. Presumably Water Polo and High Diving are riskier for those born as biological females. This is the reason why the World Rugby barred all transgender women from playing women’s rugby: they worried that the strength and size advantages of transgender women would be dangerous to biological women in this heavy contact sport.

  • Finally, FINA is working on establishing an “open” category for those who can’t or don’t wish to compete in the “men’s” or “women’s” category. From the FINA guidelines:

Athletes who do not meet the applicable criteria for the men’s category or the women’s category may compete in any open events that FINA may develop in the future. FINA will begin work following the final promulgation of this Policy to determine the feasibility of establishing an open category in Aquatics sport disciplines, in which an athlete who meets the eligibility criteria for that event would be able to compete without regard to their sex, their legal gender, or their gender identity.

My take is that, given the science we know so far about the strength, size, and physiological advantages conferred on men during their puberty, and the evidence that these advantages last several years (and perhaps forever), these rules are fair.  What’s good about them is that they were informed by science, and can thus be modified in light of further scientific findings.

The fact is that although we have pretty good evidence that going through male puberty confers very long lasting athletic advantages, the studies investigating this are few.  All I can say is that the data on puberty itself is better than the data relating testosterone titer to athletic performance, for which we have little evidence, and evidence that’s conflicting and more controversial.

Reading the NYT and BBC article together, I got the distinct impression that the NYT tried to include a lot more criticism of these rules than did the BBC. I may be wrong, but it seems that the NYT went out of their way in a news article to level criticism of the FINA decision. But read both for yourself, for given my animus against the NYT I may be mistaken.

But if you want to see the rules in extenso, without any outside takes from non-FINA people, read the report for yourself. The first 18 pages of the 24-page report will give you the gist.

h/t: Jez, Enrico

Abigail Shrier on the Left’s targeting of gender issues

June 19, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I suppose it’s only natural that if you consider yourself a Leftist—even a “progressive” one—and you get disemboweled by your side for saying something politically offensive to your side, you will get resentful of your erstwhile allies.  In some cases, I think, these people can be driven rightwards, either on the whole or at least in some attitudes.  One example is the relentless pushing of ivermectin and dissing of covid vaccinations by Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying after they were driven from Evergreen State, but even they haven’t become right wingers. Other people have, I think, but I won’t name names because there’s no point.

You remember Abigail Shrier, a liberal who, two years ago, ran afoul of the Purity Posse when she published her book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. (It was briefly banned from Target).I read it, and it was certainly not nearly as awful as the P.P. makes out: it’s not in the least transphobic. In fact, Shrier’s book was an important warning about the possibility that the exponential rise in girls who wanted to be boys might have substantial social causes (a “fad” of sorts; see the second part of Andrew Sullivan’s latest column), and that the premature treatment of these girls with surgery, hormones, or puberty blockers might be dangerous, either physically or by ruining people’s lives. (Transsexuality, of course, is a necessary procedure for some.)

That warning desperately needed to be issued, and it turns out that Shrier is probably largely right (more on that this week).  But her latest piece, on Bari Weiss’s Substack site, takes out after the “left” as if it were a monolith bent on censoring anything that criticizes trans activism.  But we’re not monolithic; I’m on Shrier’s side and I’m on the Left.  Further, the Right itself is involved in anti-sexuality-information legislation that could ban conversion, or discussions of it, by people who honestly need to hear about it.

Click to read her piece:

Shrier goes after Child Protective Services (CPS) in Florida after Republican Governor Ron DeSantis said he might have CPS persecute parents who take their kids to drag shows. That’s a ridiculous threat, of course, and part of the Right’s fear of any sexuaity that isn’t “cis.”  But she also mentions this pending legislation from the Left:

In California, matters head from bad to worse: a new bill aspires to transform California into a “sanctuary state” for gender-swapping youth, making it possible for even a non-custodial parent to run to California to transition her child against her ex-spouse’s wishes.

The rectitude of that bill isn’t something I’ve pondered, but from these and other issues she raises a question:

Here, then, is the question: If our ultimate goal is returning to a normalcy in which government agencies and corporations treat all Americans fairly regardless of viewpoint, how are we to achieve this? At a minimum, we must acknowledge that these institutions are already weaponized and their artillery points only in one direction: against the opponents of the left. Acknowledge further that an ever-increasing tyranny is ratcheted upon those who dare criticize the encroachment of gender ideology into all spheres of public life. The playing field is about as level as San Francisco’s Filbert Street.

When I first read that, I read it as government and corporations weaponizing their artillery towards the “opponents of the Right”, which is the Left.  but then I realized that Shrier is indicting the Left here. And notice that she says “the left”, not “the extreme left” or the “progressive left”. I’m here to tell Ms. Shrier that there are still a lot of us who agree with her call for caution and are wary of affirmation therapy and other non-reversible incursions into young people’s biology.

Besides describing the demonization of her book and herself, she mentions several other cases of would-be censorship that you may not know about:

This week, conservative writers Ryan Anderson and Alexandra DeSanctis lost the ability to offer pre-orders of their new pro-life audiobook when the book’s distributor dropped them—on ideological grounds, of course. One year ago, Anderson’s critique of the transgender movement, When Harry Became Sally, was effectively vaporized—deleted by Amazon on the specious grounds that it “framed an LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.” (It’s nearly impossible to speak of gender dysphoria without reference to its inclusion in the DSM-5, psychiatry’s most authoritative manual of mental illnesses; indeed, the word “disorder” is in the title of the DSM.) Even third-party sales of Anderson’s book were banned from Amazon and all sites they control. Given that well over half of all U.S. book sales flow through its channels, Amazon’s actions represent an issue entirely different from Masterpiece Cakeshop (the difference is scale), as I’ve written before. An Amazon deletion is a death sentence for a book.

Not to be outdone, this week, PayPal and Etsy shut down the accounts of biological realist and writer Colin Wright for his persistence in arguing that there are only two sexes. Etsy permanently disabled Wright’s account—where he sold his “Reality’s Last Stand” merch promoting his newsletter—on the grounds that Wright “glorif[ied] hatred or violence toward protected groups.”

That’s a lie. Wright never did.

Wright is a biologist who made the grievous error of knowing a thing or two about biology and refusing to genuflect before the Torquemadas who insist he parrot their phony gender science. But of course, while Wright pays this price for his harmless (and, honestly, inoffensive) t-shirts and mugs, Etsy continues to list for sale stickers and pins and other bric-a-brac emblazoned with messages like “Fuck TERFs,” “TERFs can choke,” and “Shut the Fuck up TERF” with an anime creature pointing a semiautomatic handgun at its presumably female interlocutor.

There’s clearly a bad double standard at Etsy and Amazon, and this needs to stop. “Fuck TERFS”? Really? Are J. K. Rowling and Martina Navratilova TERFS? This will stop only when liberals call out this nonsense.

What also needs to stop is the demonization of those who assert the biological truth that there are two sexes in humans, male and female, even if there are many genders. In this respect, we are no different from most vertebrates, and the clownfish be damned (it’s the recurring Woke symbol of sequential hermaphroditism, which proves nothing about humans). It’s a telling sign of the craziness of our times that even biologists are beginning to doubt whether H. sapiens comes in two sexes, and that there’s no “spectrum of sex” between those who can produce sperm and those who can produce eggs.

So while Shrier somewhat unfairly accuses the left as a pure trans-activist monolisth, she is also on the mark about the double standard of Cancel Culture—a standard that’s in place simply because those on the simple “Left” or center Left are afraid to open their mouths for fear of being called racists.


Here is the problem: Almost every liberal will be content to allow our institutions and corporations to punish conservatives as long as they themselves remain unscathed. They may feel a pang of discomfort watching books deleted from Amazon, but until it is a book of theirs, they will continue to show a remarkable disinclination to speak up. (Yes, with the important exception of brave souls like J.K. Rowling, Elon Musk and Joe Rogan. And the moment liberals speak out against such censorship, they are accused of being right-wing and lose the left’s protection.)

As long as Amazon never deletes books by Rachel Maddow, Bob Woodward, Ezra Klein, or Paul Krugman, America’s large and powerful center-left has proven itself all-too-willing to allow the censorship to proceed. As long as only the left weaponizes every available corporation and government agency, America will continue its decade-long shrug.

Well, that’s a bit exaggerated because there are institutions that punish liberals. They’re called “southern and western American states”. Unfortunately, Big Media and corporations like Amazon are largely controlled by the progressive Left, but were they controlled by the Right we’d be in even bigger trouble. Each political extreme has its own double standard, and each wants some education censored, but one can’t just pin everything on just “the left.”  As the old saying goes, “It’s okay when we do it.”

Shrier ends with a depressing conclusion that I reached earlier today with respect to the ACLU:

Those waiting on the mythical pendulum to “swing back,” should stop holding their breath. The gender activists are True Believers, akin to jihadists: no amount of reasoning diminishes their resolve, no appeal to data brings them pause, no urge to consider the sanctity of American liberties will convince them to cool it.

It’s not just the gender activists who are true believers akin to religionists, but Wokies in general. For that point of view, read John McWhorter’s book Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America

Cathy Young on trans athletes

June 15, 2022 • 10:15 am

Reading time:  However long it takes. (I hate these “reading time” indications, since they steer people away from long pieces and individuals vary tremendously in their speed of reading.)


The eminently sensible Cathy Young has a pretty balanced article in Bulwark on trans athletes, dealing with what criteria we should use to allow transexual people to participate in sports that correspond to their own gender; the “fairness” of various solutions; and more of the arguments we’ve hashed out before.

At the end, though, she offers her own solution, but it doesn’t really seem a solution. Beyond that—and I don’t think there is a solution beyond creating “a league of their own”—her piece is quite good. Click below to read (it’s free).

The title refers to a new bill, Ohio’s “Save Women’s Sports Act”, that hasn’t yet been signed into law. Moreover, it’s completely ambiguous since it specifies several criteria for determining an athlete’s sex for sports participation. Young quotes the bill:

If a participant’s sex is disputed, the participant shall establish the participant’s sex by presenting a signed physician’s statement indicating the participant’s sex based upon only the following:

(1) The participant’s internal and external reproductive anatomy;

(2) The participant’s normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone;

(3) An analysis of the participant’s genetic makeup.

Young specifies the obvious flaws with this bill, the most obvious being which criteria should be used? One of them, or all? It’s also not clear whether the doctor has to actually do an exam, or just sign a statement. At any rate, this is a typical fumbling Republican effort to deal with the “biological sex versus gender” issue.

Yet that issue still needs dealing with somehow, though the present paucity of transsexual women athletes may rule out the “league of their own” argument. (The alternative is to allow all transsexual athletes to compete against men.)

You should read the whole article, as I’m not going to reprise facts or arguments that I’ve covered before. There is, however, one fact that I didn’t know (Young’s words are indented):

First, a sports policy group has proposed what Young herself settles on (see later): a “middle way” (my bolding below):

But it is also true that the nominally “conservative” camp on this issue includes many people who can hardly be suspected of fake concern for women’s sports, or of anti-LGBT bias. They include tennis great Martina Navratilova, the first professional athlete to publicly and voluntarily come out as gay—back in 1981, when it cost her a lot of money in endorsements from skittish corporations.

In December 2018, Navratilova rankled many of her fans by tweeting, “You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard.” After a backlash, she deleted the tweet and issued an apology of sorts: “I am sorry if I said anything anywhere near transphobic—certainly I meant no harm—I will educate myself better on this issue but meantime I will be quiet about it.” But those who expected Navratilova’s self-education to end in falling into lockstep with the progressive party line were disappointed. Less than two months later, she wrote an op-ed for the London Times reaffirming her view that requiring female athletes to “compete against people who, biologically, are still men” was “insane” and “cheating.” Since then, she has spoken out in support of Idaho’s law banning transgender athletes from competing in women’s and girls’ interscholastic sports. And, after President Biden issued an executive order on the day of his inauguration directing his administration to prevent and combat discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in a wide range of areas including school sports, Navratilova said that a “carve-out” was needed on “the higher level of high school, college and [professional]” athletics.

Navratilova is a cofounder of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, which opposes both blanket bans and full inclusion when it comes to transgender participation in girls’ and women’s sports, advocating instead a “middle way”: participation but not direct competition in some cases, and competition in others as long as the advantage conferred by male puberty is sufficiently mitigated. The group’s other members and supporters include Title IX pioneer and veteran gender equity advocate Donna Lopiano, civil rights lawyer and three-time Olympian swimming gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar, and groundbreaking transgender tennis player Renée Richards.

The first part, “participation but not direct competition”, simply means a new league. That has its own problems, but the second bit, “direct competition so long as the advantage conferred by male puberty is sufficiently mitigated” is even more problematic.  That’s because we do not know, and may never know, what it would take to “level the playing field” for transwomen athletes. (We’re always talking about transwomen competing against biological women since there seems to be no controversy about transmen being allowed to compete against biological men). How do we monitor an individual so that the athletic advantages of having gone through male puberty—advantages that last at least several years, and probably forever—are eliminated completely? I have no idea, nor does anybody else.

But I’ve said that before. The Biden order about transgender athletes, however, implies that biological men who simply identify as women, without any medical intervention towards transitioning, must be allowed to compete against biological women. That is in fact a widespread law (again, my emphasis)”

While transgender inclusion in women’s sports has been a contentious issue on the professional and Olympic levels, that debate has been shaped by the stringent requirements an athlete must meet to qualify. Scholastic sports are different, especially in K-12. As of 2019, 17 states allowed high school students to participate in sports in accordance with their gender identity without undergoing any medical procedures—surgical or hormonal—related to what is often called “sex reassignment” or “gender reassignment.” One of those states is Connecticut, where Andraya Yearwood won the state championships in the girls’ 100- and 200-meter sprints in 2017 without either puberty blockers or hormone therapy.

I don’t know many people who say that this law is at all fair to biological women athletes, nor does it “level the playing field.” If you’re transitioning and want to use a new gender identity to change sports leagues, surely, the transition must be more than just psychological. If not, then there is no rationale from separating men and women’s sports.

What interests me most is the argument that there’s no need to determine what would “level the playing field” for transwomen because, after all, even among biological women (or among biological men) there are differences in physical and physiological endowment, training, and so on, that give some women (or men) advantages over others of their biological sex. Michael Phelps has big hands and feet, so he can swim faster, and so on. . . .  That was an argument made by Sabine Hossenfelder in her video on the question (link below), and I found it unconvincing.

Here’s how Young answers this argument:

Since the debate has often been framed as one between fairness and inclusiveness, the question of what’s “fair” inevitably comes up. In a recent video examining the issue of trans athletes, German physicist and science commentator Sabine Hossenfelder concludes that “it seems clear from the data that trans women keep an advantage over cis women, even after several years of hormonal therapy” and that “no amount of training that cis women can do is going to make up for male puberty.” In that sense, Hossenfelder admits, trans inclusion “isn’t fair”—but then she pivots to the position that “athletic competition has never been fair in that sense”: Superior athletes, male or female, have genetic advantages over other people, whether it’s the runner’s long legs, the swimmer’s lung capacity, or the basketball player’s height. Others say that the “fairness” question is further diluted by the indisputable fact that young people from affluent families have vastly greater opportunities to benefit from training and coaching.

Such arguments, I suspect, are unlikely to persuade. Most people find it self-evident that the advantage Lia Thomas’s natal sex gives her over biological females is a fundamentally different kind of “unfair” than the advantage Michael Jordan’s genes give him over other males—just as, for instance, they instinctively feel that the advantage conferred by doping is a fundamentally different kind of “unfair” than the advantage conferred by having more time and resources to train. Social justice activists would likely argue that such assumptions arise from precisely the sort of deeply ingrained, culturally constructed biases that we should be encouraged to question: If we feel that the trans advantage is different, they suggest, it’s because, deep down, we don’t believe that transgender women are women. And yet, without getting into the thorny “What is a woman?” question, it is entirely possible to believe that trans identities are real and should be respected and that, in some areas including sports, biological sex matters—especially post-puberty. It’s possible to question cultural biases and still come away with that conclusion.

The philosophical question that needs to be dealt with in depth—and I haven’t seen it dealt with properly—is why a natal advantage in biological sex is fundamentally different from a natal (presumably largely genetic) advantage in future size, strength, and so on. The second set of advantages can be somewhat affected by the environment (training), but so can the gender difference. Yet we feel somehow that normal variation within a biological sex is fine for competition, but not variation due to differences between sexes. All I know is that I’d love to see an article on this, but haven’t, and woe to the person who writes it! (They’d better have the guts of Rebecca Tuvel.)

At the end, Young again proposes that there’s a middle ground, at least for college sports (K-12 sports is more difficult). Bolding again is mine:

Obviously, there is a huge swath of middle ground between “abolish women’s sports” and “assign athletes to teams based on birth sex only.” The USA Swimming guidelines, for instance, seem like a fairly reasonable compromise, at least if the experts on the review panels take seriously the responsibility to screen out transgender athletes who have a clear biological sex-related advantage over biologically female competitors. The NCAA’s decision to phase in those guidelines gradually rather than spring the new rules on Thomas after a season of grueling training is understandable. But the NCAA also created a situation in which the asterisk next to Thomas’s name was undeniable, and that could have been handled far better: for instance, by giving a co-championship to Weyant, the second-place finisher.

And here are the USA Swimming Guidelines:

In January 2022, the NCAA changed its policy so that eligibility rules in each sport were determined by the policies of that sport’s governing body—in Thomas’s case, USA Swimming. But then, in early February, USA Swimming changed its own rules, announcing two new requirements: Athletes applying to compete in women’s events must have at least 36 months of tests showing blood testosterone levels less than 5 nanomoles per liter (average female levels are 0.5-2.4, compared to 10-35 for males) and must provide evidence, to be assessed by a panel of three independent experts, that the effects of male puberty do not give them “a competitive advantage over . . . cisgender female competitors.” This would have likely disqualified Thomas, who had only started hormone therapy in March 2019.

But there is not an iota of evidence that those hormone levels eliminate any competitive advantage of transsexual women resulting from having gone through puberty as a biological man.  Again, we have no data bearing on the issue of “how to eliminate advantages” at all.

And it doesn’t make it any better to stipulate that “three independent experts” have testified that male puberty has not given a transsexual woman a competitive advantage. How could the experts possibly know that without the relevant data? And what would that data actually be?

h/t: Paul

How many people must be appeased to warrant a change in language?

June 9, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I wonder whether people in the future will look back at this time of Newspeak as a great moral advance or as a time of semantic craziness. I tend to side with the latter in cases where only a few members of a group are offended by a usage. For example, I tend to use the slightly inaccurate “Hispanic” instead of “Latinx” since only 3% of Hispanics use the new and awkward term. (It has also transformed itself into “Latine”, which I suspect is used by even fewer.) If “Latinx” and “Latine” aren’t favored by Hispanics, who is pushing the adoption of this term? People who aren’t Hispanic, of course. It is performative semantics.

What about “woman”?  If you object to its use in nearly any general context, you tend to be called a “transphobe”, though I, for one, have no objection to calling transgender women “women” out of civility, though I also consider them biological men.

This new article in the NYT takes up the issue (an editorial is soon to follow). Click to read:

You surely know that because transgender men who retain the ability to give birth object to being called “women”, that term is gradually being phased out of many venues.  One of the biggest advocates of this change is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which no longer prioritizes the rights of people with whom they disagree. Like the Southern Poverty Leadership Conference, they are becoming thoroughly woke. Here are two of their tweets.

Where is the group most harmed by abortion bans? They’re not even mentioned, not even as “people born with vaginas.”

Here’s another one that I wrote about last September. In this case the ACLU deliberately omitted any of RBG’s words that referred to “women” (the originals are replace by words in brackets]. This verges on arrant dishonesty.  Ginsburg did NOT say the words in brackets.

The NYT gives a lot of other examples; here are a few:

Last year, the editor of The Lancet, a British medical journal, apologized for a cover that referred to “bodies with vaginas” rather than women.

Today, “pregnant people” and “birthing people” have elbowed aside “pregnant women.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a section on “Care for Breastfeeding People,” the governor of New York issued guidance on partners accompanying “birthing people” during Covid, and city and some state health departments offer “people who are pregnant” advice on “chestfeeding.”

The Cleveland Clinic, a well-known nonprofit hospital, posed a question on its website: “Who has a vagina?” Its answer begins, “People who are assigned female at birth (AFAB) have vaginas.” The American Cancer Society website recommends cancer screenings for “people with a cervix.”

This reflects a desire by medical professionals to find a language that does not exclude and gives comfort to those who give birth and identify as nonbinary or transgender.

And no matter how many posts I write, I just can’t bring myself to use the words “people with vaginas” or “people who are assigned female at birth” instead of “women”, though I’ll refer to transwomen as “transwomen” when that word is appropriate. And as a biologist I can’t pretend that sex (as opposed to gender) is a spectrum, or that it’s not even near being a binary.

The article above, which you can read for yourself, quotes people justifying this change not just on the grounds of equity, but because “language evolves.” But in this case language isn’t evolving naturally, it’s being forced to change at the point of a gun.

How many people who give birth are transgender men? The times reports 0.1 percent, or one birth in a thousand.

Is that sufficient to warrant such a substantial a language change? What if 0.1 % of all Jews objected to the term “Jew” because it sounds anti-Semitic? Would you start saying, “People of the Hebrew persuasion?” instead.

And the difference is not purely semantic: some women want to make a distinction between transgender women and biological women in athletics, in incarceration, and in rape counseling, and for reasons I consider reasonable.

Still, the ACLU and even the Biden administration want the legislation of complete moral and legal equivalence between transwomen and biological women (or transmen and biological men), even if there has been no surgical or medical intervention, and even if the change in gender involves nothing other than a verbal declaration.  Is that fair?

To be sure, even Joe Biden messes up sometimes:

Last year the Biden administration put out budget documents that reflected the gendered discourse of progressives and referred to “birthing people.” Conservatives pounced.

But this month, when word leaked of a potential Supreme Court turnabout, President Biden was unequivocal and practiced in his language choices. “I believe that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental,” he said. “Basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned.”

Is Biden a transphobe? I don’t think so. “Transphobia” literally means “fear of transsexual people”.  I am not afraid of transsexual people, and neither is Biden. But there are valid philosophical and moral questions that turn on what we define as “the sexes”. To favor discussion of these issues is not a “phobia” by any construal of the term.

So far, though, Congress hasn’t gone along with the language—even Bernie Sanders!

A few left-leaning congressional representatives have adopted movement language. Representative Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, testified last year about “birthing people.” But it is far more common to hear senators and congressional representatives, female and male alike, refer to women. “We cannot go back to the days when women had to risk their lives to end an unwanted pregnancy,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist who represents Vermont.

Is Bernie really a “transphobe”? He would be if the “progressive” Left was consistent in its slurs.

. . .“Activists are adopting symbols and language that are off-putting not just to the right but to people in the center and even liberals,” [Professor Steven Greene] noted.

For this reason he was not surprised when most Democratic politicians declined to echo the language of progressive organizations. “You don’t become a candidate for the presidency or speaker of the House by being dumb about what works in politics,” he said. “Democrats were not going to be afraid to use the word ‘women.’”

Here’s one solution:

Professor Greene questioned the wisdom of activists in insisting that a mass-based movement discard its base and core sexual identity. Why not, for instance, insist that women and transgender men are each embattled when it comes to abortion?

Doesn’t that type of usage solve the problem? For some reason I don’t think it will.

h/t: Paul

A novel idea about identity and affirmative action

June 3, 2022 • 1:15 pm

Well, here’s an interesting argument in Tablet from one of my colleagues, Eliot Gershon, a professor of both psychiatry and human genetics at the University of Chicago. (Gershon, who is Jewish, says he does not consider himself to be white, though he doesn’t specify which race he identifies as belonging to.) And that is one of the points of this article. The title tells it all: let people choose their gender and race, but give no group any advantage or disadvantage over another.  In other words, no affirmative action, but freely accept everyone’s identity.

Click to read (it’s free)

Gershon runs through a number of reasons why he opposes affirmative action, or any programs that favor groups based on identity (presumably he doesn’t oppose programs of aid based not on identity but on circumstance, like being poor or disabled). His arguments rest largely on those of Thomas Sowell, a conservative black scholar who laid out his views in a 1989 Commentary article, “Affirmative action: a worldwide disaster.” Gershon agrees: no privileging or disadvantaging people based on gender, race, or other identities.

On the other hand, he recognizes the difficulties of the way “race” is used as a social construct. He himself, as I said, doesn’t identify as “white” although he looks white. Gershon notes that people have only a small fraction of black ancestry can still identify as black, and reap affirmative-action benefits from it. (That reminds me of Elizabeth Warren’s claim to be Native American).

Gershon’s solution: allow people to choose whatever race they identify as, and respect that choice. That would make Rachel Dolezal black, and I agree with that stand to some extent. (Others don’t, saying that Dolezal “pretended” to be black. She did dissimulate, but I do believe she really felt she had a black identity.) Even if you don’t agree with Dolezal’s claim, under Gershon’s scheme only those who really felt they were members of other races or genders would declare that, for they’d have nothing to gain by “pretending.”

Here’s Gershon’s argument for “transracialism”.

Gender identity is widely accepted as a matter of choice for everyone. But gender fluidity is a doctrine, and it generates resentments. Many parents of young children resent fluid-gender-identity education programs; they have their own understanding that children in those ages should be encouraged to integrate and solidify the gender identity of their natal sex. Gender transition has also led to widespread resentment when male-to-female transgender athletes win prizes competing against girls and women who are born female. Yet in the same political and social context where gender is held to be a matter of choice, race is considered immutable. Any person can be accused of having “white privilege” or “unconscious bias,” regardless of their actual ancestry or beliefs.

Although there is a case to be made for gender transitions, there is a stronger case to be made for racial transitions. Gender as a social construct is very closely related to biological sex, an unambiguous characteristic of the vast majority of humans. Race is also a social construct, associated with statistical differences among population groups. Race, however, does not have a rational or scientific definition unambiguously applicable to all individuals, and for many people it is impossible to determine—leading to casually racist assumptions based on skin pigmentation or “one drop” theories that lack any legal or scientific currency.

The historic Supreme Court opinion of Plessy vs. Ferguson, which upheld racial segregation in 1896, involved Homer Plessy, an “octoroon” (a person of seven-eighths white and one-eighth Black ancestry) who was found riding in a whites-only railroad car. The popular and accepted concept at the time was that any amount of Black ancestry made a person Black, and this definition persists until this day. But how is it rational to call a person with Plessy’s ancestry Black rather than white?

There is nothing pure about race. As a category, it is remarkably fluid. In a modern American urban population, we statistical geneticists frequently find people who self-classify as white or Black but whose genotypes are ambiguous. People with the same amount of “white” or “Black” ancestry may identity with either race, or with neither race. Many people who are identified as “Latinx” by Harvard would identify themselves as “white,” while many “whites” would identify themselves as something else, based on ancestry, upbringing, culture, or personal affinity. Why should the state or private elite institutions be empowered to impose these slippery and often poorly framed identities on individuals without their consent, especially when the social cost to the society of doing so is real?

One way out of our current identity conflicts is to permit individuals to freely choose their own racial and gender identities and at the same time to forbid any societal rewards or penalties based on these identities. Chief Justice John Roberts famously opined in the 2007 Parents Involved in Community Schools (PICS)case, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” This does not fit the current sociopolitical milieu, but it would avoid the unwarranted beneficiaries and casualties of this milieu. Pursuing race- and gender-blindness under the law is preferable to enforced alternatives that have consistently failed for more than a century.

What do you think? I still believe in implementing some affirmative action, but perhaps it could be based not on race or gender identity, but on poverty or other circumstances that disadvantage people not based on their identity. (That would, of course, still give an advantage to minorities over nonminorities, but that would be a side effect of correcting inequities). In some ways affirmative action based on need rather than identity or race does seem fairer.

But I’ll have to think about this as I must go feed my ducks.

Comments very welcome below. This is an interesting idea!

h/t: Ginger K.

Title IX to be changed under Biden, and not necessarily for the better

June 3, 2022 • 11:15 am

I’ve written before that one of the few good things that the Trump administration did (probably actually the doing of Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, was to change the Title IX standards to create a fairer process when colleges adjudicate sexual harassment cases. (You can read my posts on that hereherehere, and here.) Title IX, you may recall, is a federal law that prohibits educational institutions partly funded by the government from discriminating on the basis of sex. It’s been used as the basis of sexual harassment cases, and has also gone a long way towards supporting women’s sports.

Here’s the original wording signed into law by Nixon:

“No person in the United States shall, based on sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Some of DeVos’s salubrious changes were the elevation of the “preponderance of evidence” standard in sexual assault and harassment standards (more than a 50% probability it happened) to a “clear and convincing evidence” standard. The courts, of course, use a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, which is even higher, but at least the DeVos alteration raised the bar for finding a student guilty—which, after all, could result in students being thrown out of college and marring the rest of their lives.  I don’t think “it’s more likely that the accusation is correct than it’s not” is a high enough bar for something so serious.

Here are the various degrees of certainty (civil suits in court require “clear and convincing evidence”).

  • Conviction requires guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which of course means that the bar is very high for conviction.
  • Conviction requires “clear and convincing evidence”, that is, it must be “highly probable or reasonably certain” that harassment or assault occurred. This is conventionally interpreted to mean a likelihood of 75% or higher that the assault took place.
  • Conviction requires a “preponderance of the evidence” for assault or hasassment. This means that it is more likely that not (likelihood > 50 %) that the offense occurred.

In fact, a huge majority of readers, when polled, favored adjudication of the claims by the courts, and only if an accused was convicted would a college adjudicate the case:

Well, that’s not a scientific poll, but so be it. Other changes were mandated by DeVos as well, like who the investigating agent would be (previously it was often the same person who rendered judgement in a college!), whether an accused student could have a lawyer or advisor present (previously no), and whether the accuser would be required to face the accused and answer questions (previously no, but yes under DeVos).

I’m not the only one who favored the changes: many liberals and feminists did, as well as liberal professors (the ACLU waffled). In my view, the changes made the process fairer in cases that had very serious implications.

Now, however, according to an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and an article from April 28’s Inside Higher Ed, the Biden Administration is preparing to roll back the DeVos changes, and also to alter Title IX in other ways, giving gender identity the same protection that sex had.

Here’s what the WSJ says will probably change (no firm regulation has yet been floated):

a.) The standards for guilty may revert back to “preponderance of evidence’

b.) “Sex” in the Title IX regulations will now be construed as “gender” and “gender identity”.  Since the Biden administration so far construes “gender identity” as having nothing to do with surgery or medical treatment, “gender identity” may well be “whatever you claim to be.” As the WSJ says, in its usual Chicken Little scenario:

This would require every educational institution that receives federal money to allow biological men into women’s locker rooms, sororities and other previously female-only spaces. Any school that attempts to prevent the next Lia Thomas from competing on a women’s team will have its federal funding snapped back—under the same law that once required schools to increase athletic opportunities for women and girls.

I don’t care so much about bathrooms or locker rooms, but I do care about sports and the way sexual harassment/assault claims are judged. If “gender identity” is used the way that Biden’s administration uses it now, there will be big trouble ahead, and probably a Supreme Court case in the future.

c.) Parents won’t be able to exempt their children from learning about “choosing one’s sex”, and schools will now be empowered “to transition children without receiving parental consent or even informing parents.”  I don’t care much about the lesson plans (I don’t know what they’d involve), but I do think parents should to be informed if a minor child requests either a formal change of gender or counseling for changing gender.

Under its most lax construal, “gender” is “whatever identity you want to assume.” If that’s what Biden is going to insert into Title IX, he’s in for trouble, not only in the courts (over 200 college “preponderance of evidence”-based convictions for sexual assault have already been overturned in the courts), but also politically. Imagine what Republicans will make of this.


Inside Higher Ed reports that Biden’s Title IX changes were to be enacted in April but were put off until at lest May.  I don’t think they’ve yet been signed into law. IHE says this about the history of the regulation:

The draft rule represents a rewrite of one proffered by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which took effect in August 2020. The DeVos rule created a judiciary-like method of evaluating reports of sexual violence on college campuses, notably allowing an accused student and their accuser to cross-examine each other through an adviser of their choosing.

It also shrank the scope of cases colleges need to investigate, prompting ire from sexual assualt survivors and their advocates who thought the regulation licensed colleges to disregard these problems.

DeVos, however, in issuing the rule responded to a chorus of accusations from due process activists. They argued the Education Department for years had pressured colleges to find accused students responsible for sexual assaults, under the threat of revoking institutions’ funding for not complying with Title IX regulations. This in turn disregarded accused students’ rights, they said.

This is where DeVos was right, I think. You don’t want to convict someone without sufficient evidence (or even try them until after the local courts have found a person guilty) just to meet a quota or the demands of people on social media. More history:

The debate broke out in full after the Obama administration put new emphasis on sexual violence prevention, issuing guidance in 2011 and 2014 that directed how institutons should address these issues.

President Joe Biden is expected to take up that mantle. He was deeply involved as vice president with the former administration’s Title IX sexual misconduct response. [JAC: The one DeVos changed.]

The Education Department expects to publish its draft rule in the Federal Register next month, which at that point will start a public comment period, typically 60 days. The agency may make changes based on feedback, and a rule will then be finalized.

And a bit about the new regulations:

Reportedly, the new draft regulation will protect gay and transgender students from sex-based discrimination. That idea drew criticism from 15 Republican state attorneys general who threatened to sue the Biden administration over the forthcoming rule. The attorneys general urged the White House to halt the regulatory process for issuing a new rule.

Sexual assault survivor groups last August urged the Biden administration to expedite changes under Title IX and publish a draft rule by Oct. 1, 2021 — a call the Education Department did not heed.

This is a different take from the WSJ’s, but of course we’re going on “reported” regulations. Gay and transgender students should, of course, be protected from discrimination, but we don’t know what Biden’s new rule is going to say.

It’s unwise to kvetch too much based on rumors and unsubstantiated reports, so all I’ll say is that if Biden tries to insert “sex, gender, and gender identity” into Title IX in place of “sex”, without being more specific, he’ll be opening up a can of worms.