It’s science, Jim, but not as we know it

At first blush, this seems like yet a further example of the debasement of science in the cause of cultural Marxism; Scientists petition the Trump administration over changes to Title IX rules.

As scientists, we are compelled to write to you, our elected representatives, about the current administration’s proposal to legally define gender as a binary condition determined at birth, based on genitalia, and with plans to clarify disputes using “genetic testing”. This proposal is fundamentally inconsistent not only with science, but also with ethical practices, human rights, and basic dignity.

The temptation is to dismiss this as propaganda because it runs counter to the everyday human experience; 99.999% of the interactions you will likely have today will be with people who are clearly male or clearly female.

However, if you like your world view to be informed by objective truth rather than dogma, it can be worth employing an alternative approach when faced with a statement that is counter-intuitive; “steelman” the position. That is, assume they are arguing in good faith and look for the strongest argument and facts in support of their position.

Let’s give it a try, shall we?

Picking up a few statements made, let’s look for the one most likely to be difficult to falsify;

The relationship between sex chromosomes, genitalia, and gender identity is complex, and not fully understood.

That’s fair enough. The word “identity” is most important in that sentence. Without it, most people would disagree, probably even disagreeing with the “not fully understood” part too.

It’s not a very strong argument to use as a basis of how we define gender though. Your identity and how I and the rest of the world perceive it are not necessarily aligned.

There are no genetic tests that can unambiguously determine gender, or even sex.

Let’s assume the authors are arguing in good faith. If so, we would need them to explain what they mean by the inference that gender and sex are different concepts. In the contemporary version of the English language, these nouns are interchangeable.

Without this common understanding of definitions, it’s impossible to agree or disagree with this statement. Therefore it’s not the best argument they have.

Even if such tests existed, it would be unconscionable to use the pretext of science to enact policies that overrule the lived experience of people’s own gender identities.

Again, without knowing what you mean by gender versus sex, this statement has no persuasive merit.

Though scientists are just beginning to understand the biological basis of gender identity, it is clear that many factors, known and unknown, mediate the complex links between identity, genes, and anatomy.

This is a re-worded version of the opening statement. We agree, as long as the word “identity” remains.

In intersex people, their genitalia, as well as their various secondary sexual characteristics, can differ from what clinicians would predict from their sex chromosomes.

Yes, not disputed. Caster Semenya, for example. The causes and symptoms of intersex are not the same as transgenderness or body dismorphia.

It’s a strong argument for intersex people but, as they are only 0.05% of humans, it would be disingenuous to then expand this for other groups.

The proposed policy will force many intersex people to be legally classified in ways that erase their intersex status and identity, as well as lead to more medically unnecessary and risky surgeries at birth.

If true, the legislation is poorly-worded. It’s not apparent how the changes to school funding rules would result in gender surgery at the birth of an intersex person.

This might be a strong argument for intersex people but the case hasn’t been made with enough supporting detail to persuade sceptics.

Millions of Americans identify as transgender or gender non-conforming, or have intersex bodies, and are at increased risk of physical and mental health disorders resulting from discrimination, fear for personal safety, and family and societal rejection.

The bundling of transgender (a condition which seems to be underpinned by mental causes), gender non-conforming (this requires a definition before we can address it) and intersex (a physical condition caused by hormonal variances during gestation), is either erroneous or deliberate.

It’s hard to determine the truth of statements about the causes of mental health disorders when multiple conditions are bundled together as if they were Triple A mortgage-backed securities.

This is not their most persuasive argument, therefore.

Our best available evidence shows that affirmation of gender identity is paramount to the survival, health, and livelihood of transgender and intersex people.

There is definitely significant scientific dispute and debate on this point and what the best available evidence is showing. The work of Debra Soh and Lee Jussim, for example.

Again, not the most persuasive argument.

Bill’s Opinion

The opening statement is inaccurate by omission; the administration is not proposing to “legally define gender as a binary condition determined at birth“, it’s much more specific than that. The missing part of that sentence might be, “for the purposes of the Title IX clause of the United States Education Amendments of 1972“.

It’s an important omission. The proposed changes are specific to funding decisions of schools, and have no wider societal or Constitutional impact. Arguing such is to invoke the slippery slope fallacy.

The strongest arguments made in the scientists’ letter are relating to intersex individuals, the “I” in LGBTQI. If the proposed Title IX changes bundle the handling of this medical condition with that of the wider “TQ” groups of the LGBTQI consortium, the legislation has made the mirror image of the error the scientists have made. That is, making sweeping generalisations about multiple categories of people where great differences are very apparent.

My conclusion is, if we assume both sides are arguing in good faith and with the best interests of all concerned at heart, the letter writers might want to offer solutions to the pragmatic societal problems caused by gender being defined to be whatever a person says it is.

Similarly, the Trump administration legislation drafters might want to think about what approaches should be taken for different categories of condition.

Lastly, to fall back to an Ad Hominen, the entire letter risks being dismissed as complete hogwash because of one signatory, an utterly discredited Malthusian;

Paul R. Ehrlich, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus of Biology,

Stanford University

A word of advice to letter writers and petition creators in general; there are some signatures it’s just better not to collect.

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