Recently, media widely reported that “Transgender people’s brain activity matches gender identity, not biological sex”. None of these sensationalist articles provided links to the actual study, but even if they did, you’d only be able to read it in full if you had access to PubMed and the original journal, However, upon reading the full paper (low res screen caps further below) one statement invalidates the conclusion:
“Androphillic transgirls” are boys who identify as girls and are attracted to males (ie. they are gay), and “gynophillic transboys” are girls who identify as boys and are attracted to females (ie. they are lesbian). So we have a study that compares gay kids with straight ones, with a twist – gender dysphoria which gay kids often suffer from is now diagnostic of “transgenderism”.
Here are screencaps of the study:
If we look at another study by the same author we can see the exact same issue again:
Thankfully, what separates this study from many others in the field of “transgender research” is that the authors here at least acknowledge the confounding factor of sexual orientation. When questioned about this, the author Julie Bakker said, “You are right that sexual orientation can be a “confounding factor”, and the thing is that working with adolescents, they are actually all “homosexual”.”
Reason why this is relevant dates back to 2008, when a Swedish study that analysed brain scans found that brains of gay men and women share some similarities. There’s been more research since, and we now know that there’s no such thing as male and female brain but that all brains are mosaics of features which, while they might be more commonly found in one sex, more likely overlap between the sexes, so much so that as little as 0-8% of study subjects have patterns purely associated with their own sex.
Still the interesting findings that relate to brain scans of gay people should not be disregarded, not only because they provide evidence of biological basis for sexual orientation, but because we know that the brain is like a muscle, and by repetitively performing certain actions, being exposed to certain stimuli, thinking certain thoughts and concentrating on certain activities, we can alter brain structures. Such as in the case of London taxi drivers who have well documented structural changes in the brain the longer they drive, purely because they store huge amounts of certain information and engage their visuo-spatial skills.
So it’s not unreasonable to suggest that gender non-conformance itself, or even sex-specific socialisation, prolonged gender dysphoria or obsessing over one’s body parts or gender, could be responsible for observable differences in brains of men vs women, homosexuals vs heterosexuals and indeed gender dysphoric teens vs those who are not. And let’s not forget that both studies on gender dysphoric children and adolescents I linked above showed no differences in pre-pubertal groups, regardless of the presence of gender dysphoria, and that studies show that majority of “transkids” who aren’t medicalised desist, and most grow up to be gay.
This is important because in studies where all or most of the “trans” kids being studied are gay, and the “cisgender” controls are straight, (or when sexual orientation isn’t even recorded) the differences will more likely be due to sexual orientation than the elusive and scientifically unsubstantiated concepts of “transgenderism” and “gender identity.
To see just how problematic “transgender research” is in general, please take a look at these:
Article that discusses mismatch between the findings and their interpretation
Article that discusses how our preexisting biases influence the way neuroresearch is understood
Article that documents and explains why the research used to justify “affirmative approach” to gender dysphoric children is assessed as being of low quality even by people who use it.
Eight Things You Need to Know About Sex, Gender, Brains, and Behavior: A Guide for Academics, Journalists, Parents, Gender Diversity Advocates, Social Justice Warriors, Tweeters, Facebookers, and Everyone Else
by Cordelia Fine, Daphna Joel and Gina Rippon
Sex Differences in Brain and Behavior: Eight Counterpoints
Responding to Ideas on Sex Differences in Brain and
In other words:
I’m not apriori opposed to research into transgender phenomenon, because despite the fact most of the existing studies are of abysmal scientific quality, a few reveal interesting results. However, what makes even those interesting ones a pile of 💩💩 is habitual shoehorning of gender ideology into conclusions, and overlooking significant other factors that could explain results. That is a hallmark of bad science.
I’m also tired of transactivists who don’t even understand the meaning of terms “confounding factor” and “flawed methodology”, and are unable to critically appraise medical research, arguing with me and other doctors over this. Demanding our time. Ignoring everything we say while asking us to provide more studies they won’t understand and more examples which they’ll just use to keep shifting goalpoasts, while pretending that burden of proof is still on us. It’s demented. Entitled. It’s like debating with hangry baby birds who scream “Feed me more, so I can vomit it up. MORE!”
When I was first introduced to critcal appraisal, in third year of medical school, I found it boring, difficult and intimidating. Trying to understand statistics while having to learn the entire neuroanatomy and physiology and a million other medical things, was like descending through circles of hell. Not having had the benefit of comprehensive medical knowledge and experience, I had trouble understanding studies, let alone being able to spot issues with them. But as time went on it got easier until one day, ensuring that results are statistically significant and that they support conclusions, that biases and confounding factors have been accounted for or at least discussed, that the study population is relevant to the study question and the findings applicable to wider clinical setting, became not only second nature but an essential skill in a field fraught with unethical, profit-motivated research. This is why doctors should be the gatekeepers and interpreters of medical information, not the media, who will stop at telling the consumers what the corporate line is.
Peer review means something, or at least it used to before the recent proliferation of dodgy journals, faked peer reviews and extreme control corporate sector exerts on research itself. Corporate interests have now infiltrated universities and teaching hospitals to such an extent, that profit-driven research is indulged by intimidating doctors into overlooking methodological flaws on account of ideological correctness, while important research is being activelly suppressed, such as the research into escalating number of detransitioners.
So while there’s no shame in transactivists not having the knowledge and skills required to critically appraise medical research, their ignorance makes them susceptible to easily believing erroneous conclusions, and the ideological indoctrination within transgender community makes them impervious to any information that doesn’t validate their world view.
In that sense, they are no different from flat Earthers or any other political group that’s simultaneously completely scientifically ignorant and convinced they can argue with scientists on equal footing. And in the case of gender ideology, they are proving to be ideal foot soldiers who can be trusted to relentlessly promote false narratives and, thanks to their ample presence on social media, to drown any voices that dare question the transgender dogma.
25 thoughts on “Transactivists war on reality – what they think studies show vs what studies actually show”
I experience this scientific ignorance from TRAs all the time. I am a scientist and a biologist and I know how to read and analyze scientific papers. I talk about sample size, controls, author conflicts of interest, best methodologies, criteria for assigning membership in a group, and how the data fits with the conclusions. They just tell me that they are scientists too and that I am wrong and that all other scientists agree with them. I can never get a serious discussion going that refers to the details of the paper that they use so uncritically.
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Thank you for your input! I think trans activism involves a lot of lying, pretending and in some cases, intense belief in things that have no basis in reality. So if they can demand that a man is a woman just because he says so, and have no empathy for vulnerable women who are being exposed to male violence thanks to transactivist’s campaigns to allow male sex offenders into women’s prisons, then a lie that “they are scientists too” just rolls off the tongue. End justifies the means. A lot of them are white, middle class university students who have been raised on postmodernist idea that any claim is valid even in absence of all evidence. Time and again I’m reminded of this excellent article. Postmodernism has now infiltrated sciences, whith disasterous effect.
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I do belive that a lot of TRA Internet productions are intentionally made-up, like any other meme or buzzword (such as pictures of Facebook or Tumblr discussions where one Internet user writes, “I’m a biology teacher / a doctor / a medical researcher and I can affirm that only bigots believe in the gender binary because….” then a bunch of bullshit follows.) They just know it will trend. Some of them may not even be created by TRAs, but by bored people who want to get 10.000 Likes.
I was also unconvinced by the studies showing a difference between men’s and women’s brains, on which a lot of these trans-essentialist studies rely. They’re usually based on extremely small samples, and one of them (quoted by the trans study as proof that a specific chemical compound can identify male and female brains) concluded that men’s and women’s brains did react in significantly different manners to a chemical compound the test subjects had been made to smell before the brain scan….but admitted (without letting it impact their conclusions) that for women at least, the effect was entirely dependent on the test giver’s sex! There was zero specific reaction in women’s brains when the product they smelled was offered by a female investigator. Given the fact that there was maybe 20 test subjects in all, we don’t even know if men were tested by investigators from both sexes, which might have revealed a similar absence of actual reaction to the chemical rather than to the investigator.
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Thank you so much for your interesting comment! You are absolutely right, these are the confounding factors and confirmation biases that have to be willfuly ignored if conclusions are to be consistent with the ideological line. The problem that TRAs don’t understand, because of their own unethical behaviour, is that scientists (or people like me, not technically a scientist but reliant on science in my work) have zero attachment to the outcome of these studies. I would be more than happy to accept existance of gender identity and male and female brains IF there was evidence for it. This is why I read the studies they present me with, in case something changed since the last study/article/opinion piece. I haven’t reviewed the literature on the subject because I must admit, after the number of studies that all show the same thing – no real evidence for either and disingenious “putting a square peg in the round hole” style discussion, I feel it’s a waste of my time. So these days, I read as far as when I notice proof that study is invalid. I often can’t be bothered to read boyond that. What’s the point in looking at ten different results tables and, as one TRA put it “complicated maths” that are the statistical analyses, when it’s irrelevant because, say, they didn’t even bother to account for subjects’ sexual orientation. Transgender research reminds me of the worst of the worst drug company studies drug reps used to throw at us, to “prove” the unsubstantiated claims about their drugs. We got rid of that by teaching doctors to do critical appraisal and by limiting the financial incentives Pharma is allowed to offer doctors, but what I never foresaw is that they’ll move in for the kill and start corrupting institutions instead (see this article http://thefederalist.com/2018/02/20/rich-white-men-institutionalizing-transgender-ideology/ ) so that ideological and profit-driven guidance starts raining on doctors’ heads from above. What happened next is nothing short of deception and fascism, faux research, intimidation of doctors to say nothing about glaring inconsistencies and outrageous bullying and draconian punishments for dissenters. Dark times indeed…
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Hang on. There’s no such thing as male or female brains, but there can be ‘gay’ brains and ‘straight’ brains, and ‘trans’ brains and ‘cis’ brains. Are these brains programmed this way, or are they molded into it?
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There’s no evidence of biological basis, in brains or otherwise, of trans and cis, they are just ideological concepts that misuse existing brain research to claim that some differences that have been noted in gay brains, are evidence of “gender identity”. Brains seem to be mosaics of features some of which are more commonly found in men or women, but there is so much overlap that only 0-8% of brains have only features associated with a person’s sex. It is my understanding that all studies that found some differences in brains of gay vs straight peiple, did so only in post-pubertal subjects, so we cannot say that they existed before puberty and hormones kicked in, as well as more specific male vs female socialisation. Besides, a child who hasn’t entered sexual maturation process has no sexual orientation yet, which is confirmed by these findings, so it is especially sinister when pro-trans press uses paedophillic narratives to claim there are “openly gay 3 years olds” insinuating that a 3 year old is sexually attracted to anyone.
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Since you claim to be unable to track down the original studies and citations, Here are two such studies showing neuroanatomical differences in transgender men/women vs cis gendered women.
Either you don’t have access to scientific literature, or you’re hellbent on being transphobic and spreading that to other people through straight-up misinformation.
Let me make one thing clear: I will not be answering comments that quote flawed research. Like I said, all the literature I reviewed shows no evidence of gender identity or developmental basis for transgenderism. I am interested in methodologically sound studies on the subject, and will only converse with people who are equally dispassionate and able to accept the outcome of research, without indulging in ideological tantrums.
Having said that, I decided to publish yours to illustrate my point.
I gave your sources a cursory glance. It appears they are the same study (Nature article isn’t displayed in full), and the study I can see is, yet again, flawed to the point that results do not justify conclusions.
1. Subjects are “presumed heterosexual” which means nothing. We don’t build valid research on presumption.
2. They admit the results could be explained by the fact all the TS subjects were orchidectomised. Then they went on to analyse the grand total of 2 men who were orchidectomised due to cancer. This is not adequate.
3. The number of neurons in the BSTc of male-to-female transsexuals was similar to that of the females p=0.83! – p greater than 0.05 means the result is not statistically significant.
In other words – 💩💩
Sophie, you left me several angry, derogatory comments, that’s against my comment policy.
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Hi! I really like this blog, it’s so informative!
I would just like to say that I am finishing my BSc and still don’t have enough knowledge to read the studies. I realise that studies on patients are probably different than the ones I would usually need to read (I study Food Science and Nutrition) though they would probably be important for my field at some point as well. What I want to say it that neither faculty not schooling before have sufficiently taught me how to read studies. So someone with less education of me knows even less.
This is probably the case in most schools systems. I think it make a big differrence if pupils were being taught the basics already in last years of elementary (here, I’m talking about 13- and 14-year-olds) school and focus a lot of attention on it in secondary school and all faculties, no matter the direction. Even completely unconnected fields might depend on these studies sometimes. And of course, statistics. My half a semester of statistics didn’t taught me anything useful for reading the studies.
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Thanks so much for your comment! That’s very interesting, and I agree, children should be taught to think critically in school, and those skills should be refined at university, not completely neglected. I think the fact this isn’t taught is deliberate grab of power by the elite capitalists. Like the church liked to keep people illiterate, so they can’t question the dogma of the priests, neoliberal capitalism likewise relies on preference for magical thinking, emotional arguments and authoritarian instruction over facts and reality in order to sustain it’s ideologically driven policies. Also, postmodernism has a lot to answer for, more precisely, how it has infiltrated sciences and made a mockery out of evidence-based approach.
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The methodology problem applies to all science. But most in a given field, if allowed to talk for more than 5mins, do understand the problems with even their own work. In fact, as you point out, it is more often than not highlighted in the original paper. If anyone reads it. When it comes to medicating (and/or mutilating) children, you’d hope the standards would be higher. Most importantly, as you also point out – even if there was science literacy, there is no access to journals for the public. And even the most educated will point out the flaws in this work, but ignore similar or identical flaws in their pet field with a similar angry fervor to a flatearther or TRA. I am less forgiving when they are educated enough to know better. But this is a fine entry. Nice work. And thank you for the screen shots. JC.
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Thanks for your thoughtful comment JC, I could not agree more! What concerns me the most is what you pointed out, that even the most educated seem to forget what they know when it comes to their pet projects and agendas. This is the aspect of human nature that I find most destructive, narcissism, greed, superiority complex, when people decide that rules don’t apply to them as long as they are personally invested or stand to profit somehow. The reason why this issue has taken hold so quickly, at all levels of society, is because it lends itself particularly well to sublimation of these destructive impulses into socially acceptable causes such as “human rights”. In our society, the needs of men, and especially hysterical, manipulative, suffering or even aggressive men are prioritised at expense of women and children, because placating dangerous and disruptive men is seen as “harm reduction” and “compassion”, both of which are denied to their victims. The same sentiment is driving the ease with which scienists and doctors find justifications to breach ethical standards concerning interpretation of evidence regarding gender identity, in favour of “human rights” of men who say that nothing other than unrestricted access to women-only spaces will stop them from kicking off.
I lost count of women and men I’ve spoken to who were conflicted over the trans issue, feeling that allowing transvestites into women’s facilities and messing with kids bodies and minds in the name of identity ideology is wrong, but remained silent because the NHS, doctors and the media are touting it as the right thing to do and implying that anyone who disagrees is a “bigot”. This includes laypeople as well as doctors outside of gender reassignment fields. They’re not aware that the quality of evidence used to justify irreversible procedures is very low, that there’s active suppression of evidence that calls for caution or that there’s wide-ranging failure of safeguarding and risk assessment. They continue to assume that social contract – the obligation to follow the ethics – is still in place, whereas in fact it has broken down.
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Preach! It seems likely to always be this way. The issues may change. But I’ve seen too many cycles already I feel. Thanks for the reply! =)
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I would appreciate if you could answer if you, as a doctor, are dissenting from current clinical consensus on treating gender dysphoria, as affirmed by all major medical professional associations. Some examples:
Endocrine Society: https://www.endocrine.org/advocacy/priorities-and-positions/transgender-health
American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.aspx
American Psychiatric Association: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/gender-dysphoria/what-is-gender-dysphoria
American Academy of Pediatrics: https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAP-Policy-Statement-Urges-Support-and-Care-of-Transgender-and-Gender-Diverse-Children-and-Adolescents.aspx
So are you dissenting? If you don’t, how are your statements compatible with these positions? If you do, how do you explain that all major professional associations are wrong in your view? Also, why should we trust you and not other dissident doctors. like the doctors who are in the anti-vaxxer movement?
Yes absolutely I’m dissenting from positions small committees within these organisations have adopted after being incentivised by the trans lobby, and imposed these guidances on their members from above, while admitting themselves that all evidence for these treatments is of either low or very low quality. Go back to your first source – Endocrine Society – who were the first targets of WPATH and are responsible for proliferation of these ill advised guidances that cannot be justified with evidence, and yet were used to convince everyone else to follow. WPATH is rebranded Harry Benjamin Society. Research Harry Benjamin, John Money, Alfred Kinsey, abuse of intersex children and paedophilia activism. WPATH is full of people who aren’t medical pofessionals, their “research” is extremely lacking in quality, with complete absence of randomised control trials, designs that would never get ethics comittee approval if they dealt with anything other than gender ideology, faulty methodology, claims being unsupported with results and suspicious loss to or lack of follow up. WPATH have also hounded clinicians who have evidence that watchful waiting approach yields best results (research Kenneth Zucker) out of their jobs, and such tactics have led to universities refusing to approve studies into detransitioners, on the basis that “it wouldn’t be politically correct”. (research James Caspian and Bath University).
The long term side effects of giving puberty blockers and cross sex hormones to oerfectly healthy children alone is a massive medical scandal. We know that pre these treatments gender confused children desisted in between 55-90% of the cases and grew up to be healthy, mostly gay adults. Now, with the mandatory affirmative approach that causes iatrogenic damage and results in no desistance at all, a big market of life long medical patients is created and the end result is akin to eugenics and gay conversion therapy.
Most doctors assume the evidence “must be” solid, because who would dare damage lives of kids without proof of benfit, right? And this is where this ideology will be exposed. As soon any doctor who isn’t directly profiting from peddling this ideology actually looks at these studies, they will see the same flaws I have seen. As soon as they speak to parents of ROGD children, they will realise the grooming techniques that are used on these children, on the internet, in schools and in gender clinics. As soon as they speak against this, they’ll see the draconic punishments imposed on them from above, and the senseless policies that were never debated, which are designed to muzzle any opposition. As soon as they become aware of lawsuits against testosterone and Lupron manufacturers, and against the surgeons and maverick doctors who were prescribing these treatments without proper asessement and even follow up, so that the precedent could be set and this travesty steamrolled, as soon as they hear testimonies of detransitioners about absence of counselling, detrimental effect these procedures had on them and how they were demonised and abandoned by the very trans community that groomed them in the first place, they’ll realise that we’re in the middle of the biggest, most brazen medical scandal we have ever seen, since WWII.
EDITED TO ADD:
A couple of things.
1. I forgot to anwer your final question – why should anyone trust me as a dissenter from the mainstream medical policies on gender reassignment of children, and not anti-vaxxer doctors?
Because I’m talking actual science and calling for high quality evidence while critiquing pseudoscience and ideology on which the current policies are based. The position is reversed in case of vaccines, where mainstream medical opinion is based, as it should be, on actual science while dissenders are promoting pseudoscience. This is what makes gender reassignmnt for children such a huge scandal. Medicine is supposed to honour evidence based medicine, and there simply is no good evidence for existance of gender identity, for being born in the wrong body or that extreme body midifucation and these drugs actually alleviate dysphoria or provide more benefit than harm in the long term.
2. I read your follow up comment and decided to not publish it because you failed to engage in any meaningful way with what I talked about in my post, or in my reply to your comment (which you should read again). I’m not interested in engaging with bad faith arguments, it’s wasting both of our time.
My first time here. So, if you’ve noted this, I apologize.
Genevieve Fox, “Meet the neuroscientist shattering the myth of the gendered brain,” The Guardian, February 24, 2019, at https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/feb/24/meet-the-neuroscientist-shattering-the-myth-of-the-gendered-brain-gina-rippon.
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Hi James, thanks for the link! I saw this article a couple of days ago and I’m very excited about Prof Rippon’s book. I saw her brilliant lecture titled “How neurononsense keeps women in their place” and it explained so well not only the limitation of brain scans in terms of what behaviour they predict, but the fundamental issue with testing, confirmation bias, how environment and even researchers influence outcomes as well as the effect of socialisation and repetitive thinking patterns on development of the very features we are researching. Fascinating stuff! Here’s the link to the YT video of that lecture
Hi, I saw a poster mentioned above that it woypuld be great to start teaching schoolchildren, 14 or so, the basis of the kind of critical thinking you neeed to build on to read a scientific paper- confounding factors, confirmation bias, sample size, etc. Is there any resource you’d recommend for this? Accessible to this age group?
Hi Rawdon! I’m not a teacher so I don’t know any specific teaching resources. But I can tell you how critical thinking was taught to me, at least what I think contributed.
1. Frank discussion of world religions and putting religion in context of a story, and how it helped people cope with uncertainty, rather than using religion to encourage magical thinking as is the case now. There’s a philosophy prof that wrote a series of articles for Conatus News about how religion in schools messes with children’s ability to think critically later.
2. Discussion of sociology, economics, inequality and oppression, concepts of greed, vested interest and hierarchy. What’s happening in capitalism is very illogical in terns of health of the planet and human species, and gaslighting that keeps it going, especially via the media and advertising, has an anti-logic role.
3. Basic logic. I had a subject called Logic from the age of about 15 and simple truth tables, logical fallacies and debate practice can go a long way in enabling children to spot illogical arguments on which, in my experience, a lot of propaganda relies.
4. In terms of critically appraising medical/scientific research I’d say it’s probably going to be too difficult for that age group, but basic “Epidemiology for Dummies” (I’m pretty sure there is such a book somewhere) can help you introduce them to basic concepts.
Some of the most relevant, apart from sample size, prevalence, incidence, statistical significance, biases and conflicts of interest is a question of whether studied population is relevant to broader population. Most often, and particularly with for profit research, just elucidating those will quickly demonstrate that research doesn’t mean what papers are claiming. But this alone is one whole semester of Epidemiology 101 so I think critical thinking needs to be taught in stages, in an age appropriate way, in order to get kids used to seeing the world through sceptical eyes and more importantly to make them partially immune to indoctrination.
Thanks very much! Really kind of you to take the time for this.
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Can we also take a moment to appreciate that the author fails to meet the requirement of adequate sample sizes of at least 50 participants for a qualitative study with any of the groups being represented?
31 children with gender dysphoria (18 birth assigned males; 13 birth assigned females)
39 cisgender children (21 boys; 18 girls)
40 adolescents with gender dysphoria (19 birth assigned males or transgirls; 21 birth assigned females or transboys)
41 cisgender adolescents (20 boys; 21 girls)
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