All posts filed under: Biology

Reducing the Chance of New Pandemics

It has been months since the novel coronavirus hit Western countries, and many are now wondering how and when normality will return and what a new normal might look like. Some expect that a second wave of infection will be avoided by seasonal properties inherent in the virus, while others contend that this will only happen if strong action is taken to contain it. Some expect that a vaccine will allow a rapid return to the world we had before, while others argue that even if such a vaccine were to be developed, it would permit no such thing. Absent from many of these discussions is how to avoid another situation like this one. The argument can be framed in simple economic terms or in more complex terms related to existential risk and the very future of our species on Earth. The current pandemic is estimated to have cost nations on average a third of the world’s GDP—over 30 trillion US dollars—so spending billions on even a marginal reduction of the probability of another such …

Rethinking Health Disparities

In the last few decades, the proliferation of diversity, inclusivity, and equity literature throughout the medical profession has become institutionalized. Medical organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institute of Health (NIH), and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) have embraced this ideology and its accompanying bureaucracies and web-based material, and have called for cultural changes in some of our most important fields of study. Reforms are ostensibly intended to address healthcare disparities between groups, and new initiatives are frequently justified with reference to what the Sullivan Commission called the “ghosts of discrimination.” 1 The authors of reports like these will invariably go on to talk about implicit bias, the need for diversity in the healthcare workforce, and an examination of structural forces and power distributions that shape group disparities in health outcomes. In January 2020, the ACC published a cover story stating that healthcare group disparities and the lack of diversity in healthcare were a “national emergency” and strongly promoted the use of the Implicit Association Test (IAT).2 Even as late as …

JK Rowling is Right—Sex Is Real and It Is Not a “Spectrum”

JK Rowling recently drew fire on social media for tweeting the statements to the effect that “biological sex is real.” The tweets began when she mocked an opinion piece that used the term “people who menstruate” in place of “women” to account for the fact that transgender men also menstruate, and prefer not to be described as women. If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth. — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020 The backlash on Twitter has been swift and cacophonous, and headlines have followed. GLAAD, an LGBT advocacy group, issued a response on Twitter, calling Rowling’s tweets “inaccurate and cruel.” One commenter wrote “I know you know this because you have been told over and over and over again, but transgender men can menstruate. Non-binary people menstruate. I, a 37-year old woman …

We ‘Gender-Critical’ Feminists Pay a Price for Speaking Out. But the Price of Silence is Higher

Disagreement over sex and gender have cleaved the feminist community between those who believe that biological sex is immutable, and those who believe that transitioning sex to align body with brain is not only possible, but a legally binding marker of identity. Courts, social-services organizations and schools all have been pushed to adopt the most doctrinaire precepts of trans-rights advocacy. In some cases, the issue has divided “gender-critical” women’s-rights advocates from strident trans-rights advocates. It also has caused schisms within feminism; and even within families, with some parents split over the best course of action for their kids. While this drama unfolds publicly in legislatures, town councils and on social media, it also takes a personal toll on those who’ve gotten caught up in this unusually vicious front in the culture war. This includes “Susan” (all names changed), a gender-critical feminist and mother who plans to attend a forthcoming talk on the subject at the Seattle Public Library. An email exchange between Susan and her brother “Craig” recently was shared by the Hands Across the …

Sex Differences in Cognition

In a previous post I examined the biological and social influences on sex and gender identity. Evidence suggests that biology plays a powerful role in the determination of sex as well as of gender identity, although social forces are also important particularly as they relate to gender role expression. In this essay I’ll examine the evidence surrounding a related controversial topic: whether or not there are cognitive differences between the sexes and, if so, whether they are biological or social in origin. In what follows, I’ll focus on individuals whose gender identity matches their biological sex. This leaves out nonbinary and transsexual persons, about whom there is far less research evidence. Nevertheless, given that transsexuals tend to have hypothalamuses that match their identified gender not their biological sex, it would be interesting to know if this produces cognitive differences as well. Some evidence suggests that the administration of sex hormones to those undergoing transition does influence cognition in expected ways. Other studies suggest that cognitive differences exist prior to hormone treatment, and that the cognition …

Meet the Gay Activists Who’ve Had Enough of Britain’s Ultra-Woke Homophobes

Are gay people allowed to meet and organise in defense of their interests? A hard yes, you might have thought. But some apparently disagree. Witness the response to the London-based LGB Alliance, a newly created British group that asserts “the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people to define themselves as same-sex-attracted.” The group’s creation has sparked vitriol, not from the traditionalist Christians or social conservatives who might have opposed such groups in the 1980s or 1990s, but from the self-described progressive left. Readers who aren’t steeped in the most fashionable iteration of identity politics might now be scratching their heads. Unless you’re taking cues from Leviticus, what could possibly be wrong with saying it’s okay to be gay? The answer is that, in acknowledging the reality of same-sex attraction, you are indirectly acknowledging the reality and importance of biological sex as a driver of attraction. You are also indirectly acknowledging that members of the opposite sex are not members of your dating pool—even if they tell you that they share your gender identity. Which …

I Asked Thousands of Biologists When Life Begins. The Answer Wasn’t Popular

Shortly after being awarded my Ph.D. by the University of Chicago’s department of Comparative Human Development this year, I found myself in a minor media whirlwind. I was interviewed by The Daily Wire, The College Fix, and Breitbart. I appeared on national television and on a widely syndicated radio program. All of this interest had been prompted by a working paper associated with my dissertation, which was entitled Balancing Abortion Rights and Fetal Rights: A Mixed Methods Mediation of the U.S. Abortion Debate. As discussed in more detail below, I reported that both a majority of pro-choice Americans (53%) and a majority of pro-life Americans (54%) would support a comprehensive policy compromise that provides entitlements to pregnant women, improves the adoption process for parents, permits abortion in extreme circumstances, and restricts elective abortion after the first trimester. However, members of the media were mostly interested in my finding that 96% of the 5,577 biologists who responded to me affirmed the view that a human life begins at fertilization. It was the reporting of this view—that …

How Feminism Has Constrained Our Understanding of Gender

This week Melinda Gates said that she is committing $1 billion to promote gender equality by doing things like dismantling “harmful gender norms.” To many people, this sounds like a wonderful idea, but in reality, how effective are gender equality strategies that blame inequality solely on social factors such as gender norms and stereotypes? Professor Alice Eagly, in her paper “The Shaping of Science by Ideology: How Feminism Inspired, Led, and Constrained Scientific Understanding of Sex and Gender,”1 explores the ways in which feminism helped to create the now widely held misconception that gender is simply a product of social influence. This feminist misconception is not simply a dry academic fossil from the nature-nurture debate—it’s a flawed notion that has become central to how we treat men and women in all areas of life. This one-sided view of gender has caused problems in a range of areas, including therapy, the workplace, sports, and the law. Much of Eagly’s expertise relates to workplace psychology, so this is the area on which she focuses. The central problem …

No One Is Born in ‘The Wrong Body’

The idea that all people have an innate “gender identity” recently has been endorsed by many health-care professionals and mainstream medical organizations. This term commonly is defined to mean the “internal, deeply held” sense of whether one is a man or a woman (or, in the case of children, a boy or a girl), both, or neither. It also has become common to claim that this sense of identity may be reliably articulated by children as young as three years old. While these claims about gender identity did not attract systematic scrutiny at first, they now have become the subject of criticism from a growing number of scientists, philosophers and health workers. Developmental studies show that young children have only a superficial understanding of sex and gender (at best). For instance, up until age 7, many children often believe that if a boy puts on a dress, he becomes a girl. This gives us reason to doubt whether a coherent concept of gender identity exists at all in young children. To such extent as any …

Postmodernism’s Dead End

As an undergraduate studying English at the University of Utah, I was required to take Introduction to the Theory of Literature. The course was a disaster. I was an awful student of critical theory. Like most burgeoning English majors I knew at the time (the early 1990s), I wanted to read and write literature, not to study what people had decided it meant to read and write literature. And then there was the professor who headed the class. He had a pretentious fondness for the French deconstructionist Derrida that I did not understand, partly because I did not understand Derrida himself, and partly because as a teacher this fellow was so single-minded that he could not reach any but the most earnest students. After class, I would often see him in the cafeteria, where he would practice his French with a colleague who also taught theory for the department. I guessed they were talking about Derrida, but who could say? Together, these elements would constitute my introduction to the baffling world of postmodern theory. I …