The first principle is that you must not fool yourself

Andy Lewis on what the trans “movement” has done to skepticism:

So, Rebecca Watson of @skepchicks has produced a video calling JK Rowling a ‘bigoted fuckface’. She comes to this conclusion because the Harry Potter author defended Maya Forstater after Maya lost an employment tribunal over her beliefs that sex is binary and immutable. 

Don’t go thinking that’s hyperbole. I haven’t watched the video because I value my sanity, but I skimmed the transcript, and “bigoted fuckface” is right there at the beginning.

JK Rowling, who you may know as the author of the theory that wizards don’t need indoor plumbing because they can just shit on the floor and then magic it away, has finally, officially come out as a TERF — aka a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, which is literally just an accurate description of what a TERF believes but apparently they think “TERF” is a slur so I will use a less-loaded term for this video: bigoted fuckface.

Pause for laughter that doesn’t occur.

Back to Andy:

Rebecca is quite happy to use slurs to demonise Rowling & Maya because they disagree with her on science. (The mispronunciation is also unforgivable.) But let’s play Rebecca with a straight bat & address her thoughts on the science of sex to see if her views are justified.

He does a science of sex explainer, the upshot of which is that male and female are not some wack new idea.

Sex arises from the fact that we are evolved sexually reproducing organisms. Sex evolved deep in life’s history and has remained remarkably conserved – although there are many sex determination mechanisms in organisms.

To suggest that there are more than two sexes, or even more extreme, that somehow sex forms a continuum, a distribution or a spectrum is completely incompatible with this view of life and sexual reproduction. (The idea that ‘sex is a spectrum’ is a core part of the credo of gender ideology.)

So, how does Rebecca attempt this?

In short, she does not. She nods her head to the complexity of sex development, but makes no attempt to suggest there is anything other than two sexes. It is almost as if she does not want you to see lack of rebuttal after just complaining the XX/XY mechanism is ‘too simplistic’.

There is a referenced blog post though on why we should “Stop Using Phony Science to Justify Transphobia.” Like many blog posts in this genre, it makes a number of basic errors.

But but but it was a Scientific American blog post, so how can it be wrong? Scientific American is always right! Except for those think pieces by Michael Shermer, of course…oh look, a squirrel.

Rebecca goes on to a rhetorical trick though to appeal to the ‘diversity of humanity’. She claims that “male” or “female” are just a “shorthand” and that it “simply isn’t enough to account for the diverse array of beautiful human bodies in the world, and it’s anti-scientific to pretend as though it is.”

No justification is given for this & it is another straw-man, since no one is claiming there is not a wide range of variation within people. Even sex characteristics can exist on a wide distribution of scale. Size can vary.

The truth is rather banal – your sex is just one fact about you. An immutable fact. And there are many facts about you that make up the Whole You and “the diverse array of beautiful human bodies in the world”.

The core of Maya Forstater’s beliefs in her court case were that sex was a binary and sex was immutable. Despite lots of angry words and invective The @skepchicks have failed to show that this is not true and have instead invoked straw man arguments and thinking errors.

Which is not very…skep.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.”

This was the defining message of Richard Feynman’s address to graduating students of CalTech in 1974.

Feynman was describing the difference between having a scientific outlook in life and being fooled by false beliefs – no matter how much those beliefs were shared by those around you and how much effort you put into living by those beliefs.

A lesson Feynman was called on to reiterate to the honchos at NASA who ignored what the engineers were telling them about the O-rings and cold temperatures, and so insisted the Challenger launch go ahead despite the engineers. An O-ring did indeed fail.

As Feynman said, “So I call these things Cargo Cult Science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.”

I can’t help thinking we are seeing a lot of Cargo Cult Scepticism too right now about how we understand the nature of sex and gender. Worse, I think we are seeing Cargo Cult Progressiveness.

The ideology of gender is one massive ‘just so’ story.

It starts off with the required conclusions such as ‘transwomen are women’ and then works backwards. What must be true for this to be true? One thing that must be true is that our conceptualisation of biological sex must be wrong.

Women cannot be female. Males and females must be mutable and blurred in distinction. All scientific facts must then be shoehorned into this outcome.

But @skepchicks are part of a noble movement that questions authority and relies completely on science to get to the bottom of societies core beliefs!

The problem is that this is easy when it comes to homeopathy and ghosts and gods and vaccine injuries.

But there is a Cargo Cult Progressiveness now that insists you accept without question the New Progressive Movement of Gender. To question any aspect of this will result in instant excommunication. The social cost is high.

And it would [look] like the (almost) entire US skeptical movement has decided to fool itself rather than be on the wrong side of this social movement. The cost to anyone is too high to question it.

We see defenders of evolution such as @pzmyers reacting like the worst frothing mouth evangelical preacher when asked to defend the idea that women can have penises.

One would have thought that Myers would have taken the opportunity to use this as a quirky way to explain how evolution works and ends up with counterintuitive results. But no. Shouting and screaming instead.

We appear to have ended up with Cargo Cult Scepticism where all that is left is just the precepts and forms of debate but none of the challenging, debate, evidence gathering and – most importantly – thought.

Slogans and epithets instead of thought.

Blocking is the tool of the Cargo Cult Scepticism crowd. Blog posts the sources of evidence – not the primary literature. Denouncing heretics is the cry rather than questioning and discussion.

We are now at a place where scepticism is an Identity and not a set of tools. It is about belonging to the right crowd – ‘on the right side of history’. It is no longer about informing policy and social ideas with well founded science based on robust evidence.

Maybe it was always like this. Maybe it was always just about screaming at homeopaths. But this is not good enough.

In fact, it’s downright bad.

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