The study raised questions

Colleen Flaherty at IHE on the campaign to delegitimize Lisa Littman’s study in PLOS ONE.

Brown University and PLOS ONE have distanced themselves from a controversial, peer-reviewed published study on “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” or gender identity issues that present not early and over a lifetime but quickly, in teenagers and young adults. The study, which has been criticized by transgender activists and allies as promoting the idea that being trans is a fad, and as relying on an unsound methodology, was based on anonymous survey responses from about 250 parents of (primarily female) teens and young adults who’d abruptly expressed gender dysphoria.

It’s almost funny that there’s outrage at the idea that being trans is a fad. Really? At the very same time as you’re engaged in trying to enforce the fad by shouting down anyone who asks questions? How, in this climate, could being trans not be a fad? It could certainly be other things too; it could be both a fad and a real experience or syndrome or whatever you want to call it; but at this point it can hardly escape being a fad too. It’s hyped like mad, it’s treated as sacred, it’s taboo, it’s sanctified, it’s retroactively diagnosed (Elizabeth Tudor? didn’t know that, didja!), it’s celebrated and defended and promoted all over social media. An adolescent would have to be superhuman not to be at least curious.

[T]he study also raised questions about whether social factors, rather than biological ones, influenced the young adults’ trans identities. It found that many young adults had requested and been offered medical interventions at the time of coming out, with possible lasting implications for their fertility and health, and that most doctors who evaluated these young adults didn’t ask questions about mental health, trauma or other possible reasons for sudden gender dysphoria.

The doctors are subject to social contagion too, though not as powerfully as adolescents. But the dogma is that if X says “I am trans” then that’s the end of the matter – it’s “transphobic” to wait and see.

A Brown news release about the study posted last week quoted its author, Lisa Littman, an assistant professor of the practice of behavioral and social sciences at the university, as saying, “This kind of descriptive study is important because it defines a group and raises questions for more research. One of the main conclusions is that more research needs to be done.” But Brown removed the story from its website this week, replacing it with an open letter from Bess H. Marcus, dean of public health, saying, “In light of questions raised about research design and data collection related to the study on ‘rapid onset gender dysphoria,’ the university determined that removing the article from news distribution is the most responsible course of action.”

Questions raised by whom?

By @SadistHailey.

Really. The person (or persons) managing the PLOS ONE Twitter account responded in all seriousness to that tweet from that “activist,” and then PLOS ONE removed the article. [My mistake.]

Marcus of course is the one who wrote that “The School of Public Health has heard from Brown community members expressing concerns that the conclusions of the study could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community,” as I pointed out a couple of days ago. You know, Gwyneth Paltrow has perspectives too – shouldn’t Brown’s School of Public Health be protecting her perspectives also, by letting her write an article promoting jade eggs up the vagina? If it’s one set of perspectives it should be all of them, no? How about anti-vax perspectives? How about homeopathic asthma treatment perspectives? Won’t somebody please think of the perspectives?

While the “spirit of free inquiry and scholarly debate is central to academic excellence, Marcus said, “we believe firmly that it is also incumbent on public health researchers to listen to multiple perspectives and to recognize and articulate the limitations of their work. This process includes acknowledging and considering the perspectives of those who criticize our research methods and conclusions and working to improve future research to address these limitations and better serve public health.”

So then I guess that is what she means – all perspectives welcome, including on public health research. Never mind evidence and statistics, just collect all the perspectives, put them in a box, shake it hard, and then use the soup that results.

An additional university statement on the page cites PLOS ONE’s social media statement about the study.  The journal has said it’s “aware of the reader concerns raised on the study’s content and methodology. We take all concerns raised about publications in the journal very seriously, and are following up on these per our policy” and other international publication ethics guidelines.

They’re aware of the concerns because random people on Twitter @ed them. Much science, very seriously.

Littman, the study’s author, declined comment on Brown’s or PLOS ONE’s actions. But she said she stood by her methodology. “My study is a descriptive study,” she said via email. “And like all descriptive studies there are limitations which are acknowledged. And although descriptive studies may be one of the less robust study designs they play an important role in the scientific literature primarily because they are a first description of a new condition or population and they make it possible to conduct additional, more rigorous research.”

She added, “When analyzing the methodology of my paper, it should be done in the context of other descriptive studies, not compared to studies employing other research designs. The methodology in my study is consistent with methodologies that have been used in other descriptive research and it has similar strengths and weaknesses, which I acknowledge in the paper.”

Well yes, but some activists made a stink on Twitter, so that settles it.

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