Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017

Gender Wars

March 29, 2017 12:00 AM

Two highly-credentialed Johns Hopkins researchers, Paul McHugh and Lawrence Mayer, released a report arguing that there is no reliable scientific evidence supporting the currently fashionable claims that sexual orientation and gender dysphoria are caused by natural traits and innate behavior. In response, the director of LGBTI Research at Vanderbilt University released a letter signed by about 600 scholars, denouncing the report for not being published in a peer-reviewed journal and claiming that its "conclusions do not reflect current scientific or medical consensus about sexual orientation or gender identity…”

McHugh responded that it’s very hard to respond to the letter because it lists no specific objections, other than that the report, like many medical articles, wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed journal, and that they “just don’t like us” and want to “silence us.” He added, “I am disappointed that 600 people don't like me. But I would like them to explain what exactly in that article we got wrong and where the information is that we should have put in. We are not against anybody. We are a group of doctors talking about the treatment of patients."

I’m hardly an expert in gender research, but this letter does point up one of the growing problems with scientific research in general: There are several areas of science that have become tainted by politics, such as climate research and gender identity. It’s the very essence of the scientific method that the orthodoxy be challenged, but certain subjects are being declared off-limits to questioning. Citing the lack of publishing in peer-reviewed journals as a disqualifier is itself misleading, if the editors of those journals refuse to publish anything that questions the conventional wisdom, no matter how well-researched. Likewise, people who declare, “The science is settled,” are tacitly admitting they know nothing about science. “Settled science” is getting unsettled all the time, as we learn that things we once believed about everything from space to nutrition to fetal development were not accurate. Citing “consensus” also reveals an ignorance of the scientific method. Scientific facts aren’t determined by popular vote. If a million scientists believe something, and one dissenter is able to prove them wrong, then he’s right and the million others are wrong.

For the record, I’m not taking sides on this battle. For all I know, McHugh and Mayer may be wrong. But if you really have 600 qualified scientists who agree that they are wrong, then they should be able to explain why. Simply saying, “Look at how long this list of names that disagrees is!” is not a scientific refutation.