In a recent article for Forbes, “The Vaccination Debacle,” I discussed the frightening rise in the number of European measles cases. The reason for the spike is simple: Fed a daily online diet of nonsense and ideologically motivated activism, many people have come to reject mainstream medical science—including the science behind vaccinations. You’d think that “get vaccinated” would be a relatively straightforward message. But in the days following the article’s publication, I received a good dozen emails from doctors thanking me for writing the piece, and describing how difficult it has become to convince some patients that their local paediatrician isn’t part of an international conspiracy.
But at least the effort to push back against anti-vaccination conspiracy theories is seen as a respectable form of discourse. In other spheres, it’s not so easy to speak common sense.
Consider, for instance, last year’s saga involving Rebecca Tuvel—who was hounded by trans activists and scholars after applying a theoretical application of transgender ideology to the idea of “trans-racialism.” Scandalously, the article in question was edited post facto so as to remove the name “Bruce Jenner”—in response to the claim that these two words served to “dead-name” the person now known as Caitlyn Jenner (despite the fact that Caitlyn Jenner herself repeatedly refers to “Bruce” in interviews). To cite the historically verifiable fact that someone named Bruce Jenner once existed is now seen as a sort of religious heresy. And like all heresies, it must be ritualistically expunged—not because it is factually wrong, but because it is seen as morally wrong.
In August, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island was criticized for removing a news release about a peer-reviewed study published in PLoS One by one of its academics—Lisa Littman, a physician and researcher at Brown’s School of Public Health. Littman’s article, titled “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports,“ discusses the phenomenon by which social media and peer pressure seem to have fuelled the recently observed trend by which young teenagers (typically girls) suddenly declare themselves transgender. The paper infuriated transgender activists, who claim that the entire notion of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) is a transphobic invention. Both Brown and PLoS One also were attacked as Brown’s enablers.
While no one could offer any evidence that Littman’s results were wrong, PLoS One issued a statement acknowledging the complaints about the study, and promising “further expert assessment on the study’s content and methodology.” Meanwhile, the dean of the School of Public Health, Bess H. Marcus, claimed that concerns over methodology had incited the university to remove the news article from the university’s web site. She added that members of the university community members had “express[ed] 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.” In other words, Marcus is worried that facts might be used to undermine ideologically hallowed “perspectives”—also known as “opinions.”
As former Harvard Medical School dean Jeffrey Flier noted in Quillette, the whole spectacle raises important issues of academic freedom at Brown. But it also symbolizes how severely transgender activism has undermined the efforts of clinicians and researchers who have sought to investigate the issue of gender dysphoria. There is perhaps no other area of human behaviour where ideologically motivated actors have been so successful in creating what are in effect no-go zones for academics, and even for facts themselves.
Another case study may be found in Kenneth Zucker’s work on desistance among children afflicted with gender dysphoria at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Following a lengthy misinformation campaign against Zucker, the transgender lobby was successful in having him fired in 2015, notwithstanding his status as a leading researcher in the field. In that same year, bioethicist and Northwestern University historian Alice Dreger published her book Galileo’s Middle Finger, which analysed the case of Michael Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism (2003). Bailey’s thoughtcrimes were contained in his review of the work of Canadian-born sexologist Ray Blanchard, who has argued that there are two types of male-to-female transsexualism: one being a deflected form of homosexuality and the other being an expression of a paraphilia known as autogynephilia. In Galileo’s Middle Finger, Dreger concluded that a small group of activists has endeavoured to bury such theories by attacking Bailey. For her troubles, Dreger endured a series of attacks by trans activists (including personal threats), and the filing of ethics charges with her university.
In the UK, there have been similar attempts to shoot the messenger. James Caspian, a psychotherapist specialising in the field of transgender mental health, proposed research on “de-transitioning” as part of his Master’s degree in counselling and psychotherapy at Bath Spa University last year. Initially, Bath Spa had approved Caspian’s proposed course of study, but later rejected it, citing fears of a “backlash” by transgender activists. (Caspian was told that he was “engaging in a potentially politically incorrect piece of research, [which] carries a risk to the university.”)
Another British researcher, cited by The Telegraph, abandoned a Russell Group university for Italy because, as he sees it, British schools are “covering their own arses” by allowing ethics committees to exert control over politically charged research. Last Fall Heather Brunskell-Evans, a Research Fellow at King’s College London, was asked by medical students to give a talk to her school’s Reproductive and Sexual Health Society on the subject of pornography and the sexualisation of young women. Things changed, however, after she appeared on Radio 4’s “Moral Maze,” where she elaborated on heterodox ideas contained in a book she’d co-edited with Michele Moore, Transgender Children and Young People. Brunskell-Evan’s talk was cancelled. She also sustained a campaign of harassment, and was accused of “promoting prejudice” by members of her own Women’s Equality Party (WEP), for which she served as Spokesperson for the Policy on Violence Against Women and Girls. (After a lengthy investigation, Brunskell-Evans resigned from the party.)
Students are getting the message. Aside from the well-publicised case of Lindsay Shepherd—who was bullied by a supervisor for the crime of suggesting that pronoun usage was a matter of legitimate debate—there is the more recent case of Angelos Sofocleous, a philosophy MA student at the University of Durham who was fired as Assistant Editor from a journal for re-tweeting: “RT if women don’t have penises.” Sofocleous also faced a social media backlash, and eventually resigned as President-elect of the Humanist Students club. Indeed, trans extremists aren’t even trying to hide their witch-hunt tactics anymore. Goldsmiths researcher Natacha Kennedy, working under the name of Mark Hellen, was discovered to have orchestrated a smear campaign targeting female academics in the UK who refuse to conform to transgender ideology. (Kennedy encouraged members on a private Facebook group to draw up a list where “members plotted to accuse non-compliant professors of hate crime to try to have them ousted from their jobs.”)
Lisa Littman knew what to expect, in other words. But she also knew that her critics wouldn’t have a scientific leg to stand on. Her research passed peer and editorial reviews, and was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. And while critics focused on Littman’s methodology, which focused on testimonials from parents instead of children, such methods are quite commonplace in studies dealing with minors. (It also has been pointed out that nobody in the trans community spoke out in protest when a study using these exact same methods concluded that children thrived after transitioning.)