Getting into bed with Christian fundamentalism: Behind the APPG report »« Some important findings from the ONS crime stats: Intimate & sexual violence

Is gender inherently oppressive?

In the founding principles of this blog, I wrote that I want to help build a world where gender is rarely a burden, never a prison and always a blessing. While that is undoubtedly easier said than done, it always struck me as a rather uncontroversial ambition. Who could disagree?

I appreciate that the debates around the nature of gender vis-a-vis sex, essentialism, binaries and spectrums are immensely difficult and opaque. Alex Gabriel ran an excellent blog this week spelling out why even the simplistic separations of male against female or biology against social construction are often inadequate or misleading. I don’t intend to delve into any of that, when others can explain it much better than I could.

One thing that has become apparent from recent ideological wrangles within feminism is that there is a significant bloc for whom the problem is not gender discrimination, gender inequality or gender-based oppression, but gender itself. It’s an argument that was laid out with unusual clarity by the feminist blogger Marina S this week. It seemed worth exploring just why I disagree with her so strongly. Her piece, entitled ‘What gender is and what gender isn’t‘ begins with a claim that had me screaming NO!

Gender is not the straightforward assertion that some people play with dolls while others play with trucks; it is the assertion that playing with dolls is an inferior pastime to playing deviant, and vice versa, and that this deviance must be punished with social sanction. In this way it creates a hierarchy between doll playing people and truck playing people.

She expands on the point with respect to sexual libido and career choices, but the premise is the same. Gender, she argues, is not a politically neutral identity or psychological and social trait that has been exploited to create arbitrary and artificial divisions.Gender is inherently hierarchical and oppressive, and is an assignation from which violence and economic exploitation inevitably flows. The goal of feminism, then, must not be just the elimination of gender inequality or gender oppression, but that abolition of gender itself.

The consequences of this thinking are profound. The most obvious victims are trans people whose very existence is of course denied by this logic. I don’t think it is a very subtle political model either. It would preclude hegemonic power dynamics that oppress men and boys in parallel to those oppressing women and girls. At a more trivial and superficial level, it doesn’t strike me as a particularly desirable utopia. I like living in a world of diversity and a society with a broad spectrum of gender, like a spectrum of sexuality, ideology, physicality, psychology and ideology feels healthier to me than a monoculture. I don’t want to live in a world of the gender equivalent of the Mao suit.

For all that, if Marina is right that gender is inherently and inevitably oppressive, it would be something that should profoundly influence our gender politics. So while I don’t want it to be true, could she be right?

At the heart of her blog is a long analogy to slavery. She is saying that just as skin colour was arbitrarily made into a delineator between slave-class and slave-owning class; so was binary biological sex made into a delineator between dominant class and subordinate class.

It seems to me that this analogy already contains a significant counter-argument. While she is entirely right to say that social divisions of oppression are arbitrary, they invariably have some sort of rationale. So while there might have been a brief period of Greek history where (literally) anyone could be a slave and anyone a slave-owner, for the vast bulk of human history, there have been other arbitrary divisions as to who could or could not be a slave – a conquered enemy, a criminal, a member of another tribe, another religion, another race. All those distinctions are arbitrary. All are (at least partially) socially constructed. All are reified and made real within the social and political realm. If our culture has shed the assumption that it is reasonable to make someone a slave if they were born on the other side of the river or practice a different type of prayer, could we not similarly shed the assumptions of hierarchical power we attach to gender?

The real meat of the argument comes later. I can only address it by quoting it at length. It begins here:

To say that the physical reality of women or of black individuals offers no humanly imaginable justification for their oppression is to make a clear and ethically cogent statement of fact.

(I agree)

The true roots of women’s oppression is located in a pursuit of power by small elites through the division of humanity into classes with opposed interests, one of which is constructed as inferior to the other.


(I agree)

 However, to take a further step into saying that this disconnect between the real and the purported cause of our oppression means that the fact that served as the purported cause does not exist, or is not meaningfully consistent, or is “a social construct” and therefore somehow “not really real”, is the most craven of attempts to smuggle good old fashioned misogyny by the back door of linguistically obtuse progressive theorising.


WOAH, no, stop right there!

Who is saying that physical sex is not really real? Is anyone making that argument? From my understanding of post-Butler, post-structural feminism, the argument is 1/ That the absolute binary of sex is not really real – the idea that all the world’s population can be easily and accurately divided (by anyone) into ‘male’ and ‘female’ is a myth, and 2/ That people are oppressed on the basis of gender and that many (not all) of the dynamics of patriarchal oppression relate to gender (the collective social), not sex (the individual physicality).

Even those intellectually dishonest racists who claim to “not see colour” don’t go as far as insisting that therefore differences in colour don’t exist. Race, nationality, religion, and other social constructs such as class and education, all profoundly shape gradients of power, domination and exploitation. So far, the only ‘social construct’ that is being theorised  out of existence by the Left rather than the Right is the oldest and largest (in terms of population size) of them all.


Is this true? I don’t see it. To take her analogy literally, I would aver that even those who claim not to see a binary of biological sex don’t go so far as insisting that therefore differences in sex don’t exist.

Sex exists. Gender – a hierarchy of the fully human and the merely animalistic, the properly intellectual and the merely emotional, the realised individual and the objectified Other – instrumentalises it. It does not depend on it. It is not directly – ontologically or otherwise – driven by it. But it is an inescapable fact of gender that its organising principle, its plausible cause of oppression, its fig leaf of necessity, is sex.

(I agree)

To theorise sex out of existence is to deny that sexism can exist. It is to refuse to accept that a class of human beings exist who have been economically exploited, raped, murdered, forcibly impregnated, exchanged as chattel, denied a history, a language and a right to their bodies since (literally) time immemorial. If we deny these people an identity based on the root of their oppression we are saying they, as a class, do not exist. Have no shared history. No conceivable political mission. No right to recourse. No community. No grievance. No hope.


Here’s my huge problem. I don’t think anyone is trying to theorise sex out of existence. However I do see people attempting to theorise gender out of existence, right here in front of me, and to theorise gender out of existence is to deny that gender oppression, including transphobia, can exist. It is to refuse to accept that trans people exist. It is to refuse to accept that a class of human beings exist who have been economically exploited, raped, murdered, forcibly surgically transformed, exchanged as chattel, denied a history, a language and a right to their bodies since (literally) time immemorial. And all the rest of it.

A more obscene act of woman hatred than to simply refuse to admit that women exist is hard to imagine. Tidier and cheaper than wholesale extermination, more economically self serving than foregoing the reproductive labour extracted from, the profound hatred of women qua women such an argument betrays is breath-taking. That it is an attitude espoused sometimes women themselves is no counter-argument, but a – relatively minor – entry in the ledger of the brutalising effects of patriarchal oppression.

I ask again, who is saying women do not exist? I’ve never seen it. I have, however, seen many people deny that trans people exist, who insist they are delusional, insane or sexual fetishists. Those hateful charges do not spring from thin air, but from an ideological well in which gender has been wished away and we are defined purely by the categorisation of our bodies.

After all this, I am still genuinely trying to understand why it should be that gender is inherently oppressive. I don’t see it. Marina argues well that to deny the existence of womanhood would be oppressive, but nobody is denying the existence of womanhood. At most, they are claiming that womanhood is not necessarily restricted to biological essentialism. Is womanhood somehow degraded or nullified by the inclusion of trans women? I’ve seen that argument made in its bigoted glory elsewhere, but I don’t think it is the case being made here and nor, I think, is it especially compelling.

For what it is worth, my hunch remains that gender, sex and sexuality continue to circle around each other like the rings of a gyroscope – related, independent, often overlapping, sometimes far removed. The only time any of them becomes oppressive in itself is when we insist they must all align.

Comments

  1. says

    I think the first premise is wrong, or at least unsubstantiated. There’s an idea in definitions like this, and one’s employed by feminists like Bindel, that ‘There are males/men, there are females/women, and there is a system called gender’ – i.e. that gender refers to behaviour (toys, pink/blue, etc.). Gender refers to whether people are, in the first place, men or women (or anything else). There’s no accounting for those identities without it: to describe biology as prediscursively male or female is a nonstarter, which was my argument in the post you link.

  2. Schala says

    Gender is not the straightforward assertion that some people play with dolls while others play with trucks; it is the assertion that playing with dolls is an inferior pastime to playing deviant, and vice versa, and that this deviance must be punished with social sanction. In this way it creates a hierarchy between doll playing people and truck playing people.

    I immediately recognized the radical feminist definition of gender.

    When radical feminists are not saying trans women are evil male men for not shedding blood every month, they’re saying trans women are evil male men because the socialization of being treated as inferior their whole lives is how gender exists. They want to have it both ways. A biological essentialist argument, followed by a socialization essentialist argument. Either way it’s unavoidable to them.

  3. Schala says

    Those hateful charges do not spring from thin air, but from an ideological well in which gender has been wished away and we are defined purely by the categorisation of our bodies.

    There is a lot of evidence that non-plastic parts of the brain are gendered in the fetal stage or even before. And that trans people get the other gendered’s characteristic. And this is not like Baron-Cohen’s systemic vs empathic. There is no two bell curves overlapping 80% of their length with only a bit more of one on both sides. You have two bell curves who probably don’t even touch each other except in the very very middle (the tail end of one, the start of the other).

    There has been studies since 1995, about the BSTc, its size, its neuron count, and others, showing a clear indication that trans people, regardless of being treated or not with hormones, are the sex they claim to be. Cancer-treating hormones in men have not changed them towards the female count or size, either. Despite this being part of the treatment trans women get during transition (potent anti-androgen, possibly cyproterone acetate in non-US places – who hasn’t approved it).

    So basically, trans people’s bodies’s most important part: their seat of identity in the brain, shows a clear indication of being like the sex they claim to be. The stuff between their legs only speaks of reproductive capacity. The stuff in the brain speaks of a drive to identify as member of group X.

  4. Schala says

    The stuff in the brain speaks of a drive to identify as member of group X.

    Just to add. A member of group X is not a gender grouping like women or men. But a sex grouping, like male or female.

    I see gender as cutural. I see sex as a matrix on which to superimpose the cultural. Trans people have the latter, not the former. Even if they’re characterized by bigots as “feminine gay men who went too far”. Butch trans women exist. Androgynous trans women exist (hi!). It has NOTHING to do with being feminine or not.

    The cost to transition may be smaller if you get little benefit pre-transition, though. A butch trans woman could endure the mental torture of their body “having the wrong stuff” and being treated as the other sex, for longer than feminine or androgynous trans women – who get just about no compliment, positive reinforcement or “regret” from their previous position. And probably know they’ll get more of it after (1 is infinitely more than 0).

  5. says

    I agree with this: “I don’t think anyone is trying to theorise sex out of existence.”
    And earlier: “Who is saying that physical sex is not really real? Is anyone making that argument? From my understanding of post-Butler, post-structural feminism, the argument is 1/ That the absolute binary of sex is not really real – the idea that all the world’s population can be easily and accurately divided (by anyone) into ‘male’ and ‘female’ is a myth”.
    Yes, she’s just adopting a straw man argument. Obviously no one is trying to theorize sex out of existence.
    However, this bit…
    “The most obvious victims are trans people whose very existence is of course denied by this logic.”
    I don’t think there’s any “of course” about that. The most relevant point of her (and others of this particular faction of radical feminism) argument is that trans women (they don’t care about trans men) are not women because sex. That’s why they’re so determined to defend the borders of womanhood (of sex). Whereas in fact, as you say (and as Alex Gabriel relates), the borders are nebulous in any case. Thus trans women are women because they are – sex, not gender. That we often call it gender identity (rather than sex)… sorry about that ;) . It makes everything very confusing, doesn’t it. Though not really if you understand (are willing to understand) that when we’re each talking about gender, we don’t necessarily mean the same thing.
    As for trying to eliminate gender altogether… Well, first of all, good luck with that ;) . Secondly, yes, trans people – like virtually everyone else – use the trappings of gender to express ourselves, or aspects of ourselves, to express difference. But we’re not any more tied to gender per se than anyone else. If gender was somehow eliminated I guess we’d all just find other ways to express human difference. Gender isn’t really the issue.

  6. Ginkgo says

    ” I don’t think it is a very subtle political model either. It would preclude hegemonic power dynamics that oppress men and boys in parallel to those oppressing women and girls. ”

    It may not be very subtle but it sure is effective, and that’s why it continues in force. If you define yourself as a vicitm in a culture that valorizes victimhood – this is a cultural heritage of Christianity and one’s actual religious beliefs or lack of them don’t change this – then victim cred becomes a hugely valubale resource, to s to be guarded very zealously and carefully. And we see this.

    We see this in the dogged resistance to identifying male victims – rape, DV, infant genital mutilation,violence in general – as actual victims deserving of help and support. It comes in the form of disclaimers “Well men, yeah, but it’s worse for women.” or “It’s men doing it to men, so how much of an issue is it really?” or whatever.

    Feminism is not to blame for this. This is retrograde, traditionalist stuff, and the only blame on feminism comes where it fails to renounce this dynamic – where it appropriated the privilege narrative from Third Worldism, for instance. That may be a very dominant narrative in modern feminism, but it is an adstrate, not foundational, feature.

    “Gender is inherently hierarchical and oppressive, ”

    She can speak for herself. That may well be her experience of her gender. That is not my experience of my gender – gay man – which is distinct from straight man. I experienced the heterosexual male role as oppressive and not only because it was inauthentic to me. It was oppressive because it is built around hwta feminsts calll benevolent sexism (although how benevolent it is depends on whether or not you ar ederiving any benefit) and what MRAs call femalae privielge – the two are identical. This pedestaliztion oppresses women and is basically a form of objectification, and of course it oppresses the men whom it turns into a class of disposable slaves who exist for the benefit of the beneficiaries who have to be indoctrinated into their role. Many resist successfully, but it costs them.

    And this standard of behavior is enforced by both men and women –
    Amy Yeung found that men who fail to perfom benevolent sexism are perceived as being misogynist:
    https://uwspace.uwaterloo.ca/bitstream/handle/10012/6958/Yeung_Amy.pdf?sequence=1

    More on the enforcement of this norm:
    http://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/09/26/1948550613506124.abstract
    The TL;DR version:
    http://www.psypost.org/2013/10/self-entitled-women-are-more-likely-to-endorse-benevolent-sexism-study-finds-20644

  7. unity says

    The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever.

    George Orwell, (1948), “The Principles of Newspeak”.

  8. hjhornbeck says

    Why didn’t anyone tell me it was “Troll Hornbeck Day?” For background, three weeks ago I did a lecture on sex and gender differences, and one of my two core theses was that sex was a social construct. So something like

    Who is saying that physical sex is not really real? Is anyone making that argument?

    looks like it’s aimed directly at my talk. I’m not convinced, though, as your next statement is

    From my understanding of post-Butler, post-structural feminism, the argument is 1/ That the absolute binary of sex is not really real – the idea that all the world’s population can be easily and accurately divided (by anyone) into ‘male’ and ‘female’ is a myth

    So if that division is a myth, then isn’t the notion of a physical sex also a myth, as it relies on the same divide? I think you and Myers are making the same error of confusing the description with the described. Gravity is real, but it has many constructed models to describe it such as Newtonian Mechanics and General Relativity. In the same manner, genes, hormones, chromosomes, and anatomy are all real, while our descriptions and classifications are not real.

    Sex is not real; the physical attributes we use to construct sex are very real. I hope any disagreement with that is due to confused terminology, and nothing more.

    2/ That people are oppressed on the basis of gender and that many (not all) of the dynamics of patriarchal oppression relate to gender (the collective social), not sex (the individual physicality).

    I’m not sure that’s correct. Objectification is an obvious counter-example, as well as the “Mommy War” and other forms of body policing. Butler herself viewed sex as a construct, indistinct from gender, which seems to be dominant view in modern feminism. That makes any proportioning of oppression along that axis highly suspect.

  9. bugmaster says

    Wait… how is sex (as opposed to gender) a social construct ? As far as I know, if I sampled 1000 random humans and recorded which chromosomes each person had, I’d see a huge peak at “XX”, another huge peak at “XY”, with some values in between. Are chromosomes a social construct ? Perhaps if I used a feminist microscope, I would see different results ?

  10. Gjenganger says

    The post-modern theory is way beyond me (sorry). But as I understand Gabriel he is saying that ‘male’ and ‘female’ is determined only by the gender identity in your head, and that chromosomes, anatomy, etc. are just a bunch of random, irrelevant features. So if you push it, is past history. Today I identify as male, therefore today my body is a male body, end of.

    Ally is more sensible in his mission statement (no surprise there). But if gender really is to have no unpleasant effects – “ rarely a burden, never a prison,and always a blessing ” – it can have little effect at all. A drug without side effects means homeopathy – distilled water and no effect beyond placebo.

    It is not quite unreasonable to say that both these gentlemen are claiming, in their own separate ways, that sex does not exist. Or at least that it makes no difference whether it does or not.

  11. garlic says

    The “sex debate” is a typical fake debate based on differing definitions.

    Team A defines “sex” as an individual’s position on the “gender landscape”, while Team B defines “sex” as a mode/peak on said landscape.

    Under the first definition, there is an infinite variety of “sexes” because there is an infinite variety of possible positions on the “gender axis”, both psychologically and physically (google charts of ambiguous genitalia to see how continuous the distribution is).

    Under the second definition, there are only two “sexes” because there are two significant peaks (“male” and “female”) that dwarf the rest of the distribution. Which is why the gender landscape is indeed mostly an axis (i.e. a line through two points).

    The internet being what it is, drama ensues.

  12. Gjenganger says

    @1 Gabriel
    You make much in your blog of the fact that the individual sex characteristics are not always present together, and seem to conclude that since you can not make a precise list of which features are necessary and sufficient to define someone as male, they are all equally irrelevant. But biology is not mathematics. If you plotted all of humanity in a multidimensional plot with all the sex-related traits (including gender identity), I suspect you would get a very clear separation of two clusters, one male and one female. The vast majority of people would fit clearly into one class rather that the other. And the normal scientific conclusion would be that the population is inherently divided in two groups. There would be people who could not be classified clearly, and here the answer becomes uncertain, and dependent on the exact classification procedure. For practical purposes one might decide to use different classifications for different purposes, hormone levels for the Olympics, external anatomy and dress for which loos to use, chosen (and registered) gender identity for the passport, all features present together for the right to worship the goddess Isis with the other radical feminists. But this pragmatism does not mean that sex is not inherent in biology, just that few things outside mathematics are ever as clear-cut as we would like them to be.

  13. Thil says

    @hjhornbeck @8

    the definitions of male and female are complete in that people who unambiguously fit into either definition exist (my self for example). arguing that because there are people who don’t unambiguously fit into either definition the words don’t work, is like arguing “car” doesn’t work as word because quad bikes exist

  14. Thil says

    if you don’t have to act a particular way or even necessarily want your physical body to be one way of the other (both things trans people tend to insist on in my experience) to be one gender or the other, doesn’t that mean gender is reducible to almost nothing? basically just a preference for one set of pronouns over another?

  15. Schala says

    Ally is more sensible in his mission statement (no surprise there). But if gender really is to have no unpleasant effects – “ rarely a burden, never a prison,and always a blessing ” – it can have little effect at all. A drug without side effects means homeopathy – distilled water and no effect beyond placebo.

    It is not quite unreasonable to say that both these gentlemen are claiming, in their own separate ways, that sex does not exist. Or at least that it makes no difference whether it does or not.

    As it should.

    Using a videogames metaphor, it would be using equipment that’s completely cosmetic, aesthetic. It has NO stats difference whatsoever with the other weapon over here. But it looks different. Some people prefer one to another, but it doesn’t have any effect beyond that. That’s how sex should be.

  16. Steersman says

    Schala (#15):

    As it should.

    As what should do what?

    Using a videogames metaphor, it would be using equipment that’s completely cosmetic, aesthetic.

    Seems that your analogy doesn’t hold all that much water. For one thing different weapons in a videogame are generally in a fantasy world where there effects are mostly only psychological; “male” and “female” are mostly in the real world where they have very noticeable physical and physiological effects.

  17. Koken says

    I know a lot of people (including, some days, me) who would happily agree with the claim that the problem is gender per se, without relying on any particular answer to the question of whether hierarchy is integral to gender. Even if the genders really were different but equal, different expectations and treatment amount to limiting people unnecessarily and are therefore presumably a bad thing.

    Of course it is easy to see how troublesome trans people are from that perspective. Even absent hatred, about the most sympathetic way you can see them from this position is as pitiful victims of gender, forced by society’s expectations (and the internalised force thereof) to change their bodies to make a better fit with other aspects of their identity. Presumably in a world where gender is abolished sex is trivial, and correspondingly aspects of one’s biological sexual features will never have sufficient importance to contradict anyone’s sense of themselves. I can easily see this as a pretty insulting point of view.

    It’s a perfectly good theoretical construct, but God knows if any of it’s true – in particular the idea that biology doesn’t mean much. There’s plenty of bollocks used to support particular claims of difference, but that doesn’t make the opposite true.

  18. hjhornbeck says

    bugmaster @9:

    As far as I know, if I sampled 1000 random humans and recorded which chromosomes each person had, I’d see a huge peak at “XX”, another huge peak at “XY”, with some values in between. Are chromosomes a social construct ? Perhaps if I used a feminist microscope, I would see different results ?

    Nah, a web browser is good enough. Here’s a photo of two people with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, who possess a Y chromosome [NOT SAFE FOR WORK!]. Are they women, men, or something else? If they are men, would you be fine with them going into the Men’s washroom? If they are women, why did you override the sex of their chromosomes? If they are something else, then isn’t that an admission that there’s a third sex?

    Gjenganger @10:

    But as I understand Gabriel he is saying that ‘male’ and ‘female’ is determined only by the gender identity in your head, and that chromosomes, anatomy, etc. are just a bunch of random, irrelevant features.

    I’m not Gabriel, but I think his answer would be similar to mine. You do misunderstand: chromosomes, genes, anatomy, and so on are so messy and complicated that there’s really only one reliable way to tell what sex someone is: ask them. That doesn’t mean all the physical parts are random or irrelevant, they’re just secondary.

  19. hjhornbeck says

    Thai @13:

    the definitions of male and female are complete in that people who unambiguously fit into either definition exist (my self for example). arguing that because there are people who don’t unambiguously fit into either definition the words don’t work, is like arguing “car” doesn’t work as word because quad bikes exist.

    Your analogy would hold if we thought every vehicle was a “car,” of some sort, and “quad bikes” were not “cars.” Because we as a society say every person must have a sex; that’s why it’s not an optional part of birth certificates, censuses, government licenses, and so on. And yet you reject this, as you argue some people don’t fall into the standard two categories.

    So doesn’t it bother you that the rest of society says these ambiguous cases don’t exist, or are not actually ambiguous? Who’s right, here?

  20. Sans-sanity says

    From a post-modernist perspective nothing’s really “real”. So using postmodernist arguments to try and make a case for something’s nonexistance/social construction is a bit redundant.

    If you take a positivist perspective the theoretical existance of people without a sex no more disproves the existance of sex as “real” than the existance of people without legs disproves walking. People sometimes get born without arseholes, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist either. Nor that arseholery is not a definable attriubute of humanity ;)

    The fact that there being a “sex” tick box on your birth certificate is a social construct is irrelevent to the ultimate reality and existance of sex.

  21. jose says

    You say you don’t see anybody denying sex. Taking into account that both this and this (and everything else too, regardless of what it look like and does) can be male depending on the person’s self-perception, please define “male”.

  22. Clarence Woodworth says

    Sex is inherently tied to reproduction. There are two and only two sexes in humans because you need two differently sexed people to reproduce. Any argument that tries to avoid this can be and should be dismissed. One needs to find an exception: a type of human hermophrodite that can reproduce would be an example.

  23. says

    @ garlic

    The “sex debate” is a typical fake debate based on differing definitions.

    Team A defines “sex” as an individual’s position on the “gender landscape”, while Team B defines “sex” as a mode/peak on said landscape.

    No, not really. We have different definitions of “gender”, different opinions as to how gender is formed and what might be done about gender-based oppression, but this isn’t about that.

    Nor is it about deconstructing sex, saying that biological definitions don’t apply. Obviously they do in most cases. The point (that Alex Gabriel is making) is that they don’t always apply. You can’t draw up a fixed definition of man or woman that doesn’t exclude some people who would otherwise belong in one of those binary categories – or indeed forcibly include some people who don’t.

    This faction of radical feminism attempts to draw up such definitions, using dubious science, to forcibly exclude women of trans history. That’s their sole motivation. The counter-argument is simply to point at the dubious science and say, errm, that science is dubious.

  24. bugmaster says

    @hjhornbeck #18:

    I believe that, according to my previous comment, these individuals would probably fall into the “some values in between” bucket. Please re-read what I said: I never claimed that there are only two sexes; I claimed that sex, unlike gender, is a property of an individual’s biology, and not a socially constructed concept. This, by the way, includes Complete Androgen Insensitivity. Do you believe that Complete Androgen Insensitivity is a socially constructed concept, or do you believe that it is a physical condition that can be detected by instruments ?

  25. Gjenganger says

    @Jonathan 23
    Gender is no different from other concepts in this regard. Take ‘mother’, for instance. Naively you would think that somebody is either a mother or not. But by the time you have considered birth mothers, adoptive mothers, stepmothers, surrogate mothers, foster mothers, and egg donors, you have to admit that no precise definition will fit completely. The solution is not to stop using the word ‘mother’, or to decide that anybody who identifies as a mother is a mother. You keep on with the useful concept of ‘mother’, and make special-case rules for the various marginal categories.

    As for “forcibly exclude women of trans history“, that is neither better nor worse than saying that trans people are trying to “forcibly include men who think they are women”. The definitions are imprecise, how to treat borderline cases is a social decision, you said it yourself. You can decide that the best decision is to include trans women as women, but you really cannot base your argument on the supposedly obvious fact that that is what they ‘really’ are.

  26. Ally Fogg says

    jose (21) & hjhornbeck

    It’s patently obvious that not everyone fits into a M-F binary of sex. However just because sex is not a binary does not mean that sex does not exist. It can exist as a spectrum (or whatever)

    Koken (17)

    Even if the genders really were different but equal, different expectations and treatment amount to limiting people unnecessarily and are therefore presumably a bad thing.

    (and Gjenganger, similar point)

    This brings up a point that I started to address in the OP and abandoned due to wordlength, but I do think is quite important.

    If gender is not restrictive, not policed, not enforced, but a glorious pick and mix free-for-all, does it cease to exist? My hunch is probably not, because I think people will still tend to develop recognisable clusters of traits, gender patterns, if you like, because I think that is kind of how humans are. The important thing for me is that we don’t judge or attach value to one cluster over another, or punish people for failing to adopt the same clusters as everyone else. And I still see no reason to think that is inevitable.

  27. says

    Sans Sanity,

    From a post-modernist perspective nothing’s really “real”. So using postmodernist arguments to try and make a case for something’s nonexistance/social construction is a bit redundant.

    Postmodernism is not one school of though, but several, unified by being critical of some aspects modernist discourse. In this sense I consider myself a postmodernist. However the term is a mixed pack of fruits. For example Myers on his pharyngula blog made blog post that one should rehabilitate postmodernism, under a reasonable definition of some postmodernists, I initially agreed wth. Within a short period of time people (at least one with an alleged degree in math) made memorably stupid equivocation fallacies in the comments in order to justify that”17 is a prime” is not an objective fact. So while some aspects of modernist discourse are certainly open to critique and academic post modernism has made a good job of it, the term is a magnet for pseudo philosophical idiocy.

  28. Gjenganger says

    @Schala 15.
    No, it should not because it can’t. And it can’t because there are both biological and social reasons why sex does make a difference. It is interesting to see where your games metaphor breaks down:

    – The right comparison is with choosing race, at the start of character creation. Even if the stat distributions overlap, your average half-orc is different to your average hobbit. And some races can get special abilities – women get ‘child-bearing’.

    – In a single-player video game you are alone. All that matters is the final strength and agility scores (etc.). But life is multiplayer. Other players expectations and interactions will depend on your player race. A half-orc would have a specific effect on the elven NPCs, no matter what side it wanted to fight on. In a real battle, wearing the wrong uniform can easily get you killed, since it is not possible to establish social interactions with every potential enemy before you decide to shoot him.

    – In life you do your own character creation. A character with traits that did not match each other or the (expectations of the) surroundings might be fun in a computer game, but it would be rather exhausting in a full-immersion game like real life. So the ‘racial backgrounds’ of the character races serve to help the players construct a functional, coherent, and well-adjusted character.

  29. says

    Steersman:

    Seems that your analogy doesn’t hold all that much water. For one thing different weapons in a videogame are generally in a fantasy world where there effects are mostly only psychological; “male” and “female” are mostly in the real world where they have very noticeable physical and physiological effects.

    Reading this exchange I feelt a bit torn between both of your positions. Ican agree with the fact that the physical configuration that makes up gender in brains will be different and therefore absolute parity in societal expectations will be impossible even if we were to build suitable bodies to eliminate other differences. Otherwise it is probably possible (meaning withi the range of future technology) to eliminate the physical differences, though I would argue not desirable for most people. Making gender as interchangeable as gear with equal stats would probably require alteration of the human nature as severe as that.

  30. Thil says

    @hjhornbeck @19

    I don’t think that birth certificate law being anachronistic proves that society as a howl believes that it’s impossible not to have a well defined sex.

  31. Gjenganger says

    @Ally

    gender is not restrictive, not policed, not enforced, but a glorious pick and mix free-for-all, does it cease to exist? My hunch is probably not, because I think people will still tend to develop recognisable clusters of traits, gender patterns, if you like, because I think that is kind of how humans are. The important thing for me is that we don’t judge or attach value to one cluster over another, or punish people for failing to adopt the same clusters as everyone else.

    You mean gender will be like youth subcultures? Goth, skinhead, gang member, …? I see several problems with that.

    The point of these clusters is that they serve for social coordination. You know how you should react, you know how others will react, so interactions are easy and effortless. The clusters are around as you grow, so you absorb the rules as part of your identity formation. By matching rules with others you form an in-group where people are comfortable.

    So, what about people who do not fit in? They require rather more explicit effort and so are more tiresome to deal with. For youth cultures they are simply excluded from the group. That is a potent policing mechanism in itself, which is why youth cultures are notably conformist. Or you could say that everybody must be treated as insiders no matter how they behave. That pretty much nullifies the benefits of having the clusters in the first place. Or, if you prefer, it means that your clusters can not form an important part of your identity the way current gender roles can. In short, if there is a benefit in group membership, that will put outsiders at a disadvantage and pressure them to conform. If there is no benefit in membership, they might as well not be there.

    Then, by having few possible roles, known to all, and predetermined by sex, your gender is there to form your identity around from you moment you come out of the womb. That gives a stable sense of identity (for those who can fit, obviously). Free-for-all roles can only be adopted much later and more superficially, like youth cultures. They will not be nearly as supportive.

  32. Thil says

    “Nah, a web browser is good enough. Here’s a photo of two people with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, who possess a Y chromosome [NOT SAFE FOR WORK!]. Are they women, men, or something else? If they are men, would you be fine with them going into the Men’s washroom? If they are women, why did you override the sex of their chromosomes? If they are something else, then isn’t that an admission that there’s a third sex?”

    but most of those XX and XY why people would be Standard form cisgenered men and women.

    “You do misunderstand: chromosomes, genes, anatomy, and so on are so messy and complicated that there’s really only one reliable way to tell what sex someone is: ask them. That doesn’t mean all the physical parts are random or irrelevant, they’re just secondary”

    unlike gender a persons opinion of what their own sex is largely irrelevant

  33. Thil says

    “This cis dude does realise that “gender is a social construct” is a fairly basic tenant of feminism, right? And it’s not just anti-trans feminists who believe this?”

    someone wrote this in Reddit thread for this article

  34. Schala says

    As for “forcibly exclude women of trans history“, that is neither better nor worse than saying that trans people are trying to “forcibly include men who think they are women”.

    One is using force to exclude trans women out of hatred. The other is trying to convince the majority that trans women belong. One of those is not like the other.

    The point of these clusters is that they serve for social coordination. You know how you should react, you know how others will react, so interactions are easy and effortless. The clusters are around as you grow, so you absorb the rules as part of your identity formation. By matching rules with others you form an in-group where people are comfortable.

    Clusters as a “guide on how to act with X people” is a crutch that 5 years old need. Not adult human beings with average intelligence. Unless we’re all supposed to be just as stupid as Homer Simpson, and unable to act without clear, delineated rules as to what clothing X group is allowed to wear and such.

    Adult human beings can treat other adults like they are unique. Like they matter as individuals. Not as “member #485787 of group #873487″. I might not care one fucking bit about the pizza delivery person, or cashier, etc, but I won’t treat them like Generic Person X just because it demands less brain power, unless I am mentally impaired (drunk, high, etc).

    In other words: We don’t need clusters. We just don’t. We could do without.

    And, I still think my videogame analogy holds. Vanity gear made to look like a maid, on top of lv 50 tank gear, is a tiny difference to vanity gear made to look like a butler, on top of lv 50 tank gear. It’s simply a preference in looks. Maybe a strong, ingrained, unchangeable preference, but one that matters about zero in what you should be able to do, what you should be allowed to do, how you should be treated, etc.

  35. says

    Adult human beings can treat other adults like they are unique. Like they matter as individuals. Not as “member #485787 of group #873487″. I might not care one fucking bit about the pizza delivery person, or cashier, etc, but I won’t treat them like Generic Person X just because it demands less brain power, unless I am mentally impaired (drunk, high, etc).

    I think its vastly impractical to not rely on quick judgements while interacting with others. I do not make meme references with people much older than me, since I know from experience a lot of them won’t get them. I am more likely to start talking about soccer with a male I barely know than with a female, since experience taught me that females are not that interested in soccer. Of course this does not concern all females and all males but it improves oversation quality a lot of times. When I get to know people better I can use this knowledge to talk about more individualized subject, but in absence of this knowledge, clustering is far more effective than trying to be the same to all people.

  36. hjhornbeck says

    Thai @32:

    unlike gender a persons opinion of what their own sex is largely irrelevant

    I’m guessing that’s true in your case…

    At the Intersex Society we understand intersexuality primarily as an issue of stigma and emotional trauma. In our culture, sexual variation which blurs the line between male and female is stigmatized. Intersexuality is so highly stigmatized that, until recently, the phenomenon was little known outside related medical specialties. Thus, the birth of an intersex child is emotionally traumatizing: Parents are traumatized because the birth of a child with sexual ambiguity violates a deeply held world view, and because it elicits parental feelings of shame and guilt. Patients are traumatized because they are made to feel utterly unique, alone, and unacceptable. Not only patients and parents, but doctors as well are traumatized.

    After stillbirth, genital anomaly is the most serious problem with a baby, as it threatens the whole fabric of the personality and life of the person. The trauma of discovering a genital anomaly in the labour ward is great for both parents and doctor”.
    John Hutson, MD

    The traditional model of medical management has been based on the idea that patients can be helped to live a “normal” life if only their intersexuality is concealed. Intersexuality could be eliminated through a combination of “spin control” (concealing information about intersexuality) reinforced by early genital surgery and later exogenous hormones.

    In 1995 I was horrified to hear the story of 24 year old Washington DC trans woman Tyra Hunter, who died at the hands of a transphobic EMT and a doctor who let their transphobia override their obligation and duty to provide medical care in her hour of need.

    Once again I’m stunned to hear about another case happening in which a New York EMS technician is alleged to have not done his duty and allowed a trans woman to die after going into diabetic shock.

    … but to other people, the wrong “opinion” of their sex can earn them a lifetime of shame, or humiliation and death.

  37. hjhornbeck says

    Ally Fogg @26:

    It’s patently obvious that not everyone fits into a M-F binary of sex. However just because sex is not a binary does not mean that sex does not exist. It can exist as a spectrum (or whatever)

    One of the most potent arguments for atheism is the lack of consensus on a god; if theists disagree sharply on what attributes this god possesses, then it’s more likely that no gods exist than a fuzzy indistinct one. Why doesn’t the same apply to sex? If no two people can agree on how many sexes there are, or where those boundaries should be drawn, then isn’t the conclusion “sex is a social construct to describe a messy reality” more reasonable than “sex is a real thing, but fuzzy and indistinct?”

  38. Thil says

    @hjhornbeck

    @36

    I think that if a person was born with any other kind of deformity we wouldn’t view correcting it as an ethical issue. I alsio think that even in the absence of any obvious health advantage being seen as “normal” by other people is a good enough reason to correct a deformity.

    @37

    There are common attributes to all (or at least all I know of) the monotheists versions of god as there are common attributes to all the definitions of male and female (or at least all I know of). we can all agree that a cis gendered man and a cis gendered woman are unambiguously a male organism and a female organism respectively

    As an aside I don’t see why other people’s religious beliefs would have any bearing on if you believe in god or not? I believe in god or not based on if I find the philosophical arguments for or against his existence compelling

  39. says

    I think that if a person was born with any other kind of deformity we wouldn’t view correcting it as an ethical issue.

    The ethics of non-hearing parents not opting for “curing” deaf children .- even the ethics of them selecting for deaf children springs to mind:

    Deaf culture (always a capital “D”). Members of the Deaf community in the US are deaf and use American Sign Language. As in other cultures, members are characterized by unique social and societal attributes. Members of the Deaf community (i.e., the Deaf) do NOT consider themselves to be hearing “impaired,” nor do they feel that they have a hearing “loss.” Rather, they consider themselves deaf. Their deafness is not considered to be a pathology or disease to be treated or cured.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK1434/
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/9526045/Why-not-all-deaf-people-want-to-be-cured.html

    http://jme.bmj.com/content/28/5/283.full
    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/mar/09/genetics.medicalresearch

  40. Thil says

    @Tamen @39

    I don’t think that parents should have the option of refusing treatment in situations like, and there is no way you can possibly argue being deaf is not a disability unless you just reject the concept of “disability” in general

  41. says

    I haven’t stated an opinion. I am not sure whether there is any point in discussing that partiular ethic question here. I just pointed out with an example that it is indeed considered an ethical issue with some degree of discussion whether one should correct other kind of “deformities” or non-normality than sex ambiguity at birth.

    Certain groups of Deaf people do argue that being deaf is not a disability and I don’t think they reject the concept of disability in general. I don’t know, but I presume most of them would for instance allow correcting a cleft palate to just pick a random relatively common birth defect.

  42. hjhornbeck says

    Thil @38:

    I think that if a person was born with any other kind of deformity

    Whoa whoa whoa, “deformity?” Do you view red hair as a “deformity?” No? That’s about as common as intersex, if we go by Anne Fausto-Sterling’s number of 1.7%. If you want a more stricter definition, dropping the number down to about 0.002% of the population, then you’re in the same range as albinism (1 in 17,000).

    At worst, intersex people can’t have children. They can usually be aroused and have sex, unless a doctor’s forced them to conform to the binary, without their consent or awareness. Quote, with emphasis:

    To start with, lying to patients is not only unethical, it is bad medicine. Patients who were lied to figured that much out, and often stopped getting medical care they needed to stay healthy. (For example, some stopped taking hormone replacement therapy—critical after gonadectomy—and wound up with life-threatening osteoporosis at an early age.) They also suffered psychological harm from these practices, because they got the message that they were so freakish even their doctors could not speak the truth of their bodies to them. (A lot of doctors still have not told their present and former patients the name of their conditions. Some still withhold medical records from patients and from parents/guardians of minor children.)

    Second, the system was and is literally sexist: that is, it treats children thought to be girls differently than children thought to be boys. In this approach (still going on at Hopkins so far as we can tell), doctors’ primary concern for children thought to be girls is preservation of fertility (not sexual sensation), and for children thought to be boys, size and function of the phallus.

    Third, the “standards” used for genital anatomy have been arbitrary and illogical. For example, under the “optimum gender of rearing” model, boys born with penises doctors considered small were made into girls—even though other doctors believed (and showed) they could be raised as boys without castration, genital surgery, and hormone replacement. Girls with clitorises their doctors think are “too big” still find themselves in operating theatres with surgeons cutting away at their healthy genital tissue.

    Paradoxically, though all medical experts agree the identification of intersex anatomy at birth is primarily a psycho-social (not medical) concern, it is still treated almost exclusively with surgery. Parental distress is treated with the child being sent off to surgery. This is not an appropriate form of care for parents or children.

    There is no evidence that children who grow up with intersex genitals are worse off psychologically than those who are altered. In fact, there is evidence that children who grow up with intersex genitals do well psychologically. In other words, these surgeries happen before the age of assent or consent without real cause. “Ambiguous” genitalia are not diseased, nor do they cause disease; they just look funny to some people.

    And you’re fine with all this, I see:

    I alsio think that even in the absence of any obvious health advantage being seen as “normal” by other people is a good enough reason to correct a deformity.

    You are arguing we should cut at someone’s healthy tissue without their consent, potentially damaging it beyond repair, all because the sight of it makes some people go “ick.” Do you have no respect for personal autonomy? Do you really value the appearance of other people’s genitals so much that you want them mutilated for your own comfort?!

    You had no idea how much of a moral monster you were. I just hope I’m not using the past tense in error.

  43. Lucy says

    ” I don’t think anyone is trying to theorise sex out of existence. ”

    It happens all the time – right here in your blogs and on this board. In quite a sinister way.

    From Mike Buchanan’s “simple gender (actually sex) swap” when talking about domestic violence and suicide or his and the Daily Mail’s insistence that women enter the workplace on the same terms as men (ie. male ones), to your favourite pastime of comparing rates of violence against men and women as if they are the same phenomena and then playing top trumps where men always seem to win, to the trans posters who appropriate womanhood and talk about their taste in sexist horror as if it offered an insight, to the commenters who refuse to acknowledge that being a woman is an actual thing rather than a state of mind.

    It’s one of the favoured tactics of all kinds of lobbies and it is becoming increasingly widespread and infuriating. She’s spot on when she says that it’s a tactic that allows people to deny that womanhood/women and sexism exist; you can tell this by noticing who is using it: men and trans men. Life becomes much simpler for them if they can ignore the fact that there is a group of people who are different to them with common denominators who need to be taken into full consideration.

  44. Steersman says

    Sheaf (#29):

    Reading this exchange I feel a bit torn between both of your positions. I can agree with the fact that the physical configuration that makes up gender in brains will be different and therefore absolute parity in societal expectations will be impossible even if we were to build suitable bodies to eliminate other differences.

    Definitely something to be said for all sides of the question. Although as some have suggested, there appear to be some basic misunderunderstandings about the terminology and definitions in play that tends to give the discussion an air of “Who’s on first?” to it. But I think, as do others, that one of the more sensible comments on the discussion on PZ Myers’ recent post on the question was this one (1) from Giliell:

    There’s a useful word I learned that transforms many ideas from being 3rd grade over-simplistic or plain false into reasonable statements.
    It’s “most”.
    To say that “most people have XX/XY chromosomes” is pretty accurate.
    To say that “most people who have a penis are men” is pretty accurate.
    And it also makes no statement about those who are the minority, it does not imply a moral judgement. …

    Seems that the point there is that “male” and “female” are terms that we have “defined” to describe the fact that most of the attributes, particularly those associated with procreation, tend to clump together in a bimodal distribution, the peaks of which we label as “male” and “female”. Which most definitely doesn’t mean that one attribute normally associated with one peak can’t be found in individuals that possess or exhibit attributes normally associated with the other one. Nor that that should “imply a moral judgement”.

    But what I, and many others, find problematic is the apparent tendency of many, H.J. Hornbeck for example, to try to deny that those labels are largely applicable to probably some 95% of the population. As both you and Ally and others have suggested, while judging on the basis of stereotypes can be somewhat problematic, there is also frequently some significant value in doing so as well.

    Otherwise it is probably possible (meaning within the range of future technology) to eliminate the physical differences, though I would argue not desirable for most people.

    Short of developing gene replacement therapy to the point where we could replace every last one of the some trillion cells in each of our bodies, I don’t see that that idea is going to fly.

    —-
    1) “_http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2014/02/20/sex-differences-are-real/comment-page-1/#comment-754106”;

  45. Gjenganger says

    @HJHornbeck 18

    I’m not Gabriel, but I think his answer would be similar to mine. You do misunderstand: chromosomes, genes, anatomy, and so on are so messy and complicated that there’s really only one reliable way to tell what sex someone is: ask them. That doesn’t mean all the physical parts are random or irrelevant, they’re just secondary.

    No.’Irrelevant’ is the right word. The ‘physical parts’ cannot possibly be ‘secondary’ in determining your sex. The reason has to do with ontology:

    What sex people have is a biological question. It is not necessarily simple. You may have a strict binary or a small group of possible sexes, or a scale, or decide that the concept is meaningless (like race).But either way sex is a matter of people’s bodies, so that is where you need to look.

    Gender is defined as a a social issue. The right way to find out about somebody’s gender is to ask people in his community. Now each community will have its own rules for deciding who is male and who is female – we all know about societies that accept people with clearly female bodies into the male gender. Here it makes sense to examine what factors go into these decisions, since the norms of a community are accessible to examination. And it might well be that in some community biological sex had a real but secondary influence in the gender classification.

    If the way to determine someones gender (let alone sex) is ‘ to ask them’, gender (sex) is no longer social but individual. Each decides for himself. Of course each person will have his own motivations, but individual motivation is not accessible to investigation. And anyway, if I have the right to decide my gender as I see fit, society has no legitimate right to ask. As far as society is concerned, gender is an individual choice – full stop – and biological sex, behavior, or anything else is not even secondary, but simply, completely irrelevant.

  46. says

    Steersman,

    Short of developing gene replacement therapy to the point where we could replace every last one of the some trillion cells in each of our bodies, I don’t see that that idea is going to fly.

    Or assuming it is feasable, mind brain uploading.

  47. Thil says

    @hjhornbeck @42

    It’s like if your child was born with an unattractive lump on the side of their head. If you could you’d have it removed because they’d get bullied otherwise and the odds of the child actually wanting it there are fairly minuscule

    I can imagine that a lot of people born this way would be pissed off if they grew up trans because their parents or the doctor made the wrong choice, but I find it hard to credit the notion that there are any who actively want to have two sets of genitals

    Incidentally Red hair isn’t viscously repulsive, also alot of people actually like having it so I wouldn’t abdicate allowing parents to change it

  48. WhineyM. says

    Thought this was quite intriguing (hot off the press, as published just this month!) :-

    http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/males-and-females-differ-in-specific-brain-structures

    Mind you the differences are stated as being ‘on average’ rather than being absolute across the board. (But then height is also something which differs ‘on average’ too, and that’s clearly a significant difference between men and women, on a more general level, as the ratio of men to women at 6ft is supposedly something like 20:1. ) Or in other words, building structures in public spaces on which anyone over 6ft would likely bang their head would clearly be a ‘gendered phenomenon’, as it’s clear just who that’s generally going to affect!)

  49. Schala says

    If the way to determine someones gender (let alone sex) is ‘ to ask them’, gender (sex) is no longer social but individual. Each decides for himself. Of course each person will have his own motivations, but individual motivation is not accessible to investigation. And anyway, if I have the right to decide my gender as I see fit, society has no legitimate right to ask. As far as society is concerned, gender is an individual choice – full stop – and biological sex, behavior, or anything else is not even secondary, but simply, completely irrelevant.

    Something that can only be known when asked does NOT mean “something that is decided on a whim”. It simply doesn’t. If you always kept your eyes closed and no one could see them. Their color would still be whatever it is. Someone would have to ask me, and I would tell them they’re blue. It’s not something I just made up, invented or decided on a whim.

    A trans person’s biological sex is the one thing they can tell you. Their reproductive capacity and way might be something else, or not. It’s irrelevant or secondary. Gender is something else entirely. A trans person might choose to not transition, or to transition, but they can’t choose their identified sex. Only what to do about it.

    I can imagine that a lot of people born this way would be pissed off if they grew up trans because their parents or the doctor made the wrong choice, but I find it hard to credit the notion that there are any who actively want to have two sets of genitals

    Only a tiny portion of intersex people even have two sets of genitalia. Chimeric people. People who are almost siamese with themselves, and carry two genetic codes. Only those can. And they can’t be fertile in both ways. Many of them won’t have “two sets of genitalia”, but might have two sets of gonads, however.

    Most intersex people who have non-standard genitalia get tons of healthy tissue removed, in the name of conformity, in kids who wouldn’t even know better. It’s worse than circumcision. It’s simply done out of fear and insecurity of the parents and doctors. If the person in question wants it changed, they can do so later, and at that later time, keep more of the tissue since it’ll be developed, not a newborn’s tissue. Regardless, they should have informed consent, not just get told “we did it for the best for you”.

  50. Schala says

    Mind you the differences are stated as being ‘on average’ rather than being absolute across the board. (But then height is also something which differs ‘on average’ too, and that’s clearly a significant difference between men and women, on a more general level, as the ratio of men to women at 6ft is supposedly something like 20:1.

    Any research differing “on average” is simply two bell curves almost one on top of the other, like Baron-Cohen’s systemic/empathic thing. Pretty sure the trans research is not two overlapping bell curves nearly in their middle.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7477289

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10843193

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11826131

    The systemic and empathic thing, you could say 40% of men and 60% of women have the “mostly empathic” brain type, while 60% of men and 40% of women have the “mostly systemic” brain type. Doesn’t tell you much about what sex should do what, or what could be done about better orienting people in careers. Only a small tendency. It certainly doesn’t justify giving no parenting toys to boys and no scientific/building toys to girls.

    I’m a trans woman. I have the mostly systemic brain type. I don’t think it says “I think more male” or anything like it. Only that I work better with things than people. But my BSTc probably says I identify as female at the neurological level. Without saying it means I like pink or anything like it.

  51. Thil says

    @Schala @49

    “Most intersex people who have non-standard genitalia get tons of healthy tissue removed, in the name of conformity”

    define a “healthy tissue”?

    “in kids who wouldn’t even know better”

    kids can’t give informed concent to anything

    “It’s worse than circumcision”

    No it isn’t. circumcision reduces sexual pleasure and having foreskin isn’t repulsive to most people

    “If the person in question wants it changed, they can do so later, and at that later time”

    You are comfortable wit the idea of condemning an individual to grow up a freak for 18 years, when there’s no need for it?

    “Regardless, they should have informed consent, not just get told “we did it for the best for you””

    We do that with alot of other medical procedures

  52. Schala says

    No it isn’t. circumcision reduces sexual pleasure and having foreskin isn’t repulsive to most people

    Because you don’t think having a penis removed, or having a clitoris shortened is going to reduce sexual pleasure? On what planet?

    You are comfortable wit the idea of condemning an individual to grow up a freak for 18 years, when there’s no need for it?

    Only a freak in your eyes.

    We do that with alot of other medical procedures

    And we are just as wrong when they are not needed.

  53. Thil says

    @Schala @52

    “Because you don’t think having a penis removed, or having a clitoris shortened is going to reduce sexual pleasure? On what planet?”

    I wouldn’t have thought so. Can you use them both at once

    “Only a freak in your eyes”

    me and every other kid in the locker room

    “And we are just as wrong when they are not needed”

    is it wrong to get you kid braces or give them a hair cut?

  54. Schala says

    I wouldn’t have thought so. Can you use them both at once

    Both at once? What in fuck are you talking about?

    On two different people. Hello.

    Penis is the name we give to the external clitoris. It’s length is the ONLY criteria for calling it a penis. A long clitoris with more external length will ALSO be called a penis. It’s the same fucking thing. You can’t have both. Like you can’t have 4 arms, or 4 legs.

    You can have incompletely-fused testis, which we call labia, too. And the cavity of the vagina probably exists in both men and women, at the fetal stage. The fusing of the testis over the ‘entry’ kind of seals the deal though, literally.

    In short, if you cut a part of the penis, or clitoris, or remove it because you think it’s “unslightly”, you probably removed their potential for reproduction (if they have testis, I guess someone with a functional uterus could still bear children), and the vast majority of their sexual sensibility.

    me and every other kid in the locker room

    Who in fuck shows their genitals to everyone in the locker room? I never did, ever. Ever. Ever. And I have “normal looking genitals”. Had no reason to feel I would get judged badly, except trollish behavior common to locker rooms. And that’s NO REASON to do something. People cite “people in the locker room” as a reason to circumcise, too. Bullshit fucking reason.

    is it wrong to get you kid braces or give them a hair cut?

    Hair is dead (no nerve ending) and grows back, quite fast too (0.5 inch a month). I do think cutting hair against the kid’s wishes because of a cultural norm “boys have short hair” is child abuse.

    I think the kid should have input on the braces, with knowledge that the teeth could look bad without them. I had no braces, I might have benefited from having some. I have an incisive tooth overlapping another on my lower jaw. But oh well. I’m not gonna die from having imperfect teeth.

  55. johngreg says

    Schala said:

    Penis is the name we give to the external clitoris. It’s length is the ONLY criteria for calling it a penis. A long clitoris with more external length will ALSO be called a penis. It’s the same fucking thing.

    Huh?!? Well, that’s certainly a new one on me. The same thing, eh? Whew.

  56. Thil says

    if performing gender reassignment on a intersex person reduces sexual pleasure or prevents them having kids, then it shouldn’t be done without their consent.

    in my middle school we had a communal shower

    getting a kid’s consent does little to elevate the ethical dilemma if they are too young to give informed consent

  57. Gjenganger says

    Something that can only be known when asked does NOT mean “something that is decided on a whim”.

    I am not saying that these things are decided on a whim (the cost of such a whim is too high, basically) only that it would make no difference if they were. Eye colors are objective, defined by the way your eyes reflect different wavelengths of light. They are still objective even if you happen to be the only person to know. If yesterday you told me that your eyes are blue and today you tell me they are brown, then one of the statements is necessarily false. Your gender identity, on the other hand, is subjective. By definition it is whatever you feel it is, so if your mind changes your gender identity changes. And the only thing anybody else can do is to accept your decision.

  58. hjhornbeck says

    Thil @47:

    It’s like if your child was born with an unattractive lump on the side of their head. If you could you’d have it removed because they’d get bullied otherwise and the odds of the child actually wanting it there are fairly minuscule.

    You analogy only holds if we all walk around in nothing but ass-less chaps. And cancer doesn’t exist. And we ignore that, as I already pointed out, a fair bit of intersex anatomy doesn’t lead to problems later in life.

    Incidentally Red hair isn’t viscously repulsive, also alot of people actually like having it so I wouldn’t abdicate allowing parents to change it.

    Ah, I see, you want to determine the shape of all human genitals, regardless of what their owners think about them. Do you not realize how sick and twisted that is? The same arguments can be used to say all men must be circumcised, all women must be genitally mutilated. Society finds the new versions more attractive, after all, and would actively discriminate against people who didn’t have the procedure done. So let’s cut away at someone else’s healthy tissue, just so I can sleep better at night.

    I was wrong to use the past tense, you occupy the same moral sphere as ultra-orthodox Jews and Muslims. No wait, you’re worse, as I bet you don’t have a God to justify your depravity.

  59. Thil says

    @hjhornbeck @60

    “You analogy only holds if we all walk around in nothing but ass-less chaps”

    In my middle school all boys had to go in a communal shower after games or PE

    “cancer doesn’t exist”

    WHAT?!!!?

    “we ignore that”

    Ignore what?

    “regardless of what their owners think about them”

    The owner can’t consent. And the difference is circumcision (male and female) has adverse effects

    can you possibly drop the moral superiority?

  60. johngreg says

    Hornbeck, I am not referring to point of origin, and neither, judging by the text, is Schala. I am referring to final product, and judging by the text, so is Schala.

  61. hjhornbeck says

    Thil @61:

    The owner can’t consent.

    So you’d be in favor of female genital mutilation if it happened when the child was young and unable to consent? You’d be in favor of organ harvesting if it happened when the person was asleep or drugged, and unable to consent?

    And the difference is circumcision (male and female) has adverse effects

    And you think unnecessary surgery on a developing person does not? That their future fertility or sexual pleasure are acceptable losses in your demand to have everyone’s genitals conform?

    can you possibly drop the moral superiority?

    Any moral superiority on my part is only an illusion, due to your own moral stance.

  62. Thil says

    @hjhornbeck

    “So you’d be in favor of female genital mutilation if it happened when the child was young and unable to consent? You’d be in favor of organ harvesting if it happened when the person was asleep or drugged, and unable to consent?”

    No, all those things are bad for you

    “And you think unnecessary surgery on a developing person does not? That their future fertility or sexual pleasure are acceptable losses in your demand to have everyone’s genitals conform?”

    No. I said above that I don’t think anything should be done if there are probable adverse effects

  63. hjhornbeck says

    johngreg @62:

    I am referring to final product, and judging by the text, so is Schala.

    As am I. If the clitoris and penis both develop from the same structure, and development has variation, the obvious prediction is that intermediate forms exist. This is demonstrably true [NOT SAFE FOR WORK!]. Our division between “penis” and “clitoris” is based on statistical tendencies, and therefore arbitrary.

    I regret not covering this more in my lecture, but there’s only so much you can do in 45 minutes.

  64. hjhornbeck says

    Thil @64:

    No. I said above that I don’t think anything should be done if there are probable adverse effects

    You also said something must be done regardless of the probable adverse effects:

    I alsio think that even in the absence of any obvious health advantage being seen as “normal” by other people is a good enough reason to correct a deformity.

    I did not call you a moral monster lightly, you are endorsing unnecessary medical procedures, done without consent and with lifetime consequences, because you think someone else’s healthy body is “deformed.”

  65. JT says

    @hjhornbeck

    Forget the moral superiority. I think you being right is good enough. I think all was lost once the term “freak” was used. Really Thil???

  66. Thil says

    @hjhornbeck @65

    Like I said before definitions still work if there are circumstances where they are totally unambiguous and useful, they don’t need to be totally unambiguous and useful all the time. “Car” still has utility as word even though quad bikes exist

    As an aside something I always wonder when I read the kind of arguments you make is “if this guy in strait how does he rationalize turning down romantic advances by men, tranwomen or intersex individuals if he believes gender and/or sex isn’t real?”

  67. Thil says

    @JT

    I’d rather freak wasn’t a word but it is

    @hjhornbeck

    I think that being normal is a good enough reason to get the surgery all else being equal. if you run the risk of loosing sexual sensitivity or the ability to have kids all else is not equal

  68. JT says

    @Thil

    Its not that its a word, its how you use it for someone who is born with certain physical traits. Whats the difference if I decide to use it for my daughters red haired boyfriend?

  69. johngreg says

    [DELETED: OFF TOPIC. PLEASE DISCUSS WHAT PEOPLE SAY ON THIS BLOG, NOT WHAT THEY HAVE WRITTEN ELSEWHERE AT ANOTHER TIME ON ANOTHER TOPIC. AF]

  70. Thil says

    @JT @73

    I don’t call people freaks to their face, that doesn’t mean they don’t fit the common definition

  71. hjhornbeck says

    johngreg, you’ve missing a spot:

    I once stopped reading “On the Origin of Species” because I was
    sick of Darwin’s introduction; page after page was full of
    acknowledgements of every person who’d come up with parts (and once or
    twice, even the whole) of evolution. In the scientific realm, it was
    an inevitable, uncontroversial theory.

    Ironically, evolution has since become a force for atheism because
    so many Christians/Muslims have made opposing it a cornerstone of
    their religion.
    Evolution and the gods are actually quite compatible,
    as evidenced by the silent majority of both religions who are happy to
    assume one and believe the other simultaneously.

    What you paint as an extreme position is actually a different, commonly accepted one; if religion and the gods are a human construct, its fundamentals are what we say its fundamentals are. Evolution and the gods only conflict if we say they do, and a silent majority of Christians and Muslims have said they don’t.

    From my perspective, you do not have much of a foot to stand on, let alone any legitimate credibility, in this discussion. You have no science credentials, yet you try to dismiss and more or less rewrite several generations worth of accepted science.

    If that were true, my arguments should be easy to refute even for a lay person. That you instead chose to try poisoning the well by quote-mining me on an irrelevant piece of writing I made two years ago, I think speaks volumes about the quality of your counter-arguments. I’d accuse you of invoking creationist tactics, but I don’t think a creationist would make so amateur a mistake as to link to the document they were quote-mining.

  72. Thil says

    “What you paint as an extreme position is actually a different, commonly accepted one; if religion and the gods are a human construct, its fundamentals are what we say its fundamentals are. Evolution and the gods only conflict if we say they do, and a silent majority of Christians and Muslims have said they don’t”

    If God existed he would have to at least have the attributes of the concept the word implies.

  73. Schala says

    As an aside something I always wonder when I read the kind of arguments you make is “if this guy in strait how does he rationalize turning down romantic advances by men, tranwomen or intersex individuals if he believes gender and/or sex isn’t real?”

    The general “consensus” from homophobes and insecures alike is: When in doubt, turn it down. FEEAAR the one drop rule, it will kill you!

  74. Schala says

    If God existed he would have to at least have the attributes of the concept the word implies.

    That’s why they invented Intelligent Design. They say life is exactly how it is through a natural process….wait for it…directed by that god. And there they reconciled the omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and unlimited power, with evolution.

  75. Schala says

    don’t they believe all natural processes are directed by god

    Intelligent Design makes a claim that it’s indirect.

    Jehovah didn’t make THAT plant grow, but it made the entire flora grow the way it has, by directing its evolution, just so, so we end up with what we have. That’s the argument anyways.

  76. bugmaster says

    @hjhornbeck #65

    Our division between “penis” and “clitoris” is based on statistical tendencies, and therefore arbitrary.

    Um, no that does not follow. Technically, all of our present-day scientific knowledge is based on “statistical tendencies”, but that does not mean it is “arbitrary”. That’s the whole point of statistics: it allows you (among other things) to objectively quantify the distribution of traits within a population.

    Let me put it this way: there exists a great variety of silverware in the world, such as knives, spoons, and forks. But there are also sporks. Does that mean that the very notion of “a fork” or “a spoon” is arbitrary, and that I can eat my soup with anything at all ?

  77. Schala says

    Um, no that does not follow. Technically, all of our present-day scientific knowledge is based on “statistical tendencies”, but that does not mean it is “arbitrary”. That’s the whole point of statistics: it allows you (among other things) to objectively quantify the distribution of traits within a population.

    It’s arbitrary. Decided on a whim.

    A long external clitoris REGARDLESS OF ITS FUNCTION will be termed a micropenis, or a penis.

    So the fork and spoon analogy doesn’t hold.

    A fork to eat and a fork as a farm tool are both more or less the same thing, but in different scales. In French, its “fourchette” and “fourche”. The distinction between them is arbitrary, because there isn’t an OBJECTIVE size of scale where one becomes the other. Technically, a really really big person could use the farm tool to eat food. But they couldn’t use a giant spoon in that way.

    The prostate in women, previously called the Skene’s gland…is also a prostate. It does most of the same functions. It’s a pleasure center, and it releases excitation-related fluids. The reason they called it something else probably has to do with viewing men and women as “super different”.

  78. hjhornbeck says

    I never thought I’d say this, but damn, Schala, we make a good tag team.

    I’d like to add that clitorises enlarge when aroused, exactly as a penis does. In a medical report on two cases of clitoromegaly [NOT SAFE FOR WORK!], the autors state “case two had a phallus 30 mm in length, which increased to 40 mm with arousal.” That’s easily long enough to achieve penetration, yet that case carried no other signs of being intersex; a standard 46,XX karyotype was found, with normal hormone levels, and ultrasounds found no evidence of a shortened uterus or unusual gonads. From the images, the tip looks exactly the same as the tip of the penis, and the mid-surgery photos show a structure exactly like a shaft.

    After studying cases like this, Fausto-Sterling created the “Phall-o-meter” to satrize doctor’s attitudes towards the penis/clitoris. If something was found between .9 and 2.5 cm long, doctors would hack it down and declare it a clitoris. Anything bigger was declared a penis, and left alone.

    As I pointed out upthread, this is exactly what you’d expect if the clitoris/penis developed from the same anatomy, and if development exhibited variation. They are the same structure.

  79. Steersman says

    HJHorbeck (#75):

    … if religion and the gods are a human construct, its fundamentals are what we say its fundamentals are. Evolution and the gods only conflict if we say they do, and a silent majority of Christians and Muslims have said they don’t.

    I wonder where you got the evidence to support that claim about the “silent majority” as this Pew Forum study (1) seems to contradict you. You might note the answers on page 170 to this question:

    And would you say that [everything in your Holy book] is to be taken literally, word for word, OR Not everything in [Holy book] should be taken literally, word for word?

    And some 33% of the Americans surveyed agreed that everything therein is the “Word of God, taken literally word for word”, while 27% agreed that everything is the word of God but not all of which should be taken literally”. You might also note that the figures for Muslims were, respectively, 50% and 25% – a tad problematic that – and those for “Evangelical churches” are, respectively, 59% and 25%.

    I would say there is likely to a significant source of conflict in those numbers and in what they are predicated on.

    —–
    1) “_http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf”;

  80. Steersman says

    HJHorbeck (#84):

    As I pointed out upthread, this is exactly what you’d expect if the clitoris/penis developed from the same anatomy, and if development exhibited variation. They are the same structure.

    What unmitigated horse shit. While I will readily agree that the penis and clitoris are, as Wikipedia (1) puts it, “homologous (different versions of the same structure)”, just because they have developed from a shared “embryonic origin” hardly makes them the same critter either in form or function. Postmodernism notwithstanding. But more specifically:

    In humans and other mammals, [the clitoris] develops from an outgrowth in the embryo called the genital tubercle. Initially undifferentiated, the tubercle develops into either a penis or a clitoris, depending on the presence or absence of the protein tdf, which is codified by a single gene on the Y chromosome.

    Looks rather analogous to arguing that – just because a proton consists of two up quarks and a down quark (u-u-d), and a neutron consists of one up quark and two down quarks (u-d-d), making them “homologous” or similar (nucleons) – the proton and the neutron are “the same structure”.

    —-
    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clitoris”;

  81. hjhornbeck says

    Steersman @86:

    What unmitigated horse shit.

    Odd, you seem to be arguing something I’ve already refuted. Do you consider a 3cm long shaft a penis, clitoris, or neither? While that was specifically called a case of “clitoromegaly,” I already quoted a passage where the doctor also called it a “phallus.” If the medical professional directly handling the case was confused, how can you lack any confusion at all?

    As for your linkage of penises to the gene TDF, I already falsified that in my lecture. “While about four fifths of XX males have genes known to be unique to the Y chromosome, the remainder do not.” As TDF qualifies as “unique,” that means that one fifth of XX males have a penis yet lack TDF.

    You really don’t seem to have put much thought into your argument, Steersman, which is odd for you.

  82. hjhornbeck says

    Steersman @85:

    I wonder where you got the evidence to support that claim about the “silent majority” as this Pew Forum study seems to contradict you.

    [looks at PDF]

    Q.10c Now, as I read some statements on a few different topics, please tell me if you completely
    agree, mostly agree, mostly DISagree or completely disagree with each one. [...]

    c. Evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth

    TOTAL: Completely Agree: 20%; Mostly Agree: 28%; Mostly Disagree: 16%; Completely Disagree: 29%; Don’t Know/Refused: 7%

    Hmm, that’s 48 : 45 : 7. Looks like the majority of Americans think evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on Earth, according to the numbers you handed me. And since the vast majority of them are Christian, by extension the majority of American Christians think evolution is the best explanation.

    Except, of course, those numbers were only for the USA. You could still demonstrate the majority of theists reject evolution, Steersman, by demonstrating the USA was an outlier among all other countries in that it accepted evolution far more than the rest.

    Alas, you can’t do that.

  83. hjhornbeck says

    Oh, and one more thing, Steersman; I take it you never looked up what “TDF” is short for, as the full name casts strong doubt on the narrative presented on that Wikipedia page.

  84. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#87):

    Odd, you seem to be arguing something I’ve already refuted.

    Maybe in your own mind, maybe the way a young-earth creationist thinks the Bible refutes science.

    Do you consider a 3cm long shaft a penis, clitoris, or neither?

    Kind of depends, at least generally and statistically, on the context – in this case, largely whether it is accompanied by either an X-Y or an X-X karyotype. You may wish, since you apparently at least lurk in the Pit now and again, to take a look at this post by Skep tickle (1), a well-regarded doctor who recently garnered, I think, a “Top 10” in her field, who seems to have characterized your position as “biology denialism” – “not something to be proud of”.

    But I think your comment about the TDF protein, and your quite evident confusion on this issue and related ones is predicated on a serious misunderstanding of the definitions for “male” and “female” and how they are arrived at. You may wish to peruse my earlier comment (#44) – which you apparently didn’t read – which addressed the point in more detail; the relevant section:

    Seems that the point there is that “male” and “female” are terms that we have “defined” to describe the fact that most of the attributes, particularly those associated with procreation, tend to clump together in a bimodal distribution, the peaks of which we label as “male” and “female”. Which most definitely doesn’t mean that one attribute normally associated with one peak can’t be found in individuals that possess or exhibit attributes normally associated with the other one. Nor that that should “imply a moral judgement”.

    But what I, and many others, find problematic is the apparent tendency of many, H.J. Hornbeck for example, to try to deny that those labels are largely applicable to probably some 95% to 98% of the population. As both you and Ally and others have suggested, while judging on the basis of stereotypes can be somewhat problematic, there is also frequently some significant value in doing so as well.

    You, and no few others, seem to wish to focus on a few largely uncommon and idiosyncratic cases as a way of denying that the vast majority of people fall into two largely separate groups – “male” and “female” – at least as far as sex itself is concerned. Which might not necessarily be bad in itself, except for the fact that denying those generalizations and their utility tends to seriously undercut the not insignificant benefits to be derived from such simplifications – rather analogous to the difference between Newtonian physics, and quantum or relativistic physics.

    While I will agree that societal attitudes to intersex individuals and to those who fall outside those “norms” – for whatever reason – seem to be frequently highly questionable and not particularly credible or admirable, I don’t find your attitudes towards and positions on those larger groups all that much better.


    1) “_http://slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?p=163431#p163431”;

  85. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#88):

    Hmm, that’s 48 : 45 : 7. Looks like the majority of Americans think evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on Earth ….

    Pretty thin “majority” – 51.6%. But even assuming that that might be the case for evolution, one might argue than the science denialism at the heart of that Biblical/Holy-Book literalism is far more pervasive and pernicious.

    Except, of course, those numbers were only for the USA. You could still demonstrate the majority of theists reject evolution, Steersman, by demonstrating the USA was an outlier among all other countries in that it accepted evolution far more than the rest.

    Apart from the point that one should probably deal first with the fact that one’s own house is on fire before expending much thought on the state of houses down the road or across the country, I note that the set of “other countries” you base your comment on include mostly European ones whose total population might comprise 20% of the world total. Notably missing are various Muslim and Hindu countries as well as Catholic ones in South America and Africa – all of whom seem to be in thrall to various theist religions of a highly dogmatic and problematic nature.

  86. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#89):

    Oh, and one more thing, Steersman; I take it you never looked up what “TDF” is short for, as the full name casts strong doubt on the narrative presented on that Wikipedia page.

    I fail to see any problem with the “Function” described:

    Transcriptional regulator that controls a genetic switch in male development. It is necessary and sufficient for initiating male sex determination by directing the development of supporting cell precursors (pre-Sertoli cells) as Sertoli rather than granulosa cells.

    That the effects of the “switch” are blocked or attenuated in some individuals hardly obviates the brute fact that for most “males” it works generally as advertised; you may wish to pay close attention to Giliell’s somewhat epiphanous observation on that word which I referred to in #44.

  87. beaker says

    Comment submitted:
    For those advocating in favor of operations on intersex infants, it might help to realize that operation on the genitals has a large chance (20 to 50%) of causing loss of sexual sensation, and may even lead to infertility or chronic pain. “Reconstruction” may also necessitate further operations, as the reconstructed genitals can lose their shape. So there is a rather strong risk of resulting physical harm from surgery.

    On the psychological front, while childhood bullying might be an issue, as skeptics you’ll have to note that there are no scientific studies providing evidence for reduced bullying after intervention. And the flip-side is the severe psychological harm that can result from having a sex operation without consenting to it and the severe psychological conflict that can result from being assigned the wrong gender. This psychological harm is not limited to the child, as the parents will have to deal with the consequences of their choice to perform the operation if it results in harm for the child.

    So the science of intersex surgery at present summarized as far as I am aware of it: no strong evidence for benefits, but strong evidence for harm in at least a sizeable minority of patients. And this is the treatment you want to advocate?

    Regarding simplifying to two different sexes, could someone spell out what the exact societal and personal benefit is of these simplifications? Because I’m having a hard time coming up with any that are actual benefits. Rather than being reductive stereotypes that actually hinder rather than help, at least in daily life.

  88. Gjenganger says

    @Schala

    Your point that ones sex makes only a minor cosmetic difference does beg another question: Why must other people trouble themselves to accommodate you, if the entire matter is really no more important than the color scheme of your in-game plasma rifle? I am not trying to mock you. Personally I think sex is extremely important, for me as surely it is for you, but that is exactly what you are arguing against. Staying in the game metaphor, here is how it might end up being dealt with:

    To: Schelly-gamer
    Re: Appeal, request ID #437839g

    Dear Schelly-gamer.

    I write to you on the matter of your request to join our multi-player game WWII Hell: The Battle of Stalingrad in your persona as Galactic Barbarella. At Real-Life Games we take games very seriously, so we quite understand how important this is to you. We feel with you when you say that this is the only persona that can properly express you being, and that you have never gamed as anyone else. We would not wish to deny that your persona could fit into the game in terms of pure game mechanics. The modified purple plasma rifle would handle exactly like a standard PPSh submachinegun, appearances notwithstanding. And the white fur bikini does indeed have all the visibility and environment protection characteristics of a WWII Red Army uniform, once we allow for the effects of the Camouflage Field Generator and the Ambient Control Unit mounted in your emerald bracelet. And, as you point out, it is indubitably true that the Red Army did use women in combat roles.

    Never the less we are unfortunately unable to grant your request. WWII Hell: The Battle of Stalingrad was conceived as a full-immersion game with a real-life feel. We have gone to great lengths to make the ambience as realistic as possible, so as to give the players the experience, as close as humanly possible, of living this tremendous and cataclysmic battle. The presence of Galactic Barbarella on the battlefield would compromise the realism we have striven so hard to achieve and would seriously interfere with the game experience and enjoyment of many players. It is a further complication that we have already received preliminary requests from players wishing to register for play using the personas Yoda, TinkerBell and TerminatorII, in case your appeal should succeed. In view of our commitment to all the people who play our games, we unfortunately cannot countenance such a radical change in the game ethos.

    In the end we can only beg your indulgence. After all, as you yourself pointed out, we are talking about purely cosmetic changes that do not in any way interfere with the game-play itself. We hope that even though we cannot fulfil you request, you will still be able so suspend disbelief and enjoy participating in the awesome games of Real-Life Games Inc.

    Regretfully yours,

    A Carre
    Customer Relations Representative.

  89. says

    A correction: a penis and clitoris are only partially homologous. Embryonically, a penis is made up of tissues that correspond to the female clitoris and and to portions of the labia. Note that a clitoris does not contain a urethra; the major folding/closure movements that assemble a penis did not occur with it.

    You might also want to check out this post by Ed Yong. The male/female switch on the Y chromosome is surprisingly fuzzy.

  90. Schala says

    Your point that ones sex makes only a minor cosmetic difference does beg another question: Why must other people trouble themselves to accommodate you, if the entire matter is really no more important than the color scheme of your in-game plasma rifle? I am not trying to mock you. Personally I think sex is extremely important, for me as surely it is for you, but that is exactly what you are arguing against. Staying in the game metaphor, here is how it might end up being dealt with:

    Why should your sex matter more than mine?

    My sex doesn’t require extra programming, or to allow super exceptions. My sex exists independently of it being recognized.

    I need the hormones, or I would die. I need to be socially recognized (though that’s easier just without having any legal blocks, I don’t need special advocates), or I would lead no life at all. And I’m fine with being on welfare the rest of my life, if finding employment proves too difficult.

  91. Schala says

    A correction: a penis and clitoris are only partially homologous. Embryonically, a penis is made up of tissues that correspond to the female clitoris and and to portions of the labia. Note that a clitoris does not contain a urethra; the major folding/closure movements that assemble a penis did not occur with it.

    The urethra could pass under the penis, that it would not change the function of a penis one bit. Actually it’s one of the most common intersex conditions.

    Note that portions of the labia constitute the scrotum, they’re more or less the same. Just whether they’re fused or not, and whether testis are in the scrotum or not.

    To me it’s 4 quarters for a dollar.

  92. Gjenganger says

    @Schala 96

    Why should your sex matter more than mine?

    Not what I am saying at all. But as I understand you, you are saying that the choice of sex is extremely important, which is why you need to be able to live under the right one and have other people recognize your choice?/status?. And at the same time that sex is a trivial, cosmetic thing, comparable to the color scheme of of otherwise identical game weapons, which is presumably why nobody could possibly object to what you want. I find this a bit contradictory. Sorry if this is getting a bit theoretical – I realize that it is much more serious for you than for me. But I would still like to get the logic straight.

  93. Schala says

    It’s extremely important for the individual concerned. It should matter zero to other people in how they treat them, what they allow that person to do, what standard they are held to for being suspected of crimes, the clothing they can wear, and the way you’re polite with them.

    Basically, my sex is important on an individual level, and because society makes a big deal out of it (not because I do), legally. I don’t think men-only or women-only stuff should exist except where true bona-fide exists and there should always be a co-ed alternative to the “I’m a prude/religious person” option.

    If a woman-only sports team exists, a man-only counterpart team needs to exist for that sport. Not enough interest? Then its co-ed. Don’t like it? Too bad, equality.

    This means no men-and-women hockey team and women-only ringuette. No more roller hockey for just women without its men counterpart.

    No skirt-for-women only, same for dresses. And pink should lose its status as “the girl color”, which is pretty recent anyways.

    You like pink? Good for you. Cultivate this as a personal taste. Not as a marker which makes you conformist to a notion supposedly common to 50% of people. You like video games? Good for you. Cultivate this as a personal taste. Not as a marker which makes you conformist to a notion supposedly common to 50% of people. I could go on and on.

    Sex should NEVER matter except for mating and romantic relationships, where people might want to procreate (the ability to have children is usually VERY important to couples, above and beyond the looks of the two concerned).

  94. Schala says

    Basically, you can have a sense of “belonging” of “being part of something bigger than you”, without being a blind conformist and without having some stuff set aside as being “only for your group” (like pink, skirts, dresses, long hair, glitter, anything aesthetic). Being acknowledged as being your sex socially should only mean that, being acknowledged. Not that you’re above, or below someone. Not that you’re “a member of the prettier sex”, or a member of “people who are allowed to have freedom of expression concerning their clothing, jewelry, head hair and overall looks”.

    Want to not care about fashion? Be my guests, but it’s not an innate quality of maleness. It doesn’t make you butch, a boy, a man, a lesbian or a slob. I guess it makes you more about function than form.

    Want to care about fashion? Be my guests, but it’s not an innate quality of femaleness. It doesn’t make you gay, vain, effeminate, feminine. I guess it makes you more about form than function.

  95. johngreg says

    Three questions for Schala and Hornbeck, because clearly I’ve missed something along the way and my head is starting to think that the undifferentiated rest of me has fallen down some rooty hole under some hyperzygotic tree-like thing that isn’t any different than a bush ’cause they both come from seeds:

    1. Why is it so important for you folks to insist that there are no differences between male and female sexes despite the fact that the vast majority of individuals on the planet not only identify said differences but, at least to some degree, define and live their lives by them (but then, is there any difference between “some degree” and “all-in”, after all, they both stem from the same source, right?)?

    2. Having no science degrees, or other academic or professional credentials (please correct me if you do have something like that) to give you some important and relevant credibility, what, in your personal backgrounds, makes you think you have the experience, and/or experiential/academic authority, knowledge, and expertise to refute several generations of agreed upon science and individuals who actually do have science and medical degrees?

    3. If there are no sexes, as they are just cultural phantasms, can there be sexism? misogyny? etc.? I mean, can a not-real anthropogenic phantasm be subjected to an anthropogenically intellectualized philosophical bias/prejudice/shunning?

    Despite the creative language and attempts at funnies, these are serious and legitimate questions.

  96. Ginkgo says

    steerrsman @ 85 – “I wonder where you got the evidence to support that claim about the “silent majority” as this Pew Forum study (1) seems to contradict you.”

    What he said was: “… if religion and the gods are a human construct, its fundamentals are what we say its fundamentals are. Evolution and the gods only conflict if we say they do, and a silent majority of Christians and Muslims have said they don’t.”

    No Pew survey is going to reach even a small fraction of Christians or Muslims. Let’s just stipulate to that, okay? American Prostestantism is pretty divergent within Christianity and can’t be taken as anything like normative.

  97. Ginkgo says

    johngreg at 101 – “1. Why is it so important for you folks to insist that there are no differences between male and female sexes ”

    A transwoman is probably not going to say there is no difference, having lived on the edge of that difference all her life.

    “2. Having no science degrees, or other academic or professional credentials (please correct me if you do have something like that) to give you some important and relevant credibility, what, in your personal backgrounds, makes you think you have the experience, and/or experiential/academic authority, knowledge, and expertise to refute several generations of agreed upon science and individuals who actually do have science and medical degrees?”

    For one thing Schala has extensive personal experience in this are, and for another, an appeal to settled opinion is no good. Scientific opinion on racial superiroty based on severala generations fo work was pretty settled until that all started to fall apart.

  98. hjhornbeck says

    PZ Myers @95:

    You might also want to check out this post by Ed Yong. The male/female switch on the Y chromosome is surprisingly fuzzy.

    It was pretty good, but I’ve got a minor nitpick:

    So, why does SRY operate from such a wobbly position? Why have a set-up that could so easily lead to infertility? For the variety, says Weiss. He thinks that the vagaries of SRY leads to a wide variety within developing testes, and a wide variation in the amount of testosterone they produce. This hormone influences our behaviour, including many aspects of our social lives. So, at the risk of the occasional infertile XY female, a precariously-set master switch leads to a broad spectrum of male brains, which may make for a better-functioning society. “You can’t have all alpha-males in a group,” suggests Weiss.

    Except our best evidence shows testosterone has a miniscule effect on behavior. My lecture covers the link between testosterone and aggression, specifically:

    There’s plenty of data for a meta-analysis, and so far four have been done. The latest is a rehash of an earlier analysis, done in 2001, which found a predictive rate of… 54%.

    In other words, if you tell me someone’s testosterone level, I can predict their level of aggression with 54% accuracy. That not much better than a coin flip.

  99. Gjenganger says

    @hjhornbeck 105

    In other words, if you tell me someone’s testosterone level, I can predict their level of aggression with 54% accuracy. That not much better than a coin flip.

    If you want your precise data to support your arguments, could you say with some precision what the numbers actually mean? Predicting 54% of the total variation in a sample would be a huge and significant result, so presumably that is not what you mean. Being just a poor natural scientist I do not have the definition of ‘predictive rate’ at my fingertips. Clarification, please?

  100. hjhornbeck says

    Steersman @90:

    Kind of depends, at least generally and statistically, on the context – in this case, largely whether it is accompanied by either an X-Y or an X-X karyotype.

    First off, I already gave you all the context you needed:

    HJ Hornbeck @84

    That’s easily long enough to achieve penetration, yet that case carried no other signs of being intersex; a standard 46,XX karyotype was found, with normal hormone levels, and ultrasounds found no evidence of a shortened uterus or unusual gonads. From the images, the tip looks exactly the same as the tip of the penis, and the mid-surgery photos show a structure exactly like a shaft.

    Which means that you dodged the question. But secondly, hold up here: I thought penises were penises, with an objective definition that was independent of observer and any surrounding tissue? Now you’re telling me the definition of “penis” depends heavily on things unrelated to the structure in question! How did you justify the notion that karyotype “largerly” determines whether something is a penis or not? Can you quantify “largely?” Does this mean karyotype can be overruled by other factors?

    In between two comments, you went from asserting it had a simple, obvious definition to conceding it had a complicated, subjective definition. That means you now largely agree with Schala and I.

  101. Steersman says

    PZ Myers (#95):

    A correction: a penis and clitoris are only partially homologous.

    Not sure that the “partially” adjective is all that applicable to the noun “homologous” – and may even obscure the main concept – as the definition already contains a virtually equivalent qualifier:

    ho•mol•o•gous, adj.
    1. Corresponding or similar in position, value, structure, or function.
    —-
    sim•i•lar, adj.
    1. Related in appearance or nature; alike though not identical.

    And the Wikipedia article emphasizes the same aspect:

    “homologous (different versions of the same structure)”

    The same way a Maserati and a Lamborghini (vroom, vroom) are both different “versions” of the same structure known as “car”.

    I know that many in FftB-land seem to have an aversion to using a dictionary – some even to the extent of insisting that any use of such in an Internet argument should cause forfeit, maybe because its use triggers some serious PTSD, and some apparently wish to redefine some words, like “sex” and “atheism”, for some rather self-serving reasons – but I and many others find it a useful touchstone.

  102. johngreg says

    I am truly baffled by this weird biology denialism POMO bizzaro stuff being promulgated, well, an attempt to do so, by Schala and Hornbeck, and I wish they would answer my questions and clarify some issues.

  103. Schala says

    I am truly baffled by this weird biology denialism POMO bizzaro stuff being promulgated, well, an attempt to do so, by Schala and Hornbeck, and I wish they would answer my questions and clarify some issues.

    The brain’s identity is the ONLY important part for the individual. The ability and manner of procreation is only relevant to the individual, possibly their genital doctor, and LTR mates.

    The rest is IRRELEVANT to everyone. It doesn’t provide any actual information on the person that isn’t calculating actuarial stuff as if you were working for some insurance company and trying to compute statistics to apply them to individuals.

    The fact that I’m female might make you think I like dolls more, but nope. I guess it’s more permitted, but nothing in my biology gets me to like dolls more. Nothing in my socialization has done so either. And my personality doesn’t like dolls either. Using sex as a categorization to “find out more about people” is as stupid as using hair color, eye color, handedness or fingerprints, lines in your hands or the amount of moles you have and their placement.

    What you’ll know by knowing my sex, is that I identify as female. And that’s all that’ll be relevant to you since I’m not going to have a long term relationship with you, and you’re not my urologist or gynecologist.

  104. says

    Steersman (108)

    Partial homology has a specialised meaning in developmental biology. Here is a small section of wikipedia about it:

    From the point of view of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) where evolution is seen as the evolution of the development of organisms, Rolf Sattler emphasized that homology can also be partial. New structures can evolve through the combination of developmental pathways or parts of them. As a result, hybrid or mosaic structures can evolve that exhibit partial homologies. For example, certain compound leaves of flowering plants are partially homologous both to leaves and shoots because they combine some traits of leaves and shoots.

    From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homology_%28biology%29

  105. Steersman says

    Gingko (#103):

    Steersman @ 85: I wonder where you got the evidence to support that claim about the “silent majority” as this Pew Forum study (1) seems to contradict you. …..
    —-
    Gingko: No Pew survey is going to reach even a small fraction of Christians or Muslims. Let’s just stipulate to that, okay? American Protestantism is pretty divergent within Christianity and can’t be taken as anything like normative.

    True enough – that survey obviously didn’t poll the entire population of the United States. Although one might argue that that “stipulation” is a given, is implicitly understood. But more specifically, you may wish to take a gander – or goose, as the case may be – at this article on statistical sampling (1), a salient point of which is:

    In statistics, quality assurance, & survey methodology, sampling is concerned with the selection of a subset of individuals from within a statistical population to estimate characteristics of the whole population.

    While one might question the methodology or biases of the Pew Forum, it seems that if they are honest – which seems largely the case – then it is highly probable – within one standard deviation, 19 times out of 20 as I think the lingo is phrased – that the attributes and beliefs of the sample are largely representative of the entire population. Ergo, it is highly probable that some 60% of all Americans think either that their “holy” books are, word for word, the literal, gospel truth, the words of God hisself, or that only some of them so qualify; in any case a rather problematic state of affairs.

    —-
    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statistical_sampling”;

  106. johngreg says

    No such thing as ganders and gooses; they all be the same thing … duckses, gooses, waterfowl, chickens, chick-a-dee-dee-dees, herons, eagles, dodos, all the same thing.

  107. says

    Johngreg,

    Yeah exactly. Also since there are lions without manes, and some with sparse manes there is no such thing as lions with manes and those without manes. Pretty selfexplanatory.

  108. Schala says

    You’re really hung out on the IMPORTANCE people attribute to sex. You think it’s MEGA IMPORTANT to other individuals (not to the person concerned themselves) even in contexts outside reproduction. Because you’ve been raised to see it as MEGA IMPORTANT by culture. And never thought to question it.

    The classification of lions in have-manes and have-not-manes doesn’t matter either. I’m more interested in the classification of lions into felines and carnivorous mammals.

  109. bugmaster says

    @Schala #83:
    Sorry, but you have missed the point of my post entirely. You seem to be saying something like, “either sex is a well-defined binary, or it’s arbitrary; sex is not binary; therefore sex is arbitrary”. I claim that this is a false dilemma; and that, in fact, your line of reasoning will cause you to dismiss all modern scientific knowledge.

    Let me put it this way. Let’s say we sampled 1000 random people, and measured the length of their penises (or clitori, since you insist that those organs are identical, for some reason). We then divide the lengths into evenly-sized bins; f.ex. something like “0..10mm”, “10..15mm”, and so on. We then plot a histogram: the bins are on the X-axis, and the number of people who fall into the bin is on the Y-axis. If we do this, we will see two large peaks on the histogram, perhaps something like this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BimodalAnts.png

    Note that very few bins will actually be empty, meaning that there are always going to exist some people with unusual penis/clitoris sizes.

    Now, we are going to take the same 1000 people, and measure the size of their uterus, and plot another histogram. We will see a similar bimodal distribution.

    Now, we will take the same 1000 people, deny them access to any shaving equipment for a month (because we are evil that way), and plot the amount of their facial hair they have. Once again, bimodal.

    But there’s another way of looking at this data. We can create a 3-dimensional plot, with “penis/clitoris size” being the X axis; “uterus size” being the Y axis; and “facial hair” being the Z axis. Thus, a hypothetical person with no penis, no uterus, and no facial hair would produce a dot at the origin; a person with a massive penis but no uterus or facial hair would produce a dot all the way to the right on the X axis, etc.

    Once we do this plot, we will see two clusters of points on the diagram; for example, they might look something like this:

    http://www.mathworks.com/products/demos/shipping/stats/clusterdemo_02.png

    We call one cluster “male”; and another “female”. We may argue about where the cluster boundaries are; they are always going to be fuzzy, as there are always going to be some points in between (as on the diagram above). However, the vast majority of points will fit into either the “male” or the “female” cluster. In reality, of course, we’d use more than just the 3 dimensions I mentioned; but it’s easier to visualize things in 3d as opposed to, say, 80d.

    When you say, “sex (as opposed to gender) is an arbitrary social construct”, what you are really saying is, “there are no clusters, the points are uniformly distributed”. But this is an empirical claim, that we can verify objectively, using a procedure similar to the one above. In this case, I am fairly sure that your claim is incorrect.

    Of course, we don’t have to call the clusters “male” and “female”; we could call them “fnarg” and “blarg”, or “red” and “blue”, or whatever. The labels don’t really matter.

    I think you, as per your comment #110, are confusing “sex” with “gender”. The physical sex of a person is descriptive, not prescriptive. There is no law of nature that says, “if you have a penis, you must dislike dolls”, or anything of the sort. Sex is just a shorthand description of which cluster your physical phenotype falls into. No more, no less.

  110. Steersman says

    Beaker (#93):

    Regarding simplifying to two different sexes, could someone spell out what the exact societal and personal benefit is of these simplifications? Because I’m having a hard time coming up with any that are actual benefits. Rather than being reductive stereotypes that actually hinder rather than help, at least in daily life.

    Gooood question. To start the ball rolling, you may wish to take a look at this post (1) by Jadehawk – a frequent commenter on FTBs – on the question, notably this comment of hers:

    Hell, even now that it’s known that heart attacks aren’t a male-only thing and that symptoms are different, there’s still a dominant blind spot to heart attacks and women: when a middle-aged, post-hysterectomy woman can be told she needs a pregnancy test instead of an ECG, that’s a good clue that a bunch of people in that ER were having a collective blind spot (this is an extreme example, but women’s heart attacks are too often misdiagnosed still).

    While that might be construed more as a case of the pendulum of stereotyping having swung too far in the “wrong” direction, I think it illustrates the fact that a great many diseases and conditions tend to segregate by “sex”, and that it may frequently be of some import for medical professionals to be aware of which group an individual falls into – without that ability being vitiated by postmodernistic clap-trap and efforts to deny those facts.

    And, as another example, consider the case of someone looking to find a partner to have kids with. While in many cases the individuals involved are likely to stipulate that – “objective: matrimony and children” – in many other cases the objective might be implicit – sort of a “try before you buy” scenario. And in the latter case, for individuals to suggest that they are actually able to “deliver the goods” looks like a case of false pretenses at best if not outright fraud.

    While it is largely, of course, egregious discrimination to necessarily deny people civil rights based on their sex – or any other attribute for that matter – it seems that there are any number of “societal and personal benefits” to be derived from knowing which groups each of us happen to be most similar to; you may wish to take a look at this portion (2) of a chapter on gender from Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: A Modern Denial of Human Nature – something that many here seem to be rather strenuously if not dogmatically engaged in.

    —-
    1) “_http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/a-collection-of-reading-comprehension-fails/”;
    2) “_http://www.pasadena.edu/files/syllabi/txcave_18360.pdf”;

  111. Steersman says

    John Greg (#113):

    No such thing as ganders and gooses; they all be the same thing ….

    “And we are altogether – Goo goo g’ joob” … ;-)

  112. says

    It’s never worthwhile participating in a thread infested with slymepitters. So an evolutionary developmental biologist explains an evolutionary developmental process, and the ever useless steersman tries to assert the priority of a definition he yanked from a dictionary? Never mind. Bye.

  113. Schala says

    I think it illustrates the fact that a great many diseases and conditions tend to segregate by “sex”, and that it may frequently be of some import for medical professionals to be aware of which group an individual falls into

    Family history matters a lot more except for the 4-5 diseases that women mostly get and men mostly get (prostate and breast cancer for example). I don’t think breast cancer is reason enough to have sex on hospital-issued IDs. The intake people don’t need to know your sex. And if your doctor is in doubt, he can ask you.

  114. hjhornbeck says

    HJ Hornbeck @89:

    I take it you never looked up what “TDF” is short for, as the full name casts strong doubt on the narrative presented on that Wikipedia page.

    Steersman @90:

    But I think your comment about the TDF protein, and your quite evident confusion on this issue and related ones is predicated on a serious misunderstanding of the definitions for “male” and “female” and how they are arrived at.

    Steersman @92:

    I fail to see any problem with the “Function” described

    Your aversion to mentioning TDF’s full name had me laughing this morning. Are you afraid that by repeating it, you’ll learn you have a rare karyotype? Here, let me reveal what you’re so reluctant to:

    Testes Determining Factor

    SRY/TDF don’t contribute to clitoral/penile develoment directly; instead, it seems it influences (but not necessarily determines, despite the name; see the article Myers linked to, as well as the DAX1 gene) the development of the testes. The resulting testosterone hormones then influence the development of other tissues. This explains why micropenises are well treated by hormone treatments and why female athletes who dope tend to develop clitoromegaly.

    So at best, TDF/SRY has an indirect influence on clitoral/penile development. You’d have known that if you bothered to dig into that Wikipedia article, instead of blindly trusting it.

  115. hjhornbeck says

    johngreg @109: It’s on my queue. In the meantime, I really liked Ginkgo’s answer at 104.

    Myers @119: Understandable. I’m mostly hanging around because watching Steersman repeatedly fall on their face is hilarious. It’s like watching a sub-amateur creationist in action! :D

  116. Steersman says

    PZ Myers (#119):

    It’s never worthwhile participating in a thread infested with Slymepitters. So an evolutionary developmental biologist explains an evolutionary developmental process, and the ever useless Steersman tries to assert the priority of a definition he yanked from a dictionary? Never mind. Bye.

    Yea, I know – to our everlasting shame we all carry the name “Marc Lepine”. But that’s a bit of a hoot coming from a guy who hosted a “discussion” on his own blog which featured his commentariat attempting to school – and in rather nasty though typical language – another biologist on the proper use of “phenotype”.

    But even apart from that, that you are “an evolutionary developmental biologist” is hardly proof against either errors in judgement or in redundant, inconsistent, or problematic uses of a word – a point which you didn’t actually address – as evidenced by your bogus attempts to redefine “atheism”.

    And while I see from “Sheaf’s” earlier comment that “Rolf Sattler” also insists that “homology can also be partial”, I also see from his Wikipedia biography that he is into the “convergence of science and spirituality” and “holistic alternative medicine” – not sure that that is company you want to be keeping. In addition, there is Francis Crick’s “Central Dogma of Molecular Biology” that even he subsequently admitted was a “misapplication of the term”.

  117. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#122):

    … because watching Steersman repeatedly fall on their face is hilarious.

    Actually “his face” is more accurate. Although, considering the rather egregious if not laughable attempts to promote other pronoun replacements such as “xe, xir”, I’ve been thinking that – sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander; a quid pro quo – I should insist on being referred to as “his Royal highness” ….

  118. Steersman says

    Schala (#120):

    Family history matters a lot more except for the 4-5 diseases that women mostly get and men mostly get (prostate and breast cancer for example). I don’t think breast cancer is reason enough to have sex on hospital-issued IDs. The intake people don’t need to know your sex.

    Maybe quibbling, but this (1) suggests a few more than 4-5 diseases. Some specifics:

    Sex-related illnesses in “female humans”:

    1) 99% of breast cancer occurs in women.
    2) Ovarian cancer, and other diseases of the female reproductive system occur only in women.
    3) Endometriosis, another female reproductive disorder occurs almost exclusively in women;
    4) More women than men suffer from osteoporosis;
    5) Autoimmune diseases, such as Sjögren’s syndrome and scleroderma, are more prevalent in women. An estimated 75 percent of those living with autoimmune diseases are female.
    6) In Western cultures, more women than men suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia;
    7) Alzheimer’s disease has a higher rate in women than in men.
    8) Women are more likely to suffer from unipolar clinical depression (although bipolar disorder appears to affect both sexes equally);
    9) Psychologists are more likely to diagnose women than men with borderline or histrionic personality disorder.

    And in “male humans”

    1) Prostate cancer and other diseases of the male reproductive system occur only in men.
    2) Diseases of X-linked recessive inheritance, such as colour blindness, occur more frequently in men (the linked article (2) lists a further 8 “common” disorders, and a further 27 “uncommon” ones);
    3) Abdominal aortic aneurysms are six times more common in men;
    4) Autism is approximately 4 times more prevalent in males than females.
    5) Psychologists are more likely to diagnose men than women with antisocial personality disorder and substance-abuse disorders.

    —–
    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex-related_diseases”;
    2) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-linked_recessive_inheritance”;

  119. Schala says

    Those 14 things are not reason enough to have a M or a F on my hospital card. I can talk, or sign, or write it if they absolutely need to know. Barring going for ovarian cancer, I see no reason to tell them though. And I see no reason for the secretary that makes appointments to know, either.

  120. Steersman says

    Schala (#127):

    Those 14 things are not reason enough to have a M or a F on my hospital card. I can talk, or sign, or write it if they absolutely need to know.

    Apart from the fact that there are another 35 things on that list, I think you’re making a number of assumptions that might not always play out all that well for you or others in your situation. While I’ll concede that that information might not always be necessary, I don’t think it takes much effort to think of cases where it would be – for instance, if you were comatose or couldn’t otherwise provide the information that could determine the choice of treatment on which your life might depend.

  121. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#121):

    Your aversion to mentioning TDF’s full name had me laughing this morning.

    Easily amused I guess. Not to mention being overly impressed with your own supposed ability to read minds.

    Are you afraid that by repeating it, you’ll learn you have a rare karyotype?

    Oh for two on the mind reading – want to go for three? The point is more that regardless of whatever my own karyotype might be, that is largely irrelevant to the question in play now: whether or not the majority of humans – some 95% to 98% – can broadly be described as generally falling into two somewhat loosely defined but not exhaustive classes called “male” and “female”. A question you seem remarkably unwilling to address, preferring to highlight the cases that, by your own admission, fall into that other less than 2%. Looks kind of “intellectually dishonest” to me.

    Here, let me reveal what you’re so reluctant to: …. SRY/TDF don’t contribute to clitoral/penile develoment directly; instead, it seems it influences (but not necessarily determines, despite the name; see the article Myers linked to, as well as the DAX1 gene) ….

    Well, learn something new every day – apart from the fact that even some “evolutionary developmental biologists” are unclear on the concept of dictionaries. However, all of your blathering still looks mostly like an effort to engage in some biological denialism – you may wish to read or re-read Myers’ own “Sex differences are real” – which even he admits, in effect, are rather ubiquitous and generally and mostly segregate into those two classes.

  122. Schala says

    if you were comatose or couldn’t otherwise provide the information that could determine the choice of treatment on which your life might depend.

    Stuff like my blood type and allergies to medication would be billions of times more important for this, too.

  123. hjhornbeck says

    johngreg @101:

    Three questions for Schala and Hornbeck

    I think they’re best answered by transformation through analogy:

    1. Why is it so important for you folks to insist that there is no god, despite the fact that the vast majority of individuals on the planet not only believe there’s a god but, at least to some degree, define and live their lives by their god?

    2. Having no science degrees, or other academic or professional credentials to give you some important and relevant credibility, what, in your personal backgrounds, makes you think you have the experience, and/or experiential/academic authority, knowledge, and expertise to refute several generations of agreed upon theology and individuals who actually do have seminary training?

    3. If there are no gods, as they are just cultural phantasms, can there be religious violence? religious persecution? etc.? I mean, can a not-real anthropogenic phantasm be the cause of an anthropogenically intellectualized philosophical bias/prejudice/shunning?

    Answer those questions, and you have my answers to yours.

  124. hjhornbeck says

    Gjenganger @106: I see Fogg wants to keep this thread somewhat focused on sex and gender, so I’ll instead direct you to the original script for my lecture (search for “It’s time that we considered how big these differences are.”), and ask that if you have any further questions along that line you post them here, where technical questions are very on-topic.

  125. leni says

    …whether or not the majority of humans – some 95% to 98% – can broadly be described as generally falling into two somewhat loosely defined but not exhaustive classes called “male” and “female”.

    What this tells me is that a non-negligible number of us can’t be described that way.

  126. Steersman says

    Schala (#130):

    Stuff like my blood type and allergies to medication would be billions of times more important for this, too.

    Billions, eh? I don’t know the specifics of your situation, but I’ll concede that it is probably a bit of tough row to hoe, although one might argue that you’re hardly unique in that regard – you may wish to spare a tear or two for those suffering from congenital and fatal diseases like Huntingdon’s disease. However I’m not sure that it is particularly relevant as the nature of transgendered individuals as a group is likely to have more bearing on social attitudes and medical responses. And apropos of which you might take a look at this comment (1) over in the Pit from several recognized medical doctors which are at least suggestive of the attempts by various apparently well-meaning but arguably seriously deluded “feminists” – of both or all 17 sexes – to deny basic biology. While it might suck for you to be outside various biological “norms”, although that might provide some benefits too, I don’t see it as being particularly wise to deny the facts of the matter. In any case, the bulk of the comment:

    Skep tickle: So, what, it’s now PC (at least in the eyes of Schala, Hornbeck, and Gabriel) to claim that when you look at someone’s genitalia you are not able to tell the difference between male & female because any difference you think you might perceive is just a social construct?

    I’ll try to remember that at work today.
    —-
    BillHamp: Yup, that’s precisely what I learned in med school. In fact, I think we ought to remove the entire specialty of OB/GYN completely. It is clearly just a patriarchal construct designed to deliver substandard care. There is no need to have an OB or a midwife deliver your baby. Your internist can do because, everything is the same. No need for pap smears, to worry about cervical cancer, etc. We ought to give mammograms to every man over 40 too because their breasts are clearly the same as womens’. The difference in breast cancer rates is obviously an artificial construct of the patriarchy. For that matter, so is the difference in prostate cancer/skene’s gland cancer. You see that a lot, right? Skene’s gland cancer that is. I’ll be sure to tell my younger colleagues who still practice to do a PSA in every woman they treat. We’ll go a lot further than that too. We’ll start evaluating women for heart attacks the same way as men. I was taught that women manifest heart pain in “atypical” ways compared to men, but that was clearly just the patriarchy at work again. Thanks to Schala, we now know that there is no reason to do an ECG on a woman with vague epigastric pain rather than the classic left arm/jaw pain. She clearly isn’t having a heart attack. What a load off of every ER physcian.

    Does Schala understand the idiotic endpoint of xe’s logic? Obviously not. There are thousands of difference between men and women (and between cis and trans gendered individuals), but according to Schala, we ought to ignore those differences and give everyone the same medical treatment.

    Given those “thousands of differences”, I would say it is likely to be highly problematic, if not fatal, to obscure or deny those commonalities.

    —-
    1) “_http://slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?p=163457#p163457”;

  127. hjhornbeck says

    bugmaster @116:

    When you say, “sex (as opposed to gender) is an arbitrary social construct”, what you are really saying is, “there are no clusters, the points are uniformly distributed”.

    In my case (and I suspect Schala’s, too), that’s incorrect. Here’s a few lines from my lecture on this topic:

    Human development is just a very messy, complicated affair, and most of us are ignorant of its diversity. [...]

    At the same time, there are patterns in how we develop, some of which are more likely to happen than others. To represent these patterns, we have jointly developed some terms to tame the complexity, terms like “male” and “female.”

    Sex really is a social construct, then

    A social construct is just a model of the universe shared between people. Newtonian Mechanics is a social construct, as is Keynesian economics and the 80/20 rule. We use these constructs to simplify and predict complicated, messy interactions. Some of them work better than others, and the two-sex model is on the better side of the scale.

    Where things go wrong is when, well, things go wrong. What happens when some of the predictions of Newtonian Mechanics don’t come true? An Newtonian realist would argue we discard them as “defects” which diverge from the Newtonian ideal. They not only aren’t a threat to our views, the fact that they happen so rarely actually PROVES Newtonian Mechanics is a fundamental part of reality!

    A Newtonian constructivist, in contrast, would go “huh, I guess reality is more complicated than we thought.” They’d see if there was any way to modify Newtonian Mechanics to accommodate the missed predictions, or start drafting another, better model to replace it. A failed prediction is a chance to learn more about the universe we live in, which makes it precious and definitely nothing to be discarded.

    While I’m correcting misconceptions, I should state that while Newtonian Mechanics is a social construct, gravity is not. Don’t confuse the description for the described, as I’ve seen many people do in the last three weeks. The social construct view of sex does not deny the existence of genes or hormones, it merely states that “male” and “female” are simplified models of those things. The realist view argues “male” and “female” are not simplified, and claims that something unambiguously demarcates each category.

    Hopefully that clears a few things up.

  128. Steersman says

    Leni (#133):

    What this tells me is that a non-negligible number of us can’t be described that way.

    I certainly wasn’t denying that even that 2% works out to a considerable number of people – even in the U.S. that is probably in the vicinity of 6 million people – 1 in every 50 people that we each know.

    However, while I don’t want to diminish the no doubt problematic nature of their circumstances, one might reasonably argue that the nature of that other 98% – broadly segregated into two main groups – is likely to have a greater impact. But many people seem to get the impression, justifiably or not, that many “feminists” and transgendered people are engaged in an effort, despite Ally’s “I don’t think anyone is trying to theorise sex out of existence”, to do precisely that. Putting one’s head in the sand, denying the nature of the problems we face, hardly seems like an effective way to find a solution.

  129. johngreg says

    Hornbeck, I am not going to play your juvenile word games, nor respond to your derailing feints.

    If you haven’t got the intellectual integrity, or plain old guts, to answer the questions, that’s fine; go cower in the shower where you belong.

  130. Gjenganger says

    @Beaker 93

    Regarding simplifying to two different sexes, could someone spell out what the exact societal and personal benefit is of these simplifications? Because I’m having a hard time coming up with any that are actual benefits. Rather than being reductive stereotypes that actually hinder rather than help, at least in daily life.

    Well, social roles in general are there for coordination. How (and whether) to queue at a ticket office, how (and whether) to contact strangers on a train, whether to bow, shake hands or kiss both cheeks and when, how close to stand to others, how fast and loud to talk, how big a pause to give before you interrupt the previous speaker, …, … Life is much easier when the local rules are ingrained so you follow them automatically, as anyone can tell who has tried living for a while in a country with very different rules. It is not just a matter of what you have to do, but of having a predictable environment, and of sending signals and understanding other people’s. Allowing all possibilities is unpleasantly unpredictable, and making one-to-one agreements with everybody, including fellow train travelers, is too much work.
    You could live without gender-specific roles, but I think they tend to arise by themselves. Differences in visible anatomy, child-bearing and related issues, plus the fact that we distinguish potential sexual partners by sex leads to the unavoidable question ‘What kind of person am I and how am I different from that other one with the different body bits’. ‘Not at all different’ is simply false. And without getting into possible biological justifications to various gender roles, we can at least say that once we think in terms of two different kinds of people, there is an open space to add on whatever additional role content we might feel like.

    My one lesbian friend was musing “I think that heterosexual couples probably have it easier. They have their roles all ready to slip into, whereas we have to make it all up every time.” She may be wrong on the specifics – she obviously does not know it from personal experience – but she describes the advantage of roles very well.

  131. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#135):

    In my case (and I suspect Schala’s, too), that’s incorrect. Here’s a few lines from my lecture on this topic: …. Sex really is a social construct, then

    A social construct is just a model of the universe shared between people.

    Looks to me like you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too. For one thing, it seems rather odd to me that you would argue “Newtonian mechanics is a social construct” yet accept that “gravity is not [a social construct]”, while likewise arguing that “sex is a social construct” yet accept the “existence of genes and chromosomes” when those genes and chromosomes and their effects on our physiology and behaviour is generally what most people seem to describe as sex. Your position reminds me of the story of someone who asked to see a forest, and when a valley full of trees was shown to him he said he couldn’t see it for all the trees in the way: you may think that such collections and abstractions is only a “social construct” but their referents are just as real and as solid as gravity and genes and chromosomes and behaviours. Something which you apparently wish to deny.

  132. Pitchguest says

    HJHornbeck:

    I think they’re best answered by transformation through analogy:

    1. Why is it so important for you folks to insist that there is no god, despite the fact that the vast majority of individuals on the planet not only believe there’s a god but, at least to some degree, define and live their lives by their god?

    2. Having no science degrees, or other academic or professional credentials to give you some important and relevant credibility, what, in your personal backgrounds, makes you think you have the experience, and/or experiential/academic authority, knowledge, and expertise to refute several generations of agreed upon theology and individuals who actually do have seminary training?

    3. If there are no gods, as they are just cultural phantasms, can there be religious violence? religious persecution? etc.? I mean, can a not-real anthropogenic phantasm be the cause of an anthropogenically intellectualized philosophical bias/prejudice/shunning?

    Answer those questions, and you have my answers to yours.

    HAHAHAHAHA.

    WHAT.

    In response to a claim that you made about gender and sex being a social construct, your answer by analogy is to compare it to religion? Really?

    Your best effort for a simulacrum, of sex and gender, is religion? The theologian arguing for the existence of a god or gods is analogous to the biologist arguing against the non-existence of the sexes? Are you kidding me? And am I dreaming, but are you actually making a point to say belief is as strong as science or that they are even remotely analogous? *insert Picard facepalm here* Wow. Wow. I thought I already knew the depths of your ignorance, but that is astounding. Incredible.

    The fact is, the questions he put to you are poignant. Particularly the last one. If there’s no such thing as sex, if sex is merely a social construct, then how can there be such a thing as a patriarchy? In a sexless society, how do you define sexism? How can things be considered misogynist and misandrist respectively? Haven’t you, among many others, had hissy fits about gendered slurs? In a sexless society, how can there be such thing as ‘gendered slurs’? How can there be such a thing as transgendered or transsexual, if sex (and gender) is a social construct?

    They’re all really good points. Are you honestly saying that these arguments are as metaphysical as the existence of deities?

    Moreover, your last analogy is just nonsensical. Sexism is predicated on the difference of the two sexes, male and female, and religious violence is predicated on people – both men and women – being gullible and stupid. Not ‘the gods’ pulling on people’s strings like a puppet master. Obviously your ‘transformations’ need some work.

  133. Schala says

    Transgendered

    No. Stop. Using. It. That. Way.

    Transgender is NOT A VERB. It cannot be in the past tense, it cannot be an adverb. It’s an adjective.

  134. Schala says

    Does Schala understand the idiotic endpoint of xe’s logic? Obviously not. There are thousands of difference between men and women (and between cis and trans gendered individuals), but according to Schala, we ought to ignore those differences and give everyone the same medical treatment.

    So in your bizzaro world, you can have “male treatments”, “female treatments” and if we don’t dare separate everyone in two discrete categories like this: “unisex treatments”.

    You can’t EVER have custom-tailored treatments to the individual? Have to treat people like numbers!! Or we all die!!

    I have to refuse prostate treatment to this trans person!! Their legal sex doesn’t match this insurance shit!! I am right, because I have majority on my side!! /s

  135. Schala says

    I’m going to try to simplify this for all the kids reading who can’t understand such a concept that CATEGORIES ARE STUFF WE INVENT.

    We take objects A, B, C, D all the way through Z. And try to find a way to categorize them, maybe because we saw a pattern or something. We end up with Category 1 and Category 2. We eventually figure out that those 2 categories don’t account for 100% of the distribution model. Thus the model is not perfect, the model is flawed. And yes, the MODEL is made up. The items IN the model are not, but their categories are.

    The scientific method says that when your model doesn’t explain 100% of the distribution, YOU IMPROVE THE MODEL. You don’t say the outliers are unimportant!

  136. says

    The scientific method says that when your model doesn’t explain 100% of the distribution, YOU IMPROVE THE MODEL. You don’t say the outliers are unimportant!

    Unless the model becomes impractical. Relativistic corrections at a speed of 100 kph are not noticable. Oftentimes crude fermi estimates are good enough. Keeping decision trees simple has utility on its own.

  137. Schala says

    Unless the model becomes impractical. Relativistic corrections at a speed of 100 kph are not noticable. Oftentimes crude fermi estimates are good enough. Keeping decision trees simple has utility on its own.

    The model has been:

    Male, or female, we do surgery on intersex children because we don’t like the implication of their existence, and we ostracize trans people to death, and hope they conform or suicide.

    The model could use HUGE improvements.

  138. Gjenganger says

    @Schala 143

    The scientific method says that when your model doesn’t explain 100% of the distribution, YOU IMPROVE THE MODEL. You don’t say the outliers are unimportant!

    No. Most models are unavoidably imperfect. You would not expect a classification to give a unique and infallibly accurate result for every conceivable case. Consider: The diagnostics manual that classifies patients according to their diseases? The social sciences classification of people and their professions? The classification of individual animals into species? Closer to physics, the theories that describe fluid dynamics are neither perfect nor complete – that is why they have to use wind tunnels and simulations. Closer to home, would you keep improving your map until it described correctly the position of every blade of grass and moving bicycle?

    There are some particular physics models (e.g. Newtonian mechanics and its successors) that are correct with unlimited accuracy for everything within their purview over distance scales that vary by maybe 20 orders of magnitude. Those are the kind of theory that Penrose classified as ‘phenomenal’, and he has a point. For those models, even a tiny discrepancy is a serious failure and would trigger a search for an improvement. But those cases are very much the exception.

    How we should deal with individuals that do not fit well into our classifications is another question. But it is simply not true that our theories can or should fit perfectly to the details of the real world.

  139. says

    Schala:

    <blockquoteThe model has been:

    Male, or female, we do surgery on intersex children because we don’t like the implication of their existence, and we ostracize trans people to death, and hope they conform or suicide.

    The model could use HUGE improvements

    ope this does not seem to be a model, but description of the behavior of society

  140. Pitchguest says

    Schala:

    Transgendered

    No. Stop. Using. It. That. Way.

    Transgender is NOT A VERB. It cannot be in the past tense, it cannot be an adverb. It’s an adjective.

    Pardon me. Transgender. My point still stands. Now answer the damn question.

  141. bugmaster says

    @hjornbeck #135:

    A social construct is just a model of the universe shared between people.

    No, it’s a little more than that; it is model of the universe that is based on observable data.

    Where things go wrong is when, well, things go wrong. What happens when some of the predictions of Newtonian Mechanics don’t come true?

    There is no model currently in existence today that accounts 100% for every single data point. None. This includes Newtonian Mechanics, Relativity, and the germ theory of disease. Does this mean that all of science is entirely arbitrary ? I do not believe so. Once again, if your claim is that “either a model is 100% accurate or it’s just an arbitrary story” is a false dilemma.

    But let’s be more specific. Do you believe that certain human phenotypes are clustered in the way that I described in my previous comment ? You don’t have to label the clusters “male” and “female”; you can label them “red” and “blue” if you want. I am also not asking you to provide an arbitrary cutoff, and to definitively color all the data points red or blue with nothing in between. But do you believe that the clusters exist at all ?

    If you do believe this, then you believe that sex is a physical phenomenon. Such a belief would hardly qualify as a “model” — since we provided no explanation for why they happen to cluster in this specific way — it’s really more of a description. If, on the other hand, you believe that the points are uniformly distributed; then you believe that sex is an entirely arbitrary social construct.

    Either way, we could very easily check which of us is right. All we need is a ruler, a CAT scanner, and a bunch of naked people. Ok, so maybe it’s not that easy to check, but I hope you see my point.

  142. hjhornbeck says

    Beaker @93

    Regarding simplifying to two different sexes, could someone spell out what the exact societal and personal benefit is of these simplifications? Because I’m having a hard time coming up with any that are actual benefits. Rather than being reductive stereotypes that actually hinder rather than help, at least in daily life.

    In reply to this, Steersman @117 brings up a sex difference in heart attacks. How big is that sex difference, though? Here’s an actual study on heart attacks which looked at sex differences:
    Čulić, Viktor, et al. “Symptom presentation of acute myocardial infarction: influence of sex, age, and risk factors.” American heart journal 144.6 (2002): 1012-1017.

    And here’s the percentage probability of presenting with a given symptom, for 11 symptoms, broken down by sex (n = 1395/601):

    Any Pain: 93.2/86.2
    Chest Pain: 87.6/79.7
    Left Arm Pain: 65.8/71
    Right Arm Pain: 40.1/47.4
    Left Shoulder Pain: 45.2/43.8
    Right Shoulder Pain: 35.3/30.8
    Any Non-Pain Symptom: 71.2/84.2
    Sweating: 59.7/48.1
    Weakness: 48.1/45.8
    Nausia: 40.9/57.4
    Dyspnea: 34.3/48.4

    Now, a constructivist would look at those and go: hey, there’s some small gender differences! Are those due to social norms, like women being told they can’t get heart attacks? Are those due to confounding dietary factors? Is this actually related to height or pregnancy, and not sex? We need more science!

    What would a realist do?

    While that might be construed more as a case of the pendulum of stereotyping having swung too far in the “wrong” direction, I think it illustrates the fact that a great many diseases and conditions tend to segregate by “sex”, and that it may frequently be of some import for medical professionals to be aware of which group an individual falls into – without that ability being vitiated by postmodernistic clap-trap and efforts to deny those facts.

    In other words, they’d stop thinking. We know there are sex differences, because we looked for sex differences and we found sex differences. Therefore, the sexes are different. No need for further study or inquiry, we should instead accept these differences as reality and move on. Warn women to be on the lookout for nausia, but don’t worry about sweating, as their heart attacks are fundamentally different.

    That advice would lead to more women dropping dead of heart attacks, though, because it exaggerates a sex difference that may not be due to sex in order to fit our stereotype of “men and women are different.” I think it makes a perfect portrait of how dangerous sexual realism can be.

  143. Ginkgo says

    gjengager @ 146 – “No. Most models are unavoidably imperfect. You would not expect a classification to give a unique and infallibly accurate result for every conceivable case.”

    She said improvement, not perfection.

    Of course yoyu always try to improve oyur model. Here’s ana anlogy that I hope doesn’t kick off a catfight – when indo-Europeanists in the late nineteenth century came up against intractable problems reconstructing PIE proto-forms due to conflciting vowel lenght data, Saussure positied lost laryngeal consonants as a possibe explanation. He had no proof to back this up at all – you cannot experiment on dead languages by quizzing speakers the way you can studying a living language; all the L1 speakers are dead, obviously – but it had the virtue of being completely plausible. In fact it turned out to be falsifiable, not just vague speculation – within a few years Hittite was discovered, a previously unknown and early branch of IE, and by damn, there were all the laryngeals, and right where they needed to be to explain all the later vowel developments in all the other branches.

    So no, you don’t just say “Dogma, er no, the model is all we have, the rest is a mystery, my son.”

  144. Gjenganger says

    @Gingko 151
    Not really the issue here. Schale and Hornbeck are saying that the idea the there are two sexes is grossly incomplete at best, useless at worst, because it only works completely for 95?% 98%? 99.5%? of the data. So, a simple two-class model, with just a handful of parameters, that explains well over 90% of the data? Most biologists would kill to come up with a model anywhere near that good for anything.The fact that some outliers do not fit too well is not a major problem. There are always outliers, no matter what field you are looking at. And it is always possible to make your model fit much better if you add enough extra classes, special cases, exceptions, and ad-hoc corrections to account for all the outliers. The thing is that your model actually gets worse that way – it is called overfitting, i believe. Let them come up with a better model and I will listen. That means something equally simple with a bit more explanatory power, or something rather more complex that fits 100.00% of the time – not “we are all individuals and therefore all different, my son”. But their aim is different. Since they do not like the idea that human beings basically come in two sexes, they are demanding an unrealistic standard of perfection, in order to dismiss the established model as a failure.

  145. ildi says

    Newtonian Mechanics is a social construct, as is Keynesian economics and the 80/20 rule. We use these constructs to simplify and predict complicated, messy interactions. Some of them work better than others, and the two-sex model is on the better side of the scale.

    Where things go wrong is when, well, things go wrong. What happens when some of the predictions of Newtonian Mechanics don’t come true? An Newtonian realist would argue we discard them as “defects” which diverge from the Newtonian ideal. They not only aren’t a threat to our views, the fact that they happen so rarely actually PROVES Newtonian Mechanics is a fundamental part of reality!

    A Newtonian constructivist, in contrast, would go “huh, I guess reality is more complicated than we thought.” They’d see if there was any way to modify Newtonian Mechanics to accommodate the missed predictions, or start drafting another, better model to replace it. A failed prediction is a chance to learn more about the universe we live in, which makes it precious and definitely nothing to be discarded.

    Please, back away slowly from the physics-babble. Newtonian physics is NOT a social construct – it’s a mathematical model that is very accurate when limited to non-relativistic speeds and low gravitational fields. I don’t know who you are referring to as a Newtonian realist, but no scientist discards conflicting data as “defects” because they diverge from an “ideal.” wtf? They may say the data is flawed in some way, or that the model needs to be expanded to include the new data. Scientists know that theories and models are only the currently best-available approximations of “reality.” That does not make the models and theories “social constructs.” A social construct would imply that different cultures looking at the same data would come up with different mathematical models. It annoys me when people take a term from one field and try to inappropriately shoe-horn it into a field about which they have minimal knowledge and think they are saying something useful.

    If you’re applying the idea of “social construct” so inaccurately to physics, it makes me wonder about the validity of your assertions when it comes to biology.

  146. Ginkgo says

    gjenganger @ 152

    ” So, a simple two-class model, with just a handful of parameters, that explains well over 90% of the data? Most biologists would kill to come up with a model anywhere near that good for anything.”

    Really? When describing a pattern within the same species? A 90% solution seems quite lax.

    “The fact that some outliers do not fit too well is not a major problem. There are always outliers, no matter what field you are looking at.”

    In some fields it does not follow that you just say “Close enough, fuck it.” Perhaps that is the best you can do in some areas of biology – it is certainly true in botanical taxomony in a lot of examples I can think of – but it’s no good enough in social policy and law. You have to do better. And they are not talking about biology really, they are talking about a social and cultural situation predicated on biology.

  147. Schala says

    That does not make the models and theories “social constructs.” A social construct would imply that different cultures looking at the same data would come up with different mathematical models.

    Isn’t it how the 20th century culture came to invent Quantum mechanics while 19th century and earlier cultures were fine with just Newtonian stuff? Funny, the more modern culture came with a different model. They didn’t replace Newtonian with Quantum, but they made sure to add an asterisk to Newtonian and say “doesn’t work for cases A through F, please see Quantum for those”.

  148. Hurin says

    Schala

    That does not make the models and theories “social constructs.” A social construct would imply that different cultures looking at the same data would come up with different mathematical models.

    Isn’t it how the 20th century culture came to invent Quantum mechanics while 19th century and earlier cultures were fine with just Newtonian stuff? Funny, the more modern culture came with a different model. They didn’t replace Newtonian with Quantum, but they made sure to add an asterisk to Newtonian and say “doesn’t work for cases A through F, please see Quantum for those”.

    No. That was an example of people within science formulating a new model for observations that they realized couldn’t be described using classical physics. Quantum mechanics had nothing to do with what “culture” Max Planck was from; he was trying to model black body radiation and through extensive trial and error found that it was only well described when energy was a discreet quantity instead of continuous. He personally was not even particularly comfortable with that model; he viewed it as a cheap mathematical trick.

    People from different cultures still contribute to and apply quantum mechanics, and they don’t do it in any way that could be called culturally distinctive. I can’t look at a paper with the names blanked out and say “oh, this is definitely an Indian theory paper, only chemists from Punjab use coupled cluster methods for electron – electron interaction terms”.

    Also what the hell is “20th century culture”?

  149. Steersman says

    Ildi (#153):

    Please, back away slowly from the physics-babble. Newtonian physics is NOT a social construct – it’s a mathematical model that is very accurate when limited to non-relativistic speeds and low gravitational fields.

    Indeed. Although I can at least sympathize with the “social constructionists” to the extent of accepting that such models constitute “jointly constructed understandings of the world” (1). However, when they, apparently, start denying any underlying reality, and talk of how we “humans construct reality” then I think it appropriate if not mandatory to characterize them as crazier than fucking shit-house rats. Now “reality” covers an awful lot of ground, and might justify giving some of them a pass as such models do seem to have some degree of “reality” – they “exist” in our collective consciousness and provide a useful tool for managing and controlling our environments. But the following passage from Dawkins’ review (2) of Intellectual Impostures by Sokal and Bricmont suggest that many of them don’t deserve anything more than ridicule if not incarceration:

    Dawkins: The feminist ‘philosopher’ Luce Irigaray is another who gets whole-chapter treatment from Sokal and Bricmont. In a passage reminiscent of a notorious feminist description of Newton’s Principia (a “rape manual”), Irigaray argues that E=mc2 is a “sexed equation”. Why? Because “it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us” (my emphasis of what I am rapidly coming to learn is an ‘in’ word). Just as typical of this school of thought is Irigaray’s thesis on fluid mechanics. Fluids, you see, have been unfairly neglected. “Masculine physics” privileges rigid, solid things. Her American expositor Katherine Hayles made the mistake of re-expressing Irigaray’s thoughts in (comparatively) clear language. For once, we get a reasonably unobstructed look at the emperor and, yes, he has no clothes:

    Hayles: The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids… From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.

    :shock:

    —–
    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_construct”;
    2) “_http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/824-postmodernism-disrobed”;

  150. bugmaster says

    @Schala #155:

    Isn’t it how the 20th century culture came to invent Quantum mechanics while 19th century and earlier cultures were fine with just Newtonian stuff?

    In a word… no. Relativity was discovered, and experimentally verified, because (in part) our observations grew precise enough to notice the relativistic effects. However, people had known that the orbit of Mercury was “anomalous” for a long time; Relativity was finally able to provide a good explanation for why that happens.

    The difference between postmodernists and scientists is that they look at the evidence, not just at the internal coherence of a model or at its political implications (if any). Thus, if a 19th century scientist was somehow resurrected during the modern day, he would probably accept the theory of relativity — after looking at all of the available data, of course. He would, in fact, have no choice. This could not be the case if physical models were arbitrary social constructs. There is an external reality out there, and it doesn’t care about your feelings.

    By the way, the difference between scientists and engineers is that the engineers will use whichever model is easiest to use, while still being useful. If you asked an engineer to calculate how far a thrown stone would fly, he would use a model in which the Earth is flat.

  151. hjhornbeck says

    Steersman @124:

    Although, considering the rather egregious if not laughable attempts to promote other pronoun replacements such as “xe, xir”, I’ve been thinking that – sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander; a quid pro quo – I should insist on being referred to as “his Royal highness” ….

    It’s just pixels to me. Done!

    JT @125:

    Do you have a blog?

    I keep intending to set one up, then failing to. The closest I’ve come is posting to the mailing list of the UofC Freethinkers, but between the aftermath of this lecture and the rest of my life, I don’t have the time for one in the short term. Sorry!

  152. hjhornbeck says

    Steersman @129:

    The point is more that regardless of whatever my own karyotype might be, that is largely irrelevant to the question in play now: whether or not the majority of humans – some 95% to 98% – can broadly be described as generally falling into two somewhat loosely defined but not exhaustive classes called “male” and “female”.

    Emphasis mine. You’re redefining sex contrary to how our society does. Even Germany agrees, despite recent developments (emphasis mine):

    Alongside the categories of “M” and “F”, is a new category: “X”. Now, the German government and legal experts are keen to stress that this third blank box isn’t an official third gender, or the “other” box – so it doesn’t actually mean that there are now three recognized genders in Germany. It’s seen as a temporary solution for very specific intersex cases – the children aren’t expected to live their lives as X’s, but to make a decision to be male or female at a non-specified point in the future . However, many people view this decision, based on a review by the German Ethics Council, as a huge victory for intersex children. And it really is quite a momentous decision, especially when you consider that up to this point in time, intersex people haven’t had any legal recognition on European birth certificates whatsoever.

    From the moment you’re born, our society states you must be male or female, with no exceptions. So isn’t your redefinition of “sex” a concession that it really is a social construct?

    You also lose points for making an argument I already handled:

    hjhornbeck @19:

    Your analogy would hold if we thought every vehicle was a “car,” of some sort, and “quad bikes” were not “cars.” Because we as a society say every person must have a sex; that’s why it’s not an optional part of birth certificates, censuses, government licenses, and so on. And yet you reject this, as you argue some people don’t fall into the standard two categories.

    So doesn’t it bother you that the rest of society says these ambiguous cases don’t exist, or are not actually ambiguous? Who’s right, here?

  153. hjhornbeck says

    Whoops, missed a spot:

    Steersman @129:

    However, all of your blathering still looks mostly like an effort to engage in some biological denialism – you may wish to read or re-read Myers’ own “Sex differences are real” – which even he admits, in effect, are rather ubiquitous and generally and mostly segregate into those two classes.

    That’s off-topic, so I’ll just direct you to my comment on that thread. In short, I think it was merely a poor choice of words, but that’s my final word on the matter here.

  154. hjhornbeck says

    hjhornbeck @8:

    I think [Fogg] and Myers are making the same error of confusing the description with the described. Gravity is real, but it has many constructed models to describe it such as Newtonian Mechanics and General Relativity. In the same manner, genes, hormones, chromosomes, and anatomy are all real, while our descriptions and classifications are not real.

    Skep tickle, via Steersman @134:

    So, what, it’s now PC (at least in the eyes of Schala, Hornbeck, and Gabriel) to claim that when you look at someone’s genitalia you are not able to tell the difference between male & female because any difference you think you might perceive is just a social construct?

    hjhornbeck @135:

    Don’t confuse the description for the described, as I’ve seen many people do in the last three weeks. The social construct view of sex does not deny the existence of genes or hormones, it merely states that “male” and “female” are simplified models of those things.

    Called it! If you are a realist, there is no difference between description and described. So when a constructionist denies a description is accurate, the realist thinks they’re denying the existence of the described. Anyone who’s made the mistake of assuming me or any other person taking the constructivist view is a denier of biology has outed themselves as a sexual realist, on some level.

    So: Ally Fogg, SkepTickle, bugmaster, and johngreg are all sexual realists, albeit they may not realize it. Even though I explicitly disavowed denying biology in my very first comment (#8, quoted above), all of you still thought that’s exactly what I was doing.

    That’s strong evidence of just how tightly we can cling to realist thinking.

  155. hjhornbeck says

    I didn’t include Steersman in that list, because his Royal Highness flip-flops so often, sometimes within the same comment:

    Steersman @44:

    Seems that the point there is that “male” and “female” are terms that we have “defined” to describe the fact that most of the attributes, particularly those associated with procreation, tend to clump together in a bimodal distribution, the peaks of which we label as “male” and “female”. [...]

    That’s very constructionist, no?

    But what I, and many others, find problematic is the apparent tendency of many, H.J. Hornbeck for example, to try to deny that those labels are largely applicable to probably some 95% of the population.

    Oh look, his Royal Highness also thinks I’m a biology denier. Incidentally, you also ran away from my question at 107:

    Which means that you dodged the question. But secondly, hold up here: I thought penises were penises, with an objective definition that was independent of observer and any surrounding tissue? Now you’re telling me the definition of “penis” depends heavily on things unrelated to the structure in question! How did you justify the notion that karyotype “largerly” determines whether something is a penis or not? Can you quantify “largely?” Does this mean karyotype can be overruled by other factors?

    In between two comments, you went from asserting it had a simple, obvious definition to conceding it had a complicated, subjective definition. That means you now largely agree with Schala and I.

    Dodging questions and flip-flopping? Creationists love those tactics, and you know what we do to them

  156. ildi says

    So when a constructionist denies a description is accurate, the realist thinks they’re denying the existence of the described. Anyone who’s made the mistake of assuming me or any other person taking the constructivist view is a denier of biology has outed themselves as a sexual realist, on some level.

    This is just bizarre thinking to me. I don’t think you’re denying the existence of anything, I just think you don’t know much about how science works. I would expect you to come up with a better description, and evidence for why its better.

    The only place where I see room in this discussion for your social construct idea is that society sees sex as binary rather than a bimodal distribution, which is how society sees sexual orientation, also. I don’t see where your constructionist thinking brings anything to the table, quite frankly.

  157. Edward Gemmer says

    Yes, I think, definitely. Certainly, I struggle with differentiating between gender and sex. However, in this context it is almost irrelevant. “Women” have the ability to give birth, and because of that they are a commodity. Controlling women gives one power over the future of a population. Because of that, society has an interest in controlling women, especially who they are sleeping with.

    Conversely, men don’t give birth, and don’t have much value to anyone, so they become more disposable. They tend to be imprisoned and/or killed as a much higher rate. In any event, certainly your gender/sex will affect how society views you.

  158. hjhornbeck says

    johngreg @137:

    If you haven’t got the intellectual integrity, or plain old guts, to answer the questions, that’s fine; go cower in the shower where you belong.

    I did answer them. You’re an atheist, right? You’ve been asked the questions I fired back before, and you know the stock atheist answers to those questions. So why should I waste time typing something you already know, when this approach also demonstrates the errors you’re making in those questions?

  159. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#160):

    Steersman: The point is more that regardless of whatever my own karyotype might be, that is largely irrelevant to the question in play now: whether or not the majority of humans – some 95% to 98% – can broadly be described as generally falling into two somewhat loosely defined but not exhaustive classes called “male” and “female”.
    —–
    Hornbeck: Emphasis mine. You’re redefining sex contrary to how our society does. Even Germany agrees, despite recent developments (emphasis mine)

    Really? I know this might cause PZ to get his knickers in a twist (“dictionaries! – the horror!”), but do note this definition (1):

    2. either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions.

    That is, other categories with two main ones being the salient aspect of the phenomenon. Although I’ll concede that that seems not to be a common definition which seems to be categorically exhaustive with two: “Either of the two divisions, designated female and male, of this classification” (2).

    You also lose points for making an argument I already handled

    I hadn’t realized you were keeping score or that I had apparently wandered into some Internet role-playing game ….

    So doesn’t it bother you that the rest of society says these ambiguous cases don’t exist, or are not actually ambiguous? Who’s right, here?

    Not sure that “society” is saying that, although one might argue that that is more due to those cases not generally being on everyone’s radar. But you have any specifics on who or what percentage of the population is doing so?

    As for who’s right, that is, of course, a moot point. If we’re talking of sex for the purposes of procreation then the classes seem to be exhaustive with “egg producers” and “sperm producers”. Which, of course, leaves out in the cold those who might be stereotypically female or male but who are unable to deliver the goods for one reason or another. And if we’re talking of sex based on the possession of various combinations of the attributes or features normally associated with those stereotypes – for instance, “karyotypically male but physiologically female”, or similar combinations – then it seems there are a rather large number of other “sexes”.

    Not quite sure what the best resolution of that problem is, although Germany’s lead seems to be one at least worth considering.

    —-
    1) “_https://www.google.ca/search?q=sex+definition&sourceid=ie7&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox&ie=&oe=&rlz=1I7ADRA_en”;
    2) “_http://www.thefreedictionary.com/sex”;

  160. bugmaster says

    @hjhornbeck #162:

    If you are a realist, there is no difference between description and described [emphasis mine]. … So: Ally Fogg, SkepTickle, bugmaster, and johngreg are all sexual realists, albeit they may not realize it.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “realist”, but I explicitly reject the italicized claim, above. Unfortunately, this rejection doesn’t overturn my argument in any way.

    Of course, there’s a difference between physical reality (i.e., that which exists regardless of whether you believe in it or not) and our models of it. For example, the length of my monitor’s diagonal is about 21 inches. Is it exactly 21 inches ? No. It’s more like 21 +- 1 inches. If I had a more precise ruler, I could get a better measurement; perhaps something like 21.42 +-0.08 inches. But It would still be inexact. No matter how powerful of an instrument I used, I could never get a truly exact measurement; and, in fact, there is no such thing as an exact length, due to all kinds of interesting quantum effects (not to mention, temperature). And, of course, if 10 people measured the size of my monitor, they’d get 10 different answers.

    Does this mean that the diagonal length of my monitor is an arbitrary social construct ? No. A physical monitor does exist. It’s there even when I close my eyes. It interacts with the rest of the world in a some very specific ways, and that includes interacting with rulers. Our measurements, despite being imprecise, are not arbitrary.

    Once again, it is a false dilemma to say, “either we are 100% certain of everything, or else all knowledge is an arbitrary social construct”. Uncertainty is not the same thing as total ignorance.

  161. Schala says

    Does this mean that the diagonal length of my monitor is an arbitrary social construct ? No. A physical monitor does exist. It’s there even when I close my eyes. It interacts with the rest of the world in a some very specific ways, and that includes interacting with rulers. Our measurements, despite being imprecise, are not arbitrary.

    Socially constructed doesn’t mean arbitrary. But it does mean man-made. The two could overlap. But with measurements like your monitor they typically won’t (ie it won’t be made-up, there).

    Classifying the Irish and Scotland people as “non-white” is something that was regularly done in the early 1900s in the US. Nowadays they’re considered white in the same places.

    The notion of “who counts as white” is socially constructed.

  162. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#163):

    Hornbeck: I didn’t include Steersman in that list, because his Royal Highness flip-flops so often, sometimes within the same comment:
    —-
    Steersman @44: Seems that the point there is that “male” and “female” are terms that we have “defined” to describe the fact that most of the attributes, particularly those associated with procreation, tend to clump together in a bimodal distribution, the peaks of which we label as “male” and “female”. [...]

    Hornbeck: That’s very constructionist, no?

    Steersman: But what I, and many others, find problematic is the apparent tendency of many, H.J. Hornbeck for example, to try to deny that those labels are largely applicable to probably some 95% of the population.

    Hornbeck: Oh look, his Royal Highness also thinks I’m a biology denier.

    I don’t know about a “biology denier” but “not a careful reader”, or maybe “motivated reasoner” seems applicable. For one thing, I said (in #124) only that “I’ve been thinking that … I should insist on being referred to as his Royal highness”, not that I was actually requiring or demanding that use, something I had said in the context of, and as a potential response to those, as I suggested, who demand the use of idiosyncratic and ridiculous replacement pronouns – the standard “his” will be sufficient.

    And for another thing, I did say “those labels are largely applicable to …” with the definition of “label” being:

    An item used to identify something or someone, as a small piece of paper or cloth attached [aka applied] to an article to designate its origin, owner, contents, use, or destination.

    Kind of like handles on objects to make them more tractable, more easily managed or handled. And most definitely not the objects themselves – which you apparently inferred since you managed to leap from “deny those labels are applicable” to a supposed accusation from me that you were a “biology denier”. You might want to consider that my supposed “flip-flopping” is more a case of you being unclear on a number of concepts and word usages.

  163. Schala says

    Similarly, trans women have been qualified as “really weird men with a fetish, who are male”, as “a special type of women, still male”, “invaders of womanhood intent on destroying femaleness”, “really really gay men who went too far, male”, and more recently “women who have a different history, female”.

    Trans men have gone through similar, if less insulting, categories. That make them non-male or non-men. Their motivations were less questioned though.

    You know how you can have all those same judgments from people who know all the biological information at hand? Because the social category of men, and male, women and female, have deeper meanings than just the reproductive stuff. To society anyways.

    Society is literally obsessed with fencing men and women each on one side, equating either with maleness and femaleness, and inventing tertiary sexual characteristics to be sure no one can be mistaken for the other. Why else would people think of gendering the color of their newborn’s room? Or their rompers at newborn-age?

    As long as we live in such a world, you can’t go “our model’s good enough, fuck the outliers”, because it means very real deaths.

  164. Hurin says

    hjhornbeck

    The point is more that regardless of whatever my own karyotype might be, that is largely irrelevant to the question in play now: whether or not the majority of humans – some 95% to 98% – can broadly be described as generally falling into two somewhat loosely defined but not exhaustive classes called “male” and “female”.

    Emphasis mine. You’re redefining sex contrary to how our society does. Even Germany agrees, despite recent developments (emphasis mine)

    Really, who gives a shit how *society* defines sex? Societies have all sorts of ideas about all sorts of things, but arguing from the poorly considered opinions of masses of people is still considered a classic logical fallacy for some reason.

    We are talking about biology if we are talking about sex; sex is a *biological* phenomenon in which two organisms reproduce by contributing genetic material in order to produce new individuals that are not clones of either parent. People and other species have groups denoted “male” and “female”, because sexual interactions between members of those groups, but not within them, can lead to reproduction. The fact that males and females sometimes fuck members of their own group doesn’t invalidate the groupings. The fact that individuals exist that don’t fit either category also does not invalidate those groupings. The existence of people who do not cleanly fit into the two basic sexual categories is to be expected, as all populations of organisms have variation.

    Society can do what it wants with that information. Personally I’m against discrimination based on biological categories. I also wouldn’t be upset if people want new labels for individuals who are either infertile, or have equipment or chromosomes that land them outside “male” or “female”. But you can’t tell me that sex doesn’t exist, or that it is arbitrary, because bad Ahnuld movies notwithstanding, people in the “male” category don’t get pregnant. I can’t get pregnant no matter what I identify my gender as, and no matter what sexual behaviors I initiate, and no matter what surgeries I have. Sex as I described it above is a phenomenon, not a description or a construct – its physiology present in a huge array of species that has evolved because it enables an advantageous means of reproduction.

    If you want to talk about *gender* as a social construct, go right ahead. It was my understanding that this is why a distinction was made between gender and sex in the first place. So that we can talk about the sociological or psychological dimensions relating to sexual identity.

  165. Schala says

    But you can’t tell me that sex doesn’t exist, or that it is arbitrary, because bad Ahnuld movies notwithstanding, people in the “male” category don’t get pregnant. I can’t get pregnant no matter what I identify my gender as, and no matter what sexual behaviors I initiate, and no matter what surgeries I have. Sex as I described it above is a phenomenon, not a description or a construct – its physiology present in a huge array of species that has evolved because it enables an advantageous means of reproduction.

    If you want to talk about *gender* as a social construct, go right ahead. It was my understanding that this is why a distinction was made between gender and sex in the first place. So that we can talk about the sociological or psychological dimensions relating to sexual identity.

    Right there, you gave primacy to the procreative function and relegated the neurological seat of identity to merely a cultural artifact (gender), when it’s everything but.

    The neurological seat of identity has primacy because it’s the only thing that ultimately matters to the individual. Trans people who are brains-in-a-vat would still identify as their neurological sex. Because the body they have (outside the brain part) and its capacity for reproduction is immaterial to how they are and who they are.

    I blame people for calling it gender identity in the first place. It was a stupid name, it brings to mind notions of masculinity, feminity, pink and machoness. Sex identity is more like it. It has to do with identifying as male or female. Nothing to do with gender roles.

    And I don’t need any surgeries to be female. I have what people call a penis. Still female. I don’t have ovaries, and have what appears to be normally formed testis producing normal amounts of testosterone normally, I have a 46, XY karyotype. I’m still female. Because my brain says so. It’s not a mental illness. It’s not a delusion. It’s not schizophrenia. And its not about pretending.

    The description of sex as purely procreative belongs to animals unable to talk and think for themselves, where their categories mean very little in and of themselves. All cats are taught to do clean themselves, be ‘hygienic’ in the bathroom sense, and to hunt, regardless of their sex, as kittens, by their parent(s). They don’t have a notion that men ought to toughen up, stop crying, and women ought to be princesses. They don’t have pink and blue. Dresses and pants. Their sex matters ONLY for reproduction, and perhaps an instinctual role hardcoded in their genes (they know how to give birth without being taught, for example, and they don’t need sex ed).

    Humans, who build intricate notions based on the sex, which often have NOTHING to do with the sex, often completely outdated notions (alimony for example), cannot talk about sex on purely reproductive grounds when talking about it in even the slightest social context.

  166. Clarence Woodworth says

    Evolution only happens through sexual reproduction ,and sorry, Schala, but sexual reproduction is primary. Everything else piggybacks off that, even the very biochemistry of your brain which wouldn’t exist if a male and a female didn’t get together to produce you.

    And while I want rights for trans and intersex people there is no way in heck I’m conceding that ‘men’ can get pregnant.

  167. johngreg says

    Hornbeck said:

    I did answer them.

    WTF? After I asked them? Before you rebutted with your word games? Where? I can’t see them. Got a link?

  168. Gjenganger says

    @Gingko 154

    And they are not talking about biology really, they are talking about a social and cultural situation predicated on biology.

    That is exactly the distinction we need to make. In biology sex is a matter of how to divide up peoples bodies. And the data give a clear answer: Humans divide in two sexes male and female, with some slightly atypical members in both and a tiny number where something so unusual happened that it is impossible to decide. The social and cultural treatment of people who fit badly to the binary gender distribution in various ways is a different question. That is not simple at all. By all means let us discuss how we should handle it, but let us not try to do violence to biology because we want to change social policy.

  169. carnation says

    @ All

    Did anyone catch the ding-dong between Paris Lees and Julie Burchill?

    To my mind, Lees came across as reasonable but unprepared. Burchill, true to reactionaryform, came across as odious, shrill, offensive and as a pastiche of a mercifully rare strand within feminism.

  170. Schala says

    Evolution only happens through sexual reproduction ,and sorry, Schala, but sexual reproduction is primary. Everything else piggybacks off that, even the very biochemistry of your brain which wouldn’t exist if a male and a female didn’t get together to produce you.

    And while I want rights for trans and intersex people there is no way in heck I’m conceding that ‘men’ can get pregnant.

    You make the mistake of thinking there is a goal, a function, etc to people. A means to an end. Explain what is the endgame of life in the universe. Go ahead.

    I posit that there isn’t any particular endgame. And while instincts have us reproduce, it’s not “what humans are for” any more than a car is to ram walls or roll over people. In short: humans have no “purpose” except the one they make themselves. As a collective they strive to survive. That’s already a given right now. No need to be an ass to minorities to force them to reproduce.

  171. johngreg says

    Schala said (referring to Clarence’s post at c. #175):

    You make the mistake of thinking there is a goal, a function, etc to people. A means to an end.

    I cannot see where Clarence has done that at all, not even in implication or vague association. I think you are either misreading, or failing at comprehension, or projecting your own assumptions on Clarence’s statements. Please explain where Clarence says what you claim.

    I posit that there isn’t any particular endgame.

    When it comes to the process of evolution, I doubt, very much, that anyone here would disagree with that statement.

    And while instincts have us reproduce, it’s not “what humans are for” any more than a car is to ram walls or roll over people.

    It could be argued, and has been, in the past, by better minds than mine, that the only actual purpose of any living entity is to reproduce itself and perpetuate existence, as a car’s purpose is to transport people from place to place.

    No need to be an ass to minorities to force them to reproduce.

    Huh? WTF?

  172. Schala says

    It could be argued, and has been, in the past, by better minds than mine, that the only actual purpose of any living entity is to reproduce itself and perpetuate existence, as a car’s purpose is to transport people from place to place.

    But there is no purpose. Only something that happens. If you extrapolate IS to OUGHT, you’re committing the naturalistic fallacy, of assuming “that which happens/has happened HAD/HAVE to happen”.

    Even if only a small portion of people reproduced, we would be just fine as a species. Forcing stupid social norms on people who won’t, don’t want, or can’t reproduce, to disincentize would-be “deserters” (MGTOW and herbivore men, for example), is stupid. I’m all for the continuation of the species, I just don’t think we actually need to have any social engineering to achieve it.

    No need to be an ass to minorities to force them to reproduce.

    Huh? WTF?

    And while I want rights for trans and intersex people there is no way in heck I’m conceding that ‘men’ can get pregnant.

    What’s the purpose of denying trans and intersex men can get pregnant? What’s the purpose of shaming (if not legally punishing) homosexuality? It’s to force them to reproduce, because they disagree with our worldview, and a 2000 years old book happens to share the same bigoted sense of “we must reproduce or we vanish!!!!”. It’s also the same with shaming trans women, though I bet more want them obliterated than to reproduce-as-male, given how they’re treated.

  173. johngreg says

    Schala said:

    But there is no purpose. Only something that happens.

    As I said, it has been argued, by better minds than mine, that there is a sort of purpose to life, and that purpose is to reproduce — as in, metaphorically or figuratively speaking, living entities are a sort of circular-purpose existence-replication machine.

    Even if only a small portion of people reproduced, we would be just fine as a species. Forcing stupid social norms on people who won’t, don’t want, or can’t reproduce, to disincentize would-be “deserters” (MGTOW and herbivore men, for example), is stupid. I’m all for the continuation of the species, I just don’t think we actually need to have any social engineering to achieve it.

    Well, I have to admit I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re trying to say there, nor do I see its relevance to my comment.

    What’s the purpose of denying trans and intersex men can get pregnant? What’s the purpose of shaming (if not legally punishing) homosexuality? It’s to force them to reproduce, because they disagree with our worldview, and a 2000 years old book happens to share the same bigoted sense of “we must reproduce or we vanish!!!!”. It’s also the same with shaming trans women, though I bet more want them obliterated than to reproduce-as-male, given how they’re treated.

    Hmm. So you think the sentence “And while I want rights for trans and intersex people there is no way in heck I’m conceding that ‘men’ can get pregnant“, warrants the accusation of being “an ass to minorities to force them to reproduce”, as well as your paragraph quoted above? Well, at the risk of repeating myself, I must say that I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re trying to say there, nor do I see its relevance to my comment.

  174. Matt Cavanaugh says

    Schala 174 wrote —

    “The description of sex as purely procreative belongs to animals unable to talk and think for themselves, where their categories mean very little in and of themselves….
    “The neurological seat of identity has primacy because it’s the only thing that ultimately matters to the individual…. Because the body they have (outside the brain part) and its capacity for reproduction is immaterial to how they are and who they are.”

    Your callous statements are an insult to the 99.7% of the population who are comfortable and happy with their physical sex, and to all those for whom being a parent is the most significant and meaningful aspect of their lives.

    “And I don’t need any surgeries to be female. I have what people call a penis. Still female. I don’t have ovaries, and have what appears to be normally formed testis producing normal amounts of testosterone normally, I have a 46, XY karyotype. I’m still female.”

    ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ are scientific terms, used describe sex. You are genetically male; your phenotype is male. If you identify as a woman, and wish society to treat you as a woman, fine. But don’t think that by playing deconstructionist word games, you can alter scientific reality. Do not expect science & medicine professionals, or science-literate lay people, to go along with your word games.

    It’s sheer hubris for PoMo babblers to pontificate to scientists, medical professionals, and rational people. It’s sheer woo to think that playing with words can alter reality.

    The level of scientific ignorance displayed by many here is astonishing. Do what you all like, but stop claiming you practice evidence-based reasoning.

  175. hjhornbeck says

    hjhornbeck @8:

    I think you and Myers are making the same error of confusing the description with the described. Gravity is real, but it has many constructed models to describe it such as Newtonian Mechanics and General Relativity. In the same manner, genes, hormones, chromosomes, and anatomy are all real, while our descriptions and classifications are not real.

    Steersman @139:

    Looks to me like you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too. For one thing, it seems rather odd to me that you would argue “Newtonian mechanics is a social construct” yet accept that “gravity is not [a social construct]”, while likewise arguing that “sex is a social construct” yet accept the “existence of genes and chromosomes” when those genes and chromosomes and their effects on our physiology and behaviour is generally what most people seem to describe as sex.

    So when describing something, it’s cheating to accept there’s a something to describe? Also, I have to take my hat off to you: in the same paragraph where you yet again think I’m denying the described, despite repeated statements to the contrary by me, yet in the bolded portion you’re arguing that sex is a description created by people.

    As in, a social construct.

    You are so out of touch, you hold two opposing sides to be true.

  176. Gjenganger says

    @Matt Cavanaugh 183
    Hoah there! Calm Down!
    I agree rather more with you than with Schala, but 1) this kind of post will not convince anyone and not cause anyone to learn anything. It just shows people with your opinions and mine in a bad light. 2) Schala may be playing semantic games to support her position, but she is hardly the first. Besides, she is personally involved (and how!) and has good and understandable reasons to push her views hard and maybe overreact a bit to things people say. What is your excuse?

  177. Hurin says

    Schala

    The description of sex as purely procreative belongs to animals unable to talk and think for themselves, where their categories mean very little in and of themselves. All cats are taught to do clean themselves, be ‘hygienic’ in the bathroom sense, and to hunt, regardless of their sex, as kittens, by their parent(s). They don’t have a notion that men ought to toughen up, stop crying, and women ought to be princesses.

    The description doesn’t belong to them, it applies to them, and it also applies to us. That’s what makes it the more fundamental description, the fact that it is older and more general. You are trying to tell me that the fact that we have formed ideas about sex, somehow changes the underlying reality of what it is physically, and how it came to be. It doesn’t . We formed identities related to sexual reproduction because its a real phenomenon and we do it. If we reproduced by budding we wouldn’t have the ideas about men needing to stop crying or women being princesses because “male and female” would be an odd factoid from biology class.

    The neurological seat of identity has primacy because it’s the only thing that ultimately matters to the individual.

    Reality isn’t determined by what matters to you or anyone else.

    Trans people who are brains-in-a-vat would still identify as their neurological sex. Because the body they have (outside the brain part) and its capacity for reproduction is immaterial to how they are and who they are.

    Has anyone actually done that experiment? This seems suspiciously like an “argument from something unverifiable that I pulled out of my ass”.

    I blame people for calling it gender identity in the first place. It was a stupid name, it brings to mind notions of masculinity, feminity, pink and machoness. Sex identity is more like it. It has to do with identifying as male or female. Nothing to do with gender roles.

    And I don’t need any surgeries to be female. I have what people call a penis. Still female. I don’t have ovaries, and have what appears to be normally formed testis producing normal amounts of testosterone normally, I have a 46, XY karyotype. I’m still female. Because my brain says so. It’s not a mental illness. It’s not a delusion. It’s not schizophrenia. And its not about pretending.

    I don’t view any aspect of my identity as “delusion” or “pretending”, but that doesn’t mean it overrides my basic biology. If I identified myself as a paramecium, I would still have to concede that, yes I do have more than one cell in my body.

    It may be that trans women, have brains that are actually neurologically closer to those (or even indistinguishable from those) of cis women. That would argue for the existence of more sex categories, not the invalidity of existing sex categories, or the invalidity of talking about sex as a fundamentally reproductive phenomenon. That sort of thing is expected in biology as complexity builds. It could be that there are two reproductive sexes in humans that coexist with two neurological sexes, and then some intersex catagories, whereas rats have only two reproductive sex categories and some intersex categories. On the other hand, I don’t think you know whether your brain is more like a cis female brain or a cis male brain. That is a scientific question, and AFAIK there isn’t a scientific consensus for it.

  178. hjhornbeck says

    Pitchguest @140:

    Are you kidding me? And am I dreaming, but are you actually making a point to say belief is as strong as science or that they are even remotely analogous? *insert Picard facepalm here* Wow. Wow. I thought I already knew the depths of your ignorance, but that is astounding. Incredible.

    I’m flattered that your strongest argument is the argument from personal incredulity. Where have I heard that one before?

    If something popped into being out of nothing, it would lack any causal conditions whatsoever, efficient or material. If God creates something ex nihilo, then it lacks only a material cause. This is, admittedly, hard to conceive, but if coming into being without a material cause is absurd, then coming into being with neither a material cause nor an efficient cause is, as I say, doubly absurd, that is, twice as hard to conceive.

    If there’s no such thing as sex, if sex is merely a social construct, then how can there be such a thing as a patriarchy?

    You’re just restating johngreg’s last question. I’ve already given my answer.

    Sexism is predicated on the difference of the two sexes, male and female

    Sexism is discrimination on the basis of sex. How does that constrain the number of sexes to be two?

  179. hjhornbeck says

    bugmaster @149:

    There is no model currently in existence today that accounts 100% for every single data point. None. This includes Newtonian Mechanics, Relativity, and the germ theory of disease. Does this mean that all of science is entirely arbitrary ? I do not believe so. Once again, if your claim is that “either a model is 100% accurate or it’s just an arbitrary story” is a false dilemma.

    Agreed, 100%. So why do you put me in a false dilemma (emphasis mine)?

    If you do believe [karyotypes tend to cluster], then you believe that sex is a physical phenomenon. [...] If, on the other hand, you believe that the points are uniformly distributed; then you believe that sex is an entirely arbitrary social construct.

  180. hjhornbeck says

    ildi @153:

    Please, back away slowly from the physics-babble. Newtonian physics is NOT a social construct

    Sure it is, it’s a model of the universe that multiple human beings agree to. What do you think it is, instead?

    it’s a mathematical model that is very accurate when limited to non-relativistic speeds and low gravitational fields.

    … wait, so you agree it’s a social construct then? Oh, wait, I see what’s going on here.

    hjhornbeck @162

    Called it! If you are a realist, there is no difference between description and described. So when a constructionist denies a description is accurate, the realist thinks they’re denying the existence of the described. Anyone who’s made the mistake of assuming me or any other person taking the constructivist view is a denier of biology has outed themselves as a sexual realist, on some level.

    And sure enough, you do exactly that:

    A social construct would imply that different cultures looking at the same data would come up with different mathematical models.

    Still, there’s one thing I’ll give you credit for:

    I don’t know who you are referring to as a Newtonian realist, but no scientist discards conflicting data as “defects” because they diverge from an “ideal.” wtf? They may say the data is flawed in some way, or that the model needs to be expanded to include the new data. Scientists know that theories and models are only the currently best-available approximations of “reality.”

    THANK YOU, I was glad someone else made the connection! The realist view is anti-scientific, as it denies the ability to falsify theories and asserts there is an absolute truth. Science is nothing but building and tearing down models, typically within a social network, it is constructivist at the most fundamental level.

    It’s no surprise I find it easy to tie the realist point of view to religion, as they’re birds of a feather.

  181. Pitchguest says

    hjhornbeck:

    I’m flattered that your strongest argument is the argument from personal incredulity. Where have I heard that one before?

    Nooooo… that was a question. The proper thing to do here would be to answer yes, no, or clarify. It’s really interesting that all you’ve done in this thread is to avoid answering questions head on. You form these red herrings and expect us to focus on that instead. How about you just answer the damn questions? I’ve noticed this tactic many times from other regulars here at FtB. Is it actually impossible to get a straight answer?

    You’re just restating johngreg’s last question. I’ve already given my answer.

    Your answer to a question about your position about sex, is to “transform” it “through analogy” about religion. That’s not an answer. That is the opposite of an answer. Your “transformation” also doesnt make any sense, because it asks the recipient to prove the existence of a god or gods from someone who doesn’t believe in a god or gods. That is retarded. Now, are you going to start being reasonable or will you keep flailing?

    Sexism is discrimination on the basis of sex. How does that constrain the number of sexes to be two?

    Hahahahahahaha. How many sexes do you think there are? Let’s see, we have male, and female, and… and… oh! Blast! I seem to have forgotten the rest. Maybe you can jog my memory?

  182. hjhornbeck says

    Steersman @157:

    Although I can at least sympathize with the “social constructionists” to the extent of accepting that such models constitute “jointly constructed understandings of the world”

    Social constructivist!

    Steersman @157:

    However, when they, apparently, start denying any underlying reality

    Realist!

    hjhornbeck @184:

    You are so out of touch, you hold two opposing sides to be true.

    Oh Steersman, you are rapidly losing all credibility in my eyes, and it won’t be long until I mark you as a waste of time to argue with.

  183. Hurin says

    However, when they, apparently, start denying any underlying reality

    Realist!

    Pseudo intellectual.

  184. Gjenganger says

    @Schala, Hurin, Johngreg et al.
    Can I try to spread a bit of clarity?

    We need about four or five different concepts to do this discussion. Not that these things are necessarily all different, but the might be different, because they are defined and derived in different ways.

    – The sex (or body sex if you prefer) which is an objective biological description of which group your body falls in. The classification is very good, but there are tricky cases.

    – The gender, which is a social thing. It is a matter of which sex the other members of your community consider you to belong to and choose to treat you as. It is well established that the gender can be at odds with both the body sex and the gender identity.

    – The gender identity, which is purely individual. That is a question of what sex you believe you belong to.

    – The ‘real sex’, the sex that your being ‘really’ belongs to. A question, if you prefer, whether your soul is male, female, or neither. Now personally I believe that it is meaningful to ask what your ‘real sex’ is, which probably makes me some kind of realist. If the sex, gender, and gender identity are clear and line up, it should be a safe bet that the ‘real sex’ lines up as well. But where the other aspects are in conflict, we have to admit that there is no sure way to determine what the reality is. You could say that God knows (I do) but since He does not generally answer emails that is not much help in practice.

    – ‘Brain sex’, or ‘neurological sex’ are not words we actually use. If we did, they should mean (I say) an objective sex determination based on the biological analysis of your brain rather than your body.

    What I think Schala is saying (in my terms) is that gender identity takes precedence over all other aspects. Therefore gender identity is by definition equal to the ‘real sex’ and must then determine the gender. A perfectly reasonable point of view, but let me say why I disagree and why I think this view can not prevail.

    We do not generally take other people’s word on matters that conflict with the evidence of our own eyes, as we see it. So the best I think we can do is to agree that we do not know for sure what the ‘real sex’ of somebody is, and treat this as a question of how trans people (and others) should be treated, rather than what they are. Each can then entertain his own certainties in the privacy of his own bathroom. Deciding that we always treat people according to their self-image, their gender identity, would avoid a lot of suffering, but it goes too far for people like me to accept. The problem is that by making it a purely individual decision, we have no control over the result. And from the outside all we know is what people choose to say. Like it or not, the way we behave around people depends quite heavily on what gender we see them as, and is is a lot of work to treat someone consistently as female when all our automatic reactions say ‘male’. I am willing to do the work as a matter of courtesy and respect, but I will not commit to doing it whenever I am asked, without the right to consider whether this person, is sincere, off her rocker, just experimenting, or simply taking the piss. For comparison, I generally respect religious opinions, being religious myself, but I reserve the right not to extend this respect to pastafarians.

    So much for the sermon. Ignore me.

  185. Pitchguest says

    hjhornbeck:

    Please, back away slowly from the physics-babble. Newtonian physics is NOT a social construct

    Sure it is, it’s a model of the universe that multiple human beings agree to. What do you think it is, instead?

    And you think they agree to it because of, what? Tradition?

    … it’s a mathematical model that is very accurate when limited to non-relativistic speeds and low gravitational fields.

    … wait, so you agree it’s a social construct then? Oh, wait, I see what’s going on here.

    You think mathematics is a social construct?

    I don’t know who you are referring to as a Newtonian realist, but no scientist discards conflicting data as “defects” because they diverge from an “ideal.” wtf? They may say the data is flawed in some way, or that the model needs to be expanded to include the new data. Scientists know that theories and models are only the currently best-available approximations of “reality.”

    THANK YOU, I was glad someone else made the connection! The realist view is anti-scientific, as it denies the ability to falsify theories and asserts there is an absolute truth. Science is nothing but building and tearing down models, typically within a social network, it is constructivist at the most fundamental level.

    It’s no surprise I find it easy to tie the realist point of view to religion, as they’re birds of a feather.

    You’re the one sounding like a religious fanatic, Hornbeck. Projecting much?

  186. bugmaster says

    @Gjenganger #193:

    FWIW, using your nomenclature, I’d say that “biological sex” and “brain sex” are the same thing, since your brain is a part of your body. Not being a theist, I would also deny that the term “real sex” has any useful meaning; I understand that it could mean “the sex of your soul, as opposed to your body”, but I don’t believe in souls. Though I do understand that, for theists, this could be a meaningful term.

  187. bugmaster says

    @hjornbeck #188:
    Ok, so do you believe that “karyotypes tend to cluster”, as you said ? If so, and if you agree with the historical tradition of labeling one cluster “male” and the other “female” (as opposed to, say, “red” and “blue”), then what is your point — given that this is pretty much the definition of “sex” (as opposed to gender) ?

  188. johngreg says

    Hornbeck, you’re just lying now, making things up as you go along, and playing maliciously deceptive and manipulative word games layered with rhetorical trickery and brazen attempts to mislead people into going off topic and getting moderated or deleted.

    You are also intentionally misrepresenting what others are saying and have said, shifting your goal posts with the rapidity of … something very rapid, and lastly, restructuring your arguments in bizarre and convoluted ways that make them impossible to either rebut or support because every time you receive a rebuttal you restructure the argument, claim you’ve said something you have not in fact said, misrepresent previous rebuttals, misrepresent what others have stated, add new and non sequitur-like elements to the narrative, and so on and so forth.

    You also keep citing and referencing your ludicrous YouTube thing as though you were some kind of accredited authority on the subject — which is most definitely not the case.

    An honest and good faith debater you are not. I’m done with you.

  189. Hurin says

    Gjenganger

    ‘neurological sex’ are not words we actually use. If we did, they should mean (I say) an objective sex determination based on the biological analysis of your brain rather than your body.

    That’s precisely why I used that term. As near as I can figure, Schala is arguing that her brain is essentially a different sex than her body, and that there are definite differences between the brains of men and women on a physiological level. For the record, I’m skeptical, but I’m willing to entertain the notion as long as it isn’t shown to be errant by neuroscientists.

    What I think Schala is saying (in my terms) is that gender identity takes precedence over all other aspects. Therefore gender identity is by definition equal to the ‘real sex’ and must then determine the gender. A perfectly reasonable point of view, but let me say why I disagree and why I think this view can not prevail.

    I’m perfectly fine with gender identity (as defined by you) determining gender. I don’t have to concede any arguments about biology or reality to treat people the way they’d like me to treat them.

  190. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#189):

    THANK YOU, I was glad someone else made the connection! The realist view is anti-scientific, as it denies the ability to falsify theories and asserts there is an absolute truth. Science is nothing but building and tearing down models, typically within a social network, it is constructivist at the most fundamental level.

    Well, there you have it ladies and gentlemen (and members of “sexes” 3 through ∞, as sparsely populated as those sets may be): as clear a statement as we’re likely to find that HJHornbeck is in fact an idealist (1):

    In philosophy, idealism is the group of philosophies which assert that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing. In a sociological sense, idealism emphasizes how human ideas—especially beliefs and values—shape society. As an ontological doctrine, idealism goes further, asserting that all entities are composed of mind or spirit. Idealism thus rejects physicalist and dualist theories that fail to ascribe priority to the mind.

    If we merely think we are fauns, a member of other “sexes” which is belied by the plain facts, or anything else which our desires or fears create in our minds – Ungeziefers for example (2), then we are, ipso facto, precisely that. Though most “realists” are likely to conclude that those actually doing so are more deluded than not.

    HJHornbeck: You are certainly entitled to your “religion” – freedom thereof and all that – but that hardly makes it “true” – a state that you’ve more or less denied is even a possibility. Seems to me that all you have is a hypothesis which you haven’t at all managed to give any justification for thinking it might be true, much less actually proven it. And while one might also argue that “absolute truth” is likewise a hypothesis, the brute facts give some indication for thinking that it is true, that we have at least a tenuous if imperfect grasp of it. If you disagree you might try jumping out of a tenth story window to test your “hypothesis”.

    You might also reflect on the aphorism of, I think, either Archimedes or Aristotle who said, “It is the mark of a civilized mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision that the subject admits, and to not seek exactitude where only an approximation to the truth is possible”. Or, as a more recent philosopher put it, “The map [metaphor or analogy or label] is not the territory.”

    —-
    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idealism”;
    2) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Metamorphosis#Translation”;

  191. Pitchguest says

    johngreg:

    You also keep citing and referencing your ludicrous YouTube thing as though you were some kind of accredited authority on the subject — which is most definitely not the case.

    It’s hilarious how he keeps trumping it up as though it gives his arguments any sort of validity.

    He’s admitted he made up his own methodology interpreting statistics that he used in his “lecture”, and he has no prior expertise in biology. It’s absurd.

  192. Steersman says

    Pitchguest (#194):

    Hornbeck: … wait, so you agree it’s a social construct then? Oh, wait, I see what’s going on here.

    Pitchguest: You think mathematics is a social construct?

    I think it’s important to be careful about defining precisely what we’re referring to when we use words like “mathematics” and “social construct”. In the case of the latter, consider this Wikipedia overview (1):

    Social constructionism, or the social construction of reality, is a theory of knowledge in sociology and communication theory that examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world. It assumes that understanding, significance, and meaning are developed not separately within the individual, but in coordination with other human beings. The elements most important to the theory are (a) the assumption that human beings rationalize their experience by creating a model of the social world and how it functions and, (b) that language is the most essential system through which humans construct reality.

    Seems perfectly reasonable to argue that we in fact have models – “socially constructed” – for various processes and aspects of reality – at least I think so, and I seem to be in very good company with Stephen Hawking’s and Leonard Mlodinow’s “model-dependent realism” (2). But where Schala and Hornbeck apparently go off the rails and into the weeds in a rather spectacular fashion is in thinking that that latter “humans construct reality” is some sort of an absolute, that there is nothing underneath the models we create. Which might be an “interesting” hypothesis but most are likely to consider it simply delusional.

    And while the “reality” of those models might be limited to the fact that they exist in our minds and brains only as various biochemical structures, and as electrical potentials and currents – a “reality” that is somewhat more tenuous and contingent than various objects external to our brains – that hardly precludes their potential utility. Although some models are, of course, substantially more useful than others, e.g., “Jehovah” versus Newtonian or quantum mechanics. But it is the feedback between “reality” and model, the testing and predictions the latter allows, that permits the refinement of the model, and the extension of its scope and utility.

    And likewise with mathematics. Which is ultimately a set of abstractions – the “model” – based on observations of “reality” – as the mathematician Jacob Bronowski put it, “the most colossal metaphor imaginable”, a bit of hyperbole for which he might be forgiven. Or, as Einstein succinctly put it:

    As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.

    But note the “refer”: there is maybe a small and hopefully decreasing difference between the model and reality, but it is still an important one – and one that we lose sight of at our peril.

    —-
    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_construct”;
    2) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model-dependent_realism”;

  193. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#191):

    Steersman @157: Although I can at least sympathize with the “social constructionists” to the extent of accepting that such models constitute “jointly constructed understandings of the world”

    HJHornbeck: Social constructivist!
    —-
    Steersman @157: However, when they, apparently, start denying any underlying reality

    HJHornbeck: Realist!

    You really are kind of clueless there HJ – and I’m being charitable. And that in spite of me providing a link to the article (1) I was quoting from. Here are the relevant sections again – do try reading and reflecting on it before responding; you know, “brain in gear before mouth in motion”:

    Social constructionism … assumes that understanding, significance, and meaning are developed not separately within the individual, but in coordination with other human beings. The elements most important to the theory are (a) the assumption that human beings … [create] a model of the social world and how it functions and, (b) that language is the most essential system through which humans construct reality.

    While you seem to insist on seeing everything as either black or white, not everyone is so handicapped. Specifically, it is perfectly reasonable to argue that some elements of “reality” are “socially constructed” – our various models such as mathematics and ethics – while still arguing that other ones have a lot more substance, that they are objectively “real” – like the universe and, as you apparently admitted the other day although maybe you’ve changed your mind since, gravity and genes and chromosomes.

    —–
    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_construct”;

  194. Matt Cavanaugh says

    I agree rather more with you than with Schala, but 1) this kind of post will not convince anyone and not cause anyone to learn anything. It just shows people with your opinions and mine in a bad light. 2) Schala may be playing semantic games to support her position, but she is hardly the first. Besides, she is personally involved (and how!) and has good and understandable reasons to push her views hard and maybe overreact a bit to things people say. What is your excuse?

    I react poorly to pseudo-science. I react even worse when it comes from the mouths of so-called skeptics.

    Being trans* does not exempt Schala from reality. All the more reason, in fact, for Schala to properly inform xirself of genetics and biology.

    If anyone should worry about being put in a bad light, it ought to be FtB. For FtB selected HJ Hornbeck to give an allegedly science-based talk on gender. Yet Hornbeck (who I’ve debated with at length at my blog, Atheism Neat, before he flounced in the face of tough science questions posed to him by biology and medical professionals) has displayed a pathetic lack of grasp of basic genetics & biology. Until a week ago, HJ didn’t even know the meanings of genotype or phenotype, denies the difference between sex and autosomal chromosomes, and still is convinced hermaphroditic species reproduce asexually.

    PZ Myers should know better (and his recent post on sex indicates he does know better.) Yet Myers continues to promote uninformed, anti-science amateurs like Hornbeck and Alex Gabriel. Postmodernism and the Scientific Method are incompatible — something’s got to give, and Myers needs to decide whether he’s a scientist or not.

  195. Schala says

    My phenotype, if it doesn’t include genitals, is androgynous, child-like, underdeveloped in both ways. If it includes genitals, then its only underdeveloped and young-teen-like.

    And my hormone profile is now more female than male like. My cells can’t absorb a normal male ratio. My brain can’t endure a normal male ratio.

    This is all biology.

    Like it or not, the way we behave around people depends quite heavily on what gender we see them as, and is is a lot of work to treat someone consistently as female when all our automatic reactions say ‘male’

    By this you assume I “come off as male”. I don’t. I come off as female. You see me in the street, you go drink with me, you play games with me, you take a walk with me, and you won’t think “that’s a guy”, neither by the sound, the looks or the behavior.

    But you’ll think “that’s a guy” for a long a non-trans women who ‘behave’ in masculine ways, have deep voices, or are naturally hairy, big boned, or tall. You seem to think this is justified.

  196. johngreg says

    Schala said:

    My phenotype, if it doesn’t include genitals, is androgynous, child-like, underdeveloped in both ways. If it includes genitals, then its only underdeveloped and young-teen-like.

    And my hormone profile is now more female than male like. My cells can’t absorb a normal male ratio. My brain can’t endure a normal male ratio.

    Is there anyone here who can translate this into plain English for me?

    Actually, even formal or complex English would do.

  197. hjhornbeck says

    ildi @167:

    This is just bizarre thinking to me. I don’t think you’re denying the existence of anything, I just think you don’t know much about how science works. I would expect you to come up with a better description, and evidence for why its better.

    If I was arguing something was a social construct, why would I have to create a better construct? To demonstate something is an apple, I merely need to demonstrate it has all the properties necessary to meet the definition of “apple;” asking me to demonstrate the existence of a better apple is asking me to do extra work that isn’t necessary.

    The only place where I see room in this discussion for your social construct idea is that society sees sex as binary rather than a bimodal distribution, which is how society sees sexual orientation, also.

    But society does think of sex as binary. I provided evidence of this in comment 160. Here’s more:

    Around the time David approached me I was writing a paper called “Strangers to the Law: The Legal Treatment of People Who Are Intersex, Intergender, or In-between.” The point of the paper was to bring some visibility of the juridical issues of intersexuality to the legal community. At the time Australia had just just changed its passport laws, but I knew of no U.S. cases of a classification other than M or F being allowed by any state or federal agency.

    I have since heard of one case in September 2012 of a birth certificate being changed in Ohio at an intersex person’s request, approved ironically because of Ohio’s anti-transgender policies, but the court ordered the pejorative “hermaphrodite” term be used. Additionally there is a lone intersex person attempting to get the sex classification changed on their driver’s license in Colorado, having filed discrimination charges with the Colorado Civil Rights Division against Colorado’s version of the dept of motor vehicles. The December 2012 response was that “[c]urrent procedures and programming allow only either the sex designation of ‘male’ or ‘female’ on driver’s license applications” and a recommendation that they go ask the legislature.

    Intersex people are not even legal persons in the United States. That makes whether or not sex is a social construct highly relevant, as per your own admission.

  198. Pitchguest says

    Steers:

    I think it’s important to be careful about defining precisely what we’re referring to when we use words like “mathematics” and “social construct”. In the case of the latter, consider this Wikipedia overview (1):

    -snip-

    Seems perfectly reasonable to argue that we in fact have models – “socially constructed” – for various processes and aspects of reality – at least I think so, and I seem to be in very good company with Stephen Hawking’s and Leonard Mlodinow’s “model-dependent realism” (2). But where Schala and Hornbeck apparently go off the rails and into the weeds in a rather spectacular fashion is in thinking that that latter “humans construct reality” is some sort of an absolute, that there is nothing underneath the models we create. Which might be an “interesting” hypothesis but most are likely to consider it simply delusional.

    The point of my question was, mathematics is a fixed science. It’s the one science that can travel across boundaries without losing any meaning. Wherever you are in the world, 2 + 2 always equals 4. It does not have to be “constantly maintained and re-affirmed in order to persist.” Traditional gender roles, however, *can* be considered a social construct. But we’re not talking about gender roles. We’re talking about maths. Newton’s, specifically. It’s not even a matter of ethics or morality. It’s a matter of facts. Newton’s laws of motion laid the foundation for modern physics and helped the human race reach the moon. Do people maintain that knowledge out of social tradition, or because it’s been observed to be objectively true?

  199. Schala says

    Is there anyone here who can translate this into plain English for me?

    Actually, even formal or complex English would do.

    My physiology is that of a tall child. No developed hips. No developed shoulders. Not much of an Adam’s apple (not prominent, hence not noticeable – and contrary to popular belief, everyone has one, it only becomes visible through testosterone). My arms, legs, hands and feet are right in-between male and female norms, which makes them underdeveloped for a male standard. My bone-size is rather small, on the very low end of the male standard, and right in the teenage female norm. My voice is androgynous, and can be taken as being of either sex, it all falls on the way I speak it, softly or rashly. Body hair is sparse, especially for someone who had normal T levels through to age 24. No armpit hair period (rare in any adult). No chest hair. And very sparse facial hair, I guess it’s much for a woman, but I can shave it and no one’s the wiser for about 2 days.

    My genitals are clearly on the male side, if underdeveloped. The testis are small, but apparently normal. The penis is over 1 standard deviation below the norm, but still a bit above micropenis.

    If phenotype includes the first paragraph, it points to “neither”, if it includes the second, it points to “underdeveloped male”.

    While my hormonal profile is that of a woman on HRT, though I guess I have lower testosterone, since mine is at absolute zero due to cyproterone actetate. My body is unable to process/accept testosterone (rejects most of it as acne and other ‘exits’ for excess hormones). My mind is unable to process/accept testosterone (causes extreme suicidal depression, lack of will to live, and other fun stuff).

    This is all biological.

  200. Schala says

    The point of my question was, mathematics is a fixed science. It’s the one science that can travel across boundaries without losing any meaning. Wherever you are in the world, 2 + 2 always equals 4. It does not have to be “constantly maintained and re-affirmed in order to persist.”

    In binary 2+2 cannot exist. In base 3, it equals 11. In base 4 it equals 10.

  201. hjhornbeck says

    Steersman @171:

    Kind of like handles on objects to make them more tractable, more easily managed or handled. And most definitely not the objects themselves – which you apparently inferred since you managed to leap from “deny those labels are applicable” to a supposed accusation from me that you were a “biology denier”.

    It’s not supposed:

    Steersman @90:

    You may wish, since you apparently at least lurk in the Pit now and again, to take a look at this post by Skep tickle (1), a well-regarded doctor who recently garnered, I think, a “Top 10” in her field, who seems to have characterized your position as “biology denialism” – “not something to be proud of”.

    @117:

    While that might be construed more as a case of the pendulum of stereotyping having swung too far in the “wrong” direction, I think it illustrates the fact that a great many diseases and conditions tend to segregate by “sex”, and that it may frequently be of some import for medical professionals to be aware of which group an individual falls into – without that ability being vitiated by postmodernistic clap-trap and efforts to deny those facts.

    @139:

    you may think that such collections and abstractions is only a “social construct” but their referents are just as real and as solid as gravity and genes and chromosomes and behaviours. Something which you apparently wish to deny.

    @157:

    However, when they, apparently, start denying any underlying reality, and talk of how we “humans construct reality” then I think it appropriate if not mandatory to characterize them as crazier than fucking shit-house rats.

    @202:

    But where Schala and Hornbeck apparently go off the rails and into the weeds in a rather spectacular fashion is in thinking that that latter “humans construct reality” is some sort of an absolute, that there is nothing underneath the models we create. Which might be an “interesting” hypothesis but most are likely to consider it simply delusional.

    These accusations of biological denialism come despite multiple comments from me stating I do not deny biology, specifically at #8, #135, #162, #184, and #189. I’ll spare you and just quote from my first post:

    hjhornbeck @8:

    I think you and Myers are making the same error of confusing the description with the described. Gravity is real, but it has many constructed models to describe it such as Newtonian Mechanics and General Relativity. In the same manner, genes, hormones, chromosomes, and anatomy are all real, while our descriptions and classifications are not real.

    That alone demonstrates a strong pattern of arguing in bad faith. But you do far worse, as once you’ve denied I’m arguing in favor of sex as a social construct, you turn around and make the exact same argument yourself:

    Steersman @44:

    Seems that the point there is that “male” and “female” are terms that we have “defined” to describe the fact that most of the attributes, particularly those associated with procreation, tend to clump together in a bimodal distribution, the peaks of which we label as “male” and “female”. Which most definitely doesn’t mean that one attribute normally associated with one peak can’t be found in individuals that possess or exhibit attributes normally associated with the other one.

    @90:

    [is that a penis or clitoris?] Kind of depends, at least generally and statistically, on the context – in this case, largely whether it is accompanied by either an X-Y or an X-X karyotype.

    @167:

    That is, other categories with two main ones being the salient aspect of the phenomenon. Although I’ll concede that that seems not to be a common definition which seems to be categorically exhaustive with two [...]

    As for who’s right, that is, of course, a moot point. If we’re talking of sex for the purposes of procreation then the classes seem to be exhaustive with “egg producers” and “sperm producers”. Which, of course, leaves out in the cold those who might be stereotypically female or male but who are unable to deliver the goods for one reason or another. And if we’re talking of sex based on the possession of various combinations of the attributes or features normally associated with those stereotypes – for instance, “karyotypically male but physiologically female”, or similar combinations – then it seems there are a rather large number of other “sexes”.

    @199:

    You might also reflect on the aphorism of, I think, either Archimedes or Aristotle who said, “It is the mark of a civilized mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision that the subject admits, and to not seek exactitude where only an approximation to the truth is possible”. Or, as a more recent philosopher put it, “The map [metaphor or analogy or label] is not the territory.”

    As well as argue against sex as a social construction, sometimes in the very same comment:

    @117:

    While that might be construed more as a case of the pendulum of stereotyping having swung too far in the “wrong” direction, I think it illustrates the fact that a great many diseases and conditions tend to segregate by “sex”, and that it may frequently be of some import for medical professionals to be aware of which group an individual falls into – without that ability being vitiated by postmodernistic clap-trap and efforts to deny those facts.

    @139:

    you may think that such collections and abstractions is only a “social construct” but their referents are just as real and as solid as gravity and genes and chromosomes and behaviours.

    @199:

    And while one might also argue that “absolute truth” is likewise a hypothesis, the brute facts give some indication for thinking that it is true, that we have at least a tenuous if imperfect grasp of it.

    @203:

    Specifically, it is perfectly reasonable to argue that some elements of “reality” are “socially constructed” – our various models such as mathematics and ethics – while still arguing that other ones have a lot more substance, that they are objectively “real” – like the universe and, as you apparently admitted the other day although maybe you’ve changed your mind since, gravity and genes and chromosomes.

    But we can still go beyond repeatedly ignoring my clarifications, misrepresenting my views, and both arguing for and against my position. Because you’ve also exhibited straight-up dishonesty:

    @199:

    Seems to me that all you have is a hypothesis which you haven’t at all managed to give any justification for thinking it might be true, much less actually proven it.

    When not only have I provided ample evidence, a quick search reveals you’ve long known of this evidence. There’s also your repeated ignoring of my question about penises and clitorises.

    hjhornbeck @107:

    Which means that you dodged the question. But secondly, hold up here: I thought penises were penises, with an objective definition that was independent of observer and any surrounding tissue? Now you’re telling me the definition of “penis” depends heavily on things unrelated to the structure in question! How did you justify the notion that karyotype “largerly” determines whether something is a penis or not? Can you quantify “largely?” Does this mean karyotype can be overruled by other factors?

    I reminded you of this at #163. Despite quoting a fair chunk of that comment in #171, you ignored my flag and have yet to answer it at all.

    As if that wasn’t bad enough, you endorse an attempt at poisoning the well (you @85 and @91), where you provide evidence that you claim demonstrates I was wrong, but quote an irrelevant bit of data to support your view and ignore the relevant bit which demonstrates I was correct (me @88). You also rely on a dictionary (you @108 and @167) and Wikipedia (you @86 and @108) as definitive sources, when it’s clear they are not (sheaf @111, PZ Myers @119, me @121, @160, and @207).

    I was expecting this, to be honest, as I’ve argued with you before. Because of your love of $10 words and citations, though, you can appear on-the-level to the lay person. How could I puncture that and make them aware of your false front? Simple: bait you into talking long enough, and I’d build up a solid enough case that most lay people would see through you and stop taking you seriously.

    Which means I’m no longer taking you seriously, either.

  202. Gjenganger says

    @Schala 205

    By this you assume I “come off as male”. I don’t. I come off as female. You see me in the street, you go drink with me, you play games with me, you take a walk with me, and you won’t think “that’s a guy”, neither by the sound, the looks or the behavior..

    Actually I did not assume anything in particular, because I was thinking in general terms and not of you personally. But since you do give such detailed description of yourself, it sounds like it would be fairly easy to see you as female. Which I would anyway make my best effort to do, without bothering my head about what you ‘really’ were. Of course, if I ever got to know you really well, the main classification would be “that’s just Schala”.

    But you’ll think “that’s a guy” for a long a non-trans women who ‘behave’ in masculine ways, have deep voices, or are naturally hairy, big boned, or tall. You seem to think this is justified

    If my first impression is male, i think “that’s a guy’, yes. Once I knew, I would correct my thoughts and behavior. For people who came across as male even when you knew the opposite it would be more demanding to interact. And someone who chose to signal as male (dress as one, or choose the nick SirTooting) but was offended at being treated as one, well I would find that person rather irritating. And yes, I do find it justified. That is how gender roles have to work. The only alternatives are to abolish gender and not notice the difference, which I do not think is realistic, or to make a unique role and relationship for each individual, which realistically can only work for close acquaintances or better. Gender roles have costs, yes, but so do the alternatives.

  203. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#211):

    I’m at least impressed by your tenacity and your doggedness. Although as I am, or was, in the midst of reading Matt’s post on “Evidence-Free Feminism” (1) along with the comments from you and the others, I’ll also have to concede that you at least talk a good game, and that you make a few credible points. However, while I can sympathize with your apparent efforts to stand up for intersex individuals, that you attempt, as several others here and elsewhere have suggested, to do serious damage to fairly solid and well-respected biology – not to mention physics and philosophy – in the pursuit of your goal – which I might note hasn’t produced many from FTB rallying to your flag (apart from PZ’s abortive and half-hearted sallies onto the field) – tends to discredit those efforts and related ones.

    In addition, I think that your voluminous response (in #211) illustrates your tendency to misinterpret other people’s arguments or conflate them, something which seems predicated on your own idiosyncratic definitions for words and concepts – which you apparently redefine on the fly. Considering that you are somewhat of a “social constructionist” I would have thought you would have realized the necessity for “society” to have a consistent set of definitions for words. The result should be evident or not hard to comprehend – disappearing down the rabbit hole: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

    In any case, a couple of illustrations:

    Steersman @171: … which you apparently inferred since you managed to leap from “deny those labels are applicable” to a supposed accusation from me that you were a “biology denier”.

    HJHornbeck: It’s not supposed:

    Steersman @90: You may wish … to take a look at this post by Skep tickle … who seems to have characterized your position as “biology denialism” – “not something to be proud of”.

    Maybe you’re feeling somewhat beleagured and are therefore prone to grabbing at straws, but an assertion that you were denying the applicability of those labels is still not an accusation that you were a biology denier – it was simply an effort to get some agreement on nomenclature, again a social constructionist “principle”. But I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to your “sex as a spectrum” – something which even Skep Tickle also seemed somewhat sympathetic to in her discussion of genetically male or female, and phenotypically male or female. However, your apparent unwillingness to even agree that some 97% of the population generally have matching genotypes and phenotypes – your denial of the applicability of those labels even apart from a discussion of any “brute facts” that might undergird them – tends to make even that rather problematic at best.

    In addition, and as an illustration of that conflation and tendency of yours to strew red herrings all over the field, do note that that early comment (#90) was a quote of someone else as an example of the criticisms directed your way – not one that I was leveling at you, at least then.

    Steersman @117: … I think it illustrates the fact that a great many diseases and conditions tend to segregate by “sex”; [the ability of medical professionals to determine which group an individual falls into should not be] vitiated by postmodernistic clap-trap and efforts to deny those facts.

    But those facts that I was referring to had virtually nothing to do with biology, only with the fact that “diseases and conditions tend to segregate [or cluster] by sex” – and I had even put “sex” in quotes to emphasize the fact that the concept was in some dispute. And as proof of that assertion I had even listed some 49 cases (in #126) of that phenomenon.

    HJHornbeck: These accusations of biological denialism come despite multiple comments from me stating I do not deny biology…. I’ll spare you and just quote from my first post ….

    (Thank the lord for small mercies.) Again, your list of my supposed “accusations of biological denialism” looks to me like my efforts to illustrate the fact that there is some utility – even of a “social constructionist” nature – in applying two separate labels to two clusters of attributes that exhibit some degree of overlap.

    But that post of yours where you supposedly accept biology:

    hjhornbeck @8: I think you and Myers are making the same error of confusing the description with the described. Gravity is real, but it has many constructed models to describe it such as Newtonian Mechanics and General Relativity. In the same manner, genes, hormones, chromosomes, and anatomy are all real, while our descriptions and classifications are not real.

    While I would readily agree with you about the “confusing the description with the described” – and have said as much in earlier comments which you apparently didn’t bother to acknowledge, I would say your “gravity is real” is a rather surprisingly “realist” statement coming from someone who supposedly denies that there is any such thing as “an absolute truth” (#189). Trying to have your cake and eat it too? Throwing stones at me for being a both a “social constructionist” and a “realist”? (#191) You might want to board-up your own rather large and vulnerable windows.

    But define “real” and “reality”. The problem there seems to be that you have a rather poor understanding of the way words actually work. While I’ll concede that the “reality” of things like gravity might be moot, and that my understanding of the related philosophical ideas is rather sketchy, you seem to be – like Mr. Either-Or, Søren Kierkegaard himself – unable to see that “real” is also a bit of a spectrum: from solid “brute” facts to the ephemeral and contingent to the logically impossible; you, like Søren, seem to think that things have to be EITHER solidly real OR are entirely without value – and can be dismissed if they don’t comport with your dogma and preconceived notions.

    For instance, consider that a piece of paper with a drawing of a unicorn on it is, I hope you would concede, quite solidly “real” even though what is being referred to – i.e., the unicorn – presumably is not. Similarly with drawings of horses, or “square circles” or similar impossibilities. But that paper is rather significantly analogous to the “descriptions and classifications” which we all collectively hold in our brains, or minds as the case may be: the “drawing” itself is quite solidly “real” – if a little hard to put our fingers on except maybe imperfectly with some fMRI – even if it is debatable whether what is referred to is also “real”. But we’re not going to be able to determine whether or not that is the case – say by the use of the scientific method to test the “model” against the “reality” – if people start with an a priori asumption that “descriptions and classifications are not real”.

    Steersman @199: Seems to me that all you have is a hypothesis which you haven’t at all managed to give any justification for thinking it might be true, much less actually proven it.

    HJHornbeck: When not only have I provided ample evidence, a quick search reveals you’ve long known of this evidence.

    Maybe that was partially my fault for not being clear enough, but I did start that comment off by quoting you: “The realist view is anti-scientific, as it denies the ability to falsify theories and asserts there is an absolute truth”. From which I inferred, in light of you throwing stones at me for supposedly being a realist, that you were in fact an idealist and that you were asserting that there is no such thing as “absolute truth”. And it was that assertion which I characterized as a hypothesis that you hadn’t actually proved – something that really should have been clear from my statements and their context in that comment. Perchance you didn’t read it very closely?

    Although one might reasonably ask how you think a theory could be falsified if there isn’t an “absolute truth”, even if imperfectly grasped, to compare it against. Or are truth and reality themselves only “social constructions”?

    —-
    1) “_http://skeptischism.com/atheismneat/2014/02/05/evidence-free-feminism/”;

  204. Schala says

    And yes, I do find it justified. That is how gender roles have to work. The only alternatives are to abolish gender and not notice the difference, which I do not think is realistic, or to make a unique role and relationship for each individual, which realistically can only work for close acquaintances or better. Gender roles have costs, yes, but so do the alternatives.

    TERFs have no issue with making a HUGE distinction between masculine and even butch cis women (and bearded ones, too), and any trans woman, whether butch or femme, regardless of physical looks.

    And they’re not alone. Now, if you tell someone and are able to convince them you have “an history” as a cis woman, or they’ve always “known you” (by living in the same town, not being your friend), regardless of how butch or how masculine, or hairy, or big-boned they come off, they’ll get treated like a masculine, but cis, woman.

    Any woman known to be trans (through ID, through being outed, etc), even if they look like a young actress, will get a much much harder treatment. And the latter will be misgendered a lot more than the former.

    I get no issues in my daily life because I’m quite literally, and proudly, a nobody. Maybe a dozen people ‘know me’ in the entire city (of 100,000). I lost sight of everyone else. I don’t work. I don’t hang out in coffee shops, bars, or any kind of place.

    In my last job, I was outed through documentation when applying, and the “work email” I had to use during that work. I didn’t legally change my name before then, but a year after I left there. And they didn’t want to accommodate me, claiming the name on my ID card to pass security, my email, my paycheck names are ALL inextricably tied, and that short of a legal change, screw me. They still called me my chosen name verbally.

    But you see, some people have had issues with pronouns. Not because I look masculine…but because the fact that they know I’m trans poisoned their mind. Thankfully, in the milieu I was (videogame testing), most people are extremely open minded. So it was the anomalous minority. With a silent majority not caring enough to do anything about it. A single individual cared enough to be outraged and almost want to punch me, but he didn’t. A receptionist got pronouns wrong half the time.

    I took to use THEY singular, or avoid pronouns entirely, whenever possible, with people. I think it’s pretty unimportant, anyways, to definitely-gender people. Better not play than play and get it wrong. People don’t care if you “don’t affirm their identified sex”, but they care if you got it wrong. Even cis people do. Trans people just have huge anxiety about it (early in transition at least, anyways).

  205. Gjenganger says

    @Schale 214
    Sounds like a lot of no fun. Thanks for sharing, as they say.

    People don’t care if you “don’t affirm their identified sex”, but they care if you got it wrong. Even cis people do. Trans people just have huge anxiety about it

    Good point.

  206. Matt Cavanaugh says

    Is there anyone here who can translate this into plain English for me?
    Actually, even formal or complex English would do.

    Bill Hamp, a professional medical researcher iirc, gives an even-handed evaluation of Schala’s “egregious medical mistakes”:

    http://slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?p=163898#p163898

    Tl;dr — Schala is grossly misinformed about biology, hormone production & absorption, ontogeny, etc.

    Based on zir self-description, Schala seems to have a considerable hormonal condition, so hopefully is in the care of an endocrinologist. What is not at all constructive is Schala’s invention of an alternate, fantasy version of biology to explain zir condition, or the willingness of some to accept or encourage such jalousies. This rejection of science most definitely will neither benefit Schala personally, nor lead to “a world where gender is rarely a burden, never a prison and always a blessing.”

  207. Schala says

    Oh, an armchair stupid person appears!

    What is not at all constructive is Schala’s invention of an alternate, fantasy version of biology to explain zir condition, or the willingness of some to accept or encourage such jalousies. This rejection of science most definitely will neither benefit Schala personally, nor lead to “a world where gender is rarely a burden, never a prison and always a blessing.”

    Because being trans is fantasy. Right? Like pretending to be Napoleon, or something.

  208. hjhornbeck says

    bugmaster @169:

    Once again, it is a false dilemma to say, “either we are 100% certain of everything, or else all knowledge is an arbitrary social construct”

    So why do you yet again put me in a false dilemma?

    Does this mean that the diagonal length of my monitor is an arbitrary social construct? [...]

    Remember: just because you’re a constructivist in one area, doesn’t mean you’re a constructivist in all areas.

  209. Matt Cavanaugh says

    No, Schala — pay attention. I get that you truly identify as a woman, and I’m fine with that. Your description of physiological functions, however, like your mind (sic) not processing testosterone, etc., is a fantasy, not supported by medicine or science. Read Bill Hamp’s critique of your statements then get back to me on that.

    I support your right to express your gender however you like, and I’d support legislation that allowed you to be legally a woman. What I will not do is accept pseudo-scientific nonsense from you, Gabriel, Hornbeck, or anyone.

  210. hjhornbeck says

    Hurin @173:

    Really, who gives a shit how *society* defines sex?

    Anyone who’s born that doesn’t fall into societal norms? The same person wanting a passport or drivers license? The person who is a legal non-person, because they don’t have a society-approved sex?

    if they succeed in getting their legal sex changed to “I” or “X” they will be left out by all of the statutes that mention sex, because they are neither male nor female. They can marry no one in most states. They are to be incarcerated nowhere. They are not covered by affirmative action hiring of women or military drafting of men. They do not exist. They are “strangers to the law.”

    Hurin @173:

    People and other species have groups denoted “male” and “female”, because sexual interactions between members of those groups, but not within them, can lead to reproduction.

    Except for some plants, parasites, algae, yeast, sea stars, worms, water fleas, rotifers, aphids, stick insects, ants, bees, wasps, reptiles, amphibians, crustations, slime molds, sharks, snakes, and birds, who are either species-wide hermaphrodites that reproduce sexually but have only one sex, or practice heterogamy and are able to switch between sexual and asexual reproduction, or have been observed to consistently reproduce without sex, or normally reproduce sexually via two sexes but once in a while manage asexual reproduction. I direct you to the relevant Wikipedia article.

    Funny story: a biologist friend chewed me out after my lecture for equivocating men/women and male/female; while the former categories were very fuzzy, the latter were not: males produced small gametes, female produced large ones. Simple. Clear. I asked the obvious follow-up question: so how do you categorize individuals that don’t produce gametes, or produce a gamete that doesn’t fit the small/large dichotomy?

    They admitted that “female” doesn’t mean “large gamete producer,” it means “large gamete producer, plus individuals that don’t produce large or small gametes but that we think look more like large gamete producers than small gamete producers.” Yes, even in biology “male” and “female” are simplified constructs that erase rare cases to provide an illusion of binarism.

    But you can’t tell me that sex doesn’t exist, or that it is arbitrary,

    Sexual realist.

    people in the “male” category don’t get pregnant.

    Oh, so you think Thomas Beatie doesn’t exist? Or Levi Suydam? Or Scott Moore? Or do you think they’re not male, despite being legally registered as men?

  211. hjhornbeck says

    Matt Cavanaugh @183:

    Your callous statements are an insult to the 99.7% of the population who are comfortable and happy with their physical sex, and to all those for whom being a parent is the most significant and meaningful aspect of their lives.

    I suppose you also think the existence of gays is an insult to straight people. How dare they not fit into our categories?!

    You might want to stop and think about the type of people who make that argument.

    Male’ and ‘Female’ are scientific terms, used describe sex.

    My reply to Hurin @173 had a good line about this (it might still be in moderation), so I’ll just copy-paste:

    Funny story: a biologist friend chewed me out after my lecture for equivocating men/women and male/female; while the former categories were very fuzzy, the latter were not: males produced small gametes, female produced large ones. Simple. Clear. I asked the obvious follow-up question: so how do you categorize individuals that don’t produce gametes, or produce a gamete that doesn’t fit the small/large dichotomy?

    They admitted that “female” doesn’t mean “large gamete producer,” it means “large gamete producer, plus individuals that don’t produce large or small gametes but that we think look more like large gamete producers than small gamete producers.” Yes, even in biology “male” and “female” are simplified constructs that erase rare cases to provide an illusion of binarism.

  212. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#218):

    Remember: just because you’re a constructivist in one area, doesn’t mean you’re a constructivist in all areas.

    Doing a bit of “backing-and-filling” (to change one’s opinion or position; vacillate) there HJ? (1) Covering the fact that you attempted to rake me over the coals (#191) for being both a constructivist and a realist? Or just engaging in some more of that “leading on” that you’ve admitted (1) on Pharyngula that you’ve been doing here:

    Anyway, I’m mostly popping by to share something you might find amusing. Steersman and I have been fencing over on Ally Fogg’s post on gender for the last five days. After leading him on for a few dozen posts, I finally dropped the hammer on him.

    And, just to be clear for the dictionary-challenged (2):

    lead on
    1. To keep in a state of expectation or hope; entice.
    2. To mislead; deceive.

    Real classy there HJ.

    —–
    1) “_http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2014/02/24/lounge-452/comment-page-1/#comment-756767”;
    2) “_http://www.thefreedictionary.com/lead+on”;

  213. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#220):

    I suppose you also think the existence of gays is an insult to straight people. How dare they not fit into our categories?!

    Christ in a sidecar. First you make, by your own admission, a supposition, one with diddly squat in the way of evidence to support it, and then go on to impute an egregious position predicated on that supposed guilt. You’re a real class act there HJ.

    In any case, you might try learning to read for context instead of going off half-cocked – you’re much less likely to shoot yourself in the feet, something you seem to do with some regularity. But as a case in point, consider both Schala’s and Matt’s comments (from #183) that you seem to have missed in your quote-mining expedition:

    Schala: The neurological seat of identity has primacy because it’s the only thing that ultimately matters to the individual. …. Because the body they have (outside the brain part) and its capacity for reproduction is immaterial to how they are and who they are.
    —-
    Matt: Your callous statements are an insult to the 99.7% of the population who are comfortable and happy with their physical sex, and to all those for whom being a parent is the most significant and meaningful aspect of their lives.

    Apart from wondering what evidence Schala has for that “neurological seat of identity” – maybe she’s found that it weighs precisely 21 grams – while one might reasonably accept at least that our selves tend to be of paramount importance to each of us, I would consider it rather arrogant and imperious to insist that everyone else’s body is unimportant to them – a rather untenable position given that the US spends some $40 billion on cosmetics every year (1). And I remember seeing a documentary some years ago on the then-new procedures for in vitro fertilization in which one young woman was quite clearly devastated that she couldn’t conceive.

    —-
    1) “_http://jezebel.com/5931654/americans-spend-billions-on-beauty-products-and-are-still-pretty-unhappy/”;

  214. Schala says

    No, Schala — pay attention. I get that you truly identify as a woman, and I’m fine with that. Your description of physiological functions, however, like your mind (sic) not processing testosterone, etc., is a fantasy, not supported by medicine or science. Read Bill Hamp’s critique of your statements then get back to me on that.

    I describe this rejection of testosterone by my mind, as the most obvious sign of being trans. The non-effect of testosterone on my cells is probably something else, though. Not that I think all trans people must have debilitating effects caused by testosterone, but I bet many have. I sure have heard that reducing the testosterone of men causes debilitating effects, not just physically, but mentally, for example in men with reduced testosterone production, or those taking the meds I take to combat prostate cancer.

    I would consider it rather arrogant and imperious to insist that everyone else’s body is unimportant to them

    My body is very important TO ME. My body is more than my reproductive function though. My reproductive function I don’t care about. I think “being a parent” and “passing your genes” is extremely overrated. I don’t give much value to something that is, in effect, purely instinctual. Not a pursuit I chose, but one hardcoded in my genes. Especially in today’s world and on top of the overpopulation, I feel zero compulsion to make a Mini Me. I’ll treat my cat like my long lost child if I feel motherly.

    The looks of my body is important, but it only is important to me, and very very moderately in how it reflects my beauty to others (but only others I care about – I don’t know you, I don’t care about your opinion, you learn to have this ‘shield’ when everyone shits on you, and that was way before transition). I have long hair, because I love long hair. See, it’s important to me. Joe Nobody could hate long hair on women, or trans women, or penis-people, that I wouldn’t care. And nobody could change my mind on my hair even, not my parents, siblings or partner. Their opinion matter, but won’t change mine.

  215. Steersman says

    Schala (#223):

    Steersman: I would consider it rather arrogant and imperious to insist that everyone else’s body is unimportant to them

    Schala: My body is very important TO ME. My body is more than my reproductive function though. My reproductive function I don’t care about.

    Fine, no question: you’re entitled to feel about your body the way you want to. But the point is that everyone else has the the same right with regard to their bodies – something that you rather clearly seemed to deny. Considering that you quite reasonably and credibly object to those who apparently wish to deny that right to you, I would think you would want to be careful about not denying the same right to others.

  216. hjhornbeck says

    Apologies for jumping into another argument, but:

    Hurin @186:

    You are trying to tell me that the fact that we have formed ideas about sex, somehow changes the underlying reality of what it is physically, and how it came to be.

    Sexual realist.

    We formed identities related to sexual reproduction because its a real phenomenon and we do it.

    Ooo, I’ve argued against this elsewhere. Copy-pasta:

    I was thinking of covering sexual reproduction in my lecture, but found it too trivial to be worth the time. If you use sexual reproduction as your division of sex, then yes, you can have two sexes.

    Those that can create offspring, and those that can’t.

    Oh wait, you want to divide further by gamete size? Well then you have three sexes: large gamete, small gamete, and those incapable of creating gametes (I’ll term these “non-reproducers”).

    Hang on though, are you mixing in sexual attraction as well? Well then, we have: large gametes attracted to large gametes, large gametes attracted to small gametes, large gametes attracted to non-reproducers, large gametes with no attraction, small gametes attracted to small gametes, small gametes attracted to large gametes, small gametes attracted to non-reproducers, small gametes with no attraction, non-reproducers attracted to non-reproducers, non-reproducers attracted to large gametes, non-reproducers attracted to small gametes, and non-reproducers with no attraction. That’s twelve sexes.

    Which division do you prefer? And how is your choice non-arbitrary?

    Hurin:

    It could be that there are two reproductive sexes in humans that coexist with two neurological sexes, and then some intersex catagories, whereas rats have only two reproductive sex categories and some intersex categories.

    Hold up here, you’ve got two types of sex running around: neurological sex and reproductive sex. You seem to think there are three reproductive sexes and two neurological ones. How do these sexes map to the two sexes imposed by North American society? And how is your mapping based on hardwired biology, instead of a human construct? And if yours is based solidly on biology, doesn’t that mean society’s model of sex is a social construct?

  217. hjhornbeck says

    Pitchguest @190:

    Hahahahahahaha. How many sexes do you think there are? Let’s see, we have male, and female, and… and… oh! Blast! I seem to have forgotten the rest. Maybe you can jog my memory?

    See my last comment to Hurin. I’m terribly amused that in an effort to refute my charge that sex is a social construct, several people have constructed elaborate multi-layered models of sex that have only a tenuous correspondence to how the rest of society views sex.

    Proving my point is a bad way to refute it.

  218. hjhornbeck says

    Hurin @192:

    Pseudo intellectual.

    Then I should be easy to refute, like Steersman. All you need to do is provide a division for sex with no exceptions. If what you say is true, then it should be easy, but your elaborate multi-layered definition of multiple sexes back in 186 suggests what you say is false.

  219. hjhornbeck says

    Gjenganger @193:

    So much for the sermon. Ignore me.

    Nah. Though I will admit, I liked most of your “sermon.” It was more nuanced than most of the realists I’ve had to deal with, but you go off the rails here (emphasis mine):

    Deciding that we always treat people according to their self-image, their gender identity, would avoid a lot of suffering, but it goes too far for people like me to accept. The problem is that by making it a purely individual decision, we have no control over the result. And from the outside all we know is what people choose to say. Like it or not, the way we behave around people depends quite heavily on what gender we see them as, and is[sic] is a lot of work to treat someone consistently as female when all our automatic reactions say ‘male’.

    So you’re fine allowing other human beings to suffer if they don’t fit into your categories? I bet you’d recoil in horror if someone else made the same statement about black people or Jews, yet for some reason when it comes to sex you don’t feel the same level of disgust.

    You treat women consistently different from men? I can mostly understand that when it comes to interfacing genitals (though there’s no shortage of others who don’t have the same issues you do), but from the context it sounds like you treat women differently from men in all aspects of life. That’s kinda sexist.

  220. hjhornbeck says

    bugmaster @196:

    Ok, so do you believe that “karyotypes tend to cluster”, as you said ? If so, and if you agree with the historical tradition of labeling one cluster “male” and the other “female” (as opposed to, say, “red” and “blue”), then what is your point — given that this is pretty much the definition of “sex” (as opposed to gender) ?

    I did that one already.

    hjhornbeck @18:

    Here’s a photo of two people with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, who possess a Y chromosome [NOT SAFE FOR WORK!]. Are they women, men, or something else? If they are men, would you be fine with them going into the Men’s washroom? If they are women, why did you override the sex of their chromosomes? If they are something else, then isn’t that an admission that there’s a third sex?

    Using karyotype as a sex division would label as “male” some individuals our society judges to be “women.” There’s also the problem of 47,XXY kayrotypes (about 1 in 1,000 births), and others that have more or less than 46 chromosomes; what sex do they belong to? Why did you place them there, instead of giving them their own sex, as their karyotype suggests they deserve?

  221. hjhornbeck says

    This is OT, but it’s one of the more common lies spread about my talk:

    Pitchguest @200:

    He’s admitted he made up his own methodology interpreting statistics that he used in his “lecture”

    I’ve answered this elsewhere. Copy-pasta:

    Take it up with Jack Cohen, inventor of my primary measure of “personal” significance, “Cohen’s d”:

    Cohen, Jack. “Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciencies.” Routledge, 1988.

    While I developed the predictability metric prior to discovering this, Hyde [1981] contains graphs of male and female distributions similar to the ones I displayed, and while I cannot find the reference she even uses a similar probabilistic measure in one of her 1980′s papers.

    I’d also like to point out that PZ Myers independently came up with very similar diagrams. Accusing me of inventing a statistical measure that’s been a cornerstone of meta-analysis for over thirty years is, well:

    It’s absurd.

  222. Schala says

    The Hornbeck credo: If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

    A Wild Content-free ad hominem appeared!

    Throw a pokéball!

  223. hjhornbeck says

    [sigh] , and here I go back OT….

    I gave Matt Cavanaugh the same treatment as Steersman on his own blog, but refrained from pointing that out in case he’d decide to improve.

    Instead, he’s gotten worse. From what I can tell, johngreg’s now-deleted attempt at poisoning the well in #72, which I refuted at #75, may have been first invented by Cavanaugh. Pitchguest’s attempt at poisoning the well in #200 was not only first invented by Cavanaugh, I refuted it less than twelve hours later, or twenty days before Pitchguest repeated it here.

    Which, now that I think of it, also tells you quite a bit about Pitchguest.

    Cavanaugh has amassed an impressive number of lies about me and my work, and repeatedly ignored my counter-arguments. Here’s a quick sample:

    For FtB selected HJ Hornbeck to give an allegedly science-based talk on gender.

    I’ve provided Cavanaugh with my citations three separate times. He’s even admitted they exist (“Sorry, I tried to load that enhanced doc”), yet here he is acting ignorant of that.

    before he flounced in the face of tough science questions posed to him by biology and medical professionals

    As I already mentioned, Cavanaugh demonstrated a blatant ability to argue in bad faith and even lie, which was more than enough reason for me to stop returning. I had no problems answering a doctor’s questions, and even thanked them for providing quality questions, and even generatedan eagerness to answer them despite Cavanaugh preventing me from answering some of them (see the link twice previous).

    Until a week ago, HJ didn’t even know the meanings of genotype or phenotype

    This claim was invented by Cavanaugh, even though I demonstrated I had no difficulty using the terms properly.

    denies the difference between sex and autosomal chromosomes

    This doesn’t even make sense, as autosomal chromosomes are all those other than the X and Y, refuting a relation between sex and chromosomes is a core part of my lecture, and I’ve even argued sex is not determined by chromosomes in this very thread (see #18).

    still is convinced hermaphroditic species reproduce asexually.

    This appears to be a misreading of my question “How many sexes are there in a species of hermaphrodites?” From context, it appears clear I’m talking about sex as an identifier, but Cavanaugh misrepresents it as meaning sexual reproduction.

    It’s a moot point, anyway. I pinged my biologist friend on the subject, and they pointed out bryophytes such as moss and ferns can reproduce without sex by fragmentation, or bits falling off them, yet can simultaneously be hermaphrodites. And as most plants are hermaphroditic, and rely on spreading pollen around to reproduce, there’s a non-zero chance they’ll self-pollinate. Two such examples appear to be roses and conifer trees.

    PZ Myers should know better (and his recent post on sex indicates he does know better.) Yet Myers continues to promote uninformed, anti-science amateurs like Hornbeck

    Myers’ post on sex differences did not reference my lecture, despite covering overlapping territory and even independently re-inventing a chart I developed, which I think soundly refutes the idea Myers promoted me.

    I think you can see why the SlymePit are banned on so many blogs, Fogg; when arguments that would embarrass a creationist fail, they fall back on spreading lies and slander. Neither Cavanaugh nor Steersman are worth taking seriously, and Pitchguest’s glee at poisoning the well by spreading around long-debunked talking points doesn’t put him in a positive light either.

  224. Skep tickle says

    (Skep tickle here, having difficulty posting under that ‘nym)

    It seems most polite to acknowledge the blogger, blog post, and thread topic on entry into the thread. The question heading the OP is: “Is gender inherently oppressive?” I find myself with a similar set of reactions as Ally expressed in the blog post above, culminating in: “After all this, I am still genuinely trying to understand why it should be that gender is inherently oppressive. I don’t see it.” I don’t, either.

    Ally also closed with, “For what it is worth, my hunch remains that gender, sex and sexuality continue to circle around each other like the rings of a gyroscope – related, independent, often overlapping, sometimes far removed. The only time any of them becomes oppressive in itself is when we insist they must all align.” IMO, oppression also results when one or more category or type of gender, sex, or sexuality is systematically devalued in the dominant culture compared with another category/type or other categories/types. Nothing inherent about it (with full acknowledgement that my background in biology & medicine influences my views in these matters).

    Speaking of those “related, independent, often overlapping but sometimes far removed” aspects of people: “Sex” in this thread is being used in several ways (ranging from the biological meaning of “sex”, to phenotypic manifestations of sex, to societal assignment of sex, to gender identity), the conflation of which, I think, has contributed significantly to the hullabaloo.

    I’m quite sympathetic to Schala’s experiences, including her point about the uselessness of having M/F among the demographics that the front desk expects to collect at the doctor’s office, when it truly should not matter to them, and when having only 2 choices is truly too limiting (because of the variation in phenotypic sex as well as in gender identity).

    But that doesn’t change the biological view of “sex”, including that humans are a sexually dimorphic species. And of course that biological view does not negate the feelings or experiences of individuals, including gender expression and sexual orientation, just that humans (as a species) reproduce – propagate the species – using sexually dimorphic reproductive systems, one M and one F. (Or, with the use of reproductive technology, one M and 2 F, whether that’s via donor egg, use of a surrogate, or ooplasmic transfer.)

  225. hjhornbeck says

    johngreg @230:

    The Hornbeck credo: If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

    You do realize that Ally Fogg deleted your last attempt at poisoning the well, right? I don’t think he’ll take kindly to further repeated attempts…

  226. johngreg says

    I am most definitely not poisoning the well, nor attempting to. I believe that my comment, in particular as regards this thread and the narrative of this comment stream, and your profuse contribution to it, is on-topic.

    Of course, Ally’s opinion on that may differ: his blog; his call.

  227. Skep tickle says

    Just an aside – I’m amused by the assumption that photographs of unclothed but non-identifiable people or body parts is “NOT SAFE FOR WORK!”

    It’s a reasonable warning to give, and standard phrasing, but of course it’s all relative – photos like that wouldn’t raise a single eyebrow where I work.

    (The banner “Freethought Blogs” would, but those photographs wouldn’t.)

  228. bugmaster says

    @hjhornbeck #229:

    Using karyotype as a sex division would label as “male” some individuals our society judges to be “women.” There’s also the problem of 47,XXY kayrotypes (about 1 in 1,000 births), and others that have more or less than 46 chromosomes…

    You have not answered my question:

    do you believe that “karyotypes tend to cluster”, as you said ? If so, and if you agree with the historical tradition of labeling one cluster “male” and the other “female” (as opposed to, say, “red” and “blue”), then what is your point — given that this is pretty much the definition of “sex” (as opposed to gender) ?

    If your answer to the question is “yes”, then what you have said above basically amounts to saying, “aha ! but there are points that are quite distant from the centers of both clusters !” Ok, but so what ? Have I ever claimed otherwise ? Why do you keep bringing up these outliers ? Do you understand what “clustering” means ?

  229. Gjenganger says

    @hjhornbeck 228

    You treat women consistently different from men? I can mostly understand that when it comes to interfacing genitals (though there’s no shortage of others who don’t have the same issues you do), but from the context it sounds like you treat women differently from men in all aspects of life. That’s kinda sexist.

    Another merit badge. So far I have ‘misogynist’, ‘bigot’, ‘heteronormative’, and now ‘sexist’. If you think that people with my opinions are sexist, far be it from me to say that is wrong. I will say, though, that to my knowledge every single person I have ever come across treats women a bit differently from men, if only unconsciously. So there are a lot of us sexists about.

    So you’re fine allowing other human beings to suffer if they don’t fit into your categories? .

    Not exactly, but the yes-or-no answer is yes.

    I bet you’d recoil in horror if someone else made the same statement about black people or Jews, yet for some reason when it comes to sex you don’t feel the same level of disgust.

    Not really, since I think that the mechanisms are similar with those groups too. To the extent that black people or Jews, atheists or Muslims, have different values and different culture, they may unavoidably suffer if the dominant culture is different to theirs.

    Religion or skin color go much less deep than sex, though. We do not have to divide people into different groups with different roles on that basis – and we have quite rightly decided not to do it. Dividing people into fundamentally different groups based on sex is pretty obvious, on the other hand. It makes a big difference to society what kind of person can get pregnant and have children, and it makes a big difference to individuals what kind of person is a potential bedmate or rival. And those tendencies are biological, even if the exact roles and role differences are not You might say that this is all artificial and there is no inherent reason why you should be attracted primarily to either men, women, or AI-driven vacuum cleaners, but if so I would disagree.

    The basic question is about culture, social roles, behavior norms. All groups have them, and need them, because they make human interaction much more easy and predictable. Unpredictability and chaos is stressful and hard to work with, so we need to at least limit the amount of variation we have to deal with. For the roles to deliver the benefit they are supposed to, the right kind of way(s) to act in front of each person must be stable and easy to determine in the case of strangers. The total set of roles will be set up to match with the values, attitudes and circumstances of the dominant majority, so that they can work their lives easily and seamlessly. Obviously, anybody whose values, attitudes and circumstances are quite different will find it harder to participate and will be at a disadvantage. That is unfortunate, but if people are different society cannot be equally well matched to each of us. The only way to get equality would be to make sure that everybody feels uncomfortable, and nobody feels they are fitting in. That is not a good solution, I would say. In reality you have a balance between the advantages that go to those who fit in, and the disadvantages felt by those who do not. The result that minimizes unhappiness probably ought to be norms that mostly fit with the majority, but that make special concessions to minorities to mitigate the worst effects. It is still better to be in the majority than in the minority, just like it is better to be rich and healthy than to be poor and sick. But that is not really something we can fix.

  230. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#234):

    Cavanaugh: … before he flounced in the face of tough science questions posed to him by biology and medical professionals

    Hornbeck: As I already mentioned, Cavanaugh demonstrated a blatant ability to argue in bad faith and even lie, which was more than enough reason for me to stop returning.

    That’s a real hoot coming from you there HJ, considering that you explicitly admitted (1) on Pharyngula to “leading me on” in several dozen of your comments here – i.e., misleading, deceiving. Class act; class act all the way.

    Cavanaugh: Until a week ago, HJ didn’t even know the meanings of genotype or phenotype

    Hornbeck: This claim was invented by Cavanaugh, even though I demonstrated I had no difficulty using the terms properly.

    That’s a real stretch there HJ. Consider this exchange that you had with Skep tickle (2):

    Skep tickle: … most people’s genetic & phenotypic sex match at birth & beyond, including through the pubertal changes, with (XY male, or XX female), with a few people choosing (usually after puberty) to take hormones and/or undergo surgery to change their secondary sex characteristics and/or genitalia.
    —-
    Hornbeck: So neither system, taken individually, can be taken as absolute. They must be combinatorially combined to be complete, resulting in four sexes: phenotypic male, in matched and conflicting genotype, and phenotypic female in matched and conflicting.

    While one might argue that she had muddied the water somewhat with her “phenotypic sex”, you have gone off the deep-end in your misinterpretations and misunderstandings which have led to your rather dogmatic insistence that there are, there, 4 different sexes. But she had earlier emphasized that “genetic sex is determined by the sex chromosomes” from which virtually every sane scientist, at least those who can count, concludes (3) that there are but two sexes – X-X & X-Y, each of which is required for procreation.

    But she later went on to note that “Well, the phenotype is just the observable characteristics”, i.e., it is the genotype that essentially determines the development and the manifestation of those characteristics – with varying degrees of influential feedback from the environment.

    So it would seem that virtually every biologist accepts that the genotype produces a spectrum of attributes and physiological features wheras you seem to insist that those “observable characteristics” constitute at least one new and entirely independent extra type – the phenotype – if not a whole spectrum of them. From which you “infer” that the associated combinations constitute entirely different sexes. Yea, I would say that rather clearly indicates that you don’t know at least the meaning of “phenotype”, and that you are incapable of using at least that term properly.

    —–
    1) “_http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2014/02/24/lounge-452/comment-page-1/#comment-756767”;
    2) “_http://skeptischism.com/atheismneat/2014/02/05/evidence-free-feminism/#comment-117”;
    3) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XY_sex-determination_system”;

  231. sirtooting . says

    Compared with women, men die from cancer and coronary artery disease in disproportionately higher numbers and are more susceptible to a host of emotional and developmental disorders.
    Men claim there are far more male geniuses than female, but the geniuses are the exception and there are far more with learning difficulties than geniuses, and any way as men denied the same opportunities to females we have no idea how many females geniuses & their potential were slaughtered too satisfy the male and his ego.

    So consider what scientific proof or evidence would be required to legally recognize “being male” as a disability,
    Based on the overwhelming number of physical deficiencies to which males are genetically predisposed.

    There are major scientific findings on male health problems and various reasons why treatment of males as a special category should be recognized under the law.
    How the law creates categories of individuals and the reasons why these categories are created for legal classification should be reviewed.
    In addition, the potential for a “maleness” defense in the context of criminal law and procedure is assessed. Perhaps there is reason to treat men as a disabled class, and we should then consider how judges, juries, and legislators would view a scientifically based approach to the creation of this class.
    Given the many false starts in the past, in which the law had embraced what later was shown to be bad science, substantial historical baggage will have to be overcome to convince judges, juries, and legislators that science has now got it in the sense of having established a valid, causal, genetic or biological determinant for behavior. The consideration of a “male deficiency” theory under the law would have to rely on a more inclusive view of legal “disability” and a willingness to allow technologic advances in genetics to inform our understanding of criminal behavior.

  232. Schala says

    Religion or skin color go much less deep than sex, though. We do not have to divide people into different groups with different roles on that basis – and we have quite rightly decided not to do it. Dividing people into fundamentally different groups based on sex is pretty obvious, on the other hand.

    Obvious to a 3 years old kid, because their parents are extremely preoccupied about it (namely the sex of their 3 years old), not because its biologically obvious.

    It makes a big difference to society what kind of person can get pregnant and have children, and it makes a big difference to individuals what kind of person is a potential bedmate or rival.

    Should only make a difference IN those contexts of rivalry and bedmating. NOT in other contexts. Only immature kids bring “the battle of romance” mixed within professional contexts (and I don’t mean AT the workplace, I mean during work hours, using work policies). Some immature kids are 40.

    The basic question is about culture, social roles, behavior norms. All groups have them, and need them, because they make human interaction much more easy and predictable. Unpredictability and chaos is stressful and hard to work with, so we need to at least limit the amount of variation we have to deal with.

    For the 5th time, the predictability you seek is only useful to young children and people who cannot deal with the unexpected (a rather very small ratio of adult people with mental illnesses or developmental problems). The first time a little girl sees a man with long hair, she will probably change her expectation from “long hair is for girls” to “most people (but not all) who have long hair, are female”, and in a different context like the 1800s, would probably not even get there, since long hair wasn’t feminine one bit, nor short hair masculine.

    Having your unchanging context is comforting to you, sure. But it’s not NECESSARY. Everyone can do without. Only conservatives truly insists NOTHING SHOULD EVER CHANGE, BECAUSE THIS WAY IS BETTER…BECAUSE THIS WAY IS THE WAY IT IS RIGHT NOW. Like their arguments that marriage shouldn’t change to include same-sex marriage…wait for it, because this way is the way it is right now (they might add “has always been this way”). It’s a tautological naturalistic fallacy, which attributes positivity to “what has happened”, just because it has happened. By this reasoning slavery should have stayed, and non-land-owners should be unable to vote.

    Unpredictability and chaos is stressful and hard to work with, so we need to at least limit the amount of variation we have to deal with.

    Unpredictability and chaos is what makes us human. Want perfectly predictable behavior? Go live with robots.

    Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2 and the 3rd, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy, are using the humans-are-chaotic metaphor in quite literal ways. Humans are the uncontrollable element of existence. And when they die, they return to the chaos. Humans are the only ones able to go against their god-ordained purpose.

    For the roles to deliver the benefit they are supposed to, the right kind of way(s) to act in front of each person must be stable and easy to determine in the case of strangers.

    The roles may have had an initial positive purpose helping survival, but once they became prescriptive instead of descriptive, they became a tool of mass control. It’s not to ease the Joe Nobody acting with Jane Nobody. It’s to help the Bruce Wayne and the Steve Jobs from having more ease to profile you as a consumer and as a voter, and even previous to the population voting – their opinions was measuring the temperature of a revolution. Who ate shit in a revolution? The 1%. They had the most vested interest to prevent it…but just the littlest amount of effort needed (because more profit and power for them). The smallest amount of food, the smallest lands, the smallest distractions. Bread and games.

    The total set of roles will be set up to match with the values, attitudes and circumstances of the dominant majority, so that they can work their lives easily and seamlessly.

    Many of the things “the majority does” have been “sold” to them by aggressive marketing. Shaving for example. It’s recent, less than 100 years old, since women shave. Washing your hair more than once a week was also unheard of before. Nowadays, I would tell people I wash my hair every 2 weeks they might go “eww”, but my hair looks great, shiny (not greasy), long, and in good shape, also very thick.

    Those who would go “eww” have been so brainwashed by the “wash once a day” thing, without even thinking there was an alternative. Critical thinking out the window. It might be the majority does it, but it’s not biological, its capitalist behavior.

    Obviously, anybody whose values, attitudes and circumstances are quite different will find it harder to participate and will be at a disadvantage. That is unfortunate, but if people are different society cannot be equally well matched to each of us.

    I’m for certain ideals existing. An ideal of ethicism, an ideal of performance “giving it all you’ve got when it matters”, an ideal of perseverance, not abandoning right off. And other such things.

    But having an ideal of “pink is for girls”, make-up is something only girls can use, boys who do should be ridiculed, girls who don’t should feel inadequate. That’s all bullshit and not needed.

  233. Schala says

    Obvious to a 3 years old kid, because their parents are extremely preoccupied about it (namely the sex of their 3 years old), not because its biologically obvious.

    By this I mean that the kid might notice that sexes are different, but in isolation, be no more inclined to divide by sex than by hair color. It’s the importance their parents and peers (extensions of their parents) who place on it that make them place any on it, in turn.

  234. sirtooting . says

    Men won’t like me saying this, but never the less I will say it, males are nothing more than mutated females.

    All the eggs the females carries are female, so for the male to exist, the egg has to mutate into a male..
    So in the beginning of his life, the male was actually a default female, because if nothing is added to this egg, it can still be artificially provoked to develop and always the outcome of that development will be to produce a female.

    Males are genetically weaker than the female although they are be biologically stronger and due to this genetic weakness they are susceptible to far more diseases and illnesses than females.
    The male can only exist through the female, without the female he cannot exist at all.
    Perhaps this in some way explains why he despises her, he knows he can’t exist without her and resents that very idea.

  235. Schala says

    All the eggs the females carries are female, so for the male to exist, the egg has to mutate into a male..

    You don’t understand science if you think that. A single X chromosome is not female. It’s not a being.

    Female birds are WZ, while male birds are WW. Even then it doesn’t “have to mutate into a female”. Which is stupid as a statement.

    The rest of your post is plain stupid.

  236. hjhornbeck says

    Blah. Apologies for all the OT stuff, but I need to shower Steersman with thanks:

    Steersman @241:

    That’s a real hoot coming from you there HJ, considering that you explicitly admitted on Pharyngula to “leading me on” in several dozen of your comments here

    Thank you, you just confirmed you never bothered reading my last comment to you in full:

    hjhornbeck @211:

    I was expecting this, to be honest, as I’ve argued with you before. Because of your love of $10 words and citations, though, you can appear on-the-level to the lay person. How could I puncture that and make them aware of your false front? Simple: bait you into talking long enough, and I’d build up a solid enough case that most lay people would see through you and stop taking you seriously.

    And thank you for linking over to Pharyngula’s Lounge, and explicitly demonstrating you are monitoring my every online move.

    Well, that’s not entirely fair; Steersman is part of an online collective known as the SlymePit, who collaboratively cyber-stalk feminists and those pursuing social justice. Ever since I gave my talk four weeks ago, I’ve been a favorite target of theirs; when one of them spots a post I made online, a group of them jump into the comment section to stir up trouble or counter my ideas. Matt Cavanaugh even hints this is the case in #216. They’ve searched for a place of employment, dug up ancient articles to find ways to discredit me or search for contradictions (also see #74 and #234 here), and when those lines come up dry settle for making fun of me behind my back.

    Steersman, Clarence Woodworth, johngreg, Pitchguest, Edward Gemmer, Matt Cavanaugh, and Skep tickle are all here because I’m here, as they all are members of the SlymePit. All of them have deemed my ideas too dangerous to go unopposed, and are taking advantage of the power of the mob to try and shut me down.

    As I put it over in the Lounge:

    What I really love about the tactic is that it’s a no-lose situation, even if you know exactly what I’m doing. Either you keep talking, and eventually shoot yourself in the foot, or you keep things short and punctual, in which case I don’t waste much time responding to you.

    So thank you, Steersman, for be so gullible that you continually fall for the Batman Gambit even after you discovered I was deploying it. And thank you, SlymePit; while the loss of privacy has been difficult to adjust to, there’s no greater compliment to a freethinker then to learn their ideas are considered so dangerous that they need to be monitored and shouted down at every opportunity.

  237. johngreg says

    Tootsie said:

    Men won’t like me saying this, but never the less I will say it, males are nothing more than mutated females.

    Aha! I finally get it. Tootsie is Greg Laden. Well, that explains everything.

    Schala, what is WW and WZ?

  238. hjhornbeck says

    johngreg @247:

    Schala, what is WW and WZ?

    I got this one. From the ever-handy ‘pedia:

    The ZW sex-determination system is a system that determines the sex of offspring in birds, some fish and crustaceans such as the giant river prawn, some insects (including butterflies and moths), and some reptiles, including komodo dragons. In the ZW system, the ovum determines the sex of the offspring, in contrast to the XY sex-determination system and the X0 sex-determination system, wherein the sperm determines the sex. The letters Z and W are used to distinguish this system from the XY system. Males are the homogametic sex (ZZ), while females are the heterogametic sex (ZW). The Z chromosome is larger and has more genes, like the X chromosome in the XY system.

    As well as the ZW and XY sex-determination systems, there is also a temperature-dependent sex determination system found in some reptiles.

  239. Steersman says

    John Greg (#247):

    Schala, what is WW and WZ?

    To elaborate somewhat on HJ’s recent comment, the results of the “ZW sex-determination” system for birds and some fish and insects (1), although I think Schala may be wrong on the “normal” permutations. But analogous to the X-Y sex-determination system (2) for humans – something that both “Tootsie” and Hornbeck should have read up on before embarking on their respective screeds. Might have clarified or precluded at least Hornbeck’s misunderstanding of the meaning and implications of “phenotype” – as Matt argued and I elaborated on in (#241) above.

    —-
    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZW_sex-determination_system”;
    2) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XY_sex-determination_system”;

  240. sirtooting . says

    @ schala
    I understand very well ..
    “You don’t understand science if you think that. A single X chromosome is not female. It’s not a being.”
    I never said it was a being, I said the eggs are by default female .. if nothing is added to this egg, it can still be artificially provoked to develop and always the with the same outcome, they will develop into females. That is what the egg contains .. the ingredients to create the female of the species ..

    LONDON, May 26 1983— Scientists have experimentally created an eight-cell human embryo from an egg that was not fertilized, the British science journal Nature reported today.

    Scientists from the British Medical Research Council and Edinburgh University said the embryo developed without male chromosomes in a three-day experiment.
    A normal human embryo has 46 chromosomes, 23 from each parent. The experimental embryo had only 22 chromosomes, all from a woman, said Dr. Roslyn Angell, leader of the Edinburgh team.

    Dr. Dennis Lincoln, director of the Medical Research Council’s Reproductive Biology Unit, said in an interview that it was the first time scientists had seen an unfertilized human embryo grow.
    The phenomenon had already been observed in other mammals, such as mice and rabbits. Such embryos have died at a very early stage of development. First Concrete Evidence

    Dr. Robert Edwards, whose work with Dr. Patrick Steptoe resulted in the first successful birth of a human conceived outside the womb, wrote in the journal that the result gave ”concrete grounds to confirm predictions that early human development can begin without fertilization.”
    Some scientists believe it would be impossible for an embryo containing only half the normal complement of chromosomes to develop into a human being. Other research has suggested, however, that such an embryo might be enabled to survive to maturity.

    Dr. Lincoln said, ”It is just plausible that some time in the distant future we could add together two female eggs to make one human embryo.

  241. says

    never said it was a being, I said the eggs are by default female .. if nothing is added to this egg, it can still be artificially provoked to develop and always the with the same outcome, they will develop into females. That is what the egg contains .. the ingredients to create the female of the species ..

    …this is wrong. In the ZW determination system, the egg has a gender determining chromosome, either male or female, and the sperm does not add anything in terms of gender. When the egg carries W, the zygote has ZW, meaning the offspring will have a female phenotype. If it carries Z, the zygote has ZZ, a male phenotype wil be expressed. The whole thing is mre complicated though and you will have different things happening in extreme conditios. For example when female Varanus komodoensis reproduce asexually, all offspring will be male, as they will simply double their haploid chromosomes, with the ZZ genotype not being viable. So in a sense here the default is very much male (though this is only one example, the whole mechanism is not understood in all species).

    Another example that is probably food for though is haplodiploidy in hymenoptera. Here haploid individuals are male and diploid ones female. Without sperm only haploid specimens will be born, making the default again male. Interestingly this discovery lead to a very intuitive but simplistic hypothesis explaining eusociality throug inclusive fittness, since the coefficiet of relatedness between sisters is higher than between other siplings in other orders. Modern theries are more complex and use multilevel selection to my knowledge.

  242. hjhornbeck says

    Adding on to sheaf @251, at #220 I mentioned a number of species that are one-sex sexual reproducers, one-sex asexual reproducers, two-sex but can reproduce both sexually and asexually, or two-sex sexual reproducers that sometimes reproduce asexually. I met my biologist friend today, who again reminded me to look into fungal reproduction if I wanted a mind trip.

    It totally was. All the examples I’ve listed so far have gametes at some point, specialized cells that exist just for reproductive purposes.

    Some fungi don’t have gametes at all, though, yet reproduce sexually. Two individuals will grow towards one another and fuse cells, resulting in a hybrid. While it wasn’t at the link above, and I’

  243. hjhornbeck says

    Whoops, slip of the finger.

    While it wasn’t in the link above, I’m pretty sure my biologist friend also described a form of mating akin to mosiacism, where the cells *don’t* fuse, resulting in a organism that mixes both types of cells. Even if I’m mistaken about what they said, there was no mistaking their agreement that biology is mostly exceptions without rules. Names and definitions are just guidelines, and no biologist would be surprised by an organism that failed to live by the categories we’ve constructed.

    And that includes “male” and “female.”

  244. says

    hjhornbeck, (253)

    Even if I’m mistaken about what they said, there was no mistaking their agreement that biology is mostly exceptions without rules.

    I think this is false in generality. Biology is constrained, by physics by chemistry and even on a higher level by the dynamics of ecosystems. For example, with current limits of material and muscular strength, Q. nothropi is unlikely to be surpassed in size among autonomously flying vertebrates, given that even the most generous estimates put it just above the height of achieving flight clearence. Biomechanical constraints are powerful and can explain morphology over several orders of magnitude. For further examples read e.g. “principles of animal locmotion” by Alexander.

  245. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#253):

    Even if I’m mistaken about what they said, there was no mistaking their agreement that biology is mostly exceptions without rules.

    Seems to me that that is like saying that every histgram is a flat line, that there aren’t any variations in the numbers in each “bin” associated with each of those “exceptions”. Maybe you have your thumb on the scales for some reason, maybe your “science” is being dictated to by your dogma?

  246. hjhornbeck says

    sirtooting @250:

    That is what the egg contains .. the ingredients to create the female of the species ..

    True, but you can do better than that. I never used this source in my lecture, as I had better, more conservative citations that accomplished the same task, but it seems relevant here:

    For these 15,000 or more individuals in the US (and who knows how many worldwide), their chromosomes are irrelevant. It is the total complement of their genes along with their life experiences (physical, mental, social) that makes them who they are (or any of us, for that matter). The last time I counted, there were at least 30 genes that have been found to have important roles in the development of sex in either humans or mice. Of these 30 or so genes 3 are located on the X chromosome, 1 on the Y chromosome and the rest are on other chromosomes, called autosomes (on chromosomes 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 17, 19).

    Emphasis mine. Only one gene related to sex development sits on the Y, according to that source. That leaves about 20,000 that aren’t on the Y, including the vast majority related to male development, and those vast majority are contained by most human eggs. It’s more accurate to say the egg contains most of the ingredients to make human beings, than to say it contains the ingredients to make females.

    Conversely, some sperm contain every autosome plus the X chromosome. Thus it’s also accurate to say there’s about a 50/50 chance any given sperm will contain the ingredients to make a female.

  247. sirtooting . says

    @ SHEAF
    “And the sperm does not add anything in terms of gender.”
    Horse shit .. The sperm themselves are either male or female ..

    The egg attracts the sperm and decides which gender of sperm it wants to fertilise the egg and dissolves the sperm into the egg ..
    The stories we hear of the sperm trying to penetrate the egg is pure fiction..
    The sperm are not trying to penetrate the egg, they are actually trying to escape it. .. Who knew ..?

    The Y Chromosome is a direct transference of male DNA to another male, and this it, the rest is all female DNA being transferred .. men’s baldness is directly related to a gene on the X Chromosome .. so men’s baldness is actually inherited from their mother or grandmother, and surprisingly not their father. Who knew? ..?

  248. says

    sirtooting.

    I was talking about ZW determination systems. These systems are not the same as XY yu reference. In ZW systems sex determination happens roughly as I describe it. Your attempt to reframe this to be about XY determination where the sperm determines the sex is irrelevant. In my comment there was no reference to X an Y chromosomes since life forms usig ZW do not use XY for sex determination. Oh spelling out almost tautologies is painful. Please try to read what I wrote.

  249. sirtooting . says

    I wanted to clarify, the sperm are either carrying an X Chromosome or a Y Chromosome and the egg chooses which of the two it want’s to use to fertilise the egg and then releases hormones to dissolve the sperm into the egg.

  250. Skep tickle says

    Schala, quoting & replying to sirtooting:

    All the eggs the females carries are female, so for the male to exist, the egg has to mutate into a male..

    You don’t understand science if you think that. A single X chromosome is not female. It’s not a being.

    Female birds are WZ, while male birds are WW. Even then it doesn’t “have to mutate into a female”. Which is stupid as a statement.

    The rest of your post is plain stupid.

    Arrrgh.

    (1) Having only one X chromosome IS compatible with life (though that condition does more often result in spontaneous miscarriage during early development, than in successful development and birth; it is said to occur in 1/2000 – 1/5000 births of phenotypic females). People who have 45 chromosomes with one X and no 2nd sex chromosome are said to have Turner syndrome.

    (2) The default development of a human embryo (and, I suspect, other mammals, but I don’t know their details) IS into the female phenotype UNLESS there is a Y chromosome with a functional SRY gene and also an entire intact system for production of, metabolism of (via 5-alpha-reductase), and response to testosterone. The default IS female, and the sex-determing factor for a male DOES come from the sperm.

  251. says

    The default development of a human embryo (and, I suspect, other mammals, but I don’t know their details) IS into the female phenotype UNLESS there is a Y chromosome with a functional SRY gene and also an entire intact system for production of, metabolism of (via 5-alpha-reductase), and response to testosterone. The default IS female, and the sex-determing factor for a male DOES come from the sperm.

    Other mammals as well but not all of them. Some use a X0 determination system.

  252. hjhornbeck says

    Skep Tickle @260:

    The default development of a human embryo (and, I suspect, other mammals, but I don’t know their details) IS into the female phenotype UNLESS there is a Y chromosome with a functional SRY gene and also an entire intact system for production of, metabolism of (via 5-alpha-reductase), and response to testosterone.

    I’m curious how you can justify female as the “default.” The term usually means the most common variant, but the human sex ratio is almost exactly 1:1. I could just as easily turn that around and say that males are the default human phenotype UNLESS no TDF/SRY gene is expressed and the body does not respond to testosterone.

    If I bought into your qualifiers, that is. I again refer you to my lecture: “While about four fifths of XX males have genes known to be unique to the Y chromosome, the remainder do not.” In other words, one in five XX males have neither a Y chromosome nor a gene we can identify as coming from the Y. The people you term “phenotypical women” also have “an entire intact system for production of, metabolism of (via 5-alpha-reductase), and response to testosterone,” as testosterone compounds are used by female athletes to increase muscle mass and decrease fat content.

    The default IS female, and the sex-determing factor for a male DOES come from the sperm.

    Didn’t I mention DAX1 back at Cavanaugh’s? I see I mentioned it in a citation, but never went into the details. Let’s fix that:

    The DAX-1 gene has been involved in the dosage sensitive sex reversal (DSS) phenotype, a male-to-female sex-reversal syndrome due to the duplication of a small region of human chromosome Xp21. Dax-1 and Sry have been shown to act antagonistically in the mouse system, where increasing expression of the former leads to female development and increasing activity of the latter to male development. Although these data strongly implicate DAX-1 in sex determination, the mouse and human proteins appear to behave differently.

    Dang, the last half of that sentence leaves the barn door open. Fortunately, that study was published in 1999, and I have more recent references. Here’s one less than a month old: This protein also functions as an anti-testis gene by acting antagonistically to Sry.

    Sex determination is ridiculously complicated. No single gene has a monopoly on it, instead at least six genes interact to alter development, sometimes with consequences that don’t fit into our tidy boxes.

  253. Skep tickle says

    sheaf @261:

    Other mammals as well but not all of them. Some use a X0 determination system.

    Thanks, sheaf! Just read up on that a bit; interesting.

    HJ Hornbeck @262:

    I’m curious how you can justify female as the “default.”

    Well, it’s not just me. See reference below. Let me know if you’d like me to find more for you; they should be plentiful, seeing as how this is considered to be solidly established in biology & medicine.

    The term usually means the most common variant,

    Er, no. “Default” doesn’t necessarily have to be the most common outcome, but the one that occurs through inaction. Here’s a relevant definition: “the preset selection of an option offered by a system, which will always be followed except when explicitly altered”. (That’s the “computing” definition from here.)

    but the human sex ratio is almost exactly 1:1. I could just as easily turn that around and say that males are the default human phenotype UNLESS no TDF/SRY gene is expressed and the body does not respond to testosterone.
    If I bought into your qualifiers, that is …

    Mmm, yes, you could say that. Unfortunately, you’d have a hard time convincing anyone in biology or medicine that you were correct.

    Try this from Wikipedia:

    Defeminization and masculinization are the processes that a fetus goes through to become a male.
    It has often been said that in sexual differentiation in mammals, the female is the “default” developmental pathway, in the sense that elimination of any of several gene actions necessary for formation of male genitalia leads to the development of external female genitalia (though development of functional ovaries requires effective action of several less understood sex-specific genes). Two processes: defeminization, and masculinization, are involved in producing male typical morphology and behavior. Disruption of either of these processes in males produces female-typical development. The opposite is not true, disruption of normal sexual development in females does not lead to male-typical endpoints.
    Defeminization involves the suppression of the development of female typical morphology (development of the Mullerian ducts into the fallopian tubes, uterus and vagina) and behavioural predispositions. Masculinization involves the production of male typical morphology (development of the Wolffian ducts into male reproductive structures) and behavioural predispositions. Both defeminization and masculinization are required for a mammalian zygote to become a fully reproductively functional male.

    A brief version of the female default paradigm can be stated as follows:
    1. [multiple steps necessary for development of the embryo into a male, snipped]
    2. To a large extent, each step builds on the previous. If anything goes wrong at any of the first four steps, the subsequent pathway of development results in female anatomy and behavior.
    3. No ovarian organizing gene homologous to SRY has been discovered. Both sexes are exposed to maternal estrogen prenatally. No hormones have yet been discovered that are necessary early in life to produce female sexual development. Estrogen seems not to be necessary until puberty for purposes of differentiation. ….

    “No hormones…are necessary…to produce female sexual development” (in utero). Female is the default.

  254. Skep tickle says

    Ah, turns out there’s are 2 genes identified so far in which mutation inactivating the gene product results in male, not female being the default: WNT-4 and FOXL2. Well, at least that’s what happens in mice. So therefore some researchers have said that female should not be considered the default for embryo development.

    In humans, it looks like there have been some XX males identified with FOXL2 mutations, but the more common presentation in humans is XX female with premature ovarian failure (premature menopause). In humans, mutations in WNT4 cause a rare syndrome with a couple different names; people with this syndrome are XX and phenotypically female but have (a) congenital anomalies of the uterus and upper vagina (also sometimes of 1 or both kidneys, the spine, the heart, and hearing) and (b) mild elevation in androgen levels, but not virilization (so they don’t manifest a male phenotype). It can be transmitted as an autosomal dominant trait or arise as a new mutation.

    So, so far I’m not finding that this does present an exception to female=default in humans. Even if it did, female=default is, well, the default (in the absence of a rare mutation altering the normal processes to such an extent that it manifests as male development, the much less usual phenotype).

  255. Skep tickle says

    Poked around a little more; now up to 3 genes (WNT4, RSPO1, and FOXL2) identified as contributing to active development of the ovaries in human females.

    Looks like the “no, it’s not default” folks are focusing on development of the ovary & ovarian function, whereas the “yes, it still is default” folks are content with the external genitalia developing as female, whether or not the ovaries develop. (And, again, in almost all cases of fetal development there is no mutation in these genes…and when there is, what’s occurring in development is not the normal process, it’s an anomalous process.)

    G’night, now.

  256. Steersman says

    Skep tickle (#265):

    Poked around a little more; now up to 3 genes (WNT4, RSPO1, and FOXL2) identified as contributing to active development of the ovaries in human females.

    Fascinating stuff. And very complicated – not surprising that with all of the various feedbacks in play that so many would tend to conclusions that support their own idiosyncratic philosophies and dogmas. Although as far as “defaults” go one would think that the frequency of occurrences would have some bearing.

  257. Skep tickle says

    Complicated from our vantage point, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “ridiculously complicated” as HJ did above. (Biology tends to get underestimated IMO, then surprises people when it turns out to be more complex than they thought it was, or should be.) Anyway, note that most of the time it results in works out without any noticeable anomalies – billions and billions of times so far, just for humans.

    And sexual development is not necessarily more complicated than other areas of development – remember, we each started off as a single-cell organism, and along the way all of our organs & structures differentiated from copies of that one cell & its genome. Every bit of it is pretty darn elegant. Most of us have 5 different-appearing fingers on each hand, including an opposable thumb, with the 2 hands pretty much mirror images, and the feet & toes also developing into mirror images with different features & functioning from the hands. This may seem more mundane than genitalia, but it’s an incredible accomplishment, and we have evolution (which requires mutations to make significant progress, and is enhanced by the variety produced by sexual reproduction) to thank for it.

  258. Steersman says

    Skep tickle (#267):

    Complicated from our vantage point, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “ridiculously complicated” as HJ did above.

    “Ridiculously” is probably not particularly accurate, but the somewhat analogous “miraculous” certainly seems applicable. Reminds me of the “diagram of the primate visual system” that Pinker included in his The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (pg 88) – highly recommended if I haven’t mentioned it before [ ;-) ] – that hardly looks less complicated than a complete road map of the continental U.S.

    Anyway, note that most of the time it results in works out without any noticeable anomalies – billions and billions of times so far, just for humans.

    Indeed. I seem to recollect that someone estimated that the number of humans that have existed since we could lay claim to the term – some 4 million years ago – is in the vicinity of 100 billion.

    Every bit of it is pretty darn elegant. … [Fingers and hands] may seem more mundane than genitalia, but it’s an incredible accomplishment, and we have evolution … to thank for it.

    Simply an awesome process, and one not particularly easy to get a handle on. Analogies are of course one way of doing so, but they can easily be extrapolated to the point of no longer being applicable, and can hinder more than help. A case in point being, as I suggested in (#241), HJ’s misunderstanding of phenotype as he seemed to be arguing that it is somehow independent of the genotype and that it therefore justifies using it as another axis to define other sexes: the four combinations of phenotype and genotype he argued for on Matt’s blog. Seems to me that the phenotype – and gender in general – is at best a “linear combination” – if not a highly non-linear one – of both genotype and the environment – of both “nature” and “nurture”.

  259. Schala says

    (1) Having only one X chromosome IS compatible with life (though that condition does more often result in spontaneous miscarriage during early development, than in successful development and birth; it is said to occur in 1/2000 – 1/5000 births of phenotypic females). People who have 45 chromosomes with one X and no 2nd sex chromosome are said to have Turner syndrome.

    I know about Turner Syndrome. But according to Tootsie, this would mean the ovary could produce a human on its own, a 23 chromosome human, not a 45 chromosome human. Just because the ovary has a X. Well yeah, but it lacks half the autosomes.

  260. sirtooting . says

    @ Schala,
    I never said it .. Science said it .. science said .. the possibilities are endless .. just as long as we can understand the science of it .. cloning moves on at a pace .. Dolly the sheep actually existed

  261. Schala says

    I never said it .. Science said it .

    Science doesn’t say humans with 23 chromosomes are viable.

    Dolly the sheep actually existed

    A human clone from a cis fertile woman would NOT come from her ovaries, imagine that. It would come from her entire genetic code, the whole 46 chromosomes, including her father’s contribution.

  262. Skep tickle says

    Schala @269: Ah yes, apologies.

    I am finding it hard to grok sirtooting’s model of sex determination and reproduction; it doesn’t seem to match the widely accepted standard. Use of standard biology terms might help clarify whether referring to haploid or diploid, parthenogenesis or cloning, etc.

    Re Dolly. Three sheep were used in her creation: 1 for the egg, 1 for the chromosomal DNA, and 1 for gestation. (Also a bunch of scientists, reagents, equipment, etc.)

    The somatic cell (mom-1) provided the nuclear DNA (54XX, normal for sheep, & as Schala says, half was from mom-1’s father). The somatic cell taken from the mammary gland of an adult sheep; that cell being differentiated, from an adult, was what was new about Dolly compared with previously cloned animals.
    The e-nucleated egg (mom-2) provided the mitochondrial DNA.

    AFAICT, the cell used for the nuclear DNA could have been taken from a male animal, & thus would have been male.

  263. Skep tickle says

    (clarification, last line should end: “& thus would have resulted in a male clone.”)

  264. says

  265. Steersman says

    Sirtooting (#259):

    I wanted to clarify, the sperm are either carrying an X Chromosome or a Y Chromosome and the egg chooses which of the two it wants to use to fertilise the egg and then releases hormones to dissolve the sperm into the egg.

    That seems rather inaccurate. Even apart from the question of how the egg could be doing any “choosing”, although this link (1) suggests that the egg is “active” during the process of fertilization, it seems more accurate to say that the first sperm to cross the finish line blocks any further penetration of the egg. And while the outer shell of the sperm (2) is probably dissolved it’s probably the nucleus of it that is the basis of further development of the zygote (3).

    And sorry about the “Tootsie” from me – it was probably a bit of a cheap shot.

    —-
    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_fertilization”;
    2) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sperm”;
    3) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zygote”;

  266. hjhornbeck says

    Before moving forward, there’s something I’d like to mention. I’ve been repeatedly accused of relying too much on Wikipedia, with one charge coming from Skep tickle herself.

    Matt Cavanaugh:

    As Hornbeck’s understanding of genetics & evolution seems to have come exclusively from the writings of existentialist philosophers, gender studies classes, the Transgender Manifesto, and cursory skims of wikipedia entries

    Skep tickle:

    Since you seem to be a fan of Wikipedia as a reference

    This is trivially refuted. So I was a bit taken aback when Skep tickle herself used a Wikipedia page as a definitive source (#263), when it has this at the bottom:

    This article does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (August 2007)

    So it’s bad when I (allegedly) use Wikipedia as a source without checking the references, but A-OK when you do it? How can you call yourself an unbiased skeptic? What does it say that no-one from the SlymePit called you on this?

    Ignoring that, I think the most telling part of that Wikipedia page comes just before then:

    This paradigm dates back to the 1950s. Even stronger versions were commonly stated in the 1960s and 1970s.

    So you’re claiming a sixty-year-old model of development, that was commonly believed forty years ago, is representative of how biologists think today? That is possible, but it’s also possible that the revolution in biology triggered by a better understanding of genes has rendered it obsolete. I can’t tell which is more accurate, as I have no citations or references to follow up on.

    Skep tickle @265:

    Looks like the “no, it’s not default” folks are focusing on development of the ovary & ovarian function, whereas the “yes, it still is default” folks are content with the external genitalia developing as female, whether or not the ovaries develop.

    I made that exact point @262. By selectively ignoring certain gene activations and outcomes, you can easily claim male, female, and even intersex are the “default” for human. That last one follows from development; it isn’t until the fifth week of an embryo’s existence that the gonadal ridge arises, and even then it doesn’t begin acquiring a sex until week eight. That’s a critical date, as only half to a third of all fertilized eggs survive longer than that.

    So not only do we all start off intersex, the vast majority of human embryos only existed that way.

    Skep tickle @263:

    Unfortunately, you’d have a hard time convincing anyone in biology or medicine that you were correct.

    I see I convinced one doctor I was correct, without even lifting a finger. ;)

    Skep tickle @267:

    Complicated from our vantage point, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “ridiculously complicated” as HJ did above.

    I direct you back to my quote @256:

    The last time I counted, there were at least 30 genes that have been found to have important roles in the development of sex in either humans or mice. Of these 30 or so genes 3 are located on the X chromosome, 1 on the Y chromosome and the rest are on other chromosomes, called autosomes (on chromosomes 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 17, 19).

    As well as me @262:

    I again refer you to my lecture: “While about four fifths of XX males have genes known to be unique to the Y chromosome, the remainder do not.” In other words, one in five XX males have neither a Y chromosome nor a gene we can identify as coming from the Y.

    I didn’t go into this in much detail in the short script, and only briefly mentioned it in the pre-edited version, but we don’t know how many genes are responsible for sex determination. We don’t even know how complex the process is, it’s that complex!

    I’ve done a little more research, and pieced together that DAX1 (chromosome X) partly inhibits TDF/SRY (Y), which amplifies SOX9 (17), which amplifies FGF9 (13), PGD2 (4), and SF1 (9), which all amplify SOX9 and may upregulate TDF too, but WNT4 (1) downregulates SOX9, and RSPO1 (1) upregulates WNT4, and FOXL2 (3) … does something important related to sex development, as deleting it alone can switch development from phenotypically female to phenotypically male. Duplicating DAX1 would override TDF, but duplicating SOX9 would override the duplication of DAX1, but deleting/disabling one of SF1, FGF9 or PGD2 may let DAX1 take precedence again, depending on what’s been activated. Even this simplified picture of sex differentiation is a complicated game of rock-paper-scissors!

    And sexual development is not necessarily more complicated than other areas of development – remember, we each started off as a single-cell organism, and along the way all of our organs & structures differentiated from copies of that one cell & its genome.

    Well yeah, if your frame of reference is a messy system with more exceptions than rules, then of course a messy picture of sex development with more exceptions than rules would appear relatively simple. May I direct you to a short overview of sex differentiation? I’ll just quote some interesting bits on Y extinction here:

    Again, Drosophila provides a spectacular example of the complete disappearance of the Y chromosome. The D. melanogaster Y appears to be completely non-
    homologous to the X, and it was suggested that the original Y was depleted of active genes, or even completely lost, and replaced by a blob of heterochromatin (a B chromosome) that provided a pairing partner for the unpaired X. [...]

    The wood lemming has acquired a modified X* chromosome that suppresses the testis-determining action of the Y, so that X*Y, as well as XX and X*X*, animals are females. Surely this suppressor of SRY is the ultimate sexually antagonistic gene! In South America, a group of Akodont rodents have a modified Y chromosome that no longer bears a functional SRY gene, so that XY* as well as XX animals are females (Hoekstra and Edwards, 2000).

    At the extreme are species that have dispensed with the Y chromosome, some from somatic cells, others completely. Some marsupials physically eliminate the Y from somatic cells during embryogenesis (Watson et al., 1999). [...]

    Ellobius lutescens is XO in both sexes, and E. tancrei is XX (with two identical X chromosomes derived by non-disjunction). The spinous country rat of Japan also has XO in both sexes (Arakawa et al., 2002). It was originally supposed that the testis-determining factor had moved to another location in the mole vole; however, careful screening of DNA from males and females demonstrated no trace of Sry or other Y markers (Just et al., 1995). This suggests that Sry has been replaced by a completely new sex-determining system in mole voles, and that fertility factors on the Y have also been substituted.

  267. Skep tickle says

    HJ Hornbeck @275:

    Before moving forward, there’s something I’d like to mention. I’ve been repeatedly accused of relying too much on Wikipedia, with one charge coming from Skep tickle herself.

    Matt Cavanaugh:

    As Hornbeck’s understanding of genetics & evolution seems to have come exclusively from the writings of existentialist philosophers, gender studies classes, the Transgender Manifesto, and cursory skims of wikipedia entries

    That wasn’t my comment, it was Matt’s. But is it inaccurate? (allowing for some google searches turning up a couple of case reports, old and new, as an additional source here & there)

    You went on:
    Skep tickle:

    Since you seem to be a fan of Wikipedia as a reference

    Why do you read that observation-cum-interpretation as casting aspersions? Put it in context, from the same page you pulled that quote from, here.

    YOU used Wikipedia, I figured YOU were comfortable (for the most part) with that source, and that it was unlikely to be considered unfair if I went back to the pages from which YOU quoted to see the context & additional discussion about that topic, and I said as much.

    Turns out that was useful; you had cherry picked quite notably.

    Speaking of larger context: some people do dismiss Wikipedia as a source. I specifically mentioned that you do not seem to do so and because you were using it, I was also going to use it. (For biomedical topics, I start with Pub Med, looking at recent case reports & the discussion therein, or (where available) larger case series, and also recent reviews as they have often compiled relevant references from the past several years, and older references still considered key. It can be really useful to look at other publications by the same author(s) – sometimes you see that they have an axe to grind, or a position that’s not mainstream & is being disputed by others – and for old references it’s useful to look for subsequent publications, which will sometimes expand on, or correct, or re-explain, and so on.)

    From the page from which you took my comment “Since you seem to be a fan of Wikipedia…” and posted it here:

    (a) the full sentence that that’s snipped from reads, “Since you seem to be a fan of Wikipedia as a reference, may I refer us all to 2 Wikipedia pages: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_and_gender_distinction.” I went on to quote most of the first 2 paragraphs of that page & discuss it. You mostly ignored that section, which included basic standard (basically definitional) understandings held in biology like:

    “Organisms of many species are specialized into male and female varieties, each known as a sex.[1]”

    “By definition, male gametes are small, motile, and optimized to transport their genetic information over a distance, while female gametes are large, non-motile and contain the nutrients necessary for the early development of the young organism. Among humans and other mammals, males typically carry XY chromosomes, whereas females typically carry XX chromosomes, which are a part of the XY sex-determination system.”

    “The gametes produced by an organism determine its sex: males produce male gametes (spermatozoa, or sperm, in animals; pollen in plants) while females produce female gametes (ova, or egg cells)…”

    There, I preceded that line that you partially quoted here by observing (bolding as in original): “I think one of the sticking points here is that you seem to be wanting to have some classification that applies to every single individual in the species Homo sapiens sapiens whereas the science aficionados who are arguing against you are taking the standard biological view, description, and definition of “sex” (as in, the types of gamete-producing forms)“, to which you responded, “If ‘sex’ doesn’t apply to every single individual, then what do we call people who fall outside this system of classification?”

    I followed the section that starts with the line that you partially quoted here with (links removed here): “Just because some people are born with holoprosencephaly doesn’t meant that humans don’t have 2 cerebral hemispheres. Just because some people are born with renal agenesis doesn’t mean humans don’t have 2 kidneys. Et cetera.”

    I haven’t seen you address that, at all. Biology has terms for individuals who fall outside the norm in the area being discussed, and I’ve mentioned those terms elsewhere in our ongoing discussion, but I haven’t yet seen you acknowledge that these exist.

    b) Also on that page from which you pulled part of one of my sentences into this conversation, you quoted a bit “per the ‘pedia” on Hemophilia A. I replied saying (bolding added here) “Anyway, as per the ‘pedia, here are the 6 sentences immediately preceding the part you quoted just above (from the Wikipedia page on Hemophilia…)” because you were seriously cherry picking the part you felt supported your position.

    After some discussion, I closed with “So: your Wikipedia reference and 1975 paper agree that hemophilia A is X-linked and far more common to manifest in males than females. Okay, so a small % of those affected (meaning, manifesting the phenotype) are XX females instead of XY males. If you search hard enough, you can probably find some reports of women with Turner’s syndrome who have hemophilia A. And? So? How does that help your case?” You did not reply to this.

    c) In another reply, I said (bolding added) “I do know that you used other sources for your talk, and in some of your comments here; in fact, I recall commenting in quite a bit of detail about the PMS review article you used, and above I commented on the 1975 hematology journal article you cited. However, here you have used Wikipedia a fair amount, so seemed unlikely to dismiss that source out of hand, as some people do. (Especially when I quoted the 6 sentences immediately before the part you quoted. That’s got to be fair, right?)” First, this is not dismissing Wikipedia, it’s predicting that YOU would be unlikely to dismiss it. Second, you still did not comment on the text that had immediately preceded the part you cherry picked out.

    This is trivially refuted. So I was a bit taken aback when Skep tickle herself used a Wikipedia page as a definitive source (#263), when it has this at the bottom:

    This article does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (August 2007)

    So it’s bad when I (allegedly) use Wikipedia as a source without checking the references, but A-OK when you do it? How can you call yourself an unbiased skeptic? What does it say that no-one from the SlymePit called you on this?

    That’s why I followed the citation & quote by saying that I’d be happy to present other sources, if you wanted. :)

    In fact, I did do my usual approach of searches in Pub Med. That’s how I found the more detailed information than Wikipedia has about some researchers taking exception to the “female as default” model, chased it down to mice studies, compared the manifestations in multiple case reports in humans, and explained the bit about ovarian development. ;)

    I actually found more than that which I didn’t post, including noting that your “reference” on NR0B1 is just the gene’s listing at NCBI, and in fact describes the phenotypic manifestation as: “Mutations in this gene result in both X-linked congenital adrenal hypoplasia and hypogonadotropic hypogonadism.” Turns out case reports are almost all of males with these findings, only very rarely XY “sex reversal”.

    You went on to say, in #275 above (bolding added by me):

    Ignoring that, I think the most telling part of that Wikipedia page comes just before then:

    This paradigm dates back to the 1950s. Even stronger versions were commonly stated in the 1960s and 1970s.

    So you’re claiming a sixty-year-old model of development, that was commonly believed forty years ago, is representative of how biologists think today? That is possible, but it’s also possible that the revolution in biology triggered by a better understanding of genes has rendered it obsolete. I can’t tell which is more accurate, as I have no citations or references to follow up on.

    There is some temptation to reply, “Why, because Wikipedia didn’t have anything on it?” but that might be de trop. ;)

    Without writing an entire essay, I tried to explain in #264 and #265 why there might seem to be some disagreement in the literature now about female=default; some people require the full female phenotype (ovaries functioning until age ~50 and all) to claim female=default, but they seem to be a minority. Also, that’s STILL what usually happens; it’s only in very rare cases of certain kinds of mutations in the 3 genes I mentioned (actually, I found a 4th on poking around in Pub Med last night; still, very rare to see mutations clinically) that the “default” might appear from the external genitalia to be female, however on more detailed examination (particularly, of ovarian tissue removed surgically) it turns out a mutation prevented full expression of the female phenotype.

    This is splitting hairs. Female appearance of the external genitalia, and no testes, is the default embryonic development of sex characteristics, in the absence of an active process to instead create male sex characteristics. No amount of “what if this gene is translocated onto a different chromosome in a few cases” will cause that to change.

  268. Pitchguest says

    hjhornbeck:

    #227

    Hahahahahahaha. How many sexes do you think there are? Let’s see, we have male, and female, and… and… oh! Blast! I seem to have forgotten the rest. Maybe you can jog my memory?

    See my last comment to Hurin. I’m terribly amused that in an effort to refute my charge that sex is a social construct, several people have constructed elaborate multi-layered models of sex that have only a tenuous correspondence to how the rest of society views sex.

    Proving my point is a bad way to refute it.

    It’s hard to have a conversation with a dogmatist. It’s especially hard to have a conversation with a dogmatist who keeps putting down these catchphrases, or terms, that have little meaning outside of their tiny, narrow circle. To wit, I had no idea what a “sexual realist” was so I had to look it up. To my bewilderment, I couldn’t find anything about it. Not even a wiki. Strange, I thought. But then in the corner of my eye I spotted an article from Metapedia about “racial realism.” So I had a gander and turns out, “racial realism” (which I also had no idea existed) is the belief that races exist and are individually different, as opposed to a social construct. At which point, the coin dropped.

    Is this really your argument, Hornbeck? Arguing that two sexes exist, male and female, and acknowledging that males and females have individual and fundamental differences is akin to arguing the difference between white people and black people? Because I don’t think you’ve thought it through and I see a big flaw in your premise. Mainly that no one here has argued about the different capabilities of the sexes, spatial, physical, etc. Merely that the two are dissimilar at their core. I really don’t think pointing this out makes one a “sexual realist”, especially when the other term associated with it is so loaded.

    Oh, and to go back a few posts:

    #220:

    people in the “male” category don’t get pregnant.

    Oh, so you think Thomas Beatie doesn’t exist? Or Levi Suydam? Or Scott Moore? Or do you think they’re not male, despite being legally registered as men?

    Oh for fuck’s sake. He’s saying unless you are BORN female (which incidentally, all those people were) and biologically gifted with a womb, you cannot get pregnant. Don’t be daft. Or are you saying that you can somehow magically turn a penis into a vagina or implant a womb into a male body? That they underwent gender reassignment surgery is inconsequential. Being legally registered as men is one thing, still having a womb is another. Do men develop wombs same as women, or can they develop wombs if they so desire? I mean, this would be possible if sex is merely a social construct, right? Or do we blame that restriction on the patriarchy?

  269. Skep tickle says

    I don’t mean to distract you from replying to Pitchguest’s very pertinent points & questions in #277, but will fill in more info about “female=default”. Consider this as informational only, though if anyone with knowledge of the field of embryologic development has comments or critiques, I’d welcome that input.

    Back to one section of HJ Hornbeck’s post #275, where HJ wrote:

    Ignoring that, I think the most telling part of that Wikipedia page comes just before then:

    This paradigm dates back to the 1950s. Even stronger versions were commonly stated in the 1960s and 1970s.

    So you’re claiming a sixty-year-old model of development, that was commonly believed forty years ago, is representative of how biologists think today? That is possible, but it’s also possible that the revolution in biology triggered by a better understanding of genes has rendered it obsolete. I can’t tell which is more accurate, as I have no citations or references to follow up on.

    it IS hard to tell where things stand or what to believe, without something to go on.

    Here’s one example of one approach to try to do a reality check on the situation.

    Google search of “embryonic sexual development female default”, then peeking at several of the pages returned, points toa news story from 11/2008 about research results (different from that I’d found last night, using Pub Med) that seems to disprove this. That news article says, in part:

    A gene essential to the growth and development of most organ systems in the body also is vital to female – but not male – embryonic sexual development, scientists report this month.

    The study, from researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Texas, appears in Human Molecular Genetics. The findings lend support to a controversial hypothesis about mammalian sexual development.

    In the beginning – in terms of their sexual organs – all embryos look alike, said Illinois veterinary biosciences professor Humphrey Yao, who led the study.

    “They have a common primordium, the foundation for both testis and ovary,” he said. “Only at a certain stage of development does this primordium start to follow a different path.”

    In the early days of research into sexual development, it was thought that all females had two X chromosomes, all males had an X and a Y, and that the Y made all the difference. Unless it had a Y chromosome, an embryo developed ovaries and became female, more or less by default, scientists thought. They even found a specific gene on the Y chromosome, called SRY (for sex-determining region of the Y chromosome) that appeared to be essential for testes formation.

    But when researchers discovered some rare cases of individuals who developed testes even though they had two X chromosomes and no Y chromosome or SRY gene, they realized that the mechanisms of sex determination were more complex than previously thought.

    This led to a new theory, called the “Z” hypothesis, which proposed that testes development was actually the default pathway. According to this theory, an unknown gene or process, called “Z,” could disrupt this pathway and lead to the development of ovaries.

    The “Z” hypothesis explained why SRY appeared essential for testes development. When it is present, SRY suppresses “Z” and allows the default option (development of testes) to occur.

    This theory was complex and ambiguous, however, leading some to reject it.

    Yao and graduate student Chia-Feng Liu wanted to investigate a particular player in the cast of molecules known to be involved in transforming the primordium into testis or ovary. This molecule, beta-catenin, is an important regulator of cell proliferation and differentiation. When it functions as a transcription factor, it turns other genes on or off. Without beta-catenin, which is expressed in many organs and tissues, an embryo will not survive.

    Yao and Liu knew that other proteins also were critical to the development of ovaries in particular. Mice that lacked the genes for a signaling protein, known as Wnt4, or another secreted protein, called R-spondin1, experienced a partial female-to-male sex reversal: They formed ovaries, but with male characteristics, such as blood-vessel structures like those in testes. Humans with mutations in their WNT4 and R-spondin1 genes had similar malformations of the sex organs. (…snip…)

    To determine whether beta-catenin had a role in forming the ovaries, the researchers developed a mouse embryo in which the beta-catenin gene could be shut off at the earliest stage of development of the gonads while remaining functional in other organs.

    “To our surprise, the ovaries still formed,” Yao said. But male sexual structures also appeared, creating an amalgamation of male and female sexual structures that looked very much like those produced when the Wnt4 or R-spondin1 genes were mutated or missing.

    “That tells us very conclusively that beta-catenin is an internal regulator of this pathway,” Yao said.

    To see how the absence of beta-catenin would affect testes formation, the researchers repeated the experiment in embryos in the early stages of testes development.

    “When we looked at the testes without beta-catenin,” Yao said, “they developed just fine.”

    The results were so unexpected that the researchers conducted the experiment again and again to test their findings.

    “When I looked at the results in the testes I couldn’t believe it. How could such an important gene like beta-catenin function differently in males and females?” Yao said. (…snip…)

    Yao said his team’s findings provided some support for the “Z” hypothesis, with beta-catenin acting as a vital intermediary in a pathway that includes Wnt4 and R-spondin1 to suppress the development of male sex organs.

    Okay, that’s something to go on! The “Z” hypothesis, that testis development is the default, with unexpected research results to support it!!

    But, unfortunately, it turns out that searching for “Z hypothesis” in Pub Med leads to nothing useful (only bird sex stuff, since Z is one of the avian sex chromosomes). Searching google for “Z hypothesis embryonic sexual development” brings up multiple sites reporting this same news story, also this abstract (I can’t access the full paper but also am having trouble parsing the “Conclusion”, which reads (in its entirety, via copy/paste): “Mullerian theory is actual up today, but thare is necessery to evaluate according development of new technology devices. The new hypothesis of morphogenesis had suggested, allows to explane female normal and abnormal genital organs embryonal development.” (sic)

    Well, okay. The “Z” hypothesis seems to have fallen into the wastebin of (recent scientific) history.

    Next step, let’s see what we can find about what the senior researcher, Humphrey Yao, has had to say on this topic since 11/2008. There are several ways to do this. Google finds that he’s now at the NIH, where he “leads the Developmental Reproductive Biology Group in the Laboratory of Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology at NIEHS/NIH”; his web page where “Synapses of two major projects are provided…” The entire #2 there seems relevant & says (bolding added):

    Define the cellular and molecular processes that lead to sexually dimorphic establishment of the reproductive tracts

    Before sexual differentiation occurs, embryos are anatomically bisexual as they possess both male and female reproductive tracts. These two tracts derive from two separate progenitor systems in the fetal mesonephros: Wolffian duct for the male tract and Müllerian duct for the female tract. In the male embryos, Wolffian ducts are maintained by testis-derived androgens while Müllerian duct undergo regression induced by anti-Müllerian hormone, also a product of testes. Female embryos, which do not produce androgens or anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), experience the opposite where Müllerian ducts are maintained and Wolffian ducts undergo regression. In search of novel regulators in this process, we discovered the presence of orphan nuclear receptor COUPTFII in the mesenchyme of the mesonephros. Inactivation of COUPTFII specifically in the mesonephric mesenchyme leads to maintenance of both Wolffian and Müllerian ducts in the male and female mouse embryos, a typical case of pseudohermaphroditism. The affected embryos still have sex-specific production of hormones (androgen and AMH), indicating that hormonal abnormality is not responsible for the pseudohermaphroditic phenotypes of the reproductive tracts. Instead, COUPTFII in the mesenchyme of the mesonephros appears to be a molecular switch that controls the decision-making process of the identity of reproductive tract progenitors.

    So, what I see there is his blurb saying that his group is inducing mutations in one gene (in XX and XY mice with otherwise normal sex development genes) to elucidate its apparent role as a molecular switch for both the Wolffian and Müllerian systems. But also that he currently has no reason to assert that, in the absence of androgens & anti-Müllerian hormone, normal embryos do not develop as female. That’s the female=default model.

    Searching Yao HH in Pub Med, turns up this list (some are others w/ same initials & last name, but the first page lists several papers on gonadal development) A couple are reviews titled “How to make a gonad.” I’ll get to those later. One is a review published in 2012; the full paper is available free. The abstract concludes with: “Here, we review current findings on the roles of hedgehog signaling in the sexually dimorphic development of the reproductive organs with an emphasis on mammals and comparative evidence in other species.”

    The word “default” does not occur in that paper, but it does contain this in the Introduction (bolding added):

    In mammals, sexually dimorphic establishment of the reproductive system follows three distinct steps. Initial sex determination (also known as chromosomal sex determination) occurs at the time of fertilization when sperm carrying either a Y or X chromosome fuses with the X chromosome-bearing oocyte (Welshons and Russell 1959). Once sex chromosome composition of the embryos is established (XY vs. XX), the second step (primary or gonadal sex determination) proceeds, in which the gonadal structure (testis or ovary) is specified. The sex-determining gene on the Y chromosome (SRY) is both necessary and sufficient to initiate testis morphogenesis (Koopman et al. 1991; Lovell-Badge and Robertson 1990). On the other hand, in the XX embryo, the absence of the SRY gene results in the initial formation of the ovary. … Initially, the Wolffian and Müllerian ducts, the precursors of the male and female reproductive tracts, respectively, develop in both male and female embryos (Kobayashi and Behringer 2003). In male embryos, the testes produce anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) and testosterone, which cause Müllerian duct regression and differentiation of the Wolffian duct into the epididymis, vas deferens, and seminal vesicles, respectively. Female embryos do not produce these hormones, and therefore, the Wolffian duct regresses and the Müllerian duct is maintained and forms the oviduct, uterus, cervix, and upper part of the vagina. Androgens produced by the testes also masculinize the male external genitalia, and the absence of androgens in female leads to the development of female genitalia.

    The abstract and paper both focus on the hedgehog signaling pathway; from the abstract (bolding added):

    The chromosome status of the mammalian embryo initiates a multistage process of sexual development in which the bipotential reproductive system establishes itself as either male or female. These events are governed by intricate cell–cell and interorgan communication that is regulated by multiple signaling pathways. The hedgehog signaling pathway was originally identified for its key role in the development of Drosophila, but is now recognized as a critical developmental regulator in many species, including humans. In addition to its developmental roles, the hedgehog signaling pathway also modulates adult organ function, and misregulation of this pathway often leads to diseases, such as cancer.

    (The body of the paper lists the following cancers as, at least at times, related to “aberrant regulation of the hedgehog signaling pathway” as “basal cell carcinoma, medulloblastoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, and glioma”.)

    Some of those adult manifestations include female infertility, which seems to fit with the comments about development of fully functional ovaries that I mentioned in posts above.

    There’s a bunch of details about studies on the role of this pathway in sexual development. Leaving many details out, the bottom line seems to be:
    1) Male: “These findings highlight the importance of a properly tuned hedgehog signaling pathway in spermatogenesis” and “…. Together, these data point to a role for the hedgehog signaling pathway and its downstream components in the regulation of the fetal Leydig cell population.” (Leydig cells are in the testis.)

    2) Female: “The hedgehog signaling pathway is inactive in the fetal ovary” … “This inactive state of the hedgehog signaling pathway is necessary, otherwise it triggers the ectopic appearance of fetal Leydig cells.” Later, however, this pathway is active in the ovary, with disruption associated with infertility.

    Yao’s 2013 review, “How to make a gonad: cellular mechanisms governing formation of the testes and ovaries” is available for free here. The one place “default” appears in that paper is here (bolding added):

    Ovary formation was for many years considered to be the default gonad development pathway, followed only in the absence of SRY expression. We now know that a number of essential ovary-specific factors exist (β-catenin, follistatin, FOXL2, R-spondin, and WNT4) without which ovary development cannot take place (see other reviews in this issue and Liu et al. [2010a]).

    But it wasn’t “ovary formation”, it was embryonic development forming a phenotypic female, primarily external genitalia of female phenotype (though it may have been assumed that that included development of a fully functional ovary for all of normal adulthood).

    The abstract for Yao’s review e-published 1/2014 titled “How to make a gonad: Insights into Establishment of Somatic Cell Lineages in the Mouse” is here. I can’t access the paper itself, but the abstract says (bolding added): “It is now clear that ovarian differentiation is a coordinate event driven by secreted factors including R-spondin1, WNT4, and follistatin and transcriptional regulators such as β-catenin and FOXL2. These factors direct bipotential somatic cell lineages toward an ovarian fate and simultaneously suppress the emergence of testis-determining processes.”

    So, to put this all together: delving further finds that (as one new report put it) “The new theory, the “Z” hypothesis, [which] proposes that testes development is actually the default pathway” seems to have fizzled out and the researcher whose findings led to the press release & news reports claiming that seems not to have any issue with the model that development into a female is the default position except that differentiation of the ovary – not formation, but differentiation e.g. full function that develops AFTER fetal development into F or M – is an active process.

    Which is pretty much what I found yesterday on poking around to find more than Wikipedia had to say…just because Wikipedia didn’t have much to say, and – yes – seemed to express some reservations.

  270. hjhornbeck says

    Skep tickle @267:

    Matt Cavanaugh:

    As Hornbeck’s understanding of genetics & evolution seems to have come exclusively from the writings of existentialist philosophers, gender studies classes, the Transgender Manifesto, and cursory skims of wikipedia entries

    That wasn’t my comment, it was Matt’s. But is it inaccurate?

    [eyebrow twitch]

    There are 78 URLs in the full script. That’s only a subset of the citations, as many of the papers I reference are hidden behind pay-walls and therefore could not be linked to. A half-decent count of MLA-style citations that excludes URLs adds 31 more. There’s also six non-MLA citations that I could eyeball. That makes for 115 citations, give or take a few (as I’m not sure I properly counted double-citations).

    Every time I linked to Wikipedia, it was via URL, which makes it easy to extract just those. Here they are, in Steersman-o-Vision:

    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micropenis”;
    2) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphallia”;
    3) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ovo-testes”;
    4) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaicism”;
    5) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender”;
    6) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Jump_Cannon”;
    7) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_goodenough”;
    8) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Terman”;
    9) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Publication_bias”;
    10) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Money”;
    11) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_chromosome#Discovery”;
    12) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y_chromosome#Discovery”;
    13) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gonadal_dysgenesis”;
    14) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactase_persistence#Evolutionary_history”;
    15) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testis_determining_factor”;
    16) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_piracy”;
    17) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_the_military_by_country”;

    Presented this way, I have an easier time annotating each:

    1, 2, 3, 4) Mentioned in passing as evidence sex is more complicated than I described. All are irrelevant to my arguments, and thus never relied on.
    5) Mentioned as a good reference for further info on gender. As I defended de Beauvior’s description of gender, which isn’t mentioned in the Wikipedia article, and which I first read about in a gender studies class via Marxists.org, this too is irrelevant.
    6, 7, 8) Mentioned in passing for those interested in a biography. Irrelevant.
    9) Mentioned as a general overview of the subject, as an alternative to a more in-depth and math-heavy adjacent citation which I relied on instead. Irrelevant.
    10) Mentioned in passing for those interested in a biography. Irrelevant.
    11, 12) Referenced to give historical background on the discovery of the X and Y chromosomes. Irrelevant.
    13) Mentioned as a general overview of the subject, as an alternative to a more in-depth and jargon-heavy adjacent citation which I relied on instead. Irrelevant.
    14) Whoops, forgot about this one. While I remember scanning two or three references, I’m betting that I went with the Wikipedia citation as the argument it supports is relatively unimportant.
    15) One pleasant surprise during my research was that some geneticists were pushing to rename SRY, as by the mid-90’s it was obvious more than one gene determined sex. I didn’t want to give away the game prematurely, though, so I only referred to it as SRY during the lecture. A Wikipedia link made for a handy citation, though, as it allowed me to both give away the full name while linking to a general overview of the gene. Otherwise, it was irrelevant.
    16, 17) Someone in the YouTube comments brought up the “man the hunter” myth. I was surprised at how tough it was to pull up good non-Wikipedia references to women as soldiers, though, and given it was only to support one of three major claims, was done in a rush, and was placed next to three non-Wikipedia citations, I didn’t feel bad about letting these slip in. However, these two citations post-date my speech, and so are irrelevant.

    That leaves 98 non-Wikipedia citations. There’s also this casual throwaway line:

    Hyde’s done quite a bit more, too, and her published work had a major impact on this document.

    Which was very true; her “Gender Similarities Hypothesis” paper led me to track down Woolley via Google Scholar at least four months ago, which got me hooked on historical views of gender. With one or two exceptions due to Hyde’s excellent citations, I used Scholar to track down the historic meta-analyses. Each of those were grabbed via the University of Calgary’s library, either electronically or in hardcopy. Off the top of my head, I think I read or skimmed about dozen physical books, of which only eight or so made it into the final citation list. They formed a stack about a foot and a half high, which I planned to show off if anyone asked for citations during the Q&A.

    That’s how the full script wound up peppered with long direct quotes and page references, as I either copy-pasted or manually typed them in.

    If you paid close attention during the video, you would have noticed that copy of “The Greatest Show on Earth” didn’t have a library tag on it. That’s my own copy, one of six books by Dawkins that I own (not counting a few more I listened to via audiobook), plus this odd little twenty-page mini-book pulled from a larger tome of his. I only needed to reference the one, though, because my talk didn’t rely on evolution; my theses were that sex and gender were social constructions, after all, which I could easily tackle without referring to shifting allele frequencies. Cavanaugh could never even bring himself to read my citations, let alone grasp that subtle bit of reasoning.

    Speaking of which:

    Shouldn’t do this (don’t have time) but I’m looking at HJ’s google doc, which I’d only skimmed before. [...]

    On page 1, in the comment on Helen Wooley, HJ writes [...]

    On page 4, near the bottom, HJ writes “The next major review of gender differences came in 1927, from a woman with the second-best name in all of science: Florence Goodenough.” In the comment on that, he adds: “First place, by a landslide, is the astronomer and computer [sic] Annie Jump Cannon…” [...]

    Second, just to pull out one of the topics that’s more ‘medical’ (since that’s how I swing): “PMS”. A bit more than halfway through the document [...] The findings in the review paper you cited by Romans et al, of the 41 studies with 15 or more participants were (from the body of the paper, which I accessed & read)

    In other words, you at least skimmed past those 98 non-Wikipedia references, and the irrelevant Wikipedia ones too. You saw the book citations, and the quotes pulled from them.

    AND YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I STUDIED IN ORDER TO MAKE THIS LECTURE?!

    Just for the lulz, I did a quick hand-count of your citations here and on Cavanaugh’s two posts. I spotted eight Wikipedia references, out of fourteen total links plus three book/lecture citations. Some of those are even relied on as accurate and quoted at length.

    I specifically mentioned that you do not seem to do so and because you were using it, I was also going to use it. (For biomedical topics, I start with Pub Med, looking at recent case reports & the discussion therein, or (where available) larger case series, and also recent reviews as they have often compiled relevant references from the past several years, and older references still considered key. It can be really useful to look at other publications by the same author(s) – sometimes you see that they have an axe to grind, or a position that’s not mainstream & is being disputed by others – and for old references it’s useful to look for subsequent publications, which will sometimes expand on, or correct, or re-explain, and so on.)

    So your belief that I was using poor references constrained you to use poor references as well?

    In addition to the eight Wikipedia references, you also mentioned a book, New Scientist, one of Cavanaugh’s posts, three works of Dawkins, something on statistical significance, and an online dictionary. I only see one link you could have plausibly grabbed from PubMed. Where are all those PubMed citations, if you rely on it so heavily?

    You’re done, Skep tickle. If you’re so blind as to miss out on all those citations, even after you read them, you’re not worth my time. If you’re so heavily reliant on Wikipedia, despite claiming to be an expert, you’re not worth taking seriously.

  271. hjhornbeck says

    Also, Steersman, I note you’ve cited Wikipedia 18 times out of 29 total citations in this thread. You might want to up your game.

  272. Skep tickle says

    You’re done, Skep tickle. If you’re so blind as to miss out on all those citations, even after you read them, you’re not worth my time. If you’re so heavily reliant on Wikipedia, despite claiming to be an expert, you’re not worth taking seriously.

    What a laugh. You’re not addressing my comments about your cherry picking, & (related) my use of Wikipedia because of your use of Wikipedia in the discussions online (that’s what I referenced, see above). Nor Pitchguest’s comments about pitfalls with your “charge that sex is a social construct”. Your argument that the biological definition & description of sex that people are presenting “ha[s] only a tenuous correspondence to how the rest of society views sex” fits nicely in a circular pattern with your argument that sex is a social construct.

    A comment of mine from ~4 hrs ago demonstrating the type of review that one can reasonably make to address your claim that male development is the default is in moderation, probably due to the # of links. (Not that any argument about embryonic sexual development you might make meshes all that well with your argument that sex – not gender, but sex – is a social construct.)

    It is too bad that PZ didn’t wish to continue participating in this thread. His expertise in biology could have been quite useful to the conversation.

  273. Guestus Aurelius says

    @HJ Hornbeck:

    So Skep tickle is “done” because of a question made in passing that irked you, even though she’s been participating seriously and dropping knowledge left and right?

    Why are you making this about you and your lecture rather than addressing the topic under discussion? It’s like an auto–ad-hominem: you stifle progress in the debate when you’re losing by putting yourself at the center of attention. It would have sufficed to say, “Yes, Skep tickle, Cavanaugh’s assessment of my research was indeed inaccurate, as evidenced by the sources I’ve cited.” Then you could have gotten the conversation back on track. I can’t be the only one who senses that getting the conversation back on track is precisely what you don’t want.

    Lurkers should know that this isn’t the first time HJ Hornbeck has summarily dismissed Skep tickle for reasons that have nothing to do with the topic but everything to do with his ego:

    Skep tickle wrote:

    Re your lecture: I watched a few minutes, ran out of time, so instead read it (skimming parts). I do apologize for not remembering everything you covered. I do know that you used other sources for your talk, and in some of your comments here; in fact, I recall commenting in quite a bit of detail about the PMS review article you used, and above I commented on the 1975 hematology journal article you cited. However, here you have used Wikipedia a fair amount, so seemed unlikely to dismiss that source out of hand, as some people do. (Especially when I quoted the 6 sentences immediately before the part you quoted. That’s got to be fair, right?)

    I can explain my not recalling the details of your talk: overloaded with too much to do, too little time to do it. I am a working mother, physician, medical director of a women’s clinic, as active in the atheist/skeptic/humanist community in my area as I can be, and also a member of the sandwich generation. I’m an only child whose parents are elderly and live in different states. About a week before you gave your talk, while I was 1000 miles from home for a week of work in another state all together, my father had a cardiac arrest. Since then, he has had coronary artery bypass surgery and, in a separate procedure, implantation of a pacemaker-defibrillator. He was in the hospital for 17 days. He’s now home, and I’ve been staying with him for the past week, helping take care of him, which has included everything from some tasks I hadn’t had to do since my child was an infant, to taking him to the clinic for follow up visits & labs (no fewer than 8 times in the past week), to getting up on a ladder in the snow today to clean out the gutters because his roof was leaking. Though busy, I’m not going to apologize for trying to pop in for a few minutes here & there to catch up on what else is going on. I should be working on a journal article I have halfway done and a talk I’m giving in a couple of weeks at a women’s health conference but it’s awfully hard to get sustained time to focus on those.

    As a skeptic, I’m interested in the general topic of “Evidence-based feminism” but think your focus fit better with “Feminism-based opinion”. As someone with biology training who works with people with ALL SORTS of “anomalies” and “disorders” (not just of “sex”) I think the viewpoint you put forth is well-meaning but tries to force a PC-viewpoint on biology.

    [Link, Steersman-style: "_http://skeptischism.com/atheismneat/2014/02/16/sex-free-evolutionary-biology/#comment-178"]

    HJ Hornbeck responded:

    I can sympathize. But why would you comment on something you don’t fully understand, as if you did understand it? Why would you pose a question, when you don’t know if it’s already been answered? You’re still doing it, in fact:

    Your best course of action isn’t to comment, it’s to take care of your work, then take some time to fully listen or read my lecture, and then comment.

    [Link, Steersman-style: "_http://skeptischism.com/atheismneat/2014/02/16/sex-free-evolutionary-biology/#comment-179"]

    HJ Hornbeck, is it a habit of yours to talk down to and dismiss accomplished women you disagree with? Or do you only do this when they’re really mopping the floor with you?

    As for the topic itself:

    Sure, sexual dimorphism is a “construct.” That’s because literally every concept and word is a construct, by definition. But it’s not merely a construct—it’s an extraordinarily useful one that models reality quite closely. And that’s the whole point of science, isn’t it? To build up a body of useful constructs that model reality ever more closely?

    That the “sexual dimorphism” construct models reality quite well is plain to see. Almost exactly 50% of humans are genotypically and phenotypically female, and almost exactly the remaining 50% are genotypically and phenotypically male. Sexual reproduction in our species requires one female gamete and one male gamete (spare me the lecture on exceptions recently made possible in laboratories—a dishonest derail if I’ve ever seen one).

    Those are indisputable facts. Yes, said facts rely on certain definitions, which are, in turn, “constructs,” but so what? Labeling, categorizing, and defining are things that we have to do, and they’re absolutely essential to making sense of the world around us and communicating with each other.

    As is the case with pretty much anything, sexual reproduction and biological sex get fairly complex as you learn more about them. But again, so what? Reality is messy, and (good) scientists are fully aware of that. Exceptions to extremely statistically significant results do not invalidate the results. Why pick on biological sex in particular?

    Finally, I’d like to stress that from an evolutionary perspective, our whole bodies are little more than complicated pieces of reproductive machinery, and all the intimations I’ve seen in this thread and at Cavanaugh’s blog that there’s a significant degree of arbitrariness in how we define “biological sex” seem to miss this fundamental point. If we agree that it’s concepts—not words—that we’re after, then just forget the messy details for a moment and look at the big picture:

    All sexually reproducing eukaryotic organisms derive from a common ancestor which was a single celled eukaryotic species. … There are a few species which have secondarily lost this feature, such as Bdelloidea and some parthenocarpic plants.” Link, Steersman-style: “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_sexual_reproduction”

    Our bodies, along with the bodies of “all sexually reproducing eukaryotic organisms,” are the evolutionary byproducts of gametically dimorphic forms “competing” for resources in various environments for well over 1.2 billion years. People, dogs, cats, birds, fish, dinosaurs, trilobites, trees, mushrooms—we can all trace our ancestry back to the earliest gametically dimorphic unicellular blobs. What we all have in common (except for the “few species which have secondarily” evolved in other directions) is gametic dimorphism.

    The messy details of “biological sex” itself are evolutionary byproducts of gametic dimorphism. All this talk about “secondary sex characteristics”—from an evolutionary perspective, it’s secondary sex characteristics all the way down, genotype included. The statistically very significant binary clustering of genotypic and phenotypic sex characteristics is real, and there’s nothing arbitrary about it. That the binary clustering isn’t an absolute is neither a secret nor a blow to the concept of sexual dimorphism.

    Our definitions of “biological sex” and “sexual dimorphism” are unarguably useful and help form a coherent picture of sexually reproducing species, past and present (and future!). Where’s the beef?

  274. Schala says

    Our definitions of “biological sex” and “sexual dimorphism” are unarguably useful and help form a coherent picture of sexually reproducing species, past and present (and future!). Where’s the beef?

    The beef is how they are applied socially, by the government, by religion, by corporate interests, by communities, by schools, by people who own sex-segregated bathrooms, by people who host single-sex stuff.

  275. Guestus Aurelius says

    The beef is how they are applied socially, by the government, by religion, by corporate interests, by communities, by schools, by people who own sex-segregated bathrooms, by people who host single-sex stuff.

    All of which is irrelevant to the question of whether the definitions of “biological sex” and “sexual dimorphism” are sound and useful to scientists.

  276. Guestus Aurelius says

    Please allow me to correct myself:

    I was probably mistaken when I referred to “gametically dimorphic unicellular blobs.” The unicellular blobs in question would have exhibited some primordial version of sexual reproduction, but my guess is that the word “gamete” (a mature germ cell) can’t really apply to unicellular organisms.

    A more accurate sentence might go something like this:

    “People, dogs, cats, birds, fish, dinosaurs, trilobites, trees, mushrooms—we can all trace our ancestry back to the earliest unicellular blobs that exhibited some primordial version of sexual reproduction and from which gametic dimorphism evolved.”

  277. Guestus Aurelius says

    And to expand my correction:

    Gametic dimorphism is actually thought to have evolved independently more than once, and those earliest unicellular blobs that exhibited some primordial version of sexual reproduction were surely isogamous.

    And there are still many sexually reproducing species that don’t exhibit gametic dimorphism—I mistakenly ignored them in my earlier post. (I’m not a biologist. Can you tell?)

    Still, isogamous and anisogamous eukaryotes alike share a common unicellular ancestor, and, more to the point, our ancestors were anisogamous long, long, long, long, long before most of our genotypic and phenotypic sex characteristics evolved.

    So my big-picture evolutionary point still stands: sexual dimorphism is a byproduct of gametic dimorphism.

  278. Skep tickle says

    Guestus Aurelius, bravo/a.

    Schala #282 (which may turn into #283 if my comment in moderation is approved):

    Our definitions of “biological sex” and “sexual dimorphism” are unarguably useful and help form a coherent picture of sexually reproducing species, past and present (and future!). Where’s the beef?

    The beef is how they are applied socially, by the government, by religion, by corporate interests, by communities, by schools, by people who own sex-segregated bathrooms, by people who host single-sex stuff.

    Yes, absolutely, as long as we also include “gender”, “gender identity”, and “gender expression” among the “factors” leading to constraints & restrictions – that gets back to the OP. :)

    But the pushback HJ has been getting is against his apparent wish to redefine the biological view of sex so that there are 0, 1, 3, or a continuum of sexes – any number but 2. (That came out more in discussion at Matt’s site.)

    My own initial foray in this thread was in #235 and included this (bolding added here; the quote cites Ally on gender, sex, and sexual orientation from the opening blog post):

    Speaking of those “related, independent, often overlapping but sometimes far removed” aspects of people: “Sex” in this thread is being used in several ways (ranging from the biological meaning of “sex”, to phenotypic manifestations of sex, to societal assignment of sex, to gender identity), the conflation of which, I think, has contributed significantly to the hullabaloo.

    I’m quite sympathetic to Schala’s experiences, including her point about the uselessness of having M/F among the demographics that the front desk expects to collect at the doctor’s office, when it truly should not matter to them, and when having only 2 choices is truly too limiting (because of the variation in phenotypic sex as well as in gender identity).

    But that doesn’t change the biological view of “sex”, including that humans are a sexually dimorphic species. And of course that biological view does not negate the feelings or experiences of individuals, including gender expression and sexual orientation, just that humans (as a species) reproduce – propagate the species – using sexually dimorphic reproductive systems, one M and one F.

    HJ closed his FtBCon talk (at least in his script posted at Lousy Canuck) by saying, “Sex really is a social construct, then, exactly as the Transfeminist Manifesto claims”.

    In the google doc HJ has previously linked elsewhere, he “hint[ed, then stated] that atheism and feminism share a common bond. … It’s skepticism. Funny thing, science shares that too.

    HJ, you’re having skepticism applied to your claims. IF you are finding yourself angry or uncomfortable, you might find it useful to examine that response and clarify (for yourself, or all of us) where the disconnect is. IF it boils down to “the name of the thing is not the thing”, I’ll probably leave further discussions to linguists & metaphysicians. IF, instead, I/we are misunderstanding you, and you are NOT trying to dismantle the “biological meaning of sex” but instead to challenge societal assumptions related to “phenotypic manifestations of sex, [and/or] societal assignment of sex, [and/or] gender identity”, now would be a great time to make that clear.

  279. Skep tickle says

    Quotefail, my next-to-last paragraph above should read:

    In the google doc HJ has previously linked elsewhere, he “hint[ed, then stated] that atheism and feminism share a common bond. … It’s skepticism.” (italicized phrase & bolding added by me) Funny thing, science shares that too.

  280. Guestus Aurelius says

    And just to drive the point home, here is a brand new study on early isogamete differentiation that concludes, “This first comprehensive transcriptomic study of protist isogametes describes considerable adaptation to distinct sexual roles, suggesting that functional anisogamy precedes morphological differentiation” (this quotation is from the abstract).

    Link: “_http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3879662/”

    Almost all of that article goes way above my head, so someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that the authors are interpreting their results as evidence that even from the very beginning, sexual dimorphism was a result of gametic dimorphism.

    (But really, even if it wasn’t like that from the start, would anybody dispute that the subsequent history of evolving sexual dimorphism is primarily a story of natural selection? At the very least, isn’t it clear that the sexual dimorphism we observe today is an evolutionary byproduct of anisogamy? FFS, someone tell me if I’m embarrassingly off-base here!)

  281. hjhornbeck says

    Sheaf @283:

    I can [only] agree with Guestus Aurelius.

    [snicker]
    Guestus Aurelius @281:

    So Skep tickle is “done” because of a question made in passing that irked you, even though she’s been participating seriously and dropping knowledge left and right?

    Her passing comment was sufficient to demonstrate she wasn’t participating seriously, and in gathering research for my reply I realized she was dropping less knowledge than I’d thought.

    Why are you making this about you and your lecture rather than addressing the topic under discussion?

    The proper response is to ignore that person, not to continue the derail. If we were getting sufficiently off-topic, Fogg would issue a warning. He’s done so before.

    I can’t be the only one who senses that getting the conversation back on track is precisely what you don’t want.

    The proper response is to bring the topic back on track, not to bring up a potential ad-hominim made on someone else’s blog, thus derailing the topic even further.

    Lurkers should know that this isn’t the first time HJ Hornbeck has summarily dismissed Skep tickle for reasons that have nothing to do with the topic but everything to do with his ego

    You know quite a bit about what’s going on in my head. But I should live up to my own advice: when multiple people disagree about the interpretation of something, the best response is to link to the evidence and let others decide for themselves. As “you were condescending to Skep tickle, ergo your ideas are false” isn’t much of argument, that’s the last I’ll comment on it.

    Sure, sexual dimorphism is a “construct.” That’s because literally every concept and word is a construct, by definition.

    Excellent, someone who agrees with me! Is that a coincidence, or did my words manage to persuade you?

    But it’s not merely a construct—it’s an extraordinarily useful one that models reality quite closely.

    [smacks forehead]

    hjhornbeck @135:

    A social construct is just a model of the universe shared between people. Newtonian Mechanics is a social construct, as is Keynesian economics and the 80/20 rule. We use these constructs to simplify and predict complicated, messy interactions. Some of them work better than others, and the two-sex model is on the better side of the scale.

    Guestus Aurelius @281:

    And that’s the whole point of science, isn’t it? To build up a body of useful constructs that model reality ever more closely?

    hjhornbeck @135:

    Where things go wrong is when, well, things go wrong. What happens when some of the predictions of Newtonian Mechanics don’t come true? [...]
    A Newtonian constructivist, in contrast, would go “huh, I guess reality is more complicated than we thought.” They’d see if there was any way to modify Newtonian Mechanics to accommodate the missed predictions, or start drafting another, better model to replace it.

    One rhetorical strategy for dealing with an argument you can’t argue against is to claim it as your own, and paint the other person making that argument as instead holding a more extreme version. I hope you’re not trying to pull that on me.

    Sexual reproduction in our species requires one female gamete and one male gamete (spare me the lecture on exceptions recently made possible in laboratories—a dishonest derail if I’ve ever seen one).

    Exceptions that would disprove your argument are considered derailing, eh? You’re pretty good at rhetoric, I’ll grant you that.

    Exceptions to extremely statistically significant results do not invalidate the results.

    hjhornbeck @135:

    An Newtonian realist would argue we discard them as “defects” which diverge from the Newtonian ideal. They not only aren’t a threat to our views, the fact that they happen so rarely actually PROVES Newtonian Mechanics is a fundamental part of reality!

    You’re hopping between the realist and constructivist viewpoint, exactly when such a hop would be useful to you.

    Why pick on biological sex in particular?

    hjhornbeck @8:

    For background, three weeks ago I did a lecture on sex and gender differences, and one of my two core theses was that sex was a social construct. So [when Fogg says] something like

    Who is saying that physical sex is not really real? Is anyone making that argument?

    [it] looks like it’s aimed directly at my talk.

    I didn’t realize that correcting something in the OP, or talking about our models of sex, was on the “don’t pick on this” list.

    All sexually reproducing eukaryotic organisms derive from a common ancestor which was a single celled eukaryotic species.

    … uh, why are you bringing up an irrelevant topic?
    Hjhornbeck @278:

    my talk didn’t rely on evolution; my theses were that sex and gender were social constructions, after all, which I could easily tackle without referring to shifting allele frequencies.

    Oh wait, here we go:

    The messy details of “biological sex” itself are evolutionary byproducts of gametic dimorphism.

    Yep. The only actual argument in your comment is that there are two sexes because there are two gametes. I first encountered that three weeks ago, and while in hindsight my first response wasn’t that effective, I think I recovered handily.

    You seem to be saying “because we need two gametes to make a person, there are two sexes,” but that’s not true; it’s only a hop-skip-and-ethics-review-board-plus-decades-of-research from Dolly the sheep to Dolly the human, someone who developed from no gametes at all. There’s also identical twins, which you could argue are one person sometimes cloning off from another, gamete-free. This also denies our common experience; we use something about a person’s appearance and behaviour to determine their sex, and that’s influenced by genes, hormones, and other environmental factors. The number of gametes needed never enters the equation.

    Over there, I also brought up de Beauvoir’s seventy-year-old arguments against that, species-wide hermaphrodites that have two gametes but one sex, and parthenogenesis. Over here, @220 we’ve had one-sex asexual reproducers, and @252 we’ve had sexual reproduction without gametes. Your argument has been refuted repeatedly over the last three weeks, from multiple angles.
    Again, I’ll tip my hat to your rhetorical skill, but your post was all rhetorical bark and no intellectual bite. It’ll look convincing to someone skimming over it, but not to anyone who delves into the details.

  282. Skep tickle says

    HJ @290 (current numbering):

    Over here, @220 we’ve had one-sex asexual reproducers, and @252 we’ve had sexual reproduction without gametes. Your argument has been refuted repeatedly over the last three weeks, from multiple angles.

    For the most part, we are talking about “wild type” Homo sapiens sapiens, using other organisms for bigger-picture or backdrop or evolutionary history. Has that not been clear? I thought it was, since you started on this to show something about the social functioning of our species.

    Oh, and Dolly DID require a gamete. Just sayin’. (Like I did in #272.) It was enucleated before use, but it was a gamete. There was also a “uterus” and “estrogen” involved. ;)

    HJ @252:

    Adding on to sheaf @251, at #220 I mentioned a number of species that are one-sex sexual reproducers, one-sex asexual reproducers, two-sex but can reproduce both sexually and asexually, or two-sex sexual reproducers that sometimes reproduce asexually. I met my biologist friend today, who again reminded me to look into fungal reproduction if I wanted a mind trip.

    It totally was. All the examples I’ve listed so far have gametes at some point, specialized cells that exist just for reproductive purposes.
    Some fungi don’t have gametes at all, though, yet reproduce sexually. Two individuals will grow towards one another and fuse cells, resulting in a hybrid. While it wasn’t at the link above …

    continues in @253

    While it wasn’t in the link above, I’m pretty sure my biologist friend also described a form of mating akin to mosiacism, where the cells *don’t* fuse, resulting in a organism that mixes both types of cells. Even if I’m mistaken about what they said, there was no mistaking their agreement that biology is mostly exceptions without rules. Names and definitions are just guidelines, and no biologist would be surprised by an organism that failed to live by the categories we’ve constructed.

    And that includes “male” and “female.”

    “…no mistaking their agreement that biology is mostly exceptions without rules”. I suspect that IF your friend(s) said that, they had something different in mind than you do. There are indeed general principles. The specifics may differ, between species (or classes or Kingdoms). That doesn’t mean every individual runs on exceptions that aren’t covered by rules, or that “male” and “female” is mostly wrought with exceptions without any rules.

    “…no biologist would be surprised by an organism that failed to live by the categories we’ve constructed.” Not surprised that there are all sorts of mutations and anomalies that can occur as part of the copying and transcription of nucleic acids, both inherent to the (imperfect biological) process and to influences from the environment? Sure.

    Not surprised by an organism that manifests something different from what’s been described before? That might or might not be a surprise, and it would be an opportunity to learn more about the process & controls & variations; it likely carries 1 or more mutations in its genetic code, or has been exposed to some significant environmental effect. Studying these is largely how progress has been made in biology.

    Not surprised by an organism that doesn’t follow basic biological principles? That would warrant a search for trickery, first. You know – a skeptical approach. ;)

    Back the the microbiology blog you linked that didn’t explain (that you saw) the type of somatic cell fusion you understood could exist:
    The page you linked says: “The ability to reproduce asexually is common to almost all fungi.”

    From halfway down the page: “…most fungi have a sexual phase. To achieve sexual reproduction it is necessary to have two mating type haploid nuclei (n + n), or a diploid (2n) nucleus.”

    I’m no mycologist, but here’s what I see/find:
    a) There’s discussion at that page of other several approaches that rely on “two mating type nuclei”.
    b) You might find it useful to search “parasexual reproduction” for more info. Definition of parasexual is: “relating to or being reproduction that results in recombination of genes from different individuals but does not involve meiosis and formation of a zygote by fertilization as in sexual reproduction” (Merriam-Webster).

    Here’s one lead, presented steers-style, with a small quote presented below:
    “_http://bugs.bio.usyd.edu.au/learning/resources/Mycology/Reprodn_Dispersal/recombination.shtml#parasexual”

    Segregation following meiosis leads to controlled separation of chromatids into nuclei, whereas in the parasexual the haploid state is attained following loss of chromosomes.

    The parasexual cycle is less efficient than the sexual cycle, and is really only of value when enormous numbers of offspring are placed under selection pressure. The variation attained from parasexual recombination is slight in comparison to a meiotic recombination event.

    So, yes, by all means, let’s talk about parasexual reproduction in fungi to help inform us on whether or not the biological view of sex, particularly in Homo sapiens sapiens, is nothing but a cultural construct. [/tinge of sarcasm]

  283. says

    Hjhornbeck 135

    Where things go wrong is when, well, things go wrong. What happens when some of the predictions of Newtonian Mechanics don’t come true? [...]
    A Newtonian constructivist, in contrast, would go “huh, I guess reality is more complicated than we thought.” They’d see if there was any way to modify Newtonian Mechanics to accommodate the missed predictions, or start drafting another, better model to replace it

    I am a Newtonian realist to a certain degree. Thinking about exceptions to Newtonian theory at the pedestrian scales I usually calculate would only complicate the situation… to an extreme amount. Non Newtonian metrics are not easy to mess with and trying to improve your model in this direction would only do one thing: Open hell.

    In every given discipline except fundamental physics you will find that at a certain point the interactions of billion of moving parts are simplified into models that are presumed to be real in the discipline. In this sense I am comfortable in saying the sex binary is real for the everyday interactions of most people.

    As for your general position: Take the statement “Cheetahs run faster than humans.” I would say this statement is true even if there will be a large number of examples where it does not apply because the cheetah is crippled or some such instance. I think your position on the sex binary is comparable to someone searching for specific examples where cheetahs do not run faster than humans even though if you were to make a race an average cheetah would win an overwhelming number of times.

  284. Guestus Aurelius says

    @HJ Hornbeck:

    For the sake of clarity, when I asked, “Why pick on biological sex in particular?”, I meant it in a general sense, not in the sense of “why are you personally doing this right now?”. My point was that almost any model we use for anything will be imperfect, and that we nonetheless make generalizations when they’re useful and keep them when there’s no better substitute. One could do this with, say, televisions. Conceptually, televisions are, after all, a construct. Why categorize them together as a group? The more you learn about televisions, the more you realize how different two sets can be from one another. Yes, we even subcategorize them, but if you dig deeper, you’ll uncover the same pattern: two plasma TVs can be very different internally, so why bother labeling them the same thing? That was my point—that virtually any time we categorize and label things, things are more complex than a surface-level understanding of the generalization might suggest, and exceptions exist. Reality is messy; it’s not just biological sex. One can investigate and draw greater attention to the complexities without invalidating the useful generalizations. Baby, bathwater, etc.

    Also, I don’t think I’m hopping between the realist and constructionist views, but I suppose that I may be in your eyes, depending on your definitions. Here is my outlook: there is every indication that reality exists, and we must use concepts and words (constructs) to make sense of it and to communicate with each other about it. Some constructs prove more useful and consistent with reality than others, and those are the constructs we should try to… construct… and maintain. If, that is, we’re interested in better understanding reality (it seems to have its benefits).

    Your analogy with Newtonian mechanics fails because biologists do not claim that there are no exceptions to “sexual dimorphism.” It’s an astoundingly statistically significant generalization that still allows for exceptions. Please repeat that to yourself until you understand it.

    Sexual. Dimorphism. Allows. For. Exceptions.

    Capisce?

    Newtonian mechanics is a different story altogether because it cannot account for observable phenomena like relativistic speeds. It’s a good but incomplete model. Sexual dimorphism, on the other hand is a statistical observation that allows for exceptions, and it’s just one aspect of the coherent larger theory of modern evolutionary synthesis. Hell, the evolutionary explanation for sexual dimorphism relies heavily on mutation, the very thing responsible for many (all?) of the observed exceptions to sexual dimorphism. So sexual dimorphism and its exceptions aren’t merely compatible with one another—they’re parts of the same theory.

    Speaking of evolution, you claimed that I was bringing up “an irrelevant topic” when I brought it into the discussion. I’m puzzled by this, considering that the discussion is about scientific concepts that have, oh, I don’t know, everything to do with evolution! If you’re going to deconstruct concepts that biologists use, I think it’s fair game to point out that biologists understand sex and dimorphism as products of evolution. That being the case, do you really not see why it’s a derail to point to ways in which people have tinkered with genetics and embryology in a lab? If one were inclined to take you seriously, one might simply point out that it’s human sexual reproduction that requires a male gamete and a female gamete, and that what you’re pointing to as an exception doesn’t qualify as human sexual reproduction.

    I’ll grant that language is limited and that definitions can be slippery, which make this new technology difficult to discuss without getting our wires crossed. But I’d ask that you please grant that the concept your pointing to is not the same concept that biologists have in mind when they conceive of human sexual reproduction, which, again, has everything to do with evolution via natural selection.

    At the end of your post, you bring up “species-wide hermaphrodites that have two gametes but one sex,” parthenogenesis, “one-sex asexual reproducers,” and “sexual reproduction without gametes.” To some extent I think you’re just playing word games (would all biologists agree, for instance, that what you’ve termed “sexual reproduction without gametes” is really “sexual reproduction” at all? and more to the point, does it really matter when the concept being described is so different in a fundamental way?). But I also don’t understand what you mean when you say that my “argument has been refuted” by those phenomena. Which argument of mine do they refute? The one you quoted was, “The messy details of ‘biological sex’ itself are evolutionary byproducts of gametic dimorphism.” I stand by that (though am certainly happy to be embarrassed and corrected by biologists who know better), and I fail to see what that has to do with the phenomena you listed.

    Anyway, thanks for the compliments on my rhetoric. While I don’t much care for your style of “debate,” and while I think you’ve been willfully obtuse and a bit dishonest in this thread, I can compliment you by saying that your intelligence and thoughtfulness come through nonetheless.

    You’re still wrong.

  285. Schala says

    Yes, absolutely, as long as we also include “gender”, “gender identity”, and “gender expression” among the “factors” leading to constraints & restrictions – that gets back to the OP.

    I think gender identity is a misnomer though. People who are transsexual rarely identify with a construct of a gender role, or, in the words of TERFs, transition to wear dresses and make-up. They identify with the biological concept of sex. Something they would do even in a genderless society where everyone is raised the same and treated the same. At best, it would have less impact (you’d see a much smaller disparity between early and late transitioners, on the trans woman side), but not zero.

    Much of it is a mismatch on bodymap, on sex-typical hormones ratio, and more. Something that can’t be fixed by saying “gender is irrelevant now!”. Similar to intersex people.

    This identity to a biological concept is more important, to the individual, than the reproductive ability within that concept. In the grand scheme of things, maybe we, as a species, are meant to reproduce. But trans and intersex people are the great cosmic oopsie, in a game of numbers, where the species is nowhere near threatened by outliers not “living to their purpose (of reproducing)”.

    Thus, in legal, social, and romantic (if not reproductive) contexts, the sex identity should supersede the reproductive ability (which should only come up at times where it would come up for generic infertile people who aren’t trans). This means some might identify as both, and as neither, as completely outside the system, too. I’m on the female side, but really close to the middle. I’m not strongly female identified. But I’m stongly not-identified-as-male, though (they call it gender DYSPHORIA after all, not gender euphoria).

    Basically, and I think this should also apply to cis people, their reproductive capacity is a fun thing to know, academically, but means about nothing on a social level. That people don’t mind constructing narrative about who is “more real” than the other, similar to “real men” narratives, doesn’t change the identity of people. It only constrains everyone who doesn’t neatly fit into the mold (the majority don’t fit neatly into the mold, even women’s largely open-ended gender role nowadays is still a bad fit for many, while men’s is clearly a prison).

    Gjenganger would probably disagree with me, and say those roles are necessary, even today in 2014, or Chaos will ensue, and we all die or something. They were necessary at some time period to have some semblance of order in a world where people died on average before their 30s. They’re not, today. Nowadays they’re more bad than they are good. They are NOT a necessary evil. The ends don’t justify the means. The ends looks really bad from where I’m sitting anyways (for humans as a society). The ends should be human happiness, not humans conquering other stuff and “being the most efficient”. Raise a volunteer army if you want efficiency. Humans are meant to live happily, not be tools that are used until broken.

  286. JT says

    Humans are meant to live happily, not be tools that are used until broken(schala).

    Really, and you know this how?

  287. Steersman says

    Sheaf (#292):

    In every given discipline except fundamental physics you will find that at a certain point the interactions of billion of moving parts are simplified into models that are presumed to be real in the discipline. In this sense I am comfortable in saying the sex binary is real for the everyday interactions of most people.

    Indeed – good point. Reminds me of what might be regarded as the analogous situation with gas pressure (1). One might argue that it also is somewhat of a “social construct” or necessary simplification as it is predicated on a distribution of molecules moving at varying speeds (2). Although “sex” generally has a bimodal distribution rather than a unitary one.

    But I think the analogy highlights what I, and many others, would regard as a problematic aspect of the non-scientific worldview of many “feminists”, postmodernists, and various “social justice warriors”, i.e., a general inability to have a workable understanding of causality, and a tendency to rely on “correlation is causation”, and “next to therefore because of” (post hoc ergo propter hoc, #3) ways of thinking. A case in point being, as I mentioned above (#157), the feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray’s views that:

    From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.

    Damn patriarchy gets into everything. But crazier than shit-house rats. Dogmas – such as those manifested in “transfeminist manifestos” – do tend to seriously cloud the mind.


    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell%E2%80%93Boltzmann_distribution”;
    2) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maxwell-Boltzmann_distribution_pdf.svg”;
    3) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_hoc_ergo_propter_hoc”;

  288. Schala says

    Really, and you know this how?

    Do you aspire to fulfillment, happiness, or to conformism, and being a nice little robot who does everything he’s told?

  289. johngreg says

    Do you aspire to fulfillment, happiness, or to conformism, and being a nice little robot who does everything he’s told?

    Great googleymoogely! Is that really all there is? I thought I saw some gray out there in the vast beyond.

    Musta bin mistaked.

  290. Schala says

    Great googleymoogely! Is that really all there is? I thought I saw some gray out there in the vast beyond.

    Well, I did say humans were for happiness, not tools to be used until broken. Because efficiency be damned, living is supposed to be positive. Not a cog into the machine. We’re not a bee hive, or a ant colony. Sure, we depend on each other, but nowhere does it say we each need clear roles based on birthright.

  291. Steersman says

    Schala (#300):

    We’re not a bee hive, or an ant colony. Sure, we depend on each other, but nowhere does it say we each need clear roles based on birthright.

    Has anyone, at least here, been arguing that that should be the case? While I’ll concede that some people do so – for examples, see this on-line portion (1) from the chapter on gender in Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature – and that some people might be more suited for some roles than others, it seems a bit of a stretch for you to be suggesting, apparently, that everyone is arguing that, and that those roles are necessarily straitjackets. But those tendencies, those “sexual dimorphisms” do exist – you might be amused by this quote from the same source, quoting something from “a presentation at the National Academy of Engineering by the social scientist Patti Hausman”:

    The question of why more women don’t choose careers in engineering has a rather obvious answer: Because they don’t want to. Wherever you go, you will find females far less likely than males to see what is so fascinating about ohms, carburetors, or quarks. Reinventing the curriculum will not make me more interested in learning how my dishwasher works. [pg 352]

    Maybe a moot point how much of that is due to “nurture” and how much is due to “nature”, but a bit of a stretch to argue that none of it is due to the latter.

    However, to genuflect somewhat in the direction of the OP, I’ll concede that society does tend to have some stereotypes of which roles are appropriate which might well be characterized as being somewhat “oppressive” for some individuals. But that seems to be in “the nature of the beast”, the way the group – any group – tends to impose standards of behaviour on its members. For an interesting analogy, you might be interested in this video (2) of 32 metronomes which, because they’re coupled together through the platform they’re on, wind up synchronizing.

    —-
    1) “_http://www.pasadena.edu/files/syllabi/txcave_18360.pdf”;
    2) “_https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JWToUATLGzs”;

  292. Skep tickle says

    Schala wrote:

    …we depend on each other, but nowhere does it say we each need clear roles based on birthright.

    As Steersman said, who (here) is saying that’s the case? Though from the human biology point of view I will go way out on a limb & claim that the role of providing-big-gametes-and-gestating-the-fetus falls to some people (but not all, for a variety of reasons including but not limited to the individual’s choice) and the role of providing-small-gametes-and-not-gestating-the-fetus falls to some other people (but not to all, for a variety of reasons including but not limited to the individual’s choice), and that whether one is in the “some people” group or the “some other people” group IS based on “birthright”.

    Humans are meant to live happily, not be tools that are used until broken.

    I admire your optimism, and agree that living “well” (happily? positively? some other positive adverb?) could be among desirable goals for humanity – ideally available to all, not just some.

    But: “humans are meant to”…? “Meant to” by who or what arbiter or power? Why would that be so?

    Does everyone agree this is the purpose of life?

    And, even so, whose definition of happiness? And how would such purposed happiness be achieved or achievable? For whom? By what means? Supported by what efforts or whose efforts?

  293. hjhornbeck says

    Skep tickle @287:

    Guestus Aurelius, bravo/a.

    [giggle]

    Yeah, I know I flipped you a rhetorical middle finger, but arguing against you has strategic value. The ‘Pit views you as an authority on sex because you’re a doctor. I’m not questioning that you are one, don’t get me wrong, but anyone who knows the slightest bit about the medical profession knows that after the first year or two, doctors usually specialize. An ENT specialist or radiologist wouldn’t know much more about sex than a layperson, while a pediatrician or an endocrinologist specializing in reproduction could be considered an expert. It all depends on where you focused.

    And you never declared your specialty, as I recall. I correctly guessed I never had anything to fear from you, while the ‘Pit was holding you up as the person best placed to refute my ideas. Failure on your part would have far more effect than failure by, say, Steersman.

    All I have to do is keep you talking. ;)

    Skep tickle @291:

    Back the the microbiology blog you linked

    Blog? Actually it was an online microbiology course set up by Dr. Alan Cann, a microbiologist with 155 works published since 1983.

    So, yes, by all means, let’s talk about parasexual reproduction in fungi to help inform us on whether or not the biological view of sex, particularly in Homo sapiens sapiens, is nothing but a cultural construct. [/tinge of sarcasm]

    Another misrepresentation:

    Guestus Aurelius @281:

    People, dogs, cats, birds, fish, dinosaurs, trilobites, trees, mushrooms—we can all trace our ancestry back to the earliest gametically dimorphic unicellular blobs.

    Guestus Aurelius was arguing for the general case, and explicitly included fungi. They were not arguing for the special case of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, as you imply they were.

    Skep tickle @291:

    Oh, and Dolly DID require a gamete. Just sayin’. (Like I did in #272.) It was enucleated before use, but it was a gamete.

    Guestus Aurelius continues:

    What we all have in common (except for the “few species which have secondarily” evolved in other directions) is gametic dimorphism.

    Guestus Aurelius is arguing for the reality of two sexes on the basis that there are two types of gametes needed for reproduction. How many gametes did you say Dolly came from, again?

    Skep tickle @291:

    From halfway down the page: “…most fungi have a sexual phase. To achieve sexual reproduction it is necessary to have two mating type haploid nuclei (n + n), or a diploid (2n) nucleus.”

    Confession time: I really hesitated before using that link. I saw that line too, and went “wait, isn’t that gamete-based reproduction?” My rationale in the end was “this is a biologist discussing biology; they know their terms; so if they describe something like a gamete but don’t use that term, there’s probably something that separates it from being a gamete.”

    Thanks to you, I now know what that something is:

    You might find it useful to search “parasexual reproduction” for more info. Definition of parasexual is: “relating to or being reproduction that results in recombination of genes from different individuals but does not involve meiosis and formation of a zygote by fertilization as in sexual reproduction”

    You should have done a bit more searching.

    Mitosis maintains the cell’s original ploidy level (for example, one diploid 2n cell producing two diploid 2n cells; one haploid n cell producing two haploid n cells; etc.). Meiosis, on the other hand, reduces the number of sets of chromosomes by half, so that when gametic recombination (fertilization) occurs the ploidy of the parents will be reestablished.

    Most cells in the human body are produced by mitosis. These are the somatic (or vegetative) line cells. Cells that become gametes are referred to as germ line cells. The vast majority of cell divisions in the human body are mitotic, with meiosis being restricted to the gonads.

    By definition, a gamete is formed by meiosis. As those “two mating type nuclei” were not formed by meiosis, they are not gametes no matter how similar they sound to a layperson. From yet another angle, Guestus Aurelius’s claim of gametic duality has been refuted.

    In summary, Skep tickle, your lack of knowledge and understanding has led you to accidentally refute another SlymePitter’s claim, twice over. You are reduced to blatant misrepresentations in order to preserve your counter-arguments, so again you are falling into the same territory as creationists.

    Please keep talking.

  294. Skep tickle says

    HJ, you are absolutely correct. Humans are fungi. How could I have missed that?

    Credentials shouldn’t matter if the argument is supported by reasonable evidence, right? But that can be difficult to check if it’s not a field one has spent much time in.

    So, in response to your request, here’s my background. (I’m not trying to pull an appeal to (my own) authority although I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone reflect it back that way. I hope it’s obvious that relevant information, and/or a logical argument, and/or a clear explanation, almost always best accomplished when informed by an understanding of the subject, trump/s credentials any day.) Let’s just say I had a pretty high-powered high school education (lots of AP courses and college courses in STEM areas), then 4 years of undergraduate & 2 years of graduate education in chemistry & biology, all at big-name US research-based academic institutions; included undergrad research in virology and ~6 summers of work in various research labs from organic synthesis to cell biology, and graduate research in enzyme active site structure. Then 4 years of medical school (at, as it turns out, a big-name US research-based medical school), then 4 years of residency in internal medicine, then a chief residency in medicine, then 20 years of practice with the last 15 years having been in a women’s clinic in a reasonably well-known academic institution in the US, which includes teaching (mostly medical students in their 3rd year, a clinical year, but I’ve lectured in the 2nd year Reproductive Biology course while covering for a colleague who usually does it, and I give talks on women’s health topics at conferences several times a year). The last 5 years I’ve been medical director of the clinic, which is multidisciplinary & provides, among other services, infertility evaluation & treatment and evaluation & treatment of congenital anomalies (though those aren’t my own areas of specialty). I have some involvement in national assessment of medical school education but will leave that cryptic.

    So, back to the topic at hand. You’re grasping at straws. Oh, sorry, what I meant to say is: what rousing counterexamples of sexual dimorphism you have found! A couple of examples in the lab or in a couple of small subsets of the biosphere, all the Pitters who claim sexual dimorphism actually exists and is important in humans (and many other species) should just roll over and admit you’re right, sex is a social construct!

    Dolly came from 2 gametes: her karyotype was 54XX; 27X were from a male and 27X were from a female. Dolly was artificially manufactured by using a somatic cell with that karyotype and, in order to induce it to develop as an embryo, the nucleus containing those chromosomes – that had come from one male sheep and one female sheep – was inserted into an enucleated gamete, a female gamete, to simulate a fertilized egg. It had to be a female gamete, do you see why? The zygote was implanted into a sheep’s uterus, to simulate the normal process leading to implantation. It had to be a female sheep, do you see why?

    I did recognize the 2-nuclei approach(es) in fungi were not 2 gametes. Was wondering if YOU would. :) Again: so what? Yes, it’s a different approach in biology, and it’s interesting (particularly for people who study fungi). It does not disprove sexual dimorphism in humans. Despite what I said at the top of this post, humans are not fungi.

    I was not intending to insult the gentleman who put together the (interesting) mycology site you linked. But the home page of that site is this (Steers-style): “_http://www.microbiologybytes.com/blog/” – so in using the term “blog” I was repeating a cue from the source YOU provided. :) Apologies, I’ll call it a “site” from here on out.

  295. Skep tickle says

    Correction: residency was 3 years (it only felt like 4)

    Clarification: I don’t know, and haven’t checked, at what #-cell stage the Dolly-zygote was put into the recepetive sheep uterus; my guess is that it was done pretty much like in vitro fertilization. The researchers (actually probably their techs) wouldn’t have actually implanted it into the uterus, they would have inserted it transcervically and hoped it implanted. It was probably one of many similar zygotes attempted & gained fame by being the one that worked & brought forth Dolly. These details are probably available however they are really NOT important to the discussion.

    Except that I do want to mention that human-bovine hybrid clones have been made (the first was created just 2 years after Dolly was born). Even though they’ve been destroyed by, or otherwise haven’t survived past, 3 days: following HJ’s logic, monospecies reproduction is disproven.

  296. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#303):

    Guestus Aurelius is arguing for the reality of two sexes on the basis that there are two types of gametes needed for reproduction. How many gametes did you say Dolly came from, again?

    Un-bloody-believable. You seem to think that exceptions disprove the rule, that a rule doesn’t qualify as such unless there are no exceptions to it. I guess maybe if one was brought up to believe in absolutes like Jehovah then being disabused of that belief might lead one to think that any exceptions preclude the existence of any and all rules. You might note the definition for rule – i.e., “a generalized statement that describes what is true in most or all cases” – and try explaining how that isn’t applicable to sexual reproduction in humans.

  297. Skep tickle says

    My turn to put requests to you, HJ:

    1) Please define “alive”. Make sure that your definition is descriptive and detailed enough to include all entities generally considered to be “alive”, but specific enough to exclude everything not generally considered to be “alive”. If you are unable to do this, we will have to conclude that anyone who tries to make any generalization about anything that’s “alive” is misguided or lying.

    2) Please define “human”. Make sure that your definition is descriptive and detailed enough to include all beings considered to be “human” but specific enough to exclude every being & entity not generally considered to be “human”. If you are unable to do this, we will have to conclude that humans do not exist. (I asked you to do this a while back, but haven’t seen your reply to my prior request).

    Thank you.

  298. Guestus Aurelius says

    @HJ Hornbeck

    In all honestly, I do not follow most of the logic in your recent comment. It reads like a confused game of out-of-context quote-mining and definition-waving for the sake of scoring “gotchas,” but I can’t tell if you’ve actually made any points that need to be addressed. It’s all rather Gish-Gallopy, and frankly I’m not sure what it is you’re arguing for.

    I’ll try to address what you said about me.

    Guestus Aurelius @281:

    People, dogs, cats, birds, fish, dinosaurs, trilobites, trees, mushrooms—we can all trace our ancestry back to the earliest gametically dimorphic unicellular blobs.

    Guestus Aurelius was arguing for the general case, and explicitly included fungi. They were not arguing for the special case of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, as you imply they were.

    Yes, I was arguing the general case, and I think my corrections at 285/286 addressed my (admittedly major) errors—i.e., yes, the earliest unicellular blob that exhibited some primordial version of sexual reproduction was almost surely isogamous; yes, anisogamy is thought to have evolved independently more than once; and yes, there are still several isogamous species.

    But my more important point still stands, despite my embarrassing mistakes: even if anisogamy evolved independently more than once, we nevertheless share a common anisogamous ancestor with many, many, many species, virtually all of which display genotypic and phenotypic sex characteristics that cluster binarily in a highly statistically significant fashion. As far as I know, this kind of binary clustering is exclusively the province of species that exhibit gametic dimorphism, and I’m fairly confident that the general consensus among biologists is that gametically dimorphic forms (excluding simultaneous hermaphrodites) necessarily evolve sexual dimorphism via natural selection. Pretty much all of our phenotypic and genotypic sex characteristics are secondary evolutionary byproducts of gametic dimorphism.

    In other words, sexual dimorphism is a highly statistically significant phenomenon with well-understood evolutionary origins (in gametic dimorphism). You cannot wish all of this away or invalidate it by pointing to exceptions that biologists already account for.

    Guestus Aurelius continues:

    What we all have in common (except for the “few species which have secondarily” evolved in other directions) is gametic dimorphism.

    Guestus Aurelius is arguing for the reality of two sexes on the basis that there are two types of gametes needed for reproduction. How many gametes did you say Dolly came from, again?

    Again, you’re purposely failing to distinguish between distinct (albeit related) concepts. You honestly don’t see a difference between sexual reproduction as evolved via natural selection and the cloning of sheep by people?

    HJ Hornbeck, do you really dispute the existence of two sexes in our species? Or is all of this just a failed thought experiment?

    Either way, I’ll give you the friendly bit of advice to examine your debating strategy with a critical eye. What’s with all the out-of-context quote-mining and “gotcha” games? What’s with all the “You made an error or said something I don’t like so now I will dismiss all of what you’ve said and won’t address your salient points”? What’s with all the pretending that there’s no difference whatsoever between naturally selected sexual reproduction and the genetic/embryological tinkering that humans can now do in the lab?

    I trust that you haven’t been at your best in this thread, and that’s okay. It might be time to call this one a day.

  299. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#304):

    Why I’m ignoring Steersman (mostly), and why you should too.

    Well, it’s at least nice to see that you’ve apparently learned the same lesson that Giliell learned several weeks ago and that I described in some detail upthread (#44), i.e., that the word “most”, or mostly, has some utility, that it frequently “transforms many ideas from being 3rd grade over-simplistic or plain false into reasonable statements”. Would be even nicer if you learned how to apply the word to the genetic makeup of various populations, and to the various rules that can be derived from them.

    However, more important is the question why you’re ignoring the fairly crucial fact that, as I’ve pointed out several times, you explicitly stated on Pharyngula that you were “leading me on” (1), i.e., engaged in “misleading, [or] deceiving”. Which looks to qualify as some fairly solid prima facie evidence that you’re anything but an honest interlocutor, if not that you’re not really playing with a full deck.

    As for the “substance” of the post you linked to (#211), I note that I responded to it in #213 and that you haven’t, as far as I can see, responded to it in turn. Absent that response, I would say that your reference in #304 to #211 qualifies as some more misleading and deceiving. But, as a thought, you might want to focus on the most salient element of people’s arguments or responses rather than trying to throw, as seems apparent, a bunch of crap at the walls and hope something will stick.

    —-
    1) “_http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2014/02/24/lounge-452/comment-page-1/#comment-756767”;

  300. Pitchguest says

    The argument that you have repeatedly chosen to ignore or dismiss without a second thought, is the argument that I think most refutes your claim that sex is a social construct. Namely, if it is, why can’t men choose to be pregnant? I think it’s amusing that you rail and rail, but won’t – or rather can’t – answer this simple but fundamental question in your thesis.

    But nevermind that. I want to ask you a different question. If there is no such thing as sex, then surely there must be no such thing as sexual dimorphism. Right? So my question to you is, would hermaphrodites in humans constitute a new species rather than a mutation in the genome?

  301. Schala says

    The argument that you have repeatedly chosen to ignore or dismiss without a second thought, is the argument that I think most refutes your claim that sex is a social construct. Namely, if it is, why can’t men choose to be pregnant? I think it’s amusing that you rail and rail, but won’t – or rather can’t – answer this simple but fundamental question in your thesis.

    Why can’t dwarfs play in the NBA? Why can’t people who weight 90 lbs be firefighters?

    Your argument is simply stupid,

    Sex is a social construct.

    Pregnancy is not. You are either in the can-get-pregnant or the cannot-get-pregnant category. As of today, womb transplants are not viable, so regardless of genitals at birth, or your social category (ie your social sex), this is true.

    Putting a label on the can-get-pregnant and the cannot-get-pregnant categories, for stuff OTHER than pregnancy, is the very stupid thing society does.

    It departs from being descriptive to go on a crusade to be prescriptive. Suddenly you’re not just part of category X, you also need to perform duty A B C to be recognized as a ‘good’ member of category X, or you get the shaft from society. That latter part might happen naturally, but it can still be purged, removed, expunged.

    For example, corruption will naturally occur because people want to return favors, even if they legally can’t. That doesn’t mean going against corruption is tilting at windmills, it just means it won’t be easy.

  302. Guestus Aurelius says

    No, Schala. Pregnancy is also a construct. So is weight. So is height.

    We construct a concept for and slap a label on things when we deem them sufficiently similar to one another to warrant our doing so.

    But:

    That doesn’t mean that all constructs are arbitrary, and it doesn’t mean that all constructs are equally useful (or equally useless).

    Pregnancy, weight, height, and—yes—biological sex and human sexual dimorphism are all extremely useful constructs that by all accounts model reality very well. They’re keepers.

    Yet, all of them could be subjected to deconstruction in such a way that reveals them to be imperfect categorizations:

    The concept of “pregnancy,” for instance, relies on our agreement that any two “zygotes” (or any two “embryos,” or any two “fetuses”) are sufficiently similar to warrant our grouping them together. But why must we agree on that? After all, every “zygote” contains unique “DNA”—we can tell two “zygotes” apart from each other in a lab. Who says we must regard one “fertilized ovum” and another “fertilized ovum” as the same “type of thing”? (And don’t even get me started on “embroys” and “fetuses”!) Same goes for “DNA”: the “DNA” in one “zygote” differs from the “DNA” in another “zygote.” They’re not the same, so our grouping them together is an instance of construction. But we can go deeper! Even two individual “molecules” of the same “type” (say, two molecules of “guanine”) or even two “atoms” of the same “type,” are actually different entities—the fact that we wouldn’t be able to tell them apart doesn’t necessarily mean that we must define them as the same “kind of thing.”

    Do you see what I’m getting at? Anything can be deconstructed, because basically everything is a construct. But unless deconstruction steers us in the direction of more useful constructs, it’s little more than an interesting thought experiment. There’s really no need to deconstruct the biological concept of “pregnancy.” It’s an incredibly useful construct, and biologists already acknowledge and study the complexities of the phenomena that the construct models.

    And guess what? The same is true of “biological sex.” It’s a useful construct for biologists, who already acknowledge and study the complexities of the phenomena that the construct models. If that weren’t the case, don’t you think the scientists who make use of the construct would have abandoned it by now? I mean, it’s not some fringe idea. It’s pretty damn central to the field.

    Postmodernism as a critical theory has some intriguing implications for the analysis and interpretation of art and literature. Like psychoanalysis, however, It should probably stay out of the business of modeling reality. Its track record there is not so good.

  303. Schala says

    And guess what? The same is true of “biological sex.” It’s a useful construct for biologists, who already acknowledge and study the complexities of the phenomena that the construct models.

    That’s the thing. Useful to biologists. Not governments. Not schools. Not workplaces.

    The capacity-to-be-pregnant and capacity-to-impregnate might matter to people who are looking for LTRs, or to get pregnant from a one night stand. But it shouldn’t determine who gets to go in which bathroom, for example. Or your legal sex.

    Why do workplaces care what type of gametes you have? Unless they’re sperm banks or specialized doctors for which it specifically matters, it doesn’t. Sure some M/F divide can exist in some things, but it’s probably not based on M/F, but on something else. For example, breast cancer is fed by estrogen, which is why its rate is incredibly low in men. While prostate cancer is fed by testosterone, which is why its almost unheard of in women (including trans women).

  304. Steersman says

    Guestus Aurelius (#313):

    No, Schala. Pregnancy is also a construct. So is weight. So is height.

    Generally agree with most of your argument, although you might be confusing emergence – where properties “emerge” from collections of particles or objects – and social constructionism (1):

    Social constructionism, or the social construction of reality, is a theory of knowledge in sociology and communication theory that examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world. It assumes that understanding, significance, and meaning are developed not separately within the individual, but in coordination with other human beings.

    But it seems that it is quite important to clearly differentiate between the labels and the “brute facts” to which they’re attached – something I don’t think you were doing there. The words – the collections of letters and the sounds they produce – are quite clearly “social constructs” in that they are something we agree to label the facts with while facts such as pregnancy and height themselves are very clearly solid and real – unless one wants to toy with solipsism and brains-in-vats memes and themes.

    —–
    1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_constructionism”;

  305. Pitchguest says

    Schala

    #315

    Oh, I don’t know. Why can’t disabled athletes compete in the regular Olympics?

    Fairness, most likely. The reason dwarves can’t play in the NBA probably has to do with the absence of a dwarf league. The reason people who weigh 90 lbs can’t be firefighters probably has to do with their expectance to lift heavy things, like people, outside of fiery buildings, and handle heavy axes to excavate said people. One of these things can be resolved, the other cannot. A dwarf league can be implemented, the rules can be tweaked to fit, but a firefighter cannot weigh as little as 90 lbs and hope to become a firefighter. The other’s fair, the other one’s not, but life isn’t fair. Deal with it.

    You say sex is a social construct, but pregnancy isn’t. How so? If that was the case, then men could absolutely get pregnant. But failing that, the most pressing question is WHY can’t men get pregnant? And that’s where your argument falls apart. But you want to talk about pregnancy, ok, let’s talk about pregnancy. Biology dictates that the gestation period of a fetus takes 9 months. Give or take. A few days earlier, a few days later, but 9 months is usually what it takes for a fetus to be fully developed. Okay. So now we have to ask the question: Why? Why 9 months? Why this specific number? Why not 5, or 6, or 3 or even 1? Or hell, why not go beyond that and say 10, or 11, or 12? And who has decided this number: biologists, or society?

    Now we’re not talking capability. We’re not talking WHO can get pregnant. We’re talking how long it takes for a baby to be born. Is it a social construct that the optimal period for a pregnancy takes 9 months for the fetus to fully develop into a healthy baby (as discovered and agreed on by doctors, scientists, biologists, etc) as much as it is a social construct that only women can get pregnant? And as long as I’m still on the subject, I might as well ask you the same questions I asked Hornbeck: why don’t men develop wombs? More to the point, why can’t they? Why can’t I decide to be a hermaphrodite if I really, really want to?

    If we live in a sexless society where the notion of sex is an illusion, if we’re to break down sexual dimorphism to its purest form – those who conceive and those who provide the seed – and neither of them can break the chain even through artifical means, isn’t that a clear example of why your argument is flawed or even, dare I say it, wrong?

  306. Schala says

    Pitchguest, you’re trying to talk to a strawman.

    My argument that sex exists is all fine and dandy. I don’t want it to have any legal, social, employment, housing effect or single-sex applications that are not bona-fides (ie pregnancy, menstruation, gynecology), while allowing for the exceptions that will surely present themselves (pregnant men and trans men for gyne exams, etc).

    Basically, I want sex to limit itself to the physical thing, and to not impose anything on anyone based on it.

  307. Pitchguest says

    Well, here’s the thing, Schala: no one has been arguing that the social construct doesn’t lie in the physical. What people have been arguing is that the social construct doesn’t lie in the biological; what constitutes a man and a woman at their core.

  308. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#247):

    And thank you for linking over to Pharyngula’s Lounge, and explicitly demonstrating you are monitoring my every online move.

    You’re thanking me for pointing to a comment of yours where you admit to misleading and deceiving people? I expect that the Darwin Awards may want to create one for those who repeatedly shoot themselves in the feet – might be appropriate if they were to call it the Hornbeck.

    But your “every online move”? What a pretentious twat.

    They’ve searched for a place of employment ….

    They? That was a single comment by one person out of some 800 registered users in the Pit, and it seems no more than musing about “what HJ Hornbeck does for a living”. No more, I would say, than your comments about Skep tickle’s qualifications – relative to which I might note you have yet to provide yours in spite of requests for same.

    All of them have deemed my ideas too dangerous to go unopposed, and are taking advantage of the power of the mob to try and shut me down.

    Again you seriously flatter yourself if you think it’s because you’re the supposed author of all of those ideas rather than that you happen to be merely “carrying the can” – inadvertently or not – for a great many other postmodernists and “social constructionists” and “feminists”. Whose ideas you seem to be, in large, only parroting as you sure don’t seem to have given much thought to their implications and ramifications. But I’ll concede that no few of those ideas are more than just a little problematic to say the least. And as a case in point you might wish to read this review (1) – by “feminists” no less – of the book Professing Feminism: Education and Indoctrination in Women’s Studies which notes:

    The book is a critique on Women Studies departments in the United States. The authors interviewed dozens of women, from staff to professors to students, all quite supportive of feminism, but all still sharing the same criticism of infighting, indoctrination, political correctness and a near total lack of objective discussion.
    ….
    The authors, however, demonstrate that these problems have existed since their ideology’s inception, and were particularly common within Women Studies programs. The authors wrote of the isolationist attitude that dominates many of the programs, along with a virulent anti-science, anti-intellectual sentiment driving many of the professors, staff and students. [my emphasis]

    Curious, is it not, that that virulent anti-science, anti-intellectual sentiment is the hallmark of religious fundamentalists?

    So thank you, Steersman, for [being] so gullible that you continually fall for the Batman Gambit even after you discovered I was deploying it.

    What a fucking idiot. I think you’ve probably watched too many fantasies and played too many games to realize that while some games have their place, many others have very little relevance or bearing on social realities.

    BTW, in passing, you might want to consider changing how you link to your sources, or the number of them, as your comment was probably in moderation from the date on your post (Feb. 28th) until I received e-mail notification of it today (March 3rd).

    —-
    1) “_http://www.feministcritics.org/blog/2009/07/27/professing-feminism-noh/”;

  309. Skep tickle says

    Schala #320:

    My argument that sex exists is all fine and dandy. I don’t want it to have any legal, social, employment, housing effect or single-sex applications that are not bona-fides (ie pregnancy, menstruation, gynecology), while allowing for the exceptions that will surely present themselves (pregnant men and trans men for gyne exams, etc).

    Basically, I want sex to limit itself to the physical thing, and to not impose anything on anyone based on it.

    Thank you – I still hadn’t been clear on your view.

    I quite agree.

    (Warning: Into some arenas, this position results in accusations that one is an MRA.)

  310. hjhornbeck says

    I’ve noticed that creationists tend to repeat themselves. This usually comes in the form of PRATT (point refuted a thousand times), but sometimes their response to a counter-argument they can’t refute is to repeat their original argument with a different phrasing.

    Guestus Aurelius @284:

    Sure, sexual dimorphism is a “construct.” That’s because literally every concept and word is a construct, by definition. But it’s not merely a construct—it’s an extraordinarily useful one that models reality quite closely. And that’s the whole point of science, isn’t it? To build up a body of useful constructs that model reality ever more closely?

    Guestus Aurelius @296:

    My point was that almost any model we use for anything will be imperfect, and that we nonetheless make generalizations when they’re useful and keep them when there’s no better substitute. [...]

    Here is my outlook: there is every indication that reality exists, and we must use concepts and words (constructs) to make sense of it and to communicate with each other about it. Some constructs prove more useful and consistent with reality than others, and those are the constructs we should try to… construct… and maintain. If, that is, we’re interested in better understanding reality (it seems to have its benefits).

    @284:

    As is the case with pretty much anything, sexual reproduction and biological sex get fairly complex as you learn more about them. But again, so what? Reality is messy, and (good) scientists are fully aware of that.

    @296:

    That was my point—that virtually any time we categorize and label things, things are more complex than a surface-level understanding of the generalization might suggest, and exceptions exist. [...]

    That was my point—that virtually any time we categorize and label things, things are more complex than a surface-level understanding of the generalization might suggest, and exceptions exist. Reality is messy; it’s not just biological sex.

    @284:

    Our bodies, along with the bodies of “all sexually reproducing eukaryotic organisms,” are the evolutionary byproducts of gametically dimorphic forms “competing” for resources in various environments for well over 1.2 billion years.

    @296:

    If you’re going to deconstruct concepts that biologists use, I think it’s fair game to point out that biologists understand sex and dimorphism as products of evolution.

    Sex is a social construct, reality is messy, and dimorphism is a byproduct of evolution. Gotcha. Hopefully the same doesn’t extend to your core argument.

    @284:

    People, dogs, cats, birds, fish, dinosaurs, trilobites, trees, mushrooms—we can all trace our ancestry back to the earliest gametically dimorphic unicellular blobs. What we all have in common (except for the “few species which have secondarily” evolved in other directions) is gametic dimorphism.

    The messy details of “biological sex” itself are evolutionary byproducts of gametic dimorphism.

    @296:

    If one were inclined to take you seriously, one might simply point out that it’s human sexual reproduction that requires a male gamete and a female gamete, and that what you’re pointing to as an exception doesn’t qualify as human sexual reproduction. [...]

    But I’d ask that you please grant that the concept your pointing to is not the same concept that biologists have in mind when they conceive of human sexual reproduction, which, again, has everything to do with evolution via natural selection.

    Ooo, I see a subtle shift of the goalposts! Before you made it clear this was a general pattern in evolution; now, you paint it as if you were talking about humans all the time. Naturally, you treat this new argument as if it was your original:

    @296:

    Which argument of mine do they refute? The one you quoted was, “The messy details of ‘biological sex’ itself are evolutionary byproducts of gametic dimorphism.” I stand by that (though am certainly happy to be embarrassed and corrected by biologists who know better), and I fail to see what that has to do with the phenomena you listed.

    I’ll ignore that, and move on to your big counter-argument against the six counter-arguments I brought up (Dolly as gamete-free, identical twins aka polyembryony, sex as a classification of phenotype and not gametes, de Beauvoir’s attacks, species-wide hermaphrodites, parthenogenesis).

    @296:

    At the end of your post, you bring up “species-wide hermaphrodites that have two gametes but one sex,” parthenogenesis, “one-sex asexual reproducers,” and “sexual reproduction without gametes.” To some extent I think you’re just playing word games

    Ah, I’m playing “word games” by using the same terms as biologists do.

    @296:

    (would all biologists agree, for instance, that what you’ve termed “sexual reproduction without gametes” is really “sexual reproduction” at all?

    Yes, actually.

    Sexual reproduction in the Zygomycetes:

    There are two possible nuclear states in the mycelia of this group of fungi. They can have a single type of nucleus in their mycelium, a condition termed termed homothallism, or they can contain the two mating type nuclei within their mycelium, termed heterothallism. If the fungus is homothallic the first event in the onset of sexual reproduction has to be somatic fusion.

    In fact thanks for bringing that up. Both Skep tickle and I spotted the “two mating type” references and haggled over the meaning of it, but we both missed out on mention of sexual reproduction with just one type of reproductive cell (or maybe a one stock somatic cell, I can’t tell from the context or searches). If you want more confirmation, here’s a letter to Nature.

    … and that really is it. You spend most of your reply merely restating your original claim, with a little goalpost moving, and spend exactly one sentence dealing with my arguments.

    In fact, I’m about to spend more time refuting my own arguments. Skep tickle was right @273:

    Re Dolly. Three sheep were used in her creation: 1 for the egg, 1 for the chromosomal DNA, and 1 for gestation. (Also a bunch of scientists, reagents, equipment, etc.) The somatic cell (mom-1) provided the nuclear DNA (54XX, normal for sheep, & as Schala says, half was from mom-1′s father). The somatic cell taken from the mammary gland of an adult sheep; that cell being differentiated, from an adult, was what was new about Dolly compared with previously cloned animals. The e-nucleated egg (mom-2) provided the mitochondrial DNA.

    And, strangely, wrong @308:

    Dolly came from 2 gametes: her karyotype was 54XX; 27X were from a male and 27X were from a female. Dolly was artificially manufactured by using a somatic cell with that karyotype and, in order to induce it to develop as an embryo, the nucleus containing those chromosomes

    Skep tickle somehow forgot to link to the original Nature paper; while it’s behind a pay-wall and thus off-limits to the public, the abstract provides all the information you need:

    Transfer of a single nucleus at a specific stage of development, to an enucleated unfertilized egg, provided an opportunity to investigate whether cellular differentiation to that stage involved irreversible genetic modification. The first offspring to develop from a differentiated cell were born after nuclear transfer from an embryo-derived cell line that had been induced to become quiescent. Using the same procedure, we now report the birth of live lambs from three new cell populations established from adult mammary gland, fetus and embryo.

    So Dolly was created from one gamete, and unfertilized egg, that had the genetic code removed from its nucleus (“enucleated”) and substituted with the code from another cell, in this case the “mammary gland of a 6-year-old ewe in the last trimester of pregnancy.” Hence the name Dolly:

    Stockmen involved in the delivery thought of the fact that the cell used came from a mammary gland and arrived at Dolly Parton, the country and western singer.

    Which makes it bizarre that Skep tickle would say Dolly “had come from one male sheep and one female sheep;” if you are so medically knowledgeable and a careful researcher, how could you miss something like that?

    But back to Guestus Aurelius @296:

    While I don’t much care for your style of “debate,”

    Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment.

  311. hjhornbeck says

    Speaking of PRATT:

    hjhornbeck @8:

    I think [Fogg] and Myers are making the same error of confusing the description with the described. Gravity is real, but it has many constructed models to describe it such as Newtonian Mechanics and General Relativity. In the same manner, genes, hormones, chromosomes, and anatomy are all real, while our descriptions and classifications are not real.

    hjhornbeck @135:

    Don’t confuse the description for the described, as I’ve seen many people do in the last three weeks. The social construct view of sex does not deny the existence of genes or hormones, it merely states that “male” and “female” are simplified models of those things.

    hjhornbeck @162:

    Called it! If you are a realist, there is no difference between description and described. So when a constructionist denies a description is accurate, the realist thinks they’re denying the existence of the described. Anyone who’s made the mistake of assuming me or any other person taking the constructivist view is a denier of biology has outed themselves as a sexual realist, on some level.

    Pitchguest @314:

    But nevermind that. I want to ask you a different question. If there is no such thing as sex

    You’re improving, Pitchguest, now you’re up to repeating arguments that were refuted five days ago.

  312. Schala says

    (Warning: Into some arenas, this position results in accusations that one is an MRA.)

    You get used to it when advocating for real equality is seen as misogyny. Always seems to be from 1984, a movie I mostly heard of (I probably wasn’t born when it came out), from a book I never read.

    I want men and women treated the same, which means no extra rights, no extra prerogatives, no pedestalizing and no extra basic respect. It also means no extra my-sex-only programs to redress inequalities, like DV and rape stuff. Even if the fact that society granted them is based on them (both the society and the movement who demanded it, which back then was radical feminism) wanting to protect one sex and not caring one bit about the other’s safety.

  313. Steersman says

    Pitchguest (#319):

    You say sex is a social construct, but pregnancy isn’t. How so? If that was the case, then men could absolutely get pregnant.

    I could be wrong of course but I think you’re seriously misunderstanding the use of the term “social construct” (4) – although I’ll concede that it is a bit of a slippery concept, particularly as it is used, or abused, by Hornbeck. Apropos of which you might note his “clear” statement of principle on Matt’s blog (1):

    Here’s the relevant bit of my thesis:

    At the same time, there are patterns in how we develop, some of which are more likely to happen than others. To represent these patterns, we have jointly developed some terms to tame the complexity, terms like “male” and “female.”

    Sex really is a social construct, then, exactly as the Transfeminist Manifesto claims.

    He at least isn’t, apparently, arguing that pregnancy or genes or chromosomes are “social constructs”, only that society has jointly “decided” to label the two main “patterns”, the two main collections of various attributes and behaviours as “male and female”. Which generally seems to be, in itself, a pretty reasonable position to me.

    However, where he goes off the rails and into la-la-land is in, apparently, insisting that there is absolutely no underlying “brute fact” which precipitates those two collections, that there is in general, apparently, no differences between “male” and “female” since, in his view, every attribute that can be associated with some member of one group can be found associated with some member of the other group – X-X “males” and X-Y “females” for examples. Which seems to deny the fact that procreation, that “sexual reproduction”, is, apparently and at least with humans, very much of a process specific to X-X and X-Y individuals. It would be interesting to know whether any of the various syndromes that Matt discussed (2) and referred to (3) were capable of being viable, were able to be procreative and capable of propagating what could presumably be called separate species.

    —-
    1) “_http://skeptischism.com/atheismneat/2014/02/16/sex-free-evolutionary-biology/#comment-168”;
    2) “_http://trueliberalnexus.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/what-gender-spectrum/”;
    3) “_http://www.isna.org/faq/conditions”;
    4) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_constructionism”;

  314. Skep tickle says

    Ally has approved a couple of posts that were in moderation. (Thanks, Ally!)

    One of them is mine & is now visible at #280 – you can find it immediately by searching the page for “Z” (with the quotation marks). It’s an example of how I might go about finding out more information on a subject, in this case HJ’s claim that male development is the default, even though he doesn’t believe in sexual dimorphism. I found ‘the “Z” hypothesis’, on news sites briefly in 11/2008 and followed its trail through to present day.

    Warning, the sleuthing does rely heavily on publications located through “Pub Med”, which HJ apparently scoffed at (that, or he scoffed at my claim that I use it). Since it’s a searchable database of ~23 million biomedical publications in the U. S. National Library of Medicine, I find it quite useful, though it is helpful to recognize some of its strengths, weaknesses, & pitfalls.

  315. hjhornbeck says

    Steersman @322:

    BTW, in passing, you might want to consider changing how you link to your sources, or the number of them, as your comment was probably in moderation from the date on your post (Feb. 28th) until I received e-mail notification of it today (March 3rd).

    I’m amused you thought that was an accident. By stuffing said comment full of links so it got lodged in the mod queue, I was able to make a prediction of the future yet keep it a secret:

    Steersman, Clarence Woodworth, johngreg, Pitchguest, Edward Gemmer, Matt Cavanaugh, and Skep tickle are all here because I’m here, as they all are members of the SlymePit. All of them have deemed my ideas too dangerous to go unopposed, and are taking advantage of the power of the mob to try and shut me down.

    I got two things wrong; first, when I didn’t reply back fast enough, you mobbed Schala instead. Second, a new SlymePitter entered the fray, Guestus Aurelius, so this was really an eight-on-two situation.

    Otherwise, the eighty comments made after that one make excellent evidence that several SlymePitters are camping out in this thread, eagerly waiting for Schala or I to post so they can shout us down, and add nicely to what was accumulated in the two hundred forty-six made prior. Now might be a good time for a reminder of my basic strategy:

    Countering this approach is tough. Here’s the best method I’ve developed, to date:

    1. Cite as much as possible. Your opponent and the true believers won’t bother to read them, but the casual observers might have the spare time and curiosity. This punctures the appearance of authority by providing raw data.
    2. Keep it clean. When casual observers note only one side is engaging in insults, they’ll use that as a signal of the quality of argument.
    3. Don’t fall for the distractions and attempts to shift the argument; either mark them as such, for casual readers, or ignore them. Fisking is usually a waste of time.
    4. Instead, focus on the critical assertions of your opponent, prioritizing the weakest.
    5. When your opponent has nothing left but distractions, or you’ve gathered enough evidence and argument to demonstrate to most casual observers that your opponent doesn’t have a case against your core argument, disengage.

  316. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#329):

    Second, a new SlymePitter entered the fray, Guestus Aurelius, so this was really an eight-on-two situation.

    Amusing though, and quite telling, that you haven’t had anyone else rally to your flag, in spite of your FTB-Google-Hangout whereat you presented your “thesis” to the world – apart from your fair-weather friend PZ who decamped pretty quickly over a pretty trivial criticism. And whose one comment was largely a criticism of your position that the clitoris and the penis were the same critter.

    And I might also point out that there have been several others “not of the Pit” (apparently) who have weighed-in against your rather bogus arguments.

  317. Skep tickle says

    HJ #254:

    While it wasn’t in the link above, I’m pretty sure my biologist friend also described a form of mating akin to mosiacism, where the cells *don’t* fuse, resulting in a organism that mixes both types of cells. Even if I’m mistaken about what they said, there was no mistaking their agreement that biology is mostly exceptions without rules. Names and definitions are just guidelines, and no biologist would be surprised by an organism that failed to live by the categories we’ve constructed.

    And that includes “male” and “female.”

    Sheaf #255

    I think this is false in generality. Biology is constrained, by physics by chemistry and even on a higher level by the dynamics of ecosystems. For example, with current limits of material and muscular strength, Q. nothropi is unlikely to be surpassed in size among autonomously flying vertebrates, given that even the most generous estimates put it just above the height of achieving flight clearence. Biomechanical constraints are powerful and can explain morphology over several orders of magnitude. For further examples read e.g. “principles of animal locmotion” by Alexander.

    General search of “biology” & “exceptions” turns up lots of hits, many calling biology a/the “science of exceptions” or otherwise saying there are lots of exceptions.

    This might be true if you’re approaching biology as memorizing a bunch of facts about different species.

    (As usual, I would be delighted to have anyone with more or more specific knowledge, understanding, or ability to explain weigh in, including with corrections.)

    Observations in biology basically fill in these observations as a first approximation: “(A, or B, or C,…) species accomplishes (alpha, beta, gamma,…) task or function via (a, b, c,…) method or approach.”

    The “exceptions” come because the specific way of accomplishing any given task or function can vary from species to species. (But not on an individual/idiosyncratic basis from member to member within a species, except when due to mutations, which can be wonderfully illuminating for biology researchers. Unless for that particular task/function, having individual/idiosyncratic variation accomplishes a basic task or function. LOL.)

    When you try to compare a, b, c, etc etc WAYS of accomplishing a task or function, they may appear different, and the non-biologist might think, “well those have nothing to do with each other”. But they are all ways to accomplishing alpha task/function. Or beta task/function. Or gamma task/function. And THOSE functions are, at root, the basis for life.

    That there are variations is not a flaw; this is evidence of evolution. And it fits with evolution, the theory.

    There have been divergent paths for some tasks or functions, and there have been convergent paths for other tasks or functions. Again, not a flaw. It should be expected, from evolution.

    The more crucial the task or function, the more likely that every species has a way of accomplishing it, and often for highly crucial functions the approaches are “highly conserved” in evolution – many life forms (especially of roughly similar complexity) take the same approach to the task or function.

    Example: the first that popped up in my search as showing biology is full of exceptions is that mammals have anucleate (enucleated) red blood cells…except camels. See! Ha! We’ve just disproven that red blood cells are anucleate!

    But actually, the similarity is that RBCs have the same primary function – as a package for hemoglobin. Almost all vertebrates have red blood cells. Almost all mammals have anucleate red blood cells. Camels evolved in a situation in which keeping the nucleus in the RBCs offered an advantage that enucleated RBCs didn’t.

    But what fundamental function does hemoglobin serve, & what are the different ways that function is achieved?

    In single-celled organisms, diffusion and/or pores in cell membranes can bring ingredients in for cellular respiration, and remove waste products from cellular respiration. Large multi-celled organisms can’t do this (with a few “exceptions”, based on the specific situation in which the species evolved in a situation which allowed diffusion to still work) so other means evolved. They HAD TO evolve, or the larger organisms would die off.

    Blood, blood vessels & hearts to move nutrients to the cellular level and to remove waste products. Add in the lungs & hemoglobin for oxygen & CO2. Not all animals have these. For example, insects don’t have hemoglobin, though they do have blood cells with hemocyanin, which serves the same basic function. Insects don’t have lungs; instead they have a system of tracheal tubes to disperse oxygen & return CO2, which serves the same basic function. Crustaceans don’t have blood cells, but they do have hemocyanin. They don’t have lungs or tracheal tubes, but they have gills, which serve the same basic function. And so on back down to the level at which diffusion does the job.

    These may LOOK like one exception after another, but they’re actually a FABULOUS example of the diversity of ways that arose through evolution (meaning, through mutations & natural selection) to accomplish the basic necessities of being alive (which I’d still love to have HJ spell out). And of progression in complexity. And, in some cases divergence and in other cases convergence.

    It’s lovely. It’s fascinating. And it only looks like a confusing mass of exceptions if you miss the overarching picture that all living things have to accomplish the same basic tasks & functions.

    So, back to biological sex: in humans (and many other species), the necessary task of reproduction – not necessary for each individual, but necessary for the species to survive – is accomplished through sexual dimorphism. Not every species has ended up sexually dimorphic; there are other ways to accomplish the task of reproduction. But that’s what Homo sapiens sapiens ended up with, along its evolutionary path.

    Figure out the basic tasks/functions that life forms need to accomplish, and you have the overarching structure of biology.

    *sits back & waits for HJ to compare me, also, to a creationist*

  318. Guestus Aurelius says

    HJ Hornbeck:

    Why are you so concerned with turning this debate into a game of “gotcha”? The bulk of your most recent comment directed at me went something like this:

    “Creationists often repeat themselves. You have repeated yourself. Haha. Also, you originally said this one thing that was mistaken, and even though you corrected yourself, I’m going to take this other thing you said later in a different context and place it back-to-back with that first mistaken thing you said so that it looks like you’ve contradicted yourself. Ha! You’ve contradicted yourself! Gotcha!”

    You’re being blatantly dishonest, and I’ll take a moment to demonstrate that. Here is one of your most recent “gotchas”:

    HJ Hornbeck @324:

    Guestus Aurelius @284:

    People, dogs, cats, birds, fish, dinosaurs, trilobites, trees, mushrooms—we can all trace our ancestry back to the earliest gametically dimorphic unicellular blobs. What we all have in common (except for the “few species which have secondarily” evolved in other directions) is gametic dimorphism.

    The messy details of “biological sex” itself are evolutionary byproducts of gametic dimorphism.

    Guestus Aurelius @296:

    If one were inclined to take you seriously, one might simply point out that it’s human sexual reproduction that requires a male gamete and a female gamete, and that what you’re pointing to as an exception doesn’t qualify as human sexual reproduction. [...]

    But I’d ask that you please grant that the concept you[']r[e] pointing to is not the same concept that biologists have in mind when they conceive of human sexual reproduction, which, again, has everything to do with evolution via natural selection.

    Ooo, I see a subtle shift of the goalposts! Before you made it clear this was a general pattern in evolution; now, you paint it as if you were talking about humans all the time.

    In the quotation from 284, I was making a point (mistaken and subsequently revised) about anisogamous species in general. In the quotation from 296, I was following-up on a completely different point that was about humans specifically, a point that you had just responded to in 293 (I’ve emboldened some pertinent text):

    HJ Hornbeck @293

    Guestus Aurelius:

    Sexual reproduction in our species requires one female gamete and one male gamete (spare me the lecture on exceptions recently made possible in laboratories—a dishonest derail if I’ve ever seen one).

    Exceptions that would disprove your argument are considered derailing, eh? You’re pretty good at rhetoric, I’ll grant you that.

    So my snippets at 284 and 296 were in reference to separate points. There is no contradiction between them. But you’ve quote-mined them and placed them back-to-back in order to accuse me of shifting the goalposts.

    Please, no more of this “gotcha” game!

    I’m going to summarize (and refine) my salient points once more, and then I’ll ask you a simple question. I hope you will do me the courtesy of giving me a straight answer.

    All or almost all gonochoric species, including humans, exhibit a statistically very significant binary clustering of genotypic and phenotypic sex characteristics. There’s nothing arbitrary about this clustering—biologists have explained it as a secondary evolutionary byproduct of gametic dimorphism, and this big-picture view is crucial for understanding much of the planet’s biodiversity. Naturally, it’s useful for biologists to define terms in ways that enable them to discuss these phenomena. According to the biological definitions of terms like “male,” “female,” “sex,” and “sexual dimorphism,” our species has two sexes—male and female—and is sexually dimorphic, even though some individuals who constitute a small proportion of the population aren’t unambiguously one sex or the other.

    Question: Do you dispute anything in that paragraph?

  319. Pitchguest says

    Hornbeck:

    You’re improving, Pitchguest, now you’re up to repeating arguments that were refuted five days ago.

    Oh, thank you, your lordship, but if you mean your “transformation through analogy” then it’s not even a response, let alone a refutation. Again, though, you still seem to have this great aversion for actually giving a straight answer. Might want to work on that if you’re genuinely trying to educate people instead of, er, “punching down” as it were. Something to consider.

  320. Skep tickle says

    HJ #324:

    In fact, I’m about to spend more time refuting my own arguments. Skep tickle was right @273:

    Re Dolly. Three sheep were used in her creation: 1 for the egg, 1 for the chromosomal DNA, and 1 for gestation. (Also a bunch of scientists, reagents, equipment, etc.) The somatic cell (mom-1) provided the nuclear DNA (54XX, normal for sheep, & as Schala says, half was from mom-1′s father). The somatic cell taken from the mammary gland of an adult sheep; that cell being differentiated, from an adult, was what was new about Dolly compared with previously cloned animals. The e-nucleated egg (mom-2) provided the mitochondrial DNA.

    And, strangely, wrong @308:

    Dolly came from 2 gametes: her karyotype was 54XX; 27X were from a male and 27X were from a female. Dolly was artificially manufactured by using a somatic cell with that karyotype and, in order to induce it to develop as an embryo, the nucleus containing those chromosomes

    Dolly was a clone. Definition of clone: “an organism or cell, or group of organisms or cells, produced asexually from one ancestor or stock, to which they are genetically identical.”

    Dolly’s nuclear DNA was identical to the DNA of her mom-1, the sheep from whom a somatic cell was taken; the animal of which Dolly was a clone.

    That nuclear DNA came from 2 gametes, 27X from a male sheep and 27X from a female sheep, who had been the parents of mom-1, the sheep from which a somatic cell was taken; the animal of which Dolly was a clone.

    Thus, the DNA that resulted in Dolly developing from a single cell into an entire sheep and that governed her biological functions (well, almost all of them) came from 2 gametes, 1 male and 1 female.

    Skep tickle somehow forgot to link to the original Nature paper; while it’s behind a pay-wall and thus off-limits to the public, the abstract provides all the information you need:

    I didn’t forget.

    1) I prefer not to link to the abstract of a paper that’s not accessible to people who might follow the link, unless that abstract seems to provide clearly useful information that can’t be readily accessed by another route.

    2) I prefer in general not to link to the abstract of a paper that’s not accessible to me, because the abstract may not tell the whole story, unless that abstract seems to provide clearly useful information that can’t be readily accessed by another route.

    3) Somatic cell nuclear transfer is not new. It was not new when Dolly was cloned. The 1997 abstract that you linked does not say anything new about somatic cell nuclear transfer. The parts that refers to Dolly do so because Dolly was made from a differentiated somatic cell; that was her claim to fame. (She was the first mammal to be cloned from a differentiated somatic cell.)

    Here’s what you quoted from that abstract (the 2nd, 3rd, & 4th sentences from the abstract):

    Transfer of a single nucleus at a specific stage of development, to an enucleated unfertilized egg, provided an opportunity to investigate whether cellular differentiation to that stage involved irreversible genetic modification. The first offspring to develop from a differentiated cell were born after nuclear transfer from an embryo-derived cell line that had been induced to become quiescent. Using the same procedure, we now report the birth of live lambs from three new cell populations established from adult mammary gland, fetus and embryo.

    Here’s the part that refers to Dolly & why her successful cloning was new & important (the 5th & 6th sentences of the 6-sentence abstract):

    The fact that a lamb was derived from an adult cell confirms that differentiation of that cell did not involve the irreversible modification of genetic material required for development to term. The birth of lambs from differentiated fetal and adult cells also reinforces previous speculation1,2 that by inducing donor cells to become quiescent it will be possible to obtain normal development from a wide variety of differentiated cells.

    As it has turned out to be, apparently. (But this is not my field.)

    4) If you want a paper about somatic cell nuclear transfer, try this (free, complete) paper from 1968; it describes the method (as it was done at that time, at least) in great detail.

    You continued:

    So Dolly was created from one gamete, and unfertilized egg, that had the genetic code removed from its nucleus (“enucleated”) and substituted with the code from another cell,

    (Clarification: “and unfertilized egg” should be “an unfertilized egg”)

    Dolly was created from:
    1) the cytoplasm of one gamete – a gamete with its haploid nucleus removed – a gamete which could provide no nuclear DNA, which in every other circumstances is the MAIN function of a gamete

    2) the nucleus of a somatic (diploid) cell, with 27X chromosomes that had originally come from an intact female sheep gamete (6-7 years earlier) and 27X chromosomes that had originally come from an intact male gamete (6-7 years earlier)

    “The gamete” that was used to make Dolly was used as a carrier for the genetic material from the somatic cell, and one that was, importantly, primed (because it was a female gamete) to start developing into a zygote, then embryo, then fetus, then lamb. Genetically, “the gamete” used to make Dolly was not a player in this process (rounding down to ignore its mitochondrial DNA for this purpose). Not that it wasn’t important – it was crucial. But it did not contribute to Dolly’s nuclear genes, the very thing that defined her a clone of mom-1, the somatic cell donor.

    …in this case the “mammary gland of a 6-year-old ewe in the last trimester of pregnancy.” Hence the name Dolly:

    Stockmen involved in the delivery thought of the fact that the cell used came from a mammary gland and arrived at Dolly Parton, the country and western singer.

    Seems rude to me, but Dolly Parton may not have taken offense.

    You continued,

    Which makes it bizarre that Skep tickle would say Dolly “had come from one male sheep and one female sheep;” if you are so medically knowledgeable and a careful researcher, how could you miss something like that?

    Uh, because that’s where her genome DID come from. (Her nuclear genome, which AFAIK is what people tend to mean by “genome” unless they’re specifying that the mitochondrial genome is included. But anyone in the know otherwise, please correct me. But, if it specifically includes mitochondrial DNA, does the definition of “clone” have to change?)

    As I’d phrased it, see you quoting me at the top here: “Three sheep were used in her creation…(Also a bunch of scientists, reagents, equipment, etc.)” But the “her” that was “her” was almost entirely from her nuclear DNA, from her mom-1, from the 2 haploid gametes that had made mom-1.

  321. Skep tickle says

    I second this request from Guestus Aurelius in #332 above as the one to focus on answering next:

    I’m going to summarize (and refine) my salient points once more, and then I’ll ask you a simple question. I hope you will do me the courtesy of giving me a straight answer.

    All or almost all gonochoric species, including humans, exhibit a statistically very significant binary clustering of genotypic and phenotypic sex characteristics. There’s nothing arbitrary about this clustering—biologists have explained it as a secondary evolutionary byproduct of gametic dimorphism, and this big-picture view is crucial for understanding much of the planet’s biodiversity. Naturally, it’s useful for biologists to define terms in ways that enable them to discuss these phenomena. According to the biological definitions of terms like “male,” “female,” “sex,” and “sexual dimorphism,” our species has two sexes—male and female—and is sexually dimorphic, even though some individuals who constitute a small proportion of the population aren’t unambiguously one sex or the other.

    Question: Do you dispute anything in that paragraph?

    (And I thank G.A. for introducing me to a new word: “gonochoric”!)

  322. says

    I third the request by Guestus Aurelius with the addition of an request to mainly deal with the central contention, should any nitpick arise.

    I’m going to summarize (and refine) my salient points once more, and then I’ll ask you a simple question. I hope you will do me the courtesy of giving me a straight answer.

    All or almost all gonochoric species, including humans, exhibit a statistically very significant binary clustering of genotypic and phenotypic sex characteristics. There’s nothing arbitrary about this clustering—biologists have explained it as a secondary evolutionary byproduct of gametic dimorphism, and this big-picture view is crucial for understanding much of the planet’s biodiversity. Naturally, it’s useful for biologists to define terms in ways that enable them to discuss these phenomena. According to the biological definitions of terms like “male,” “female,” “sex,” and “sexual dimorphism,” our species has two sexes—male and female—and is sexually dimorphic, even though some individuals who constitute a small proportion of the population aren’t unambiguously one sex or the other.

    Question: Do you dispute anything in that paragraph?

  323. Matt Cavanaugh says

    HJ Hornbeck wrote: I suppose you also think the existence of gays is an insult to straight people. How dare they not fit into our categories?!
    HJ, you clearly think the intentional distortion of people’s words makes you a clever debater.
    1) I took umbrage with Schala’s assertion that physical sexuality or parenting are “irrelevant” to anyone’s identity. It was a narrow point, which I subsequently reiterated. I’d attribute your misrepresentation of my position to poor reading skills, were it not for your track record of intentionally distorting your opponents’ statements;
    2) I said nothing about homosexuality. Your crude attempt to slander me by association is typical of your intellectual dishonesty;
    3) Thank you for linking to Atheism Neat, where anyone with but a cursory knowledge of biology and genetics will discover that on these subjects you are indeed woefully ignorant and misinformed;
    4) After refusing to answer a few direct, fairly simple questions posed to you at (the unmoderated) Atheism Neat, about the role of sex and sexual reproduction in evolution, medicine, and ethology, you continue to evade direct questions here with your gish gallops, verbal smoke screens, and juvenile sophistry. You go on to brag at the friendly confines of (the heavily-moderated) Pharyngula of your rhetorical trickery vs. myself, Steersman, & Edward Gemmer;
    5) Since you consider your rhetorical skills vastly superior to mine, then surely you will agree to debate me live on this subject? I await your response so we can work out the logistics.

  324. Steersman says

    Guestus Aurelius (#332):

    I’m going to summarize (and refine) my salient points once more, and then I’ll ask you a simple question. I hope you will do me the courtesy of giving me a straight answer.

    Good question and succinct preamble – new word (gonochoric) every day and all that – but I would say you’re expecting a lot if you expect a “straight answer” from HJ. The inability to do so is either congenital or, more likely, the result of dogma, the essence of which (so to speak) seems of some relevance. Specifically, since he has staked out his position, the hill he apparently wishes to die on, by asserting (1) that “Sex really is a social construct, then, exactly as the Transfeminist Manifesto claims”, it seems justified to quote someat therefrom (2):

    While the second wave of feminism popularized the idea that one’s gender is distinct from her or his physiological sex and is socially and culturally constructed, it largely left unquestioned the belief that there was such a thing as true physical sex. ….[/pg 4]

    Trans people have often been described as those whose physical sex does not match the gender of their mind or soul. This explanation might make sense intuitively, but it is nonetheless problematic for transfeminism. To say that one has a female mind or soul would mean that there are male and female minds that are different from each other in some identifiable way, which in turn may be used to justify discrimination against women. Essentializing our gender identity can be just as dangerous as resorting to biological essentialism. [pg 4]

    While one might sympathize with, and even support, some of the positions therein – for example, on the “pathologization of gender identity”, and on “surgical corrections” – what seems particularly problematic there and in HJ’s position is the denial (science-biology-denialism) that there is anything “essential” in the biology of human sexual reproduction. And while it might be moot just what constitutes those essentials – the sine qua non of the phenomenon – it seems that, as even HJ apparently accepted (3) during a discussion with Skep tickle, the essential structural elements at least include a diploid genome, meiosis, “meiotic recombination”, and anisogamy (4).

    In addition, it seems that many, including both HJ and the author of that Transfeminist Manifesto, Emi Koyama, have predicated their positions on a doctrinaire and dogmatic rejection of essentialism (5). Which seems tantamount to insisting that there are no differences between, say, an aardvark and a tennis racket: both are made out of the same sets of molecules so therefore no differences in either form or function. Looks rather “virulently anti-science, and anti-intellectual” to me.

    —-
    1) “_http://skeptischism.com/atheismneat/2014/02/16/sex-free-evolutionary-biology/#comment-168”;
    2) “_http://eminism.org/readings/pdf-rdg/tfmanifesto.pdf”;
    3) “_http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat/2014/02/21/is-gender-inherently-oppressive/#comment-50039”;
    4) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anisogamy”;
    5) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essentialism”;

  325. Guestus Aurelius says

    @Skep tickle and Steersman:

    Neither of you has heard the old adage, “Better gonochoric than gonorrheic”?

    Maybe you know Jimmy Dugan’s less affected variant: “Avoid the clap.”

  326. Skep tickle says

    hjhornbeck has posted his reply to Guestus Aurelius’ question, which I’ll remind you was:

    I’m going to summarize (and refine) my salient points once more, and then I’ll ask you a simple question. I hope you will do me the courtesy of giving me a straight answer.

    All or almost all gonochoric species, including humans, exhibit a statistically very significant binary clustering of genotypic and phenotypic sex characteristics. There’s nothing arbitrary about this clustering—biologists have explained it as a secondary evolutionary byproduct of gametic dimorphism, and this big-picture view is crucial for understanding much of the planet’s biodiversity. Naturally, it’s useful for biologists to define terms in ways that enable them to discuss these phenomena. According to the biological definitions of terms like “male,” “female,” “sex,” and “sexual dimorphism,” our species has two sexes—male and female—and is sexually dimorphic, even though some individuals who constitute a small proportion of the population aren’t unambiguously one sex or the other.

    Question: Do you dispute anything in that paragraph?

    HJ replied here; it’s quoted below, in part (bold text as at original; italics are my added emphasis).

    Apparently in asking this and expressing interest (expectation) in reading HJ’s reply, we have caused HJ to leave this thread to claim elsewhere that the discussion here (and at Matt’s) went exactly as he planned, and that it demonstrates that the people who disagreed with him (and kept with it) are part of a “hate group”.

    hjhornbeck wrote (in part):

    …there are two main hypothesis [sic]…

    ..if their self-perception is true, then their ideas should be unassailable even if you temporarily adopt their core premises as your own. If their self-perception is false, then pointing [out] contradictions between their beliefs and reality ratchets up their level of cognitive dissonance, leading them to either turn into self-refuting conspiracy nuts … or drop out and go silent. Throw enough grit in their wheels, and they’ll grind themselves into extinction.

    …If they’re a hate group, then they’ll dig hard to find some “dirt” they can fling back at you, no matter how off-topic; if they’re a bunch of skeptics, they’ll stick to the argument. If a hate group, they’ll go for quantity over quality, firing off long rambling posts with little care for the quality of their citations (if they cite at all); if a skeptic group, they’ll go for quality over quantity, writing only as long as needed to set up their argument and being careful to track down reasonably-strong citations. Hate group? They’ll camp on a thread, preferably in groups, and try goading people into replying to them. Skeptic group? They might toss out a bit of snark, but they’ll leave when the argument is done.

    The strategy I previously outlined will never work against a skeptic group. They’ll either fail to generate contradictions, or give up when they realize you’re goading them into continuing, or your [thesis] will be laughable to the average person.

    Laughable to the average person, indeed; that part I can agree with.

    But it works like a charm against a hate group. Oh my goodness, does it work! I can tell them exactly what I’m going to do, I can openly beg them to do exactly what I want, and they’ll blindly follow. Because that’s how a hate group must behave; they must keep talking to silence their targets, they must dig for every edge they can, no matter how lousy their arguments, otherwise they’ll wither away.

    So let me make my warning to [another forum] more explicit: I’m going to keep you talking. I’m going to let the contradictions wrack up. And I’m going to punt out an index post. Again. And again. And again. ….

    Well, okay. But don’t forget to point out to us where you put it.

    If you’re a hate group, this will slowly ratchet up your cognitive dissonance to levels that would make a 9/11 Truther back away, isolating you and causing your numbers to dwindle as your members silently realize what they’ve become.

    If you’re a skeptic group, you have nothing to fear, and we will be the isolated and dwindling ones.

    Okay. I’m good with that, too.

  327. Steersman says

    Skep tickle (#340):

    hjhornbeck has posted his reply to Guestus Aurelius’ question, which I’ll remind you was ….

    I see that H.J. has, as you’ve indicated, posted a comment about the discussion here in a Pharyngula thread, but I don’t see that it qualifies as an answer to G.A.’s question. As it is really only about a day since the posting of that question maybe we should hang-fire a bit? Maybe, as you suggested in the Pit, he’s “massing [his] forces and is about to lead them to triumph against [we] science-non-denialists”? Or maybe “he’s mulling things over, experiencing some dawning awareness” that he’s bitten off more than he can chew, that he’s defending an untenable position? In which case I suppose it is still a possibility that that recent comment of his is a bit of a smoke-screen to cover the fact that he is retiring from the field in some disarray.

    In any case, while I sympathize with your suggestion in the Pit that this discussion here has maybe been a bit of a derail, and maybe imposing on Ally’s “hospitality”, it seems that it is entirely germane to his OP since he has explicitly referred to the article “What gender is and what gender isn’t by “Marina S.”, as well as to the one by Alex Gabriel which highlighted, if I’m not mistaken, the rather fractious “discussion” between radical and trans feminists. And it seems that the crux of the matter is the apparent denial by the latter – as indicated in the Transfeminist Manifesto I’ve linked to earlier – that there is any essential element in “sex” or sexual reproduction in humans. And absent some consensus on what those essential elements might be, it seems we’re not likely to answer Ally’s question – and its rather problematic social consequences – if gender depends heavily, as seems to be the case, on the definition and elucidation of those elements.

  328. sirtooting . says

    @ steersman No. 276

    I wanted to clarify, the sperm are either carrying an X Chromosome or a Y Chromosome and the egg chooses which of the two it wants to use to fertilise the egg and then releases hormones to dissolve the sperm into the egg.

    That seems rather inaccurate. Even apart from the question of how the egg could be doing any “choosing”, although this link (1) suggests that the egg is “active” during the process of fertilization, it seems more accurate to say that the first sperm to cross the finish line blocks any further penetration of the egg. And while the outer shell of the sperm (2) is probably dissolved it’s probably the nucleus of it that is the basis of further development of the zygote (3).

    And sorry about the “Tootsie” from me – it was probably a bit of a cheap shot.

    yeah right, steersoveracliff ..

    No, you have it wrong .. the warrior sperm are not warriors at all.. they are just weaklings being pulled to the egg that acts like a magnet and they are actually trying to escape it

    The Egg “Grabs” the Sperm: 1878, 1919

    EXAMPLE: In 1919, E. E. Just published his research on fertilization in the sand dollar, Echinarachnius parma. At this stage of his career, Just was a young but influential observer of fertilization and early development in marine animals (which have been the material of choice for everyone else, including Schatten and Mazia). Just’s conclusions about the first moments of the process are like the common textbook account:

    Immediately on insemination, sperm pierce the jelly hull [not the egg itself], reaching the vitellus [the egg cell] with rapid spiral movements. The moment the tip of the sperm reaches the cortex of the vitellus all movements cease, the head and the tail in a straight line at right angles to a tangent of the egg surface. Penetration follow as an activity of the egg; the spermatozoon does not bore its way in—the egg pulls it in. (Just 1919, 5)

    Just, a scholar, was not content merely to report what he had seen (usually with greater care than did many of his contemporaries).[10] For his emphatic conclusion, he cited, therefore, available precedent: “Kupfer and Beneche in 1878 made similar observations on the lamprey egg and reached the conclusion that the sperm is engulfed” (5) Engulfed: note that, please. No monograph or serious textbook on fertilization or embryology that I know failed, after the 1920s, to figure or at least to mention the fact of engulfment or the “fertilization cone,” the egg structure that does the engulfing.

    The Aggressive Egg by Emily Martin

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:7qjyCINHnZ4J:www.math.jussieu.fr/~daubin/cours/Textes/Martin_EggSperm.pdf+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-a

  329. Skep tickle says

    Steersman @241:

    I see that H.J. has, as you’ve indicated, posted a comment about the discussion here in a Pharyngula thread, but I don’t see that it qualifies as an answer to G.A.’s question.

    I do apologize, Steers. I included no winkie or tag to make it clear that my calling it a reply to G.A.’s question was intended to be tongue-in-cheek.

    As it is really only about a day since the posting of that question maybe we should hang-fire a bit?

    It’s been ~48 hours since G.A. posted the question here. Enough time for HJ to post elsewhere (~24 hrs ago) claiming victory of, as he said, the Xanatos Roulette type. Or at least its parody: “…obviously (and blatantly)…out of [his] control, and yet [he] still…take[s] credit for it.”

  330. Steersman says

    Sirtooting (#342):

    yeah right, steersoveracliff ..

    Feel better now? ;-)

    The Aggressive Egg by Emily Martin

    Looks like an interesting paper; haven’t read all of it yet but this kind of leaped out at me:

    Even if we succeed in substituting more egalitarian, interactive metaphors to describe the activities of egg and sperm, and manage to avoid the pitfalls of cybernetic models, we would still be guilty of endowing cellular entities with personhood. More crucial, then, than what kinds of personalities we bestow on cells is the very fact that we are doing it at all. This process could ultimately have the most disturbing social consequences.

    While I think Martin’s metaphors might be a little strained and not particularly accurate, I’ll agree there’s some justification for that “endowing”. Apropos of which, you might be interested in this observation from the Preface of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene:

    The Selfish Gene has been criticized for anthropomorphic personification and this too needs an explanation, if not an apology. [He then offers several examples from others including “the great molecular biologist Jacques Monod” and “Peter Atkins in his wonderful book ‘Creation Revisited’”]

    Personification of this kind is not just a quaint didactic device. It can also help a professional scientist to get the right answer, in the face of tricky temptations to error. Such is the case with Darwinian calculations of altruism and selfishness, cooperation and spite. It is very easy to get the wrong answer. Personifying genes, if done with due care and caution, often turns out to be the shortest route to rescuing a Darwinian theorist drowning in a muddle. [pg x-xi]

    P.S. You might want to try using some of the HTML formatting codes listed below the edit box. For one thing, there seems less likelihood of losing long hyperlinks if they’re hidden underneath short words or phrases like this.

  331. sirtooting . says

    @ steersman
    “P.S. You might want to try using some of the HTML formatting codes listed below the edit box. For one thing, there seems less likelihood of losing long hyperlinks if they’re hidden underneath short words or phrases like this.”
    Or it could possibly be due to the way you have your particular browser set up, that causes you not to be able to see it fully..

    “That seems rather inaccurate. Even apart from the question of how the egg could be doing any “choosing”..

    Dragging the sperm towards the egg,.. the movement in the tail of the sperm is not voluntary, it thrashes due to hormones emitted from the egg .. the sperm is being steered towards it’s destination..
    So, as to this remark ” Even apart from the question of how the egg could be doing any “choosing” .. Well you have to finish reading Mrs Martins papers to find that out… won’t you
    And she is quite right many of these things are described in away that promotes masculinity being the dominant force .. and that in many instances is the way the male like to imagine it and promote it .. he flatters himself, endlessly and that is an arrogance, that after awhile beings to grate ..

  332. sirtooting . says

    correction
    “he flatters himself, endlessly and that is an arrogance, that after awhile BEGINS to grate ..

    This information really ought to be corrected in biology classes, it is currently very misleading and gives people the wrong impression of what actually occurs during this process.
    It is part of the male propaganda process. A blot on the landscape that is already blighted by so many..

  333. says

    … people who disagreed with him (and kept with it) are part of a “hate group”.

    Per HJ’s logic, places like The Mayo Clinic & Hughes Medical are hate groups, as is every university dept. of biology, OB/GYN, urology, endocrinology, etc., with Oxford University, birthplace of evolutionary biology, the mother church of hate groups!

    I support gender equality. I support gay rights. I support trans* rights. I support acceptance of diverse gender expressions. To hold these positions, it is not required of me to bow down before the fractured fairy tales of some science-illiterate dabbler in postmodernist philosophy.

  334. says

    Cavanaugh could never even bring himself to read my citations, let alone grasp that subtle bit of reasoning.

    Yes, compared to your immense intellect, I’m just barking “Hodor! Hodor!” You’ll mos def clobber me in our live debate.

    Here’s the trouble with your scientific citations, HJ: all you’re offering us is your exceedingly unique & creative interpretation of them. Why should I read the article on Dolly, for example, when you so gloriously bollox how cloning actually works? Nor do I need to peruse some paper on sea snails to recognize you don’t even know the difference between hermaphroditic vs. asexual reproduction.

    Where are the quotes from peer-reviewed articles to substantiate your claim that asking how many sexes there are is “as absurd as asking how many legs a unicorn has”? No, for that, you must rely on the Transgender Manifesto — that, and your bolloxed quote-mine of de Beauvoir.

    … one of six books by Dawkins that I own….

    Ah, then you surely realize that, unlike you, Dawkins is a neo-darwinist who, unlike you, very much believes in the reality of sexual reproduction and the profound impact it has on evolution, on behavior & other phenotypes. Having read Dawkins’ books, you should now be quite familiar with the work of Fisher, Haldane, Williams, Maynard Smith & Hamilton. So it’s odd that you’re unable to answer the simple question I posed at Atheism Neat:

    Ethologists explain animal behaviors such as altruism and kin selection via genetics. In social insects like bees, female workers do not reproduce, rather devote themselves to raising the queen’s offspring, even sacrificing their lives — when stinging — to protect the hive. This behavior perplexed Darwin, but R.A. Fisher first formulated an explanation, based on the particular mechanics of sexual reproduction in eusocial insects.
    Q2a: What was Fisher’s solution?

    Q2b: Provide an explanation for this behavior that does not involve sexual reproduction.

    Shall I tell you on which pages in which books the answer lies, or do you want to have the enjoyment of discovering them all yourself?

    *
    While your at it, you could reply to Windy, who, when you quoted Dawkins —

    Indeed, in several of Darwin’s books – more so in others than On the Origin of the Species itself – you’ll understand fully what he’s on about only if you shed modern presuppositions about evolution

    — asked, Indeed, and one of his books seems especially relevant to the present subject, namely The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. Can you summarize what Darwin was “on about” in that one and how it relates to your “non-essentialist” vision of biology?

  335. Steersman says

    Sirtooting (#345, #346):

    Or it could possibly be due to the way you have your particular browser set up, that causes you not to be able to see it fully..

    Not fuly visible in two different browsers – Chrome and IE8. And I did manage to access it to be able to quote from it, didn’t I? But maybe FTB provides those features for a reason? Just a thought.

    Dragging the sperm towards the egg,.. the movement in the tail of the sperm is not voluntary, it thrashes due to hormones emitted from the egg .. the sperm is being steered towards it’s destination..

    Seems plausible that something analogous to pheremones directing mating behaviour in various species is taking place with egg and sperm. Although “being steered” might be a stretch – “the pitfalls of cybernetic models” that Martin referred to; you could refer to this for elaboration.. The pheremones and hormones look more like multiple balls on a roulette wheel falling in towards the center; or like water in a whirlpool or vortex going down a sink drain.

    It is part of the male propaganda process. A blot on the landscape that is already blighted by so many..

    Damn patriarchy gets into everything – at our next meeting I’ll be sure to bring up your objections to that “propaganda” for discussion. Seems to me that you, apparently, and many others make far too much out of that patriarchy thing, are engaging in some highly questionable reification. Not helping at all. While there might be some justification for the inference, it seems to me that things like “chairman” are less a case of intention, nefarious skullduggery, and “propaganda” than a consequence of defaults or a reflection of the most common case. When that changes the language generally follows in suit.

  336. johngreg says

    Steers said:

    Damn patriarchy gets into everything….

    All your base are belong to patriarch.

  337. sirtooting . says

    Steersman No.349

    “Not fully visible in two different browsers – Chrome and IE8. And I did manage to access it to be able to quote from it, didn’t I? But maybe FTB provides those features for a reason? Just a thought.”

    Well, I could see it perfectly well using opera, sea-monkey and firefox but in comodo, IE, Chrome Beta, Chrome, & Maxathon it is spewed across the page.
    There It is the browser settings then isn’t it..

    “Damn patriarchy gets into everything – at our next meeting I’ll be sure to bring up your objections to that “propaganda” for discussion.”

    Good, I you would.

    Up to the 1980’s text books in schools concerning geography and most of all the other subjects concerning anything, history, art , you name it, .Were mostly in reference to HE.
    Geography books which referenced different farming techniques across the world .. Referred to it this way .. He ploughed, he drove, he sowed, he reaped .. It was all .. He did this, He did that.. He did the bloody other..
    Kind of galling when you are aware that 51% of all the world’s farmers are actually female..
    That is a culture that is intent on promoting the male and his potential whilst deliberately denying the female hers.

    This gives children the wrong idea about there place in the world and how they are treated in it ..
    The illustrious male has role models galore, his culture made sure he would not be overlooked in that regard .. and the female .. Well .. she never got a look in ..

  338. Skep tickle says

    sirtooting #352

    That is a culture that is intent on promoting the male and his potential whilst deliberately denying the female hers.

    This gives children the wrong idea about there place in the world and how they are treated in it ..
    The illustrious male has role models galore, his culture made sure he would not be overlooked in that regard .. and the female .. Well .. she never got a look in ..

    Does presenting the ovum as pro-active (or even the aggressor) and the sperm as quite passive (or even the victim) in the fertilization process somehow make amends for that, and for the passive-ovum model? AFAIK it’s just as erroneous. (But please do feel free to present some evidence to support the ova-grabs-unwitting-sperm-by-the-tail model that you’re presenting here.)

  339. sirtooting . says

    [DELETED BY AF: PERSONAL ABUSE]

    And after trying my patience once too often with repeated and flagrant breaches of our agreed commenting guidelines, sirtooting has been banned from this blog.

    Apologies if that kills any ongoing conversations.

    Ally Fogg

  340. says

    Matthew,

    Thanks for the link and the free book. May I ask you a question that HJ Hornbeck refuses to answer? (HJ refuses to answer all questions, but I’ll just ask you this one.)

    Butler and Kristeva are philosophers, postmodernists, both disciples of the disgraced Lacan. Both deny the real, tangible existence of the male & female sexes. Butler seemingly goes so far as to imply that the physical body bends to cultural concepts:

    … sex is not “a bodily given on which the construct of gender is artificially imposed, but… a cultural norm which governs the materialization of bodies” …. the body becomes its gender only “through a series of acts which are renewed, revised, and consolidated through time….”

    In stark contrast, biologists, physicians, geneticists, et al. all confirm the very real nature of binary sex in humans. My question: on what grounds do philosophers assert that their vision of sex trumps that of scientists?

  341. says

    I haven’t read much Bulter or Kristeva, so I’m not really confident about this.

    My understanding was that they drew a distinction between gender identity and bodies. So you only became ‘male’ (gender identity ) through the performance of masculinity not by the fact of having a male body. I think their just using the words in a different sense.

    Also, as Fogg points out the piece, it isn’t an ‘absolute’ binary. In the sense that Intersexed people exist.

  342. J. J. Ramsey says

    The more I think about it, the more H. J. Hornbeck’s claim that sex is a “social construct” is a deepity, especially in the sense of something that has “two meanings: one that is true but trivial, and another that sounds profound, but is essentially false or meaningless and would be ‘earth-shattering’ if true.”

    On the one hand, if he only means to say that sex is a social construct in the way that Newtonian mechanics, Einsteinian relativity, and the germ theory of disease are social constructs, then he really isn’t saying anything interesting. On the other hand, most of his arguments, such as his pointing out of homologies between male and female genitalia, seem to be geared towards a thesis that is far more radical. Indeed, to the extent that what he argues is coherent at all, he writes as if he is arguing against the existence of two neighboring mountains on the grounds that the boundaries of the valley between them is fuzzy.

  343. says

    My understanding was that [Butler & Kristeva] drew a distinction between gender identity and bodies. So you only became ‘male’ (gender identity ) through the performance of masculinity not by the fact of having a male body. I think their just using the words in a different sense.

    It would reduce the confusion greatly if everyone was consistent when defining & using terms!

    Butler is an author that many quote, few have read, and still fewer understand. IMO, she’s a lacanian charlatan, playing the Emperor’s New Clothes con. Still, it’s obvious she’s expressly referring to physical sex, not just mental identities of gender.

    As … Fogg points out …, it isn’t an ‘absolute’ binary. In the sense that Intersexed people exist.

    Skep tickle, in her comments here and at Atheism Neat, explains how intersex conditions are strong confirmation of sexual dimorphism. They are instances where the natural sex determination processes have gone awry, not examples of natural, additional sex categories, as argued by some.

    In contrast, HJ repeatedly points to intersex conditions as evidence against binary sex in nature, and concludes his youtube video by asserting that sex differences don’t/can’t exist because sex — that is, “male” and “female” — “really is a social construct.”

    It’s always hard to discern whatever point lies beneath Alex Gabriel’s avalanche of overwrought prose, but on this he seems to agree with Hornbeck. Acknowledging he’s strongly influenced by Butler, Gabriel says, under the subhead, “Sex is derived from gender,”:

    “Zoologists didn’t’ coin ‘male’ or ‘female’…. The reality is the reverse: said designations operated for millennia before we studied sex – chromosomes, internal organs, gametes, hormones….”

    Gabriel also rejects in principle the scientific premise of sexual dimorphism, for having originated in gender-binary cultures. (Without ever stopping to wonder what led those cultures to become gender-binary in the first place.) When Gabriel opines that ‘two-spirit’-friendly societies would have developed a radically different Biology, he joins Hornbeck in disparaging every branch of modern science as ‘just another way of knowing.’

    All this smacks of woo — the sort of mind-over-matter junk one would expect to find at Deepak Chopra’s website, not at an alleged skeptics’ blog network. What Hornbeck, Gabriel and others propose is not some benign, PC tweaking of how we talk about sex & gender. It’s pure Lysenkoism, the perversion of Science in the name of socio-political dogma.

  344. hjhornbeck says

    hjhornbeck @135:

    A social construct is just a model of the universe shared between people. Newtonian Mechanics is a social construct, as is Keynesian economics and the 80/20 rule. We use these constructs to simplify and predict complicated, messy interactions. Some of them work better than others, and the two-sex model is on the better side of the scale.

    hjhornbeck @162:

    Called it! If you are a realist, there is no difference between description and described. So when a constructionist denies a description is accurate, the realist thinks they’re denying the existence of the described. Anyone who’s made the mistake of assuming me or any other person taking the constructivist view is a denier of biology has outed themselves as a sexual realist, on some level.

    J. J. Ramsey @358:

    On the other hand, most of his arguments, such as his pointing out of homologies between male and female genitalia, seem to be geared towards a thesis that is far more radical. Indeed, to the extent that what he argues is coherent at all, he writes as if he is arguing against the existence of two neighboring mountains on the grounds that the boundaries of the valley between them is fuzzy.

    Congratulations, you’ve repeated the same mistake that multiple others have made on this thread, and revealed that you hold to contradictory views. The above quote outs you as a realist, yet just before it you accepted the constructionist view:

    The more I think about it, the more H. J. Hornbeck’s claim that sex is a “social construct” is a deepity, especially in the sense of something that has “two meanings: one that is true but trivial, and another that sounds profound, but is essentially false or meaningless and would be ‘earth-shattering’ if true.”

    That rescues my view from being a deepity, incidentally, as the falsehood is a misinterpretation on your part. The view that sex is a social construct would indeed be trivial were it not for the existence of people who ascribe it reality, in the same way that the view of the gods as a social construct would be trivial except for people who claim the gods are not.

  345. hjhornbeck says

    Matthew Toll @355:

    Here is a PDF copy of Bulter’s book.

    Danke! I’ve avoided “Gender Trouble,” as others have criticized it for being somewhat trans-exclusionary, and instead picked up “Undoing Gender,” which is essentially her response to criticisms of that earlier book and now sits high on my “books I should probably be reading” pile. Every time I glance towards it, though, I’m reminded of Nussbaum’s blistering criticism of Butler. Either way, it should make for an interesting read.

  346. Steersman says

    HJHornbeck (#360):

    A social construct is just a model of the universe shared between people. Newtonian Mechanics is a social construct, as is Keynesian economics and the 80/20 rule. We use these constructs to simplify and predict complicated, messy interactions. Some of them work better than others, and the two-sex model is on the better side of the scale.

    You sure do seem to have a “funny”, not to say self-serving, idea about the nature of models: you apparently wish to deny that there is any fundamental underlying reality that is being modeled by the phrases and terms used to describe it – idealism if I’m not mistaken. But you might just as well insist that photosynthesis is a social construct since it is, like sexual reproduction, a process. In the case of the latter, would you deny that it consists of generally diploid individuals producing haploid gametes that produce viable zygotes that “breed true”? Well those individuals happen to be defined as “male” and “female”.

  347. J. J. Ramsey says

    If anyone is being contradictory, Hornbeck, it is you. When one says that something is a social construct, the usual implication is that it is somehow not real. And indeed, given that you’ve made the radical claim[1] in post #65 that the distinction between a penis and a clitoris is arbitrary, you do seem to claim that sex differences are not real. When you later said in post #135 that sex is a “social construct” in the way that in the way that Newtonian and Einsteinian models of physics — which are far from arbitrary — are social constructs, you seemed to be using “social construct” in a far weaker sense and walking back from your wilder assertions.

    [1] and a problematic one, given what Myers pointed out in post #95 about how the penis and clitoris are only partially homologous

  348. Wine.E.M. says

    As to the principle question, ‘is gender oppressive’, I think you could equally ask is politics intrinsically oppressive? To which you might say it all depends how it is used. Politics has become oppressive, because it is now the domain for managerial technocrats, whose policies are designed to please big corporations and to take more and more money away from the poor in our society.

    When it comes to gender, there are a similar range of set beliefs and attitudes held by the big parties, which invariably go completely unchallenged. But having said that, sometimes there are indications of the scale of discrimination against men which come to light, and they just make your jaw drop.

    For instance, there was a debate in the Lords the other day marking ‘International Women’s Day’, during which someone called Baroness Prosser stated that, in 2006, under Gordon Brown, a 40 million pound fund was established for ‘women-only’ skills training. She revealed that this programme came to an end only last year, so apparently has been a feature under the Tories as well.

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldhansrd/text/140306-0001.htm#14030665000541

    (column 1474).

    I just find it incredible that a) there was no objection to this, when if politicians had chosen another group in society, based on some arbitrary physical characteristic, there would have been uproar (I don’t know, like saying for instance we’re going to give tens of millions to asian people, but no other ethnic group. It would just be blatantly absurd.)

    But also b) that the press made no effort to communicate the starkness and the scale of this discrimination to the public, which kind of ties-in with Ally’s account of the media turning a complete blind eye to the vested interests when reporting on the All Party Group’s investigation into Swedish prostitution laws.

    But then it also makes me think that when some people are inclined to tell me that gendered policy in government does not amount to substantial discrimination against the male sex, and that such a belief is ‘so stupid it hardly deserves to be debated’ or whatever, that it is rather interesting to ask what is behind that attitude as well.

    And I think that, while there is a lot of cynicism and game-playing that goes on in British media and politics, in this particular arena here, it’s simply a question of not having been bothered to research the subject properly and appraise what has been going on. Certainly, knowing Ally quite well from his comments and his writings, it is not self-interest which gives rise to some of the pre-conceptions found on this site, but (dare one say it!) just a slight naivity and complacency about how deep the discrimination against men has in fact been up till now.

  349. says

    HJ Hornbeck (#360) wrote:

    It’s just a flesh wound.

    Serious, specific questions have been posed to you in an earnest, intelligent manner. Yet here you are, preening about your video-game-inspired sophistry.

  350. hjhornbeck says

    J J Ramsey @363:

    When one says that something is a social construct, the usual implication is that it is somehow not real.

    You may want to tell J J Ramsey that, as they implied otherwise.

    J J Ramsey @358:

    On the one hand, if he only means to say that sex is a social construct in the way that Newtonian mechanics, Einsteinian relativity, and the germ theory of disease are social constructs, then he really isn’t saying anything interesting.

    J J Ramsey @363:

    When you later said in post #135 that sex is a “social construct” in the way that in the way that Newtonian and Einsteinian models of physics — which are far from arbitrary — are social constructs, you seemed to be using “social construct” in a far weaker sense and walking back from your wilder assertions.

    From my lecture:

    At the same time, there are patterns in how we develop, some of which are more likely to happen than others. To represent these patterns, we have jointly developed some terms to tame the complexity, terms like “male” and “female.”

    Sex really is a social construct, then, exactly as the Transfeminist Manifesto claims.

    hjhornbeck @8:

    I think you and Myers are making the same error of confusing the description with the described. Gravity is real, but it has many constructed models to describe it such as Newtonian Mechanics and General Relativity. In the same manner, genes, hormones, chromosomes, and anatomy are all real, while our descriptions and classifications are not real.

    My assertions have not changed in the last five weeks, and I have not backed down. The closest I’ve come is over the penis/clitoris division, as I wasn’t aware of the subtle non-homologies between the two structures. I’m not alone there, as other doctors and researchers have also accepted the lay view of thinking in terms of shafts, and according to that view the division is arbitrary (see #84, #87, and Fausto-Sterling’s Phal-O-Meter, upthread). I need to do more research on that area, but unless you want to claim the sex division is the penis/clitoris divide, it’s not a threat to either of my lecture’s theses.

  351. J. J. Ramsey says

    Me: “When one says that something is a social construct, the usual implication is that it is somehow not real.”

    Hornbeck: “You may want to tell J J Ramsey that, as they implied otherwise.”

    Quote-mine of #358 from Hornbeck: “On the one hand, if he only means to say that sex is a social construct in the way that Newtonian mechanics, Einsteinian relativity, and the germ theory of disease are social constructs, then he really isn’t saying anything interesting.”

    A somewhat fuller quote from #358, with annotations:

    … H. J. Hornbeck’s claim that sex is a “social construct” is a deepity, especially in the sense of something that has “two meanings: one that is true but trivial, and another that sounds profound, but is essentially false or meaningless and would be ‘earth-shattering’ if true.”

    On the one hand, if he only means to say that sex is a social construct in the way that Newtonian mechanics, Einsteinian relativity, and the germ theory of disease are social constructs, then he really isn’t saying anything interesting. [This is the true but trivial horn of the deepity, where "social construct" is used in a way that doesn't imply sex differences are not real] On the other hand, … he writes as if he is arguing against the existence of two neighboring mountains on the grounds that the boundaries of the valley between them is fuzzy. [The other horn of the deepity, where sex differences are implied to not be real. Since sex differences are supposedly a "social construct," this implies that "social construct" is used in the sense of "not real."]

    So what I really implied was that you were using “social construct” in a slippery, equivocal fashion.

  352. Skep tickle says

    Oh, hi, hjhornbeck – you’re back!

    While you were away between #329 to #360 (about a week), you might have missed Guestus Aurelius’s question posed specifically to you in #332 and pointed to again by several people subsequently. I suspect several people reading along would be interested in your reply:

    I’m going to summarize (and refine) my salient points once more, and then I’ll ask you a simple question. I hope you will do me the courtesy of giving me a straight answer.

    All or almost all gonochoric species, including humans, exhibit a statistically very significant binary clustering of genotypic and phenotypic sex characteristics. There’s nothing arbitrary about this clustering—biologists have explained it as a secondary evolutionary byproduct of gametic dimorphism, and this big-picture view is crucial for understanding much of the planet’s biodiversity. Naturally, it’s useful for biologists to define terms in ways that enable them to discuss these phenomena. According to the biological definitions of terms like “male,” “female,” “sex,” and “sexual dimorphism,” our species has two sexes—male and female—and is sexually dimorphic, even though some individuals who constitute a small proportion of the population aren’t unambiguously one sex or the other.

    Question: Do you dispute anything in that paragraph?

    Do you?

    Apologies if you’ve answered this elsewhere, my joking above that you were doing so at Pharyngula aside. Obviously, I know things can come up and most of your absence here for ~8 days was likely due to RL stuff, however for at least a little part of that time you were posting at that other FtB blog about how deftly you had shown those arguing against you in this thread to be “haters”. I must admit, that’s not a tactic of argumentation that I’ve run into before, but my experience outside of science & medicine is limited so perhaps it’s considered ‘fair play’ in other fields.

    Also, I’m curious: why have you not commented in the “Pathways to sex” thread? This being such an interest of yours, and all.

    Thanks -

  353. hjhornbeck says

    J. J. Ramsey @367:

    Wow, you’ve retreated the goalposts so far that you’re reduced to reinterpreting your own words via annotations, and blatantly ignoring what I say. You’re not worth the time.

    As for Cavanaugh, you’ve caught me in a good mood. @365:

    Serious, specific questions have been posed to you in an earnest, intelligent manner.

    All I see is PRATTing, the endless repetition of easily-answered questions that I’ve already answered. But I’ll indulge you this once: give me the best of those “earnest, intelligent” questions, and we’ll see if I missed a spot. Just one, though; throw more than one at me, and I’ll deliberately chose the weakest of the bunch.

  354. johngreg says

    OK, hornbeck, here’s one: What is your professional accreditation and/or real-world professional and/or academic experience and background?

    Meaning, what, other than your enormous ego, gives you the expertise to speak with (supposed) authority on the range of topics covered in this discussion.

  355. J. J. Ramsey says

    H.J. Hornbeck: “Wow, you’ve retreated the goalposts …”

    No, I had told you that you were equivocating (post #358) from the get-go, and then told you the means by which you were equivocating (post #363). Whatever “retreat” you see is in your own mind. I’m not moving my goalposts; I’ve been pointing out all along that you’ve been juggling yours.

    I suggest you stop the juggling by giving a straight answer to Skep tickle’s question at post #368.

  356. Skep tickle says

    hjhornbeck @369:

    All I see is PRATTing, the endless repetition of easily-answered questions that I’ve already answered. But I’ll indulge you this once: give me the best of those “earnest, intelligent” questions, and we’ll see if I missed a spot. Just one, though; throw more than one at me, and I’ll deliberately chose the weakest of the bunch.

    Hi, hj! Here’s “just one” question – the one from Guestus Aurelius that you’ve been asked to reply to about 4 times now. If you’ve “already answered” it, I missed the response, as did others. Go ahead & post it here, would you please?

    I’m going to summarize (and refine) my salient points once more, and then I’ll ask you a simple question. I hope you will do me the courtesy of giving me a straight answer.

    All or almost all gonochoric species, including humans, exhibit a statistically very significant binary clustering of genotypic and phenotypic sex characteristics. There’s nothing arbitrary about this clustering—biologists have explained it as a secondary evolutionary byproduct of gametic dimorphism, and this big-picture view is crucial for understanding much of the planet’s biodiversity. Naturally, it’s useful for biologists to define terms in ways that enable them to discuss these phenomena. According to the biological definitions of terms like “male,” “female,” “sex,” and “sexual dimorphism,” our species has two sexes—male and female—and is sexually dimorphic, even though some individuals who constitute a small proportion of the population aren’t unambiguously one sex or the other.

    Question: Do you dispute anything in that paragraph?

    (Don’t worry if it takes you away from the abortion threads at some of the other FtB sites for a while; they’ll do fine without you.)

  357. johngreg says

    ol’ hornybeck’s all caught up on the other end of FTB waltzing in the Radford Witch Hunt and Crucifixion Dance Party, so I don’t think he has time anymore for all youse, ahem, uneducated pleebs.

    /jus’ sayin’

  358. says

    Good text and great food for discussion. I like the first sentence : where gender is not a prison. That would be nice, but it is something almost impossible to accomplish, though it is in the hands of humanity. We are raised to block everything that is not right in our eyes. Weakness is not accepted, that ist the nature. How do we change that ?

  359. says

    I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme.
    Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?

    Plz answer back as I’m looking to construct my own blog and would like
    to know where u got this from. thank you

  360. says

    Really good text. People are superficial even if we think we aren’t. It’s hard to imagine someone else’s situation. We need to change that asap.

  361. says

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You definitely know what youre talking about,
    why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to
    your weblog when you could be giving us something informative to read?

    my weblog – Maybelle A. Shin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <