Rationality Rules is an Oblivious Transphobe

I have some regrets about my last post on Rationality Rules. I banged it out in just a few hours, while I was in the early stages of a nasty cold, and as I result I didn’t lay out all my arguments as clearly as I’d liked. I should have more clearly stated that his behavior was more in line with how a transphobe would react to the situation than someone who wasn’t transphobic. Now that I’ve had the benefit of time and RR’s long-teased follow-up video, I’ve had more time to reflect. As a result, I’ve refined my view of RR.

This new stance might not seem that charitable. After all, we’re talking about a video where RR says:

[1:58] I painted a picture of trans women essentially “stealing” competitions from non-trans women, and you’re absolutely right. I really dropped the ball here, and I will do my utmost best not to make this mistake again. In fact, going forward I’ll be very conscious of my narrative and language altogether, as such a sensitive topic requires nothing less. Truly, I should’ve known better. [2:20]

[9:23] … I absolutely recognise that my honest mistakes caused real harm, and for that I am sincerely sorry. The original video is now delisted and I’ve donated all of the ad revenue that it made to the transgender charity Sparkle. I know that it’ll never make up for the harm that I’ve caused, and that many of you will never consider me an ally again, I understand. [9:47]

He explicitly says a trans woman is a woman, too, at around the 1:40 mark. So why the harsh interpretation?

A muscle’s maximal force is, generally speaking, proportional to its physiological cross-sectional area (Izquierdo et al., 2001; Powell et al., 1984). If we consider two geometrically and Figure 1. Theoretical relationship between muscle force, step length and sprint running performance versus height. Relationship between muscle force relative to body mass and height (solid line). Step length versus height (dotted line). Sprint running performance versus height (dashed line).qualitatively similar individuals, we would expect all linear dimensions to be proportional. Accordingly, we would anticipate body mass (BM) to be proportional to height cubed (since mass equals density times volume), and muscle strength to be proportional to height squared (since area scales with height squared). In fact, it has been reported that muscle strength (measured as weight lifted) varied almost exactly with height squared in world weightlifting champions (Ford et al., 2000). Consequently, muscle strength relative to BM, i.e. the relative muscle strength (RMS), should be inversely proportional to height. In other words, we would expect RMS to decrease with increasing height.

In sprint running, the center of mass (COM) is accelerated during the early part of the race before reaching a plateau between 40 and 60 m into the race (Delecluse et al., 1995). During each step, the COM is accelerated both vertically and horizontally by the application of large forces during the stance phase, after the body is slowed by air resistance (horizontally) and negatively accelerated by gravity (vertically) prior to foot-ground contact. The acceleration of the body is proportional to the force produced but inversely proportional to the body mass, according to Newton’s second law. Therefore, in theory, the ability to accelerate the BM should be closely related to RMS. This implies an inverse relationship between height and performance in disciplines such as sprint running (Figure 1 [at right]).

Uth N. “Anthropometric comparison of world-class sprinters and normal populations.J Sports Sci Med. 2005;4(4):608–616. Published 2005 Dec 1.

Sprinting should be the easiest sport in the world to analyze. You’ve got to run from point A to point B as fast as possible, on a flat track with negligible environmental hazards. Take some time and walk through the quoted logic. The lines I emphasized seem like a reasonable conclusion; height may lengthen a sprinter’s limbs, but the added bulk that comes with height should slow them down. There must be some balance point where the two effects are in equilibrium.

And yet Usain Bolt exists.

Interestingly, most physiologists would predict that Bolt’s height at 6 ft, 4 inches (193 centimeters) would put him at a disadvantage. “Bigger people are going be slower out of the blocks,” says [Andrew] Udofa, simply because it takes more force to get them going. It’s the same thinking why animals like T. Rex and elephants are slower than you might expect; it takes a lot of force to get them going, and their muscles can’t maintain the energy needed to get them up to speed and then keep that pace. […]

Bolt’s stride is uneven: He generates about 1,080 pounds of force for an average right leg stride and 955 pounds on his left. That’s likely due to the runner’s reported scoliosis, which makes one of his legs slightly longer than the other, the New York Times reports…

Bolt remains the record holder in the 100m sprint, despite his unusual height and spinal deformity. On top of that, something interesting happens when you plot his annual best race times against the top 25 fastest male sprinters, as of this writing.Usain Bolt's best annual race times, 2007-2017Seven out of ten years, the world’s fastest 100m sprinter wouldn’t have held the 3rd fastest record time in 100m sprint; three out of ten, he wouldn’t even crack the top 25. The lesson is clear: there’s a shit-tonne of factors that feed into athletic performance, even in competitions like sprinting where those factors should be clear and simple. Athletic performance varies greatly, even when we only look at a single athlete, and this variance can easily overwhelm any in-built physiological factors. And none of the above incorporates social factors, which further muddies an already smeared picture.

So will the starting blocks at the 2012 Olympics be filled by giants? Probably not. One reason we’ve never seen such a tall sprinter is that athletes who combine height and coordination usually go out for more glamorous, high-paying sports. Usain Bolt would make a sensational wide receiver or a great rebounding forward. In the United States, at least, a lot of guys started running track because they got cut from teams with cheerleaders. But Jamaicans regard sprinters the way the French regard wine: as a leading export, and a source of national identity. Asafa Powell, who held the world record before Bolt (and who finished fifth in Beijing, continuing a string of big-race washouts), owns six cars and has been awarded the country’s Order of Distinction. America’s Tyson Gay, by contrast, is less well-known than pretty much every NBA benchwarmer.

Most discussion of athletic performance is comically reductionist, however, and obsesses over only one or two physiological factors as if they are the One True determinant. Rationality Rules makes that mistake several times over, but takes it to an absurd height I haven’t seen elsewhere.

[9:47] So the first of Ethel’s objections that I’d like to respond to refers to the fact that trans women don’t always win: “What’s interesting about the Rachel McKinnon case is the fact that the person responsible for attacking her, Wagner-Assali who came third, beat McKinnon in 10 out of 12 previous events. And not only did Assali fail to raise issue during those times, but apparently those 10 times can be ignored since McKinnon won the 2018 UCI track championship. The implication here being that a trans woman is allowed to compete, so long as she never wins.” [10:22] …

[10:42] Now, the problem with this objection is that it COMPLETELY misses the point. If one has an unfair advantage but losses, they still had an unfair advantage. Fairness (which is the foundation of sports and athletics) isn’t about who crosses the line first, it’s about ensuring that all participants spring from the same starting block. If I ran a marathon against Mo Farah and was given a 30 minute advantage, he’d still easily beat me… but I’d still have had a significant, unfair advantage. [11:10]

Parse that logic. Transphobes argued that McKinnon’s transgender status gave her an unfair advantage in sport, because she won one sporting event. Others have pointed out that one-off events are a poor metric of performance, and that when you look multiple performances there’s no evidence for an unfair athletic advantage. RR’s counter is that one or two physiological factors gave McKinnon an athletic performance edge, even though there was no evidence she performed better! He believes those factors are so determinative of athletic performance, that we no longer need to consider an athlete’s actual performance!! That’s absurdly bad reasoning, no better than continuing to believe prayer cures heart attacks after being presented with evidence it doesn’t. And yet Rationality Rules thinks this is such a strong argument he relies on it twice.

[13:58] This criticism, of course, relates to trans women not always winning, and it suffers from all the same flaws. If one has an unfair advantage but losses, they still had an unfair advantage. Yes, due to [Hormone Replacement Therapy], [Terry] Miller’s testosterone is likely now within the range of a typical woman, and because of this some of the benefits that she received from male puberty are now mitigated (such as circulating haemoglobin), but other benefits haven’t been (such as muscle mass). [14:25]

“Male puberty” is another argument that Rationality Rules comes back to multiple times. But what does puberty look like for transgender people?

Adolescents may be eligible for puberty-suppressing hormones as soon as pubertal changes have begun. In order for adolescents and their parents to make an informed decision about pubertal delay, it is recommended that adolescents experience the onset of puberty to at least Tanner Stage 2. Some children may arrive at this stage at very young ages (e.g., % years of age). …

Two goals justify intervention with puberty-suppressing hormones: (i)their use gives adolescents more time to explore their gender nonconformity and other developmental issues; and (ii)their use may facilitate transition by preventing the development of sex characteristics that are difficult or impossible to reverse if adolescents continue on to pursue sex reassignment.

Puberty suppression may continue for a few years, at which time a decision is made to either discontinue all hormone therapy or transition to a feminizing/masculinizing hormone regimen. Pubertal suppression does not inevitably lead to social transition or to sex reassignment.

James Tanner divided puberty into five Stages, with Stage 1 corresponding to “pre-puberty” while Stage 5 is more-or-less sexually mature. Muscle mass and height increases don’t occur until Tanner Stage 3, for roughly half of us (and the other half aren’t relevant for transphobes). So for modern transgender adolescents, their puberty is paused before any puberty-related bulking up; when they are convinced they are transgender, hormone therapy allows puberty to resume. The net result is that they only undergo puberty once, and since athletics is dominated by the young this is the typical experience of modern transgender athletes.

Rationality Rules tries to be sophisticated about this, arguing that transgender athletes who underwent this sort of protocol are on even ground with cis athletes (see in particular the 4:45 mark). Yet he explicitly says Terry Miller had a “male puberty” that lead to increased muscle mass, even though she’s 16 and lives in a country where the above protocol would be the standard. He has no rational basis for believing that. On the contrary, it’s a sign of irrational bigotry on his part.

Ditto the emphasis on difference. As I’ve pointed out, it doesn’t matter if transgender women have different physiology than cis women. If you truly believe transgender women are women, then any variation of haemoglobin or muscle mass or height between trans- and cis-women is of no more concern than the variation between cis women. Yet by spending a ridiculous amount of time obsessing over such variations, RR is implicitly stating that he thinks transgender women are not women! He may say one thing, but his actions say something else.

RR spreads more misinformation when it comes to the Olympics. RR points out the 2004 Olympic rules stated that transgender athletes had to have genital surgery, which is a “huge change” from the 2015 rules.

[16:21] While our adrenal glands produce a very small amount of testosterone, the vast majority comes from our gonads (that being the ovaries in women and testes in men). Hence,
without testicles, a trans woman can’t produce anywhere remotely near 10 nanomoles, and will almost entirely depend on exogenous testosterone to maintain sufficient levels. However, with testicles, a trans woman can simply reduce her HRT as to allow her testosterone to be much closer to the 10 nanomole limit. [16:50]

[20:40] Indeed [transgender athletes] will [try to maximize their chances of earning a Gold medal], and they know that hovering at 8 to 9 nanomoles provides trans women with a massive advantage in many events. [20:48]

Transgender Olympians couldn’t cheat the system between 2004 and 2015, because they were incapable of producing testosterone on their own, hence why RR’s prediction that women’s sport would collapse don’t apply. NOW they can, and since any athlete that can cheat, will cheat, RR’s doom-and-gloom predictions will come true.

Except that hormone treatment doesn’t stop after a gonadectomy. The dosage changes, certainly, but hormone levels are still being monitored, so any “slacking off” of HRT could easily be detected. This argument also assumes sporting regulators turn a blind eye to testosterone in women, when the opposite seems true. The “massive advantage” claim is overblown, too. Transgender people also have strong a reason to avoid cheating, a little something called “gender dysphoria.”

… the decision to transition from one gender to the other—to align one’s external gender presentation with one’s internal sense of gender identity—is a deeply significant and difficult choice that is made only after careful consideration and for the most compelling of reasons. Gender identity is a core aspect of a person’s identity, and it is just as deep seated, authentic, and real for a transgender person as for others. Male-to-female transgender women fully identify and live their lives as women, and female-to-male transgender men fully identify and live their lives as men.

If the mismatch between your body and your identity is distressing enough that you must undergo hormone therapy, stopping that therapy would be like torture. Oh also, that quoted paragraph? That’s from the NCAA’s 2011 guidelines for transgender athletes. Unlike the Olympics, they’ve never required genital surgery. Unlike the Olympics, their events run year-round. Yet in the past eight years, women’s sport has yet to see the collapse that Rationality Rules predicted. Maybe RR needs better sources.

[11:52] To quote Noel Plum (who recently released an absolutely brilliant video on this subject), “In sport, when it comes to performance enhancement, close enough is not close enough!” [12:05]

[24:43] Anyhow, I’ll publish my new views within a week or two, but until then, I highly, highly recommend that you checkout the video from Noel Plum that I referenced earlier. To date, it is in my opinion the best video on the subject out there. Noel’s evidently been interested in this topic for years, and it shows. Go check it out! [25:02]

For those unaware, Noel Plum is an obtuse, dense YouTube philosopher. He holds no qualifications in human biology yet thinks he is an authority on the subject, resulting in levels of Dunning-Kruger that are physically painful. Yet Rationality Rules treats him as an expert on transgender athletes, and relies on his arguments!

I can see why RR would be so attracted to Noel Plum, in hindsight. He has that same “victim” mentality I’ve seen in countless alt-Lite and neo-Right commentators, wailing about the persecution and slander he’s faced. He’s desperate to be treated “fairly,” yet doesn’t offer the same charity in return.

[2:25] I feel it’s necessary to first address the repugnant motive that people such as Ethel are incessantly ascribing to me, as while  I accept (and truly appreciate) many of Ethel’s
criticisms, I don’t want to give the impression that I also accept the assertions of malice that she laces each and every with… “Oh deary me, the alt-light man is here to teach us about his fears of women’s sports. So what says he? What beckons the end of athletic womanhood? Of course, Stephen Woodford from Rationality Rules is jumping on the anti-trans bandwagon. Because when the bible thumpers are too busy to blame us for every natural disaster on this planet, the trademark skeptics step up to claim we’re destroying Western Civilisation, piece by piece.” My motive and position was never, as Ethel and others have asserted, to attack trans women and their, quote, place in public (“Just as a means to attack trans women and their place in public”) and I certainly wasn’t trying to, quote, cash in on a far-right paycheck: “Taking up the pussy-hat at the whiff of a far right paycheck, amuse me. Because Woodford’s personal beliefs aside, that is who he caters to these days with his soft Shapiro videos.” [3:37]

Curious what the context was around those quotes? Let’s turn to Ethel’s full transcript.

Of course this opens discussion about whether arguments to exclude trans women, HRT or not from sports can ever be upheld. But in spite of my own thoughts on that and how they align with what the United Nations Human Right Council had to say on cis women’s rights, there’s still a discussion to be had. If for nothing else, to clear up misconceptions. Misconceptions used to spin narratives such as these.

Rationality Rules: I’m convinced that, unless quickly rectified, this will kill women’s sport. … I don’t want to see the day when women’s athletics is dominated by Y chromosomes, but without a change in policy that is precisely what’s going to happen.

Oh deary me. The Alt-Light man is here to teach us about his fears for women’s sports. So what says he? What beckons the end for the athletic womanhood? Of course, Stephen Woodford from Rationality Rules is jumping on the anti-trans bandwagon. Because when the bible thumpers are too busy to blame us for every natural disaster on this planet, the trademark Skeptics™ step up to claim we’re destroying Western Civilisation, piece by piece.

And I get that some people may feel that I’m being a teensy bit unfair. But how else am I supposed to respond to such alarmist rhetoric? People who have never been concerned about women’s struggles, all of a sudden taking up the pussy-hat at the whiff of a far right paycheck, amuse me. Because Woodford’s personal beliefs aside, that is who he caters to these days with his soft on Shapiro videos. […]

Whilst there are cis women with levels of testosterone above the IOC limit, there will also be many who have more testosterone than your average cis woman, within the IOC limit, and have had such their entire lives. The Olympics and similar national and international level sports are not a children’s gym class, they’re the pinnacle of human capability. They’re going to attract the outliers, not the typical range as you insinuate in your argument.

So not only is Woodford’s point here completely irrelevant to trans women on HRT, it actually harms cis women. It’s acts as the basis upon which their rights listed at the start of the video, are violated. So concerned for cis women and women’s sports are people who make this argument, that they’re willing to steamroll the rights of cis women in said women’s sports. Just as a means to attack trans women and their place in public.

Yeah, Ethel sounds “a teensy bit” over-the-top in her first quote, but how else would you respond to an assertion that ridiculous? Nonetheless, that section is in the introduction to her video, so after that bit of mockery she takes RR’s arguments seriously and gives them lengthy responses. As for the second quote, RR snips out context that show his arguments about testosterone harm cis women. He’s so worried about transgender athletes, he’s willing to harm cis athletes as well!

This isn’t happening in a vacuum. RR has deliberately misstated Ethel’s position several times, without correction, and has been remarkably petty and dishonest. Ethel has stated that she’s suffered ill-health due to his actions. He should have known this, and yet his most recent video directly targets Ethel, again using misleading quotes, and again sending another round of harassment her way. All the acknowledgements of the harm you’ve caused to transgender people are worthless if you continue to harm them, despite having said harm repeatedly pointed out to you.

This all should explain why I haven’t backed down on the “transphobic” part. But I am willing to throw RR a bone. He is correct that there’s another explanation for all this: he’s an oblivious fool. He’s so blind to his own transphobia that he can’t spot it. He so badly lacks the cognitive capacity to build a logical argument, he can’t recognize when he’s being irrational. He’s unable to tell the difference between genuine criticism and personal attacks. He’s so unaware of his emotions that he can’t tell when he’s lashing out and making things worse. This interpretation absolves him of any malicious intent, and without that malice you can sort of see why he believes he isn’t a transphobe.

See? My new stance is actually quite charitable towards Rationality Rules.

[2019-06-02 HJH] Owlmirror spotted a minor typo. Thanks!