Rationality Rules is “A Transphobic Hack”

Looks like my initial assessment of Rationality Rules’ second attempt at transgender athletes got it right.

I just want to start this video noting a very simple fact. Whilst Stephen Woodford’s latest video is over 21 minutes long, when I accounted for arguments already refuted, the new content only amounted to just 6:34. What’s more is that said new content contains zero arguments. It’s purely him dishonestly framing his opposition and the example he asks us to keep in mind as he opens his video.

The only two arguments he makes in his video are the bait and switch I dealt in my original response. And an attempt to justify this by shirking the burden of proof, something I dealt with in my response to Woodford’s ‘Mistakes of Many’ video.

Think about that: RR had two months to research counter-arguments and strengthen his stance, and instead chose to ignore all his critics and push the same arguments. The only changes he made were to move the goalposts. As one example, the original video contained these statements:

I’m convinced that, unless quickly rectified, [the inclusion of transgender women] will quickly 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 is going to happen.

He has never acknowledged those statements in any subsequent video, nor apologized for them. By removing them from the public record, though, he makes his stance look more reasoned. Since his opponents haven’t removed their critiques, though, they look like they’re overreacting.

Add in his now-usual tactic of dishonest editing to make his opponents’ views appear weaker than they are, and the new tactic of relying on talking points from religious far-Right organizations that joke about transgender people suffering painful deaths, and Rationality Rules’ replacement video is actually worse than the original!

How could he do something like this? Easy.

[48:55] How much damage does Woodford have to do to both trans people and the secular community before those who have been sitting on their hands, claiming we need to just give him time, finally take a stand? So rather than me ending by asking you questions, I’d like to offer a request. Start questioning the various content creators in the secular community as to why they still remain silent on the subject.

Because the only way we’re going to fix the secular community is if we actually begin holding its members accountable. People have asked me to consider how my attempts to hold Woodford accountable look to outsiders. Well can you?. How can we judge religious institutions for failing to tackle internal issues, whilst we see a coordinated effort to police marginalised voices in the secular community? My actions are not what makes the secular community look bad.

Rationality Rules knows he will not be held accountable for his dishonesty and harm. The Atheist Community of Austin tried to do a mild accounting, but was forced to back off due to public backlash from the community and a few high-profile members like Matt Dillahunty and AronRa who reflexively backed RR. And among high-profile groups and individuals, that’s it.

The message of the atheist/skeptic community is loud and clear: they will give your dishonesty and bigotry a pass if you’re popular enough and give the superficial appearance of caring about rational discourse. If you’re wondering why I continue to devote so much of my spare time to critiquing RR’s videos, it’s because I strongly disagree with the consensus of my community and I want it to change.

I should confess, however, that if you’d asked my the “why?” question a few weeks ago, I would have instead said that I dislike it when someone promotes misinformation, doubly dislike it when that person uses their rhetorical skills to make it tougher to respond, and triply dislike it when that person shares a community with me. My own thoughts have evolved thanks to Peter/Ethel of EssenceOfThought, and the time and effort they’ve put into critiquing RR. The quotes I’ve pulled from their latest video really don’t do it justice, I strongly recommend you watch the full thing.

And while doing so, think about how you’d like this community to behave.

[HJH 2019-06-23: Added a link to Matt Dillahunty’s tweet.]

[HJH 2019-06-23: Also added a link to EssenceOfThought’s summary of what happened to the ACA immediately after publishing their original statement.]

TERFs Harm Women

I hate loose threads. There was something I had to brush past in my last post, because I didn’t know much about it and I was already over the 2,000 word mark. It kept bugging me, though, enough to prompt me to do my homework. Now I realize why this was the first bullet point in that TERF apologetics post:

Associating our intellectual position with a far right-wing one, because some far right-wing thinkers would agree with us in some of our conclusions, and insinuating that our position is all the worse because of it, is an ad hominem. Ad hominems are widely recognised as inappropriate in philosophy. […]

Equally: the fact that person shares a conclusion with a far right-wing person could never show, on its own, that the conclusion was false. It is likely that every single person on the planet shares several hundred (true) beliefs with any given far right-wing person. In brief: this strategy, and any which are structurally like it, is rhetorical guilt-by-association. It has no place in responsible argument.

If we’re playing fallacy cards, then I pull out the Fallacy Fallacy. If it’s a coincidence that TERFs and the religious far-Right agree on several positions, that is indeed an ad hominem. If instead they agree on the same positions because they’ve directly convinced one another of the truthhood of those positions, then it is fair to link the two. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if their positions were true, but if they’re instead an incoherent mess used to harm others then we have an entirely different story. If I can establish such a link then I can lay the harm caused by one group at the feet of the other.

[Read more…]

Rationality Rules is an Irrational Transphobe

The first rule of rational debate is to argue against the strongest argument your opponent has. Anyone can make their opponents’ position look weak by cherry-picking the worst of their points. In fact, if possible you should strengthen your opponent’s arguments before refuting them. “Steelmanning” has practically become a sacrament within the atheist/skeptic community, because we realize the value it brings to rational debate.

With that in mind, look at the title of Rationality Rules’ latest video: “Do Transgender Athletes Have an Unfair Advantage?” I already refuted the key premise of that six months ago!

This argument should be the focus when discussing trans athletes. It doesn’t matter if every single one of them are fifty feet tall, what only matters is if you accept the existence of gender dysphoria as at least partly grounded in biology. If so, then the above argument demands you let them compete in the gender category they identify with. If that leads to situations you think are unfair, then you shouldn’t be using gender as a proxy for athletic ability, instead relying on metrics like muscle mass or height.

Rationality Rules claims to have spent months researching his new position, yet somehow he never stumbled on this? I can sort of understand him missing my post on it; sure, two blog posts of mine currently occupy the top five spots on Google for “Rationality Rules transphobe,” but maybe he didn’t bother doing that search. He can’t have been unaware of Peter/Ethel of EssenceOfThought, though, and they made a related argument:

[9:27] As a guiding tool I’d like to propose a simple principle. If your argument against trans women’s participation in sport can be used to bar cis women, said argument is inherently flawed and should be discarded. So if your argument would exclude cis women athletes such as Margo Dydek who was a 2.18m basketball player, you likely need a new argument.

And yet here is RR himself in the pinned comment to the video:

The “women’s category” is, in my opinion, poorly named given our current climate, and so I’d elect a name more along the lines of the “Under 5 nmol/l category” (as in, under 5 nanomoles of testosterone per litre), but make no mistake about it, the “woman’s category” is not based on gender or identity, or even genitalia or chromosomes… it’s based on hormone levels and the absence of male puberty.

While I didn’t point it out at the time, a graph in this post shows that a non-trivial number of cisgender women have testosterone levels above 5nmol/L. Rationality Rules is not engaging in the best arguments of his critics; instead, he’s continuing his pattern of deceptive editing and cherry-picking to make the arguments of his opponents look weaker than they are. And we can determine all of that without even looking at the video!

I am planning to watch his latest video and critique it, by the way. I’m going to be ridiculously busy for the next few days, and I want to finish off a draft of another post first, so don’t expect it soon. But I wanted to plant this flag because Rationality Rules’ videos have and will continue to do a substantial amount of harm to women. It shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of transgender people to oppose that harm.

TERFs are Incoherent

Remember this old claim of mine?

But rather than [use] a specific list [to identify TERFs], it’s more important to look for incoherence. Take the above; if anatomy is so strongly associated with a tendency to violence, how can you hope to improve things by destroying the concept of “gender?” That list of beliefs isn’t universal or definitive, but I have yet to see a single TERF with a self-coherent view of sex/gender. That’s because their “criticism” isn’t actually a critique, based on solid evidence and analysis, but a fig leaf to disguise their bigotry. It’s very similar to the way creationists and snake-oil salesmen will invoke science without actually understanding it.

I was handed an excellent challenge to it. The primary author, Dr. Kathleen Stock, is a professor of philosophy with a fair number of publications to her name. I also recognize Rebecca Reilly-Cooper; she’s a political philosopher and also has numerous published works. This is a “dream team” of TERF philosophers, and they’re here to “challenge their opponents to avoid some obviously bad argumentative moves” in challenge-response format. You couldn’t have designed a better challenge to my claim, so how does it hold up?

[CONTENT WARNING: transphobia, TERFs]

[Read more…]

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? [Read more…]

Two Opposing Camps


Alas, we hit another depressing milestone a few days ago: “A new Pentagon policy that effectively bans transgender people from joining the US military and serving in their preferred gender has come into effect.” If you’re wondering what happened to all those court cases, they’re still ongoing; lower courts had issued injunctions preventing the Pentagon from putting the policy into place until the legality was settled, the Department of Justice appealed those injunctions, lost, and kept appealing right to the Supreme Court. The DoJ wanted the Supremes to short-circuit judicial process and immediately take over the case, which they sensibly refused, but the conservative judges voted to stay the injunction. The Pentagon was thus free to effectively ban transgender soldiers while the courts figured out if they legally could.

Yeah, I don’t understand that last bit either.

The ban has revealed two different camps on the issue. The American Medical Association has repeatedly said transgender soldiers should be allowed to serve, but they’re merely the medical experts. What about people with direct military experience? Let’s see what a Republican with a record of military service had to say at a hearing on the ban. [Read more…]

Sexism Poisons Everything

That black hole image was something, wasn’t it? For a few days, we all managed to forget the train wreck that is modern politics and celebrate science in its purest form. Alas, for some people there was one problem with M87’s black hole.

Dr. Katie Bouman, in front of a stack of hard drives.

A woman was involved! Despite the evidence that Dr. Bouman played a crucial role or had the expertise, they instead decided Andrew Chael had done all the work and she was faking it.

So apparently some (I hope very few) people online are using the fact that I am the primary developer of the eht-imaging software library () to launch awful and sexist attacks on my colleague and friend Katie Bouman. Stop.

Our papers used three independent imaging software libraries (…). While I wrote much of the code for one of these pipelines, Katie was a huge contributor to the software; it would have never worked without her contributions and

the work of many others who wrote code, debugged, and figured out how to use the code on challenging EHT data. With a few others, Katie also developed the imaging framework that rigorously tested all three codes and shaped the entire paper ();

as a result, this is probably the most vetted image in the history of radio interferometry. I’m thrilled Katie is getting recognition for her work and that she’s inspiring people as an example of women’s leadership in STEM. I’m also thrilled she’s pointing

out that this was a team effort including contributions from many junior scientists, including many women junior scientists (). Together, we all make each other’s work better; the number of commits doesn’t tell the full story of who was indispensable.

Amusingly, their attempt to beat back social justice within the sciences kinda backfired.

As openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and other gender/sexual minority (LGBTQIA+) members of the astronomical community, we strongly believe that there is no place for discrimination based on sexual orientation/preference or gender identity/expression. We want to actively maintain and promote a safe, accepting and supportive environment in all our work places. We invite other LGBTQIA+ members of the astronomical community to join us in being visible and to reach out to those who still feel that it is not yet safe for them to be public.

As experts, TAs, instructors, professors and technical staff, we serve as professional role models every day. Let us also become positive examples of members of the LGBTQIA+ community at large.

We also invite everyone in our community, regardless how you identify yourself, to become an ally and make visible your acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people. We urge you to make visible (and audible) your objections to derogatory comments and “jokes” about LGBTQIA+ people.

In the light of the above statements, we, your fellow students, alumni/ae, faculty, coworkers, and friends, sign this message.

Andrew Chael, Graduate Student, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Yep, the poster boy for those anti-SJWs is an SJW himself!

So while I appreciate the congratulations on a result that I worked hard on for years, if you are congratulating me because you have a sexist vendetta against Katie, please go away and reconsider your priorities in life. Otherwise, stick around — I hope to start tweeting

more about black holes and other subjects I am passionate about — including space, being a gay astronomer, Ursula K. Le Guin, architecture, and musicals. Thanks for following me, and let me know if you have any questions about the EHT!

If you want a simple reason why I spend far more time talking about sexism than religion, this is it. What has done more harm to the world, religion or sexism? Which of the two depends most heavily on poor arguments and evidence? While religion can do good things once in a while, sexism is prevented from that by definition.

Nevermind religion, sexism poisons everything.

… Whoops, I should probably read Pharyngula more often. Ah well, my rant at the end was still worth the effort.

Happy Emmy Noether Day!

Whenever anyone asks me for my favorite scientist, her name comes first.

At a time when women were considered intellectually inferior to men, Noether (pronounced NUR-ter) won the admiration of her male colleagues. She resolved a nagging puzzle in Albert Einstein’s newfound theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity. And in the process, she proved a revolutionary mathematical theorem that changed the way physicists study the universe.

It’s been a century since the July 23, 1918, unveiling of Noether’s famous theorem. Yet its importance persists today. “That theorem has been a guiding star to 20th and 21st century physics,” says theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek of MIT. […]

Although most people have never heard of Noether, physicists sing her theorem’s praises. The theorem is “pervasive in everything we do,” says theoretical physicist Ruth Gregory of Durham University in England. Gregory, who has lectured on the importance of Noether’s work, studies gravity, a field in which Noether’s legacy looms large.

And as luck would have it, today was the day she was born. So read up on why she’s such a critical figure, and use it as an excuse to remember other important women in science.