Time and again, an odd phrase keeps popping up in Rationality Rules’ latest transphobic video.
I deliberately left this one to stew, in case I could think of a better angle. Alas, you just can’t beat perfection.
In Rationality Rules’ latest transphobic video, one phrase in particular caught my ears.
[3:57] The way that the IAAF put it, was that double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius is ineligible to compete at the Beijing Olympics because his prosthetic racing legs give him a clear competitive advantage; or in other words, the IAAF ruled the Pistorius’ prosthetics disqualify him because they make him faster than what he would have been if he had not lost his legs. Now this reasoning is critical, as it embodies both the principle of “fair play” and the principle of therapeutic use exceptions, otherwise known as TUE’s.
[5:42] … a collection of experts criticized the cited study for only testing Pistorius’s biomechanics at full speed while running in a straight line, unlike a real 400 meter race, and for not accounting for the disadvantages that he suffers, such as having trouble leaving the starting block; and as a result, Pistorius is ineligible status was lifted. He was allowed to compete. … [6:24] as we move on to the transgender athletic debate, please keep in mind the principle of “fair play,” the principle of TUEs, and Pistorius’ case as a whole.
[20:02] I am not opposed to trans women who have experienced male puberty competing in the female category of SOME events because they’re trans. I am opposed because the attributes which are granted from male puberty that play a vital role in some events have not been shown to be sufficiently mitigated by HRT. It’s not about whether or not they’re women, it’s about whether or not “fair play” has been maintained.
Rationality Rules never details what “fair play” is, in fact you’ve just read every mention of the term in that video. At the same time, his argument strongly relies on it. That makes the lack of any definition a curious omission. [Read more…]
There’s a reason why Rationality Rules keeps referencing EssenceOfThought; on YouTube, they‘re by far his highest-profile critic, and have done the most comprehensive critique. Other YouTubers haven’t been silent, though, and today I’d like to highlight one of them. Rhetoric&Discourse do an excellent job of summing up one specific example of dishonest behavior. I’ll only quote their conclusion here:
[11:18] Stephen comes to this conclusion in the same way that he did the last time: comparing cis men to cis women, and by ignoring the actual literature that compares trans women to cis women. To make matters worse, Stephen lies about the content of the studies in order to push his anti-trans agenda. Stephen claimed that he understood what his biggest mistake was – comparing cis men to cis women, and concluding that this comparison applied to trans women who had undergone HRT – but this new video only shows that he either didn’t understand or he cares more about bashing on trans individuals than he cares about intellectual honesty.
Ouch. Go and watch the video to get the full argument. In the meantime, I’ll point out that out of RR’s nearly forty sources used for his latest video, only two were scientific studies of transgender athletes, and only one of those actually evaluated their performance!
Harper, J. “Race Times for Transgender Athletes.” Journal of Sporting Cultures and Identities 6, no. 1 (2015): 1–9.
The pivotal question is this: can reassigned transsexuals compete fairly with others of their new sex? Our data are limited and do not provide insight into all pertinent aspects. In competitive sports, in all likelihood, small differences may be critical for winning or losing. Our analysis is not refined enough to detect these small differences, allowing only an approximation. As far as our data allow conclusions, the answer for F –M is probably yes, provided the administration of testosterone has not generated and does not generate supraphysiological testosterone levels, as these levels and exercise induce a surplus in muscle mass over exercise alone (…). For M –F, there is an element of arbitrariness. There is no conclusive evidence pro or con that the prenatal/perinatal testosterone exposure of men has an impact on future physical traits. […] In real life, there will always be an element of arbitrariness in the drawing of competitive lines. Different individuals are born with and develop postnatally different potentials. The caprices of genetics and postnatal development will make any form of competition intrinsically unfair at some level. In the studies of Bhasin and colleagues (…), changes in muscle size correlated with testosterone dose and concentration. These correlations were established in groups of men receiving graded doses of testosterone. Nevertheless, there was considerable heterogeneity in response to testosterone administration within each group of men receiving the same amount of testosterone. These individual differences in response to androgen administration might reflect differences in activity level, testosterone metabolism and nutrition, or polymorphisms in androgen receptor, myostatin, 5a-reductase or other muscle growth regulators, all genetically determined and inherently personal. The implication is that all men and women are not born equally endowed for competition in sports.
Despite the fact that transgender women have been allowed to compete against cisgender ones since 2004, there has been no study used to justify this decision beyond the original work of Gooren and Bunck. It bears repeating that this original study was not undertaken on athletes, nor did it directly measure any aspect of athleticism. In fact, this is the first time a study has been developed to measure the performance of transgender athletes. […]
The author chose to use the standard age-grading methodology which is commonly used in master’s (over forty) track meets worldwide, to evaluate the performance of eight distance runners who had undergone gender transition from male to female. As a group, the eight study participants had remarkably similar age grade scores in both male and female gender, making it possible to state that transgender women run distance races at approximately the same level, for their respective gender, both before and after gender transition.
It should be noted that this conclusion only applies to distance running and the author makes no claims as to the equality of performances, pre and post gender transition, in any other sport. As such, the study cannot, unequivocally, state that it is fair to allow to transgender women to compete against 46,XX women in all sports, although the study does make a powerful statement in favor of such a position.
Compare this with what Rationality Rules concludes.
[19:07] In some events – such as long-distance running, in which hemoglobin and slow-twitch muscle fibers are vital – I think there’s a strong argument to say no, [transgender women who transitioned after puberty] don’t have an unfair advantage, as the primary attributes are sufficiently mitigated. But in most events, and especially those in which height, width, hip size, limb length, muscle mass, and muscle fiber type are the primary attributes – such as weightlifting, sprinting, hammer throw, javelin, netball, boxing, karate, basketball, rugby, judo, rowing, hockey, and many more – my answer is yes, most do have an unfair advantage. There are exceptions, of course, just as there are exceptions to everything, but far more often than not their TUE in such events does not bring them down to anywhere near the 100% mark. […]
[20:09] I am opposed [to these athlete’s inclusion] because the attributes which are granted from male puberty that play a vital role in some events have not been shown to be sufficiently mitigated by HRT.
I dunno about you, but I find it comforting that the only way you can justify excluding transgender athletes is to misrepresent the relevant science.
Dang, I need to correct something I wrote.
Every human right applies to every person, equally. When rights conflict, one is temporarily granted precedent. It’s why the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is ordered the way it is; rights listed earlier in the document are more important than those listed after, greatly simplifying the analysis of any rights conflict.
I’d gotten that impression because Section 1, which allows any right to have restrictions placed on it to preserve a safe and free democracy, was placed up front while later sections deal with things like elections and criminal trials. In reality, they’re all “indivisible.”
Human rights are indivisible. Whether they relate to civil, cultural, economic, political or social issues, human rights are inherent to the dignity of every human person. Consequently, all human rights have equal status, and cannot be positioned in a hierarchical order. Denial of one right invariably impedes enjoyment of other rights. Thus, the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living cannot be compromised at the expense of other rights, such as the right to health or the right to education.
All human rights are indivisible, whether they are civil and political rights, such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security and education , or collective rights, such as the rights to development and self-determination, are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. The improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others.
All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis.
This, of course, makes dealing with conflicting rights much more complicated. Usually, you have to demonstrate significant harm to place limits on a right; for instance, in Canada we allow restrictions on free speech only because they can cause physical harm and a loss of security, while even prisoners and foreign nationals are granted “full access to Canada’s human rights protections.”
Note also that these restrictions come from the state, not private individuals. Google cannot throw you in prison or seize your home, and even when they vacuum up your private info that’s only because they claim you agreed to give up a few specific types of personal information when dealing with them or authorized third parties, and because they can point you to tools that allow you to delete any data they have on you. Liability waiver forms shield some of the parties to the contract from being sued in connection to what happens in a specific time and place, they don’t prevent you from launching all lawsuits and they don’t prevent lawsuits in the case of extreme gross negligence. In no case can a private individual or corporation unilaterally take away a right, and any action that could place limitations on a right must be done by mutual consent.
I think you know where I’m going with this, especially since EssenceOfThought got there first, but humour me. The UN Declaration of Human Rights wasn’t considered legally binding on all countries that signed it at the time, but it’s evolved into precisely that while also expanding to encompass new rights.
Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said Advisory Opinion OC-24 issued by the Court on 9 January 2018 was a significant step toward upholding the dignity and human rights of persons with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity.
Pathologizing persons with diverse gender identities, including trans women and men, is one of the root causes behind the grave human rights violations against them. Madrigal-Borloz underlined that the Court concluded that requiring medical or psychological certifications or other unreasonable requirements for gender recognition was not in line with the American Convention.
“I am very pleased with the Court’s reasoning, which is permeated in equal measure by legal rigour and human understanding. Advisory Opinion OC-24 is a veritable blueprint for States to fulfil their obligation to provide quick, transparent and accessible legal gender recognition without abusive conditions, respectful of free/informed choice and bodily autonomy, as was also exhorted last May by a group of United Nations and international human rights experts,” he said.
Gender identity is a fundamental right, at the highest level. But because it took the UN a while to get there, other countries have already granted that right themselves. At the federal level, Canada made it official in 2017.
For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.
I’m proud to say we even allow non-binary sex designations on our passports. Even my home province of Alberta, one of the most conservative in the nation, considered gender identity a fundamental human right as of 2015.
WHEREAS it is recognized in Alberta as a fundamental principle and as a matter of public policy that all persons are equal in: dignity, rights and responsibilities without regard to race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation.
If gender identity is a human right, then private organizations cannot prevent individuals from being treated according to how they identify, unless both parties mutually consent. If one person says “no,” then any such differential treatment is a human rights violation. Only the state can say otherwise, and even then only if the alternative does significant harm.
So when Rationality Rules says this …
[19:00] And my answer to the more controversial question, “do trans women who have experienced male puberty have an unfair athletic advantage?” is: it depends on the sport. […]
… he’s arguing that private organizations should have the ability to suspend human rights, and that rights are divisible, contrary to decades of legal precedent across multiple countries. And when he says this …
[20:02] I am not opposed to trans women who have experienced male puberty competing in the female category of SOME events because they’re trans. I am opposed because the attributes which are granted from male puberty that play a vital role in some events have not been shown to be sufficiently mitigated by HRT. It’s not about whether or not they’re women, it’s about whether or not “fair play” has been maintained. Do I make myself clear?
… he is making himself abundantly clear. He considers the maintenance of “fair play” in sports vital to the operation of a free and fair democracy, so vital that it justifies removing human rights from some transgender people. In the process, they’ll have fewer rights than convicted criminals.
There’s two ways to rescue Rationality Rules from this absurdity. One is simply that he’s ignorant; in the two months he spent researching the topic and consulting with biologists, physiologists, and/or statisticians [17:50-17:59], he never ran across the human rights argument. The other way is that he doesn’t agree with the concept of human rights. The second path is kind of awkward, as it has him rubbing shoulders with the religious figures he likes to critique. At any rate, he’s closed off both means of escape.
This video can be considered the remake, and I’ve done my utmost best to illustrate that this is not about people’s rights, it’s about *what constitutes fairness in sport*. You, me and everyone else have the right to compete in sports, but that doesn’t mean that we have the right to compete in any division we want.
So there’s no dodging it, Rationality Rules is engaging in special pleading. He wants an exception to an existing rule without justification, even if he has to throw out over fifty years of human rights law in the process.
Now, to be fair, everyone makes mistakes. Rationality Rules isn’t the first atheist/skeptic to be guilty of special pleading, and he won’t be the last. In most cases, this just due to ignorance: they don’t know their logical fallacies, and thus don’t realize they’re engaging in them. If he wants to brush up, I’d recommend he play “Debunked.”
Debunked is a highly strategic card game of logic, reason and nonsense! There are two decks, one full of fallacious arguments, and the other full of everything else – which includes logic to debunk the arguments, ways to improve your hand (such as resurrecting a card from the discard pile), and, most importantly, ways to mess with your opponent (such as making them skip their go). It’s very simple to learn, but hard to master… like logic itself. …
I know it’ll help him in this particular case, because it contains a “special pleading” card.
The card game is currently a Kickstarter project, so the only way he can get a copy is to contact…. oh. Oh dear.
… Hey, I’m Stephen Woodford, the man behind the YouTube channel Rationality Rules, and this game is my attempt to combine my two loves – reason and gaming. Debunked is first and foremost a thoroughly enjoyable and repeatable game, saturated with varying strategies and hilarious themes, but it’s also a fantastic tool for learning logic; the arguments are real, and so too are the fallacies they commit – hence, the logic cards genuinely can teach people a thing or two about valid argumentation (or at the very least remind them).
[HJH 2019-07-14: Finally got around to adding the “fair play” link.]
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.]
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.
Change of plan! I spotted something interesting on Rationality Rules’ channel.
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.
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.
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]