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.

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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]

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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…]

Rationality Rules is a Transphobe

Ugh, his apology video pissed me off. For instance:

[2:36] Anyhow, yesterday, the ACA, and its productions, published a statement from their board of directors, in which they accused me of making transphobic videos (despite the fact that I’ve only made one video), and they claimed that I’ve published numerous transphobic statements on my social media platforms, though, they neglected to provide any examples, because, to put it bluntly, there isn’t any. Not one. Zero. [3:02]

Fair enough, in the original statement they didn’t give specifics (in their replacement statement, they did). But compare that section with this one:

[1:09] But once I left the ACA’s warm hospitality to fly back to England, their Board of Directors released a public statement denouncing me as “transphobic” and heavily implied that
I’m opposed to the LGBT+ community… which, as anyone who’s watched more than a handful of my videos will tell you, is slanderous hogwash. I’ve defended the LGBT+ community
countless times throughout my short career, and whenever a religion or anyone denigrates them I point it out and crush it where it stands. I mean, I even have a video in which I explain precisely why homosexuality is natural, … [1:42]

So wait, nobody should take the ACA on faith that Rationality Rules made transphobic videos/posts, but Rationality Rules is allowed to assert he’s a strong defender of the LGBT+ community without providing evidence? Go ahead, check the video description, he can’t even be bothered to link to his video on gay people. Gays and lesbians are merely two letters of the four; there’s no conflict between defending them while throwing bisexuals and transgender people under the bus, otherwise there’d be fewer TERFs.

[1:42] … and I frequently emphasise, while many won’t, the fact that a significant amount Muslims harbour harmful anti-LGBT+ views that desperately need to be addressed… [1:50]

Yep, he couldn’t help but go out of his way to toss Muslims under the bus. In reality, US Muslims are as tolerant of gays and lesbians as US Protestants, and more tolerant than White Evangelicals and Black Protestants. They also have the greatest increase of tolerance than any other US group (+25 points between 2011 and 2017), including the “unaffiliated” and atheists (+5 points). I can’t speak for worldwide stats, but there’s more tolerance than you’d think.

[1:50] Now, to be as clear as I possibly can, I know that I made a few big mistakes within my recent video on transgender athletes, and as I’ve stated publically, I am working on a video in which I express my altered views and apologise for what I got wrong, but that’s the thing… I was WRONG on some things… not transphobic. [2:13]

Bigotry is, quite literally, promoting false information. If it were true that black people smoked more weed than white people, it would not be bigoted to say black people are inherently attracted to the ganja, but it’s not true, so it is bigotry. Rationality Rules, by his own admission, spread misinformation about transgender athletes. That makes those statements bigoted. We’d be justified in calling him a bigot if he kept repeating those assertions despite having his bigotry pointed out to him.

[6:57] I’ll shortly be publishing a video in which I acknowledge my mistakes… [7:01]

It’s been over a month, and all he’s done is change the original video title to say it contains “it contains errors,” and changed the blurb to read:

Hey all. I want to make very clear that I made a few major mistakes within this video, and that due to this I’ll be publishing a new video relatively soon in which I correct these mistakes and express my altered views. To be clear, I haven’t done a complete u-turn, but my views have indeed changed in very important ways.

What errors did he make? Wouldn’t it be easy to just pop in a bullet-point summary to prevent the misinformation from spreading? Apparently, Rationality Rules would rather tease us about a future video than stop the spread of misinformation, in which he apparently explains why he hasn’t “done a complete u-turn” about transgender athletes. He’s described his mistakes as both “major” and something “any reasonable person may make.” That does not exactly inspire confidence.

Nor does his divide-and-conquer approach.

[5:04] I feel like I’ve been used, and that I’ve been thrown under a bus immediately after appearing on record-breaking shows for the sake of appeasing a few hypersensitive individuals. Now, with this said, I want to make something crystal clear: I know for a matter of fact that there are many people within the ACA that do not agree with board’s statement, and so please be sure NOT to vent your frustration at the ACA’s public figures, as they’re not responsible for the board’s statement, and they do not necessarily endorse it. [5:31]

All the GOOD people in the ACA agree with him, the BAD people are just “hypersensitive individuals.” How does he know this? He is literally pitting the ACA against itself, fanning the flames of anger even further. And as hinted at earlier, it worked. He continues to use this tactic in a more recent video.

[1:05] Now, a great many of the trans community have reached out to me both privately and publicly to make clear that they were not hurt by my previous video, and that they certainly didn’t find it, or me, to be transphobic. [1:17]

[2:18] I’ve always tried to be an ally to the LGBT+ community, and have always meant for my videos to reflect this, and so to know that my mistakes and hyperbole has likely emboldened some actual bad actors weighs heavily on me… but the weight that I feel is NOTHING compared to those who suffer at the hands of said bad actors. [2:40]

Not only is he pulling out the “my black friend agrees with me” defense, he’s actually saying the transgender people criticizing him do more harm to the transgender community than his misinformation! Like, wow. WOW. He seems to believe that transgender people cannot be wrong about gender identity, when in reality some are no less transphobic than TERFs.

There’s a lot more smoke than fire here, but I think it’s enough to argue Rationality Rules is a transphobe who doesn’t want to admit it. Not convinced? EssenseOfThought made the same argument, from a very different angle and with much better evidence.

Woodford presented cis women as having their dreams, their scholarships, and their careers taken from them by trans women. [quote] The implication here being that the very thing Woodford argues is a terrible crime against cis women, should in effect be forced upon trans women. Because if trans women are excluded from said sports as he argues they should, that’s the result. And he appears to see that as a preferable outcome. For trans women to be excluded from women’s sports, just to ensure cis women don’t lose to them.

Woodford also resorted to fear mongering, using claims such as these to paint trans people as a threat to society. [quote] This sort of statement is designed to create or feed a moral panic. It differs in no way to the claim that gay teachers are a threat to children. It’s designed to emotionally manipulate the listener into believing that there’s some ticking clock of catastrophe, when there’s really none. […]

The prejudice he started with. The dehumanisation he carried out. The threat he cast trans people as. And the way he used this to argue for the removal of their human rights. All of this adds up to show why his video was undoubtedly transphobic.

I found it convincing, and I bet you will too.

Two Opposing Camps

[CONTENT WARNING: Transphobia, TERFs]

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…]

Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria

Remember that old thing? No? OK, quick summary:

Parental reports (on social media) of friend clusters exhibiting signs of gender dysphoria and increased exposure to social media/internet preceding a child’s announcement of a transgender identity raise the possibility of social and peer influences.

Littman L (2018) Parent reports of adolescents and young adults perceived to show signs of a rapid onset of gender dysphoria. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0202330.

In short, maybe social media is making the kids transgender? This seems like something someone should study, and someone did!

Poorly. [Read more…]

I Think I Get It

We seem to be in a cycle. Every time PZ Myers posts something about transgender people, the comment thread floods with transphobes. Given the names involved, I suspect this is due to Ophelia Benson’s effect on the atheio/skeptic sphere.

Regardless, there may be another pattern in play. The go-to argument of these transphobes was transgender athletes, with the old bathroom line showing up late in the thread. I had a boo at GenderCritical on Reddit, to assess if this was just a local thing, and noticed there were more stories about athletics than bathrooms over there. Even one of the bigots thought this was new. Has there been a shift of rhetoric among transphobes?

If so, I think I understand why.

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