The Death of the ACA

I’ve been catching up on YouTube videos, and this interview with John Iacoletti and Chelsea Rodriguez really hit me. It’s bad enough that some jerks threw transgender people under the bus to protect a bigoted YouTuber, but think about what else these people have done:

Almost every organization runs on trust. The exceptions, like the US Department of Defense and Facebook, can only get away with it because their “customers” have no alternative. People in need of a medium-sized atheist/skeptic non-profit have a number of good alternatives to pick from, in contrast.

At this point, would you trust the ACA enough to collaborate with them instead of another organization? Would you donate money to help keep them afloat? [Read more…]

Matt Dillahunty is Garbage

Here’s something weird. Listen to Matt Dillahunty talk about the recent hosts who had left the ACA:

[29:57] There are four people who were previously on The Atheist Experience, who have left The Atheist Experience. Some of them have left the ACA to go pursue their own interests, and other things, some of them are still involved in ACA or taking a break, or whatever else, and that would be Tracie, Jen, Phil, and John Iacoletti.

Wait, what about Clare Wuellner? She too was a former host, and she too left. She certainly didn’t host as often as Tracie or Jen, but she was a board member for six years, and responsible for both restarting Godless Bitches and starting Parenting Beyond Belief. Clare was no small part of the ACA, so her omission is odd. It’s possible Matt wasn’t too close to her, but they both hosted AXP at the same time within the last year, and when Matt wanted to complain during the livestream he messaged Clare.

Some evidence could explain the omission, though. [Read more…]

And the Beat Goes On

Essence of Thought has published a timeline of the Rationality Rules affair. If you’re missed any of the last five months, it’ll bring you up to speed.

Cripes, has it been that long already?! I had a look through my archives, and all but two of my posts over the last two months have been focused on Rationality Rules, and even those two were about transphobia. I know, I know, the constant drumbeat is getting a bit repetitive and boring. But there’s a reason for it.

[11:31] Now, some of the walkouts had formed a support group, which I was later added to, and reading through their accounts is truly horrifying. Many discussed the abuse they suffered thanks to Woodford and his audience. There are numerous discussions on how their sleep was impacted, about how they’re having to see psychiatrists and other specialists. I’ve even seen [a post?] discussing suicide in relation to what had occurred. That’s the level of severity we are talking about with this issue: people discussing suicide. That’s the damage Woodford and his supporters have caused this one group, this one organization.

I don’t have any way to verify this part, but some of it tracks with comments I’ve read elsewhere, the claims have remained consistent over time, and it would explain why ACA members seem willing to talk to Essence of Thought despite the ocean between them.

One thing I do know: the odds of anyone holding Rationality Rules responsible are basically zero. Some big names in the atheo-skeptic sphere, such as Matt Dillahunty and AronRa, either agree with RR or don’t care enough to do their homework. The ACA tried to do the right thing, but it appears RR supporters elected themselves into a majority on the ACA’s board, possibly breaking the rules in the process, and promptly started kissing their abuser’s ass.

In order to remove any ambiguity in the following statement, I wish to make clear that the ACA earnestly and sincerely apologizes to Stephen Woodford (Rationality Rules) for vilifying his character and insinuating that he is opposed to the LGBTQIA+ community. The Board of Directors has officially retracted our original statement.

Rationality Rules was so confident nobody would take him to task, his “improved” video contains the same arguments as his “flawed” one. And honestly, he was right; I’ve seen this scenario play out often enough within this community to know that we try to bury our skeletons, that we treat our minorities like shit, that we “skeptics” are just as prone to being blind followers as the religious/woo crowds we critique. And just like all those other times, I cope by writing words until I get sick of the topic. Sometimes, that takes a while.

This is one of those “a while” times. If it helps, I’m actively trying to avoid covering topics other people already have, and elevating the voices of others to break up the monotony.

Rationality Rules is a “Lying” Transphobe

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!

Gooren, Lj, and Mc Bunck. “Transsexuals and Competitive Sports.” European Journal of Endocrinology, October 1, 2004, 425–29. https://doi.org/10.1530/eje.0.1510425.

Harper, J. “Race Times for Transgender Athletes.” Journal of Sporting Cultures and Identities 6, no. 1 (2015): 1–9.

Their conclusions?

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.

(Gooren 2004)

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.

(Harper 2015)

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.

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.]

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…]