Rationality Rules Is Delusional

I glossed past something in my last post. Emphasis mine:

[9:18] You see, I absolutely understand why we have and still do categorize sports based upon sex, as it’s simply the case that the vast majority of males have significant athletic advantages over females, but strictly speaking it’s not due to their sex. It’s due to factors that heavily correlate with their sex, such as height, width, heart size, lung size, bone density, muscle mass, muscle fiber type, hemoglobin, and so on. Or, in other words, sports are not segregated due to chromosomes, they’re segregated due to morphology.

I think it’s time we had a look at his science on this. Of the eleven scientific studies I counted in RR’s citations, only two dealt with muscle fibre composition:

Oertel, Gisela. “Morphometric Analysis of Normal Skeletal Muscles in Infancy, Childhood and Adolescence: An Autopsy Study.” Journal of the Neurological Sciences 88, no. 1 (December 1, 1988): 303–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-510X(88)90227-4.

Staron, Robert S., Fredrick C. Hagerman, Robert S. Hikida, Thomas F. Murray, David P. Hostler, Mathew T. Crill, Kerry E. Ragg, and Kumika Toma. “Fiber Type Composition of the Vastus Lateralis Muscle of Young Men and Women.” Journal of Histochemistry & Cytochemistry 48, no. 5 (May 2000): 623–29. https://doi.org/10.1177/002215540004800506.

From that, we can extract the key charts on fibre composition. I’ll dim the irrelevant sections. [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.

Lies of Omission

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…]

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.

Special Pleading

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.

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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.

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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.

A playing card titled "Special Pleading," which it helpfully describes as "When someone asserts that something is an exception to a rule without justification."

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).

If you thought I was exaggerating when I said “he’s lost his grip on reality,” bear in mind that I had this card up my sleeve at the time. It had plenty of company, too.

[HJH 2019-07-14: Finally got around to adding the “fair play” link.]

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.