Rationality Rules is an Irrational Transphobe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TERFs are Incoherent

Remember this old claim of mine?

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

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

[CONTENT WARNING: transphobia, TERFs]

[Read more…]

Rationality Rules is an Oblivious Transphobe

I have some regrets about my last post on Rationality Rules. I banged it out in just a few hours, while I was in the early stages of a nasty cold, and as I result I didn’t lay out all my arguments as clearly as I’d liked. I should have more clearly stated that his behavior was more in line with how a transphobe would react to the situation than someone who wasn’t transphobic. Now that I’ve had the benefit of time and RR’s long-teased follow-up video, I’ve had more time to reflect. As a result, I’ve refined my view of RR.

This new stance might not seem that charitable. After all, we’re talking about a video where RR says:

[1:58] I painted a picture of trans women essentially “stealing” competitions from non-trans women, and you’re absolutely right. I really dropped the ball here, and I will do my utmost best not to make this mistake again. In fact, going forward I’ll be very conscious of my narrative and language altogether, as such a sensitive topic requires nothing less. Truly, I should’ve known better. [2:20]

[9:23] … I absolutely recognise that my honest mistakes caused real harm, and for that I am sincerely sorry. The original video is now delisted and I’ve donated all of the ad revenue that it made to the transgender charity Sparkle. I know that it’ll never make up for the harm that I’ve caused, and that many of you will never consider me an ally again, I understand. [9:47]

He explicitly says a trans woman is a woman, too, at around the 1:40 mark. So why the harsh interpretation? [Read more…]

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.

Oh, Alberta

There used to be a rule in my province: if you worked overtime, you could be compensated in two ways. Either your boss would pay you 150% of your normal hourly rate for those hours, or they could give you an equal number of hours off in a future shift. The loophole is obvious: pressure your workers into taking time off, and you don’t have to pay them that extra 50%. The New Democratic Party plugged that loophole over a year ago, bringing us in line with other provinces.

In their election platform, the United Conservative Party pledged to reintroduce the loophole, allowing employers to fleece their employees again and hurting the bottom line of hundreds of thousands of Albertans.

The UCP also pledged to remove the provincial “carbon tax.” This also takes money from Albertans, as the tax is proportional to the amount of carbon everyone consumes. Since industry is by far the greatest polluter, it’s easy to use the taxes on them to offer rebates for ordinary citizens. Indeed, roughly 60% of us paid little or no carbon tax thanks to that trick. To make matters worse, removing the provincial carbon levy doesn’t mean Albertans are free of said “tax.” On the contrary, our federal government imposes a carbon tax if your province doesn’t have one. The UCP solution? Sue the federal government, on the grounds that… they can’t collect taxes, I guess? The UCP is almost certain to lose in court and charge the legal fees to the taxpayers of Alberta.

Oh also, the UCP want to cut the minimum wage. Not for everyone, mind you, just the workers that people don’t care too much about. Meanwhile they want to cut the business tax rate, despite Alberta already having the lowest business taxes in all of Canada, and are aiming to slash the province’s debt, at a time when we also have the smallest debt in all of Canada. Social service cuts are sure to follow.

Their platform, in sum, kneecaps most Albertans. So how on Earth can you hope to win their votes? All you USians in the crowd can probably guess this one. From the UCP platform:

  • Establish an ‘Energy War Room’ to respond in real time to the lies and myths told about Alberta’s energy industry through paid, earned, and social media.
  • Seek out and support Alberta energy companies that are willing to challenge the campaign of defamation by anti-Alberta special interests, similar to Resolute Forest Products’ defamation suit against Greenpeace for $300 million in damages.
  • Launch a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act into the foreign sources of funds behind the anti-Alberta energy campaign. The inquiry will have the power to compel witness testimony, and have a $2.5 million budget.

That’s right, the UCP is proposing a “war” against foreign environmentalists. Local ones either don’t exist, or are “fake” Albertans under foreign influence. It’s a fanciful conspiracy theory, built right into their core platform. Add in some identity politics (Campus free speech! Trudeau sucks!) and grandiose claims of chickens in every pot, and you’ve got most of their election strategy.

The missing bit is something USians are also familiar with, but may not have guessed.

The leader of the new United Conservative Party (UCP) is already promising not to act on a resolution passed over the weekend at the UCP’s first policy convention. Members voted in favour of parents being notified when their child joins an after-school club, including a gay-straight alliance. But Kenney quickly poured cold water on the idea. […]

“Let me be absolutely stone-cold clear: a United Conservative government will not be changing law or policy to require notification of parents when kids join GSAs,” Kenney said.

=====

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney on Tuesday defended his pledge to proclaim the Education Act (2014), which would remove the prohibition on parental notification if a child joins a gay-straight alliance.

Kenney has faced backlash from LGBTQ advocates, teachers and parents since he announced the UCP education platform on Monday. A UCP government would proclaim the former Progressive Conservative government’s Education Act (2014) to replace the NDP’s amended School Act.

Technically Kenney didn’t lie, in the same way that Alabama technically didn’t ban abortion or William Barr technically summarized the contents of the Special Council Report. On other topics, however, he steals directly from Trump’s playbook.

Kenney’s repeated insistence Monday that the change would simply align Alberta with overtime laws in “in every other province” is not true. In every province and territory where workers can bank overtime, employers are required to pay out those hours at 1.5 times the hourly wage. In B.C., it goes up to 2.0 for anything exceeding 12 hours of overtime.

“This does not affect overtime pay. I repeat — it does not affect or diminish overtime pay,” Kenney said Monday when asked about the line in the UCP platform which he unveiled over the weekend in Calgary.

=====

“The NDP, of course, is running a fear and smear campaign,” Kenney said. “All we are proposing is that we return to exactly the same [overtime] rules that existed for, as far as I know, decades in Alberta without any, as far as I know, reported abuses.” […]

[Christina] Gray rejects Kenney’s contention that no one complained about the old rules. “I heard people complained during the consultations,” she said. “I know that many workers felt that it didn’t make sense for Alberta to be out of step with the rest of Canada.”

Those South of the ’49 tend to view Canadians as more enlightened and sensible. But Ontario knew who Doug Ford was via his brother Rob Ford, knew they were getting someone who ran their own partisan fake news organization, knew of all the scandals and personality cult surrounding him, knew that in Canada majority governments can do whatever they want, and yet they still handed him a clear majority. Alberta’s United Conservative Party were plagued with scandals over homophobic and racist candidates, and Albertans didn’t like the party’s leader all that much, yet also handed the UCP a clear majority. In the USA, the people involved with their horrific family separation policy could forever be tarred by the association; in Alberta, we just rewarded the guy in charge of our horrific family separation policy with high office. The government of the province next door, Saskatchewan, is looking to follow the lead of Alberta’s UCP. Out of ten provincial governments, in fact, seven skew conservative. At the federal level, the Conservative party is likely to win the next election, thanks in part to systemic racism.

It’s slowly dawning on me that Canadians are no more progressive than our US friends. And now, with the NDP officially out of power and the United Conservatives firmly in, I’m about to get a four year dose of conservatism. “Hellberta,” indeed.

Trump Is A Coward

I have a lot more to say on the SCO’s report, but there’s one thing most people missed. Josh Marshall spotted it too.

Trump already knew these things didn’t happen. Sessions didn’t unrecuse. Corey Lewandowski never sent his backchannel messages to Sessions. And of course Robert Mueller was never fired. What I suspect is most angering to Trump, most humiliating is precisely that these narratives show he never did anything about it. He could have fired McGahn and gotten another White House Counsel. He could have fired Mueller himself. (…) More straightforwardly, like Richard Nixon, he could have fired McGahns and Rosensteins until he found someone who would carry out his orders. But he didn’t. (Revealingly, in the one case of a real firing, he had a letter hand-delivered to James Comey at FBI headquarters when he knew Comey was on a trip to California.)

The image is one of weakness, someone who blusters but is actually surprisingly, paradoxically conflict averse.

This forms a clear pattern of behavior. Remember this incident?

For one thing, Trump announced the appointment of Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly to be chief of staff (and thus that Priebus was leaving) through a string of three tweets. Second, according to a pool report by Politico’s Josh Gerstein, following an Air Force One flight Priebus was almost literally kicked to the curb.

After Air Force One arrived in Andrews Air Force base in Maryland outside DC, following a trip to Long Island, Priebus initially boarded an SUV with other senior White House staff — before those staff members left his vehicle for another one. And when news broke of the firing, Priebus’s car was literally pulled out of the motorcade and sent on its way. The whole time, Trump sat in Air Force One …

Or all the “resign-firings,” of which Kirstjen Nielsen is only the most recent example. That isn’t what you expect from a leader, let alone a strong leader. It is what you expect from someone with incredibly low self-esteem, though. Someone who is desperate for praise, because they are deeply insecure about themselves. These people tend to think everyone is talking about them implicitly. They trash other people to make themselves look better, while cravenly sucking up to anyone who could help them; note that the people Trump most praises are either authoritarian leaders with access to world-class hacking capabilities, or influential Fox News and right-wing media hosts.

Trump is a coward, with an unusually high level of insecurity. His leadership style is to allow his subordinates to do whatever they want, so long as they praise or protect him. Even when they don’t live up to their end of the bargain, Trump will ineptly complain about them for months on Twitter before he can work up the courage to do anything about it.

No wonder Putin has Trump wrapped around his finger. Anyone that insecure is easy to manipulate.

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…]

Sexism Poisons Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]
Andrew Chael, Graduate Student, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
[…]

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

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

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

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

Nevermind religion, sexism poisons everything.


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