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E-Pluribus | September 7, 2023
The truth, but not the whole truth; the specious vocabulary of the gender industry; and if bias is "unconscious," is it even bias?
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Patrick T. Brown: I Left Out the Full Truth to Get My Climate Change Paper Published
As far as Patrick Brown is concerned, the scientific publishing community is Tom Cruise’s Lt. Daniel Kaffee in A Few Good Men to Jack Nicholson’s Col. Nathan R. Jessep when it comes to climate change: they can’t handle the truth! Writing for The Free Press shortly after he co-authored an article published in Nature, Brown explains what he couldn’t say in the Nature article if he wanted to avoid it getting spiked.
[W]hy does the press focus so intently on climate change as the root cause? Perhaps for the same reasons I just did in an academic paper about wildfires in Nature, one of the world’s most prestigious journals: it fits a simple storyline that rewards the person telling it.
The paper I just published—“Climate warming increases extreme daily wildfire growth risk in California”—focuses exclusively on how climate change has affected extreme wildfire behavior. I knew not to try to quantify key aspects other than climate change in my research because it would dilute the story that prestigious journals like Nature and its rival, Science, want to tell.
This matters because it is critically important for scientists to be published in high-profile journals; in many ways, they are the gatekeepers for career success in academia. And the editors of these journals have made it abundantly clear, both by what they publish and what they reject, that they want climate papers that support certain preapproved narratives—even when those narratives come at the expense of broader knowledge for society.
To put it bluntly, climate science has become less about understanding the complexities of the world and more about serving as a kind of Cassandra, urgently warning the public about the dangers of climate change. However understandable this instinct may be, it distorts a great deal of climate science research, misinforms the public, and most importantly, makes practical solutions more difficult to achieve.
Read it all.
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Joseph Figliolia: Reframing the Gender Debate
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that a movement supporting those who wish to define their own gender(s) would make an effort to control all the definitions in the debate. In City Journal, Joseph Figliolia argues that allowing the transgender movement to assume the civil rights mantle helps no one, not even those the movement itself purports to support.
The gender-diversity paradigm values patient autonomy above all else. It holds that doctors are not treating a pathology as much as they are offering cosmetic procedures to help their patients become their “truest selves.” The goal is not necessarily to resolve dysphoria but to help patients achieve “gender euphoria.” On the AMA website, one physician-advocate, Aron Janssen, describes affirmative care as “patient led,” with “no single, objective outcome for somebody seeking a sense of identity.” The underlying logic of this treatment resonates with many people, intuitively aligning with America’s expressive-individualist culture.
Yet everything we know about the nature and persistence of gender dysphoria suggests that the civil rights framework is a category error. The “transgender child” exists only in relation to gender schemas that are themselves sociocultural phenomena. Gender dysphoria is real, but it is not a perfect proxy for a cross-gender identity. Moreover, gender-related distress is not one clinical entity; it can have varied presentations, etiologies, and subtypes.
To speak of “trans kids,” in other words, is to presuppose that these kids are all part of one natural category that demands one kind of treatment approach. That’s not the case. When the pro-affirming side of the debate labels kids experiencing gender dysphoria as “trans,” it conflates two categories (gender dysphoria and transgender identification) and does these young people a grave disservice.
A minor undergoing gender dysphoria will probably not identify as transgender permanently. Research shows that such symptoms follow an unpredictable developmental course. Notably, even the clinical practice guidelines for treating gender dysphoria, authored by the pro-affirming Endocrine Society, concede that most children (roughly 80 percent) who present with gender dysphoria outgrow it by adolescence, and that a considerable number of these children turn out to be gay or bisexual. Most striking of all, however, is the clear acknowledgment that no clinical assessment exists to “predict the psychosexual outcome for any specific child.” In other words, there is no reliable mechanism to determine which young people will outgrow their dysphoria and which young people will persist.
This concession exists in irreconcilable tension with, say, the activist slogan that “trans kids know who they are.” If gender dysphoria is not permanent, then what is a “trans kid?” Rather than referring to a natural category, the American Psychological Association’s page on “Understanding transgender people, gender identity and gender expression” is a classic case of concept creep. According to the APA, “transgender” is an umbrella term for “persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.” Under this definition, transgender persons include those who simply express themselves, or behave, in unconventional ways for their sex. Such a definition serves to reinforce stereotypical tropes about men and women, quietly policing the boundaries of acceptable gender expression for boys and girls.
Read it all here.
Stewart Justman: Unconscious Bias in Medicine: A Canard
When conventional accusations of bias lack clear evidence, researchers (and activists) sometimes turn to “unconscious” bias to salvage their dubious assumptions and preconceived notions. Stewart Justman at Quillette examines how weakly supported (at best) claims in various studies and publications have taken on a life of their own to bolster the reputation of the “unconscious bias” canard.
The established means of detecting unconscious bias is something called the Implicit Association Test, an online exercise in which you pair white and black faces with positive and negative attributes. Bias is indexed by differences in speed, on the theory that non-stereotypical associations (such as black with “good”) come less readily to the biased mind. Though the IAT was up and running by the time Unequal Treatment was published, it is not mentioned therein. In the years to come, however, the IAT would be incorporated into a series of investigations in an effort to show that clinical decisions correlate with test scores. A trial in which doctors both (a) treat identical black and white cases unequally and (b) show bias on the IAT would send a dramatic message.
So it was that, in 2007, Green and colleagues reported a study that found a correlation between IAT scores and racially differential recommendations of therapy for acute coronary syndrome. The authors triumphantly describe the study as “the first evidence of unconscious (implicit) race bias among physicians, its dissociation from conscious (explicit) bias, and its predictive validity.” Whatever the predictive validity of unconscious bias, the study itself certainly did not predict others. To this day, the Green study remains the one and only source of direct evidence of unconscious bias in medicine (that is, evidence of clinical decisions made under the influence of such bias). Every attempt to replicate the correlation in question has failed, with negative trials reported in 2008, 2011, twice in 2014, and 2015 (and predominantly negative results emerging in a reanalysis of the 2008 study in 2012). Again and again, investigators found no correlation between clinical decisions and bias detected on the IAT, which is hardly what we would expect if unconscious bias worked as its expositors maintain. A racial animus that supposedly functions automatically, beyond the holder’s awareness and volition, has somehow failed to leave a mark on treatment decisions in one trial after another, with subjects in different specialties and with varying degrees of detected bias.
[ . . . ]
Overall, the evidence for the influence of unconscious bias over clinical decisions is almost nonexistent, and the evidence that unconscious bias distorts the doctor’s language and body language (thereby leading in the end to poor outcomes) is tendentious and often absurd. It is time to stand back and see the theory of unconscious bias in its true colors. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that doctors in the Schulman study actually withheld appropriate therapy from black women, how credible is it that they did so without even realizing that they were doing it? The theory of unconscious bias casts the biased doctor as a virtual sleepwalker making clinical decisions at the behest of a motive that functions autonomously. (In the disparities literature, much is made of the principle that people under cognitive stress, like doctors, fall back on automatic patterns.) The most one can say of this portrayal of doctors as split personalities, acting out the contrary of their own principles, is that it makes for a compelling narrative.
Read the whole thing.
The California legislature appears poised to continue to chip away at parents’ rights:
And finally, Harvard professor Steven Pinker with a dubious honor paid to his institution in that FIRE survey mentioned above: