Science Denialism on the Left: Sex, Gender, and Trans Identity

In The End of Gender, Debra Soh stands up for impartial research—and for LGBTQ rights.


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How biologically different are men and women?

In 2017, Google engineer James Damore sparked a controversy for writing a leaked memo arguing that women were underrepresented in tech because of innate differences, not sexist bias. Damore was fired by Google and widely attacked in the media.

Debra Soh, a psychologist and journalist whose writings have appeared in Scientific American, Quillette, Playboy, and elsewhere, came to his defense. "No, the Google manifesto isn't sexist or anti-diversity," she wrote."It's science."

Soh is the author of a new book, The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society. She tells Reason's Nick Gillespie that she's worried about the growing denial of science she sees, especially on the left. Her book is organized around what she says are misrepresentations of science that have become commonplace, such as "gender is a social construct," "sexual orientation and gender identity are unrelated," and "gender-neutral parenting works." At the top of her list is the idea that "biological sex is a spectrum." Biological sex is a function of the gametes an individual produces, which can only be either eggs or sperm; therefore, she argues, biological sex is binary by definition.

Soh also argues that sexual orientation is innate, reminding her readers that the slogan born this way was a motto of the gay rights movement. She worries about the consequences when prepubescent children undergo surgery and take hormones to change their gender: She thinks the majority of children who say they feel more like the opposite sex will grow up to be gay, not transgender.

Soh is a liberal who believes that all adults should be treated equally under the law and allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies. But she worries that activists are distorting scientific findings to fit their political views and trying to silence researchers who are making good-faith efforts to understand the human condition. Those efforts aren't just eroding academic freedom, she argues; they're undermining the scientific method, the best means we have for gaining knowledge about the world.

"Activist science, no matter how passionate or well-intentioned, is not science," she writes. "Activism has no place in scientific research."

Full interview available here.

Interview and narration by Nick Gillespie. Edited by John Osterhoudt.

Photos: Autumn Berend/CC BY-SA; Karl Mondon/TNS/Newscom; Charles Hutchins/Flickr; Eric Parker/Flickr; Ted Eytan/Flickr; Ted Eytan/Flickr