Brown University is coming under fire from two different groups. In the first case, the university was pelted by Social Justice activists for putting out a press release for a descriptive study by Lisa Littman that was published on August 16th, 2018 titled “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports”. Social Justice activists felt the study was harmful to transgenders while others felt the data was gathered from biased sources. In the second case, Brown University is being pelted for having retracted the press release and kowtowing to the complaints of those who called into question the veracity of the study.
The study itself measured if some kids were being pressured into gender dysphoria due to social media peer pressure during or after puberty, which would indicate that the gender dysphoria is a result of environment not nature. Many of the parents who partook in the study seemed to feel as if the gender dysphoria related to transgenderism was a result of trends in social media and subculture rather than a natural occurrence.
According to Retraction Watch, Brown opted to pull the press release promoting Littman’s paper after receiving complaints about the methodology, which some Liberals felt were biased and helped “invalidate” the views of the “transgender community”. Others also pointed out that surveying the parents while excluding survey data of the children also didn’t help the validity of the study.
Originally the press release – which is still available for viewing on Science Daily – depicted the results from Littman’s study as a case of transgenderism potentially being a trendy and dangerous pathology, likening it to drugs and alcohol…
“[…] 62 percent of parents reported their teen or young adult had one or more diagnoses of a psychiatric disorder or neurodevelopmental disability before the onset of gender dysphoria. Forty-eight percent reported that their child had experienced a traumatic or stressful event prior to the onset of their gender dysphoria, including being bullied, sexually assaulted or having their parents get divorced.
“This suggests that the drive to transition expressed by these teens and young adults could be a harmful coping mechanism like drugs, alcohol or cutting, Littman said. With harmful coping mechanisms, certain behaviors are used to avoid feeling negative emotions in the short term, but they do not solve the underlying problems and they often cause additional problems, she noted.”
Social Justice activists became incensed at the implications and began questioning the methodology. Thus Brown took down the press release citing that it would be investigating the methodology and looking further into the research.
PLOS ONE also sent a statement to Retraction Watch, stating that it wasn’t about censorship, but about research validity, stating…
“The integrity and validity of the scientific record is very important to us, and we have a responsibility to address scientific concerns brought to our attention. This is not about censoring academic freedom or to suppress scientific research. The broad debate on gender dysphoria led by various parties is clear evidence that such research is needed, and we support this research and are committed as a journal to publish all scientifically valid research on the topic.”
While some people are angry at Brown for retracting the press release, and others are angry at those who complained about the methodology, the author of the piece did acknowledge the criticisms in the actual forum thread where the sources of the methodology were called into question.
A user in the comment section going by the handle of Glein, pointed out that two of the three sources whose communities Littman used for the survey had specific mindsets going in, given the fact that the communities at 4thWaveNow.com and Transgender Trend have obvious slants against the transgender trend, saying…
“These sites are catered not just to a particular “conditional” demographic (parents with children who identified as transgender during adolescence) but to a particular mindset demographic as well (those parents who disbelieve the validity of their child’s transgender claims and believe they are brought on by external societal dynamics). The survey result that only 2.4% of parents believing their child’s assertion is correct supports this distinction and suggests result aggregation grouped by response to that question would be a valuable insight.”
Glein pointed out that targeted recruitment seemed necessary for the study, but implied that there needed to be a more balanced group of survey participants to draw proper conclusive results from the data.
Littman responded by thanking Glein for acknowledging the necessity of targeted recruitment, and also acknowledged the “specific population” who participated in the survey, writing…
“I agree that the study population is a specific population, and they may have unique characteristics. This is true also of Dr. Kristina Olson’s work on social transition of young children—parents who are attending gender conferences, having their kids attend gender expansive camps, and have allowed their children to socially transition before this was common—may also have unique characteristics. Both of these studies are first descriptive studies and both areas will greatly benefit from follow up studies with recruitment from a wider selection of sources. “
Littman also acknowledged what Brown and PLOS ONE also stated, which is that more research would be required of the subject matter before making any conclusive judgments about the data.
Littman rounds out the thread by stating that this particular study was meant to be a first study and a descriptive study with more research to follow…
“I agree with you that additional studies will be needed to better explore these specifics. You are correct that by asking about the number of friends coming out before and after the target child–does not provide a denominator. Four kids out of four is different than four kids out of 100. In order to get a sense of percentages, I asked the question about majority. And I hope that there are additional studies conducted to explore the timing of disclosures, the timing of friendship group formations, the sizes of the friendship groups at different times, movement of friends into and out of friendship groups, smaller social networks vs larger social networks, and even the spread of specific concepts over social media. My study is meant to be a first study so that additional studies can be conducted. There is much to learn in this area and I hope that other researchers will consider exploring this as well.”
As noted by Retraction Watch, some researchers feel as if Brown took a misstep by listening to the outrage mob, while others support the notion that more research is required before making conclusive observations about the data.
(Thanks for the news tip Richard)