by Marie Verite
Update: 7 Sept 2018: Petition has now reached 4200 signatures. In addition to the articles linked below, new media coverage includes: NBCNews, which covers the controversy as well as the petition, as does this San Diego Union/New York Daily News story; Ken Miller, biology prof and Brown alum in the Brown Daily Herald ; and Cathy Young in Newsday.
In the six days since the launch of the petition urging Brown University and PLoS One to continue supporting research into the sharp increase in youth—particularly females—who seek medical intervention for gender dysphoria, over 3700 have signed and over 1060 have written comments. The initial signature goal was 1000, which was quickly surpassed in less than 12 hours; the goal has since been continuously raised. As of this writing it stands at 4000.
The signatories include many families affected by rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD), medical professionals, therapists, doctors, and academics. You can read them all—and sign the petition, if you have not yet—here. A small sampler of the 1000+ comments:
— Lee Jussim – Chair Psychology Department, Rutgers University “If it’s wrong, let someone produce evidence that it is wrong. Until that time, if the research pisses some people off, who cares? Galileo and Darwin pissed people off too. Brown U should be ashamed of itself for caving to sociopolitical pressure. Science denial, anyone?”
— Richard B. Krueger – Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons “Brown University’s actions in its failure to support Dr. Littman’s peer reviewed research are abhorrent.”
— Nicholas H. Wolfinger – Professor, Department of Family and Consumer Studies, University of Utah “It’s extraordinary for a dean to withdraw support for a study, especially one by an untenured researcher. This is inimical to the spirit of open inquiry. The well-being of trans youth & other sexual minorities is best served by more research, not less.”
The petition was emailed to officials at Brown and PLoS ONE editors several days ago when it reached 2000 signatures, along with a personal letter requesting a response. As of this date, no reply email or even an acknowledgement of receipt has been received.
This week, parents who launched the petition will be mailing the hard-copy petition, with its over 3700 signatories and over 1000 comments, to the Brown University and PLoS officials named at the bottom of the petition, as well as to two WPATH officials located in the United States. A response from all recipients is being requested.
In addition to petition signatories, there have been many others who’ve stepped forward to express their concerns about this assault on academic freedom and the attempted muzzling of free and open discussion regarding the surge in new cases of gender dysphoria in youth and young adults. Press coverage of the exploding controversy is increasing.
This week, the US edition of The Economist ran a piece featuring a mother who completed Dr. Littman’s survey and her daughter, now a 21-year-old desister who identified temporarily as trans and demanded medical intervention at the age of 16. The piece also covers Littman’s study and the growing controversy around it. Entitled “Why are so many teen girls appearing in gender clinics?” the article appears online and in this week’s print edition.
The Economist reports that the mother was fine with her daughter’s gender expression but drew the line at medical transition; Rachel and her mother Janette fought “for months.” In the end, Rachel desisted. The article concludes with this paragraph:
Squashing research risks injuring the health of an unknown number of troubled adolescent girls. Rachel, now 21, believes she latched on to a trans identity as a way of coping with on-off depression and being sexually abused as a child. After receiving therapy, her gender dysphoria disappeared. Had her mother affirmed her gender identity as a 16-year-old, as several gender therapists urged, Rachel would have embarked on a medical transition that she turned out not to want after all.
Despite the obvious caring and thoughtfulness demonstrated by the liberal mother and her daughter in the article, Dianne Ehrensaft, Director of Mental Health at the gender clinic associated with UC San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital and an internationally recognized gender therapist, told the Economist that Littman finding research subjects on sites where skeptical parents like Janette congregate (such as 4thWaveNow)
“would be like recruiting from Klan or alt-right sites to demonstrate that blacks really are an inferior race.”
The Economist article is one of the first to center both the experience of a trans-identified teen who changed her mind and her mother. (Jesse Singal included such stories in his recent Atlantic story; Singal continues to undergo attacks by trans activists for what can only be described as a balanced piece on the matter of youth gender dysphoria).
There has been other prominent news coverage of the Littman controversy. Jeffrey Flier, Harvard University Higginson Professor of Physiology and Medicine at Harvard, and former Dean of Harvard Medical School, first reacted on Twitter to Brown’s removal of the press release of Littman’s’ study, and the university’s failure to support its own researcher:
A few days later, Flier penned a piece for Quillette (an online journal fast becoming one of the most respected outlets for nuanced and incisive writing), taking Brown University to task for its disgraceful treatment of Dr. Littman, an untenured professor, as well as its abdication of responsibility to defend academic freedom via its craven actions in the face of agenda-driven activists. In response, many prominent physicians have retweeted Flier’s piece, as well as Brown faculty members. In Quillette, Flier took no prisoners:
“In all my years in academia, I have never once seen a comparable reaction from a journal within days of publishing a paper that the journal already had subjected to peer review, accepted and published.”
Reactions to the Littman debacle were everywhere on Twitter (for better or worse, the cyber-public square, referred to by some as the “Agora of the 21st Century”), including from other medical professionals, such as Nicholas Christakis, physician, writer, and researcher at Yale.
An article on Medscape on August 28, “Caring for Transgender Kids: Is Clinical Practice Outpacing the Science?” attracted comments from several physicians, most expressing serious concerns about the epidemic of young people identifying as transgender in the last few years. [Note: Some of these physicians signed and commented on the petition calling on Brown and PLoS ONE to support Dr. Littman’s work.]
Many journalists have also weighed in on Twitter, overwhelmingly in support of Littman’s work and also the petition to Brown and PLoS ONE.
Jon Kay, Canadian editor of Quillette opined on Twitter
Tonight, Kay tweeted a letter by a WPATH clinician condemning the ROGD research. Based on WPATH’s previous hostility to any and everything to do with ROGD, we should expect to be hearing more from them in the very near future.
The intense, swift reaction to the Littman matter–and ROGD–is stunning. Ironically, the pile-on intended to suppress Littman’s work may have had the opposite effect of that desired by activists. As of this writing, Littman’s study has been viewed on the PLOS ONE website nearly 59,000 times (this count would not include, of course, additional views of the paper via email shares of PDFs, etc). Indeed, the Littman affair seems to have not only brought the question of rapid onset of gender dysphoria in adolescence, finally, into the public eye. It has also stimulated a broad group of thinkers, professionals, journalists, and clinicians to start talking about the issues, under the banner of academic freedom and the pursuit of truth over the ideological dictates of one group of activists.
It’s heartening to see that defense of these core values is not dead, after all, in the West. We now have not just parents, but public intellectuals, physicians, and ethical clinicians speaking up who recognize what is occurring for what it is: An assault on scientific inquiry and an attempt to squelch open discussion of a phenomenon which is becoming more obvious by the day, despite every effort by the usual suspects to insist it doesn’t exist.
As of this writing, there has been no further public response from either Brown University or PLoS ONE. The last reaction we are aware of was an obsequious response by PLoS ONE on Twitter to a self-described BDSM trans sex worker who goes by the moniker “SadistHailey”/Hailey Heartless.
As we observed on our Twitter account,