Rationality Rules is wrong (sort of). Thoughts on TransGate

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Rationality Rules is wrong (sort of). Thoughts on TransGate

Post by Lay Vegan » Thu May 23, 2019 8:41 pm

Many of you familiar with the skepto-sphere on YouTube may have been following the recent debacle regarding Rationality Rules. To summarize, on March 29, RR uploaded a video to YouTube outlining his argument against the proposition that trans athletes should be allowed to compete with biological women in sports. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50Iok5At7Hw

His video was met with swift criticism, and the ACA soon released the following statement about him.
ACA wrote:Stephen Woodford (Rationality Rules) made ignorant and transphobic videos and statements on his social media platform in the weeks leading up to his appearances on ACA shows...We acknowledge that the ACA did a poor job of showing our support by allowing Mr. Woodford to make appearances on our shows without either addressing his controversial views on the air, or asking him to refrain from appearances until he released a clarifying statement on his channel.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cX_vOpX6mt4

My own thoughts thoughts are a bit mixed. For a Rationality Rules video, there’s a conspicuous lack of peer-reviewed research or empirical evidence countering the above proposition. Rather, he provided a handful of cherry-picked anecdotes and an assortment of random video clips from talk shows and interviews. A few studies investing the physical differences between biological men and women (bone density, hemoglobin, metabolic rates, etc.) were vaguely mentioned, but the studies were effectively useless as none compared athletic performance of trans athletes with the athletic performance of biological women. He also failed to consider the biology of trans people who have undertaken hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I'm not sure what prompted him to make the video, but he didn't do a good job defending his position.

While RR’s video was poorly researched and lacking in some areas, there isn’t much evidence that supports the proposition either. Until 2015, there had been no published date on performances of transgender athletes. The most recent, comprehensive longitudinal study on 8 transgender athletes revealed that they run distance races at approximately the same level for their respective gender, both before and after gender transition. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1e6a/b ... f4878a.pdf However, the data is only valid for distance running. In sports where other variables (like height or strength) are more conspicuous precursors for success, trans women may have an advantage since they are on average taller and stronger than biological women. The most reasonable stance seems to be that trans women have a clear advantage over cis women in some sports, but are able to compete with biological women in other sports.

Here is the most comprehensive look at the available research on the subject. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwFZBG_ts4k

The bottom line:

1. Scientific consensus seems to be that testosterone is primarily responsible for the difference in athletic results between the sexes. The appropriate eligibility criterion for some female athletic events should be a testosterone level less than 5 nano moles per liter. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6391653/

2. Trans women who have undertaken testosterone suppression will suffer as a result of their reduced testosterone levels in both strength and speed. One year after testosterone suppression, hemoglobin levels in trans women fell to a level that is statistically significant to biological women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15476439

3. Trans women and cis women appear have similar endurance capabilities. This suggests that distance running is a suitable sport for which trans and cis women to compete.

4. Trans women are on average taller and stronger than cis women, so more research on needed on whether than can fairly compete in sports like shot put and high jump etc.

5. MORE RESEARCH IS NEEDED (with much bigger cohorts). Contrary to what Rationality Rules insinuates, the science is not at all well established on this. It’s also important to note that more research is needed on whether the sizable reduction in strength and speed (as a result of HRT) can be properly mitigated by some of the biological advantages of trans women.

I don’t think the mistakes that RR made were particularly egregious or harmful (or in bad faith). It’s clear that he didn’t take the time to conduct adequate research on the topic (his instance that he could go on about the “science” despite the science being incomplete). Overall, I think the ACA’s denouncement of him and his platform was shameful, and I’m glad they’ve since retracted it. RR has since demonetized the video and plans to unlist when he has made the proper corrections.
Rationality Rules wrote: Hey all. I want to make very clear that I made a few major mistakes within this video, and that due to this I've demonetized it and have added to the title "Please Note That This Video Contains Errors". 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 are your thoughts?

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Post by esquizofrenico » Thu May 23, 2019 10:36 pm

About your first point, can we really completely discern man and woman purely by their blood testosterone levels? If not (as I believe most likely since biology is never an exact science), would this limit in testosterone levels also be imposed to biological women? I don't feel this would be fair: part of succeeding in sports occurs purely because of biological beneficial innate characteristic of the sportsman.

I see now that you say "some". Pretty vague, what do you mean with that word?

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Post by Lay Vegan » Fri May 24, 2019 12:09 am

esquizofrenico wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 10:36 pm
About your first point, can we really completely discern man and woman purely by their blood testosterone levels?
No. In regard to athletic performance however, circulating testosterone and hemoglobin levels largely account for the dichotomy between the sexes. There are other variables of course; some are either be too difficult to control for, not well studied enough, or completely irrelevant in regard to athletic performance. It wouldn't make any sense for sports organizers for example to divide the sexes on estrogen levels.
esquizofrenico wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 10:36 pm
If not (as I believe most likely since biology is never an exact science), would this limit in testosterone levels also be imposed to biological women?
No, it would apply for intersex, hyperangrognous, and trans women who have undergone male puberty. Keep in mind that some of the developmental effects of male puberty can’t be “undone” by HRT (bone density, height, etc.). This benchmark could allow biological women to compete fairly with trans women in certain sports, who would likely otherwise benefit from increased strength, speed and endurance.
esquizofrenico wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 10:36 pm
I don't feel this would be fair: part of succeeding in sports occurs purely because of biological beneficial innate characteristic of the sportsman.
It depends on the relevant biological characteristics. Some innate characteristics that influence athletic performance can be modified. If height were an advantage in the high jump competition, and trans women's height could be modified to be similar to that of biological women, then the advantage could be effectively nullified. No, height cannot be augmented and no, there is no single genetic trait that is to blame for the difference in athletic performance between the sexes. But if the most significant variables can be controlled for and modified (and mitigated by the potential disadvantages) then I wouldn't consider it unfair for trans women to compete with biological women in sports where the unchanging variables aren't important.
esquizofrenico wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 10:36 pm
I see now that you say "some". Pretty vague, what do you mean with that word?
The sport in question is yet another variable. For the shot put, height and strength are more obvious factors in performance, and trans women who have experienced male puberty may automatically be at an increased advantage. Depending on the size and scope of the advantage, organizers could raise or lower the benchmark accordingly (or base it on chromosomes). Trans women could also be at a disadvantage in distance sports, since increased muscle mass and denser bones aren’t conducive to long distance running. Not sure how useful the <5.0 nmol/L. testosterone benchmark would be there. What about swimming or gymnastics? Surely increased muscle mass could impede optimal performance in the water?

There is a concerning lack of research on that. That would explain my vagueness.

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Sun Jun 02, 2019 3:02 am

Lay Vegan wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 8:41 pm
While RR’s video was poorly researched and lacking in some areas, there isn’t much evidence that supports the proposition either.
That shouldn't really matter, because sports don't matter (or, at least the notion that there is some divine "fairness" that matters is absurd).
Not only is there nothing "fair" about sports to begin with, it doesn't matter that there isn't as long as people can still have a good time watching them.

The fact that none of this matters alone should indicate we should include trans people. The fact of there being no evidence even for the claims the opponents are making makes it all the worse.

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Post by Lay Vegan » Sun Jun 02, 2019 1:27 pm

brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 3:02 am
Lay Vegan wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 8:41 pm
While RR’s video was poorly researched and lacking in some areas, there isn’t much evidence that supports the proposition either.
That shouldn't really matter, because sports don't matter (or, at least the notion that there is some divine "fairness" that matters is absurd).
Not only is there nothing "fair" about sports to begin with, it doesn't matter that there isn't as long as people can still have a good time watching them.
That sounds like an appeal to futility.

By that same logic, why not abolish women’s athletics and make all sports mixed gendered? Why bother separating them by age or weight class? Why not permit athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs? After all, nature does endow her gifts unevenly.

I do think this warrants a discussion on the arbitrary metrics by which we determine “fairness” in athletics.
brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 3:02 am
The fact of there being no evidence even for the claims the opponents are making makes it all the worse.
How do you mean?

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Sun Jun 02, 2019 3:01 pm

Lay Vegan wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 1:27 pm
brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 3:02 am
Not only is there nothing "fair" about sports to begin with, it doesn't matter that there isn't as long as people can still have a good time watching them.
That sounds like an appeal to futility.
It's fine to appeal to futility when the goal is perfect fairness or bust, particularly when it doesn't matter, but I'm not exactly doing that. I'm not convinced fairness in sports is a coherent concept because the contest is ill defined.
Lay Vegan wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 1:27 pm
By that same logic, why not abolish women’s athletics and make all sports mixed gendered?
Yes please.
Lay Vegan wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 1:27 pm
Why bother separating them by age or weight class?
Weight actually makes sense to prevent injuries to lighter people due to too large a difference in some sports.
Lay Vegan wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 1:27 pm
Why not permit athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs? After all, nature does endow her gifts unevenly.
Sure, why not? As long as a doctor can sign off on safety.

Lay Vegan wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 1:27 pm
brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 3:02 am
The fact of there being no evidence even for the claims the opponents are making makes it all the worse.
How do you mean?
It adds insult to injury. Not only does it not matter even if the claims were true (so stop being a jerk to trans people for no good reason), but there's not even evidence that the claims are true.

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Post by Jebus » Sun Jun 02, 2019 4:47 pm

I think we should stop using the terms men and women in sports. If we are going to keep separating the "genders" one category should be for those with two X-chromosomes, and the other should be for those who do not. I have worked in sports education over 30 years and there is no doubt that men have superior muscle memory to women. If a male benefits from this advantage while learning a sport, he will have a big advantage when changing genders.

I was considered a good tennis player in my youth. I got a full scholarship in university and I managed to make some small prize money after that. However, I was nowhere near the level where I could have made a full-time living from playing tennis. On the other hand, if I had competed in the women's event I think I could have easily made it into the top 50 players in the world, perhaps much higher. I'm sure reduced testosterone levels would have hampered my ability somewhat but I'm still sure I could have made a lot of money playing as a woman.

The problem, as I see it, is that the lure of (athletic) fame and fortune would motivate men (who otherwise wouldn't) to make a gender change.
Lay Vegan wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 1:27 pm
why not abolish women’s athletics and make all sports mixed gendered?
Absolutely! Women could still benefit and have fun from sports. One could consider this unjust for women who would otherwise be world class well-earning athletes, but hey, isn't it equally unfair to all those men who were born uncoordinated. From a spectators point of view, with the exception of MMA, the events where women's sports are (nearly) equally appreciated to men's sports are those where women are (nearly) equally competitive (gymnastics and figure skating come to mind). Perhaps more women would gravitate to such events if there were no gender distinction in sports.
brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 3:01 pm
Weight actually makes sense to prevent injuries to lighter people due to too large a difference in some sports.
The only sports I can think of who have weight categories fall into the realm of martial arts. If a light weight faces a heavy weight the chances of him/her getting hit is smaller than if fighting someone his/her own weight. However, the consequences of a hit would be more severe. It's kind of like the "value bet" concept discussed in the other thread. If no one forces the light weight person to step into the ring I see no difference from having a poorly trained fighter step into the ring against a well trained fighter.
brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 3:02 am
.
Not only is there nothing "fair" about sports to begin with
You mean it is unfair because some people are more athletically gifted than others?

There is no doubt that life is unfair given the huge disparity in IQ that people are born with. Shouldn't we compensate the less intelligent to even out the playing field. Perhaps that is a topic for a whole different discussion.
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Post by Lay Vegan » Sun Jun 02, 2019 9:52 pm

Thanks guys.

@Jebus Would you opt to divide sports competitors by athletic skill (where both men and women of different skill tiers compete with one another)? I’m convinced that benchmark would introduce its own problems, as even skill can be acquired from unfair socio-economic advantages. E.g. rich athletes may be able to afford better coaches/instructors that poor ones.

Whether it be male/female, rich/poor, or tall/short there seem to be many ways to divvy up competitors to ensure fair competition. But maybe none of it really matters, since "fairness” is either built on arbitrary metrics or is impossible to establish in athletic competition.

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Post by Jebus » Mon Jun 03, 2019 3:58 am

Lay Vegan wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 9:52 pm
Would you opt to divide sports competitors by athletic skill (where both men and women of different skill tiers compete with one another)? I’m convinced that benchmark would introduce its own problems
'
I have organized such tennis events and I think they are great. The only problem is that macho males (who don't like to lose to women) won't participate.
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Post by brimstoneSalad » Mon Jun 03, 2019 2:59 pm

Jebus wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 4:47 pm
I have worked in sports education over 30 years and there is no doubt that men have superior muscle memory to women. If a male benefits from this advantage while learning a sport, he will have a big advantage when changing genders.
There's no reason to think that; transitioning takes time, and professional athletes quickly lose their edges without training (or with insufficient training). A lowered muscle memory even for a short time would see quick losses.
Jebus wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 4:47 pm
The problem, as I see it, is that the lure of (athletic) fame and fortune would motivate men (who otherwise wouldn't) to make a gender change.
Would you have transitioned if it were an option?
Aside from those is very poor countries, I highly doubt the prize money would be worth it. That's like chopping off your legs to compete in the Paralympics.

And even if it did happen a few times, why would that matter?
I don't think any reasonable scenario would see women's sports just totally overrun by men pretending to be women (e.g. not real transwomen) just to win prize money.
Jebus wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 4:47 pm
Perhaps more women would gravitate to such events if there were no gender distinction in sports.
Or we would develop new sports which have a mixture of physical talents that creates a more balanced playing field.
Or possibly even just require mixed teams of men and women.
Jebus wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 4:47 pm
You mean it is unfair because some people are more athletically gifted than others?
I don't really think fairness is a meaningful concept unless the parameter you are testing is well defined, and it is not in sports.

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