Cowardice at Brown University

Two weeks ago Professor Lisa Littman of Brown University’s department of behaviorial and social sciences published an article on PLoS One, a well-regarded, peer-reviewed online scientific journal, with the title “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports.” Before proceeding, know that Prof. Littman is not tenured at Brown.

I’ll post immediately below the abstract and conclusion (and the whole study is available—no paywall or subscription requirement if you want to look at the whole thing), but I’ll reduce the main finding of this study to one sentence: evidence suggests that the recent sharp rise in the number of young adolescents declaring themselves to be transgender appears to be correlated with peer group enthusiasm along with intense social media activity. To be blunt, it is a fad, like eating Tide pods.



In on-line forums, parents have been reporting that their children are experiencing what is described here as “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” appearing for the first time during puberty or even after its completion. The onset of gender dysphoria seemed to occur in the context of belonging to a peer group where one, multiple, or even all of the friends have become gender dysphoric and transgender-identified during the same timeframe. Parents also report that their children exhibited an increase in social media/internet use prior to disclosure of a transgender identity. The purpose of this study was to document and explore these observations and describe the resulting presentation of gender dysphoria, which is inconsistent with existing research literature. . .


Rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) describes a phenomenon where the development of gender dysphoria is observed to begin suddenly during or after puberty in an adolescent or young adult who would not have met criteria for gender dysphoria in childhood. ROGD appears to represent an entity that is distinct from the gender dysphoria observed in individuals who have previously been described as transgender. The worsening of mental well-being and parent-child relationships and behaviors that isolate AYAs from their parents, families, non-transgender friends and mainstream sources of information are particularly concerning. More research is needed to better understand this phenomenon, its implications and scope.

Indeed, the sharp rise in the reported number of young people identifying as transgender has a logistic growth curve that in any other phenomenon would be described as an “epidemic.” One table put together at a British research unit looks like this:

Brown University’s public relations department sent out a press release promoting the article for the sensible reason that a PLoS One is a serious journal. They obviously didn’t recognize that Prof. Littman had stepped on the academic equivalent of a third rail: touch this subject and you die, because it threatens to undermine the “authenticity” of gender identity politics, though there is considerable incoherence about this whole matter, since “gender” is said to be arbitrary and up to you to determine for yourself.

It is important to note that Prof. Littman is not saying that gender dysphoria is phony or wrong. (I know a handful of transgender and transexual individuals whose experience I regard as entirely authentic.) Prof. Littman is merely saying that there appears to be a social component to the trend that may be unrelated to underlying, inherent biological or psychological realities. In other words, in some cases, transgender identity is indeed “socially constructed,” which makes you wonder why someone should object to her article, since “social construction” is all the rage for the postmodern left.

But object they did, of course. The predictable thing has happened: following an angry response from the “transgender community,” Brown University has withdrawn their press release and issued an abject apology for transgressing transgender orthodoxy. PLoS One is also going to conduct a post-publication review of the article (even though it went through their peer review process) because of the avalanche of protests it has received.

From Brown’s statement:

Dear Members of the Public Health and Brown Community,

As you may be aware, Brown late last week posted a news announcement regarding research on gender dysphoria published by a faculty member in the School of Public Health. In light of questions raised about research design and data collection related to the study on “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” the University determined that removing the article from news distribution is the most responsible course of action.

This statement is pure rear-end covering B.S. If you look at the whole study, it is based on a relatively small—but not trivial—sample, and Prof. Littman’s conclusion is provisional and includes the call for further research. A perfectly ordinary first step entirely consistent with the mandate of academics to research new ideas and stimulate others to take up the issue. Lots of accepted claims of scientific certainty (like the “97 percent of scientists believe in climate change” talking point) are based on samples smaller than Prof. Littman’s. But there should be no doubletalk here: the ideological identity politics camp doesn’t want further research: it wants research like Prof. Littman’s suppressed and repudiated. Shut up, they explained. You’re oppressing us! And just a guess here, but I imagine Prof. Littman’s road to tenure at Brown just got a lot steeper, and very few academics will want to look into this issue going forward.

Brown University’s contemptible retreat is another vindication of Charles Peguy’s famous axiom, “It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been committed for fear of not looking sufficiently progressive.” Actually, we know perfectly well, because the evidence is all around us at places like Brown.

P.S. There is a petition in support of Prof. Littman circulating that is very much worth reading. This comment to the petition is especially heart-rending, and dramatizes the stakes:

I have a 14yo. Daughter, who never showed symptoms of any gender dysphoria until finding the internet, tumblr and YouTube told her she was trans., bc she hated her breast & periods. Now, she’s denamed her female self and thinks testosterone-mastectomy-hysterectomy-phallaplasty is her only solution. As a family we have seen, depression-anxiety-possibly autism behavior. Though now brainwashed into this ideology she won’t cooperate to look for underlying issues. SILENCE IS CHILD ABUSE, PLEASE RESEARCH, FOR OUR DEVASTATED FAMILY!

It’s one thing to eat a Tide Pod and throw up for a few hours. It’s another thing to decide to mutilate your body permanently because of an enthusiasm you picked up on social media and from an ecstatic peer group. My second prediction (after Prof. Littman being denied tenure and leaving Brown in short order) is that 20 or 25 years from now there is going to be a lot of data coming out about the number of suicides among people who regretted their chemical/surgical alterations of their “identity.” It will make the enthusiasm for eugenics a century ago look like a benign picnic by comparison.

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