Comment Of The Day: “Regarding Hormone Restrictions In Women’s Sports”

Heidi/Andreas Krieger, Esat German women’s shotput champion

There were an unusual number of superb comments on this topic. This one is a worthy representative of them all.

Here is Sue Denim’s Comment of the Day on the post, Regarding Hormone Restrictions In Women’s Sports:

While I strongly support the use of science and evidence to make these decisions – this stinks to high heaven. The books were cooked, and very obviously so.

”One of the world’s most respected sports lawyers has quit his position on a committee of the governing body of international athletics, slamming the controversial new rule that is believed to target gold medal-winning South African runner Caster Semenya.”

Four months after being appointed to the IAAF’s disciplinary tribunal, Steve Cornelius said “in good conscience” he could not continue in the role.”

Without going into allegations about “real reasons”, let’s just look at the facts.

“A peer-reviewed article co-authored by Dr Bermon and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found female athletes with high testosterone had the greatest advantage in the pole vault and hammer throw, yet these events were not included in the newly created “restricted events” category.

The IAAF’s investigation also found no advantage in the 1,500 metres event but it was included..”

Let’s look at the evidence of advantage.

Dr Karkazis was an expert witness at Chand’s CAS appeal, and has raised concerns over the validity of the IAAF’s study.

“The research that they’re pointing to is their own. In other words, they funded it, they’ve published it, they’ve analysed it, so it’s not impartial, it’s research designed to support this regulation.

“It was published after it was required, not before they decided to institute a regulation.”

Epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz ran a statistical analysis of that study, and concluded it used flawed methodology because the report authors ran the tests 43 times to come to their conclusion.

“When you do that kind of test what you should be doing is what’s called correcting for multiple comparisons. Basically, you do a statistical calculation that says this is the number of positive results I found, but this is the number of tests I did, how likely is it that those positive results are actually true? And they didn’t correct for multiple comparisons.

“If you do any correction at all, you find that none of the results they found are statistically significant. Which means basically that it’s likely the results that the IAAF found in their study are down simply to chance and don’t describe a true finding.”

This is really basic statistical science. It defies credulity that any scientist working on this could not know it.

Now there is considerable evidence that high testosterone is correlated with (though not causative of) a number of medical syndromes that probably (I’d say almost certainly) give a small percentage of advantage, when not corrected for weight categories. The correlation is inexact though, as the sensitivity of individual cells to androgens (testosterone mainly) varies considerably. Some syndromes such as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) make testosterone levels meaningless. One person with level X would gain far more advantage than another with 100X.

This is Junk Science.

It would only be necessary to ignore in this way the peer reviewed data that would not exclude a certain high profile case if such exclusion was desired. Even that wouldn’t be enough, one would have to ignore basic statistical methods in the data that was used. But even that wouldn’t be enough, one would have to ignore the events where the evidence, poor though it is, is strongest, and arbitrarily include an event where there’s no evidence whatsoever.

If the object was to exclude a specific individual.

Otherwise it’s inexplicable.

It’s also bloody dangerous, both for the individual concerned, and for sport in general. You see, there is a much, much, much higher degree of correlation, proven correlation not junk science, with advantage in certain sports with another physical characteristics : amount of melanin in the skin.

The use of this method, if applied consistently, would I feel be a Very Bad Thing™

Beginning in the mid-1930s, when African-American women began to excel in track and field, their success was seen through a mainstream prism of success in a “mannish” sport and reinforced disparaging stereotypes.In the late 1940s, an Olympic official, Norman Cox, sarcastically proposed that in the case of black women, “The International Olympic Committee should create a special category of competition for them — the unfairly advantaged ‘hermaphrodites’ who regularly defeated ‘normal women,’ those less skilled ‘child bearing’ types with ‘largish breasts, wide hips and knocked knees.’ ”

Note that he was being sarcastic, at the antedeluvian attitudes of his colleagues.

(Sources : ABC Australia news 2018, New York Times 2003)

9 Comments

Filed under Bioethics, Comment of the Day, Gender and Sex, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology, Sports

9 responses to “Comment Of The Day: “Regarding Hormone Restrictions In Women’s Sports”

  1. Other Bill

    Sue, could you please proved an Executive Summary of your comment for the statistically challenged readers, like the undersigned? I’m just not sure where you’re coming down on this.Thanks. Not that I’m an executive, just a little slow on the uptake.

    • Other Bill

      provide, not prove.

      • Sue Dunim

        Ok, after some thought…

        The IAAC has decided that women born with a natural characteristic that might or might not give them an advantage in the shot-put have to compete against men in middle distance running events.

        They’d still be allowed to compete against other women in the shot-put.

        Only one specific athlete is affected by this ruling.

  2. joed68

    This very same sort of book-cooking goes on in the unholy alliance between the pharmaceutical industry and the various affiliated regulatory agencies, most notably the FDA. Look at Suboxone, and the fact that Reckitt-Benckiser essentially funded the legislation that allowed this type of medication to be used to treat addiction for the first time, despite many concerns about its safety and efficacy that turned out to be more than warranted.
    With enough money, all things are possible.

  3. The Olympics are a freak show.

    No, seriously. The Olympics aren’t a contest between normal Joes and Janes to see who can run jump or swim better, faster or higher, it’s a collection of the most physically specified outliers. This might not be the most PC way of putting it, but it’s a truth that most countries to one extent or another embrace, in the most extreme, some will pick out children with severe, but beneficial, proportional abnormalities and remove from their families so as to train them specifically for the event.

    While you might know a specific woman who could out perform a certain man, the fact of the matter is that on average, men and women are built differently, and in a contest of freaks, people that embody traits several standard deviations outside of normal, there are events that will by their nature disadvantage certain people. Those traits often fall along certain biological markers; Male or Female bodies are the most obvious…. But there is a reason that black athletes tend to do better at sprinting but have a really poor representation at shot put.

    In a celebration of statistical outliers, I don’t know how the IOC can say that certain statistical outliers provide so much of an advantage that it needs to be corrected against. Of course testosterone gives certain advantages which are amplified at the extremes, but is anyone really surprised by that (Obligatory idiot feminist dig: Outside of the feminists who like to pretend that biological differences don’t exist,)?

    The Olympics is in an interesting predicament, and there are two positions that make sense to me:

    1) The Olympics are a competition to find the people who can run jump or swim better, faster or higher. Period. Abolish the sex segregated divisions, and let the most capable win.

    I’m sure that there is a large contingent of people who will call this misogynist, because it will absolutely disenfranchise women’s sports, but it’s also the most genuinely fair competition from an opportunity standpoint: If you can compete, you can compete, regardless of x, y or z. There are countries that will cut off funding for women who want to compete because the reality of the situation is that they will never be able to compete in certain events. This won’t be true of all events, there have been coed events at the Olympics where women have won, in shooting for example… However, the only reason a boatload of men currently don’t win gold medals at the Olympics is because they can’t compete in the women’s events. In any given year, the female winners of the weight lifting events don’t lift even the amount that the men had to lift to qualify. Women will never win a weight lifting medal again, ever (Obligatory idiot feminist dig: This is obviously because of patriarchal oppression and microagressions (tysrl), if we had only encouraged those girls from birth, they would have obviously built up the muscle mass necessary to compete.).

    2) They draw a line… Choose some kind of marker, and I have no idea what that looks like, but they do it. It creates some kind of meaningful division, and things continue on as normal.

    We already do this with weight classes, no one complains that someone who is tall will never be able to compete in the lightest of weight classes, because the obvious physical advantage is obvious. It’s good for sport, because it means that a more diverse array of people can compete, and the more people that compete at the highest level, the more excitement and participation gets built at lower levels. It’s also the most fraught. because there will be no division that is fair for all, and immune from cheating. Just like the athletes who drop 20 pounds of water weight before competing, someone will find a way to game the system to find a more beneficial position, and the IOC will have put themselves in the position of needing to figure out ways to mitigate the progressive PR and assure fairness in their process. I don’t envy that.

  4. Tom R

    Uhh…maybe the study is flawed but I’m pretty sure testosterone allows for more muscle growth. Testosterone increases muscle mass by increasing muscle protein synthesis.

  5. Errol

    On whether someone can compete as a woman there should be two questions to be answered;
    1. Has the woman received any artificial substance that allows her to be stronger, e.g. testosterone, hormone treatments? If she has then she can’t compete.
    2. For any woman where there may be a doubt as to what sex she is, e.g. androgynous women and transgender women, then is the woman able to get pregnant? If so then she is a woman and can compete against other women, if not then she has to compete against the men.
    So a simple question then; is Caster Semenya able to get pregnant? If so then she’s a woman and should be able to compete against other women. If not then bad luck to her.
    There is recently retired New Zealand transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard who about four or five years ago changed from being a man, after previously competing nationally as Gavin Hubbard. She has an unfair advantage of all that muscle she built up as a man so she should not be able to compete as a woman.
    As for any suggestions that the division of sports into women’s and men’s categories should be abolished, the vast majority of non-motorized sports require at least some strength so in most sports all the winners will be men. I for one do not wish to see women not being able to win at the Olympics and other top level sports events.
    It would be a pity if women could compete only at lower levels such as at the 10 km running race I was in on Sunday. It was won by a woman about half my age and a lot more running experience than me. She lapped me about five hundred meters from the finish line.

    • Sue Dunim

      After two years of hormone treatment, the extra muscle mass in proportion is lost. Extra bone mass remains for longer.

      Basically an 80kg Trans woman has the same or less muscle mass than an 80kg cis (that is, not Trans) woman, probably less as she has more bone mass. Statistically. That’s after 2 years of hormone replacement.

      Both will have more muscle mass than a 65kg woman, cis or trans. In general.

      • Sue Dunim

        The odds of a Trans woman being 80kg as opposed to 65kg are much higher though. In sports where overall mass is important, but there are no weight categories, statistically they will have an advantage.

        Much like those who are from ethnic groups who tend to be tall have a statistical advantage over those from ethnic groups who tend not to be in basketball.

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