An Ethics Alarms Motto: “You Can’t Trust The Science If You Can’t Trust The Scientist”

I would hope the whole Wuhan virus fiasco would have hammered that principle home by now like a high-grade nail gun, but no. The progressives who want to use “follow the science” as their ploy to inflict the Green New Deal on America aren’t yet willing to try something else, like, say, honesty and responsible policy. So here is another case study…

A peer reviewed University of Washington study called“Mental Health Outcomes in Transgender and Nonbinary Youths Receiving Gender-Affirming Care” was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and immediately became the favorite weapon of the crowd. (The same group holds that questioning the wisdom of this marks one as “transphobic.”) The study instantly made the euphemisms “gender affirming medicine” and “gender affirming care” catch-phrases for pro-trans activists, and it was widely cited or referred to in the media and in political battles over schools’ handling of students with gender issues, real, imagined, or imposed.

The conclusion of the study, we were told, was that the students who received “gender affirming medicine” had significantly better mental health outcomes at the end of the study than they did at the beginning. The news release accompanying the study’s publication stated that “UW Medicine researchers recently found that gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary adolescents caused rates of depression to plummet.”

The study’s release was accompanied by a flashy video that claimed researchers found “gender-affirming care made a big difference in reducing depression levels for transgender youth.”

Well then! Follow the science!

Except that the study didn’t show that. Researchers with an agenda misrepresented the findings to satisfy trans advocates and activists, knowing, I assume, that 99% of those who would exploit the study wouldn’t read it. Unfortunately for them, a few did. One was journalist Jesse Singal, who looked carefully into the researchers’ numbers and couldn’t find convincing data to suggest the mental health of the transgender and nonbinary teens improved over with treatment the course of the research. Thus caught rainbow-handed, The University of Washington this week edited online materials “to more directly reflect the findings as reported in the study.”

The study’s authors claimed the students receiving gender-affirming medicine “experienced a 60% decrease in baseline depression and a 73% reduction in baseline suicidality over the course of 12 months.” (Suicidality? I wouldn’t trust a study that used a word like that.) Singal discovered that this was a misrepresentation. The authors compared the relatively constant results for the subjects who had gone on puberty blockers with subjects who had not, the control group. The latter group’s mental health declined over the 12 months, but that didn’t mean, as the authors claimed, that the subjects who received treatment got better. Singal wrote, “‘Mental health problems plummeted among kids who went on X’ is a very different claim than ‘Kids who went on X didn’t experience improved mental health, but had better outcomes compared to kids who didn’t go on X.’” Indeed, it’s a classic example of researcher bias and conformation bias.

The journalist interviewed one of the researchers, who confirmed his suspicions. The kids in the treatment group didn’t get better. The kids in the control group just got worse. That result might still favor the use of puberty blockers, but with the evidence of manipulation of findings, these researchers—scientists—can’t be trusted, and neither can their work.

Even the claim that the students who did not go on puberty blockers or hormones declined in mental health is less than justified.

The researchers’ data shows that only 12 of the 69 kids, 17.4%, who were treated left the study, while 28 of the 35 kids, 80%, of the students who weren’t treated left the study. You can see the problem: the subjects who didn’t receive treatment may not have gotten worse as a group, but it may have appeared that way because the subjects who quit had fewer mental health problems.

I wonder why the researchers didn’t see this weakness in their data. No I don’t: they didn’t see it because they didn’t want to. Or they did see it, and lied.

As some wag would doubtless say if I didn’t first: “Now do climate change.”


Pointer: College Fix

14 thoughts on “An Ethics Alarms Motto: “You Can’t Trust The Science If You Can’t Trust The Scientist”

  1. I am wiling to entertain the idea that the headline of the study is actually true.

    After all, puberty involves the ramped-up production of various hormones, which could increase the risk of depression. Puberty blockers can reduce the risk.

    On a side note, people undergoing chemotherapy are at greater risk for experiencing nausea and hair loss.

    • Interesting thought. It also feels like a twelve month period is way too short to make any kind of definitive analysis. Kids are happy when they get what they want, especially when it’s something that they feel pressured by their peers to get.

      Will they remain happy when they age, realize that their discomfort with their bodies was a product of an awkward age, lack of experience, and raging hormones, and are now permanently disfigured?

      And the subjective nature of using science to determine happiness or “suicidality” is just icing on the cake. Many of these kids literally have teachers, friends, support groups, and others telling them they’ll have a new supportive family when they’re transitioning. I’d imagine kids who have joined gangs have decreased levels of depression, as well.

      • “Will they remain happy when they age, realize that their discomfort with their bodies was a product of an awkward age, lack of experience, and raging hormones, and are now permanently disfigured?”

        Presently, it seems the external input is skewed one way for young people considering transitioning. Anyone advocating permanent physical alteration, including hormone therapy, for individuals under 25 should be horse whipped and shunned and that goes double for people in the health care field.

        How about a before and after study on trans-curious youngsters analyzing the effect of listening to tragic stories of regret by trans adults who chose permanent physical alterations.

    • Michael have you done any research on the complications of using Lupron Depot? Have you looked into how puberty blockers pause not others normal body development but also cognitive development?

  2. This is more of an indictment of the “peer review” process than it is of sloppy statistical analysis. From my experience in dealing with peer reviewers of program effectiveness in higher Ed, this study’s peer reviewers appear just as incestuous. In short, I give you a thumbs up on your project and you give me one on mine.
    We need the equivalent of ANSI standards in statistics employed. I am no statistician, but with such few total numbers of participant having nearly three times the number in the test group relative the control group the percentages will be screwed from the outset. Further, the only use for a study such as this because it has so few participants would be to support a much larger study from which we can begin to draw conclusions.

    • I am reminded of several admissions by famous authors that they offered their exorbitant praise of colleague’s books without bothering to read them. The research and scientific culture lacks integrity and self-policing, but we are supposed to follow their edicts without skepticism. Given such unearned power, it isn’t surprising that so many abuse it.

  3. Don’t know if “conformation bias” was a typo or intentional, but it sure fits when science is distorted, not necessarily to fit with one’s own view, but to fit with what one sees as the view of a favored group. It sure looks like for several of those involved that both confirmation and conformation biases were at work.

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