Very, very good! Dr Mike hits another out of the ballpark!

A related issue bothers me, still: if gender - which has a solid basis in physical evidence - is fluid, then why isn't race - which CRT claims is a mere social construct - also fluid? If a person can choose to be a Woman or a Man then why can they not choose to be a Black Women or an Asian Man?

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Look at the Plato vs Aristotle arguments about What is a chair?. Plato sees it as a concept, Aristotle as a form. You could use the same for What is a woman?. But what is missing is function. Using the the concept of a chair I can create the form of a chair, but out of Jello. So I ask, Is it a chair? It may match the concept of one and even have the form of one but if you can’t sit on it…

I guess what I am trying to say is that a concept or a form of anything is not what it is unless it can, at some point after its creation, can function as such on its on. Yes, a boy can’t produce sperm, but allowed to grow he has every expectation to be able to produce them. There are always anomalies such as medical conditions, that “interrupt” the process. But the initial intended form and the expected function is the mainstay for me. And I include the early pre-functionality and post-functionality as well. A girl can’t can’t have a baby until puberty sets in. Then can’t after menopause. But that is the hallmark of a fully functioning woman. Note I said fully because if there is an issue that interrupts the full concept of a woman (or even a man for that matter) it does not negate the definition of one. A person naturally grows old and loses body functions over time. I see function as an active timeline with hallmarks and expectations. I can’t see how you can imitate something, drop it on the timeline of the prototype and accept it as the real thing. I have a lab coat, I put an MD after my name and I read a few books on first aid, skip to the back end of the timeline after all the boring medical school training, so I am now a doctor? Good or Bad?

On the other hand, I also have a large shrub carved into the shape of a bike. And even though passerby's may say, “Look at the bike.”, it doesn’t mean I can race it in the Tour de France.

Just my point of view on the matter.

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I suppose that by rejecting objective, evidence-based truth we can now claim fluid truths based on feelings and emotion. Anything we want to be true is indeed true--because we want it so. How empowering is that?

Like with most social absurdities, South Park skewered self-defined human categories, including "identifying" as a dolphin, complete with species reassignment surgery. While silly, this does provide an interesting test. If someone who refuses to define (or impose a definition of) a woman, thinks that a person claiming to be a dolphin might be crazy, then they have no logical standing.

But then again, logic is old-fashioned, patriarchal white supremacy, right?

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Michael, excellent piece! About three years ago I tried to express ideas similar to yours in an online discussion forum, but I was pummeled or harassed by a group of 6-7 radical gender identity advocates. You would think that I had blasphemed a god. Thanks for your rational, articulate, and courageous discussion of the topic.

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Nice job as always, Michael.

In my Biology class, I was asked why I wasn't using AFAB and AMAB (assigned female or male at birth). I replied, "Why should biology change its terminology for male and female because Trans political activists say they should? Isn't the whole point of science, which we have been discussing all year, to remove opinion, feelings and especially political bias from our understanding of how the world works? We want explanations of the natural world that work for everyone, in all cultures and at all times, not political correctness. Biology can easily define, "What is a woman?" and "What is a man?" If your body makes eggs, you're a woman. If your body makes sperm, you're a man. What you do after that is usually social construct, sociology, psychology and sometimes outlier hormone levels and, perhaps, brain chemistry.

And the young woman went on, "But you make it sound like it's a choice". I replied, "What would you need, biologically, to determine that it is not a choice? You would need DNA and biologists have been searching for "the gay (or trans or any alternative sexuality) gene" for decades and there is none. Outlier hormone levels, too much testosterone for a female or too little testosterone for a male can certainly affect brain chemistry, possibly brain structure and sexuality. In a population of almost 8 billion, these outlier hormone levels are rare. Trans political activists may want the certainty of, "I was born this way", but, regardless, everyone should be respected for their feelings and choices and no one should be bullied."

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For 64,999 out of 65,000 people, sex and gender are synonyms.

According to peer reviewed medical statistics there are about 5000 gender dysphoric people in the USA. “Trans” activists say there are five million.

Unless you accept self-reporting from mentally ill teenagers over scientific studies, it’s hard not to conclude that the “trans” are 99.9% fake.

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Wish Michael Shermer and Dr. Steven Novella (New England Skeptical Society - NESS - Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast) would discuss this subject and perhaps others. Both would approach topics from the perspective of science/reason but I gather from listening to both that they may have nuances of disagreement.

Dr. Shermer, please invite Dr. Novella and any/all members of has podcast group (rogues they call themselves) on your podcast and/or ask to come on theirs. Unless there is some code of silence on such, please let your audience know if the offer is declined.

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Jul 12, 2022·edited Jul 12, 2022

Studies show that 80% to 95% of gender-dysphoric children eventually grow out of their dysphoria and become comfortable with their bodies after puberty if there is no hormonal or surgical intervention.

Moreover, those who undergo sex-reassignment surgery commit suicide at 19 times the rate of the general population, and almost double the rate of transgender-identifying adults overall.

There is GREAT danger in giving hormone treatments and puberty blockers and surgery to kids between 8-19. Which many states have procedures to encourage.

Probably most of you are familiar with the informative web site

Parents with Inconvenient Truths about Trans (PITT)

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the claims of transgender activists are confusing because they are philosophically incoherent. Activists rely on contradictory claims as needed to advance their position, but their ideology keeps evolving, so that even allies and LGBT organizations can get left behind as “progress” marches on.

At the core of the ideology is the radical claim that feelings determine reality. From this idea come extreme demands for society to play along with subjective reality claims. Trans ideologues ignore contrary evidence and competing interests, they disparage alternative practices, and they aim to muffle skeptical voices and shut down any disagreement.

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Nice integration of Wittgenstein’s idea of family resemblances, a very useful perspective and framework. Of some related interest and relevance is that the Wikipedia article on the topic notes the idea’s earlier “presence in taxonomy where they are known as a polythetic classification”:


The linked article by Rodney Needham elaborates somewhat on that earlier provenance:

“The present article reports the discovery that, by a remarkable convergence of ideas in the past decade, family resemblance predicates had already been adduced in certain natural sciences under the term 'polythetic classification'.”


Needham provides some scientifically accurate, precise, useful and quite welcome elaborations on the nature of polythetic (previously ‘polytypic’) categories along with their complements, the monothetic (previously ‘monotypic’) categories:

“This concept, which significantly Beckner remarks is 'not restricted to biological theory' (Beckner 1959: 21), is contrasted with that of 'monotypic' classification, from which we may best approach its meaning. 'Monotypic' is a concept 'defined by reference to a property which is necessary and sufficient for membership in its extension' (23) ; i.e., it is equivalent to the traditional common-feature definition of a class. A 'polytypic ' class, on the other hand, is formally defined (22) as … [large number of unspecified properties, none of which are possessed by every individual in the category]”

Belgian virologist Marc van Regenmortel, in his essay on classes and categories used in virus classifications, has a nice graphic that clearly and simply shows the difference between the two types of categories:



However, as something of a fly in the ointment, Needham emphasizes that polythetic categories basically boil down into spectra where each of the members of the category constitutes what is, in effect a sequentially numbered colour in the spectrum:

“If the n [the number (of category members)] is very large, it would be possible to arrange the members of [the set] K along a line in such a way that each individual resembles his nearest neighbors very closely and his furthest neighbors less closely.”

Although one doesn’t really need “n” to be “very large” – there are discrete spectra with a very limited number of members in the specified range. All one really needs is two end points and one or more individuals between them.

But arguing that “male” and “female” are spectra is hardly something that is likely to find much favour with most biologists worth their salt, particularly since the categorization is likely to be so vague as to be largely useless.

Which is largely why I objected several years ago, in a response to biologist Colin Wright on the now-defunct Letter-Wiki platform, to the rather idiosyncratic and quite unscientific definitions for the sexes that he and biologists Emma Hilton and Heather Heying were peddling in a letter-to-the-editor published by the UK Times (hardly a peer-reviewed biology journal):


More particularly, Hilton’s tweet summarizing the criteria that they claimed, in the Times letter, determine sex category membership:

"Individuals that have developed anatomies for producing either small or large gametes, regardless of their past, present or future functionality, are referred to as 'males' and 'females', respectively."


But their definitions for “male” and “female” basically boil down to polythetic categories since no member has “past, present, [and] future functionality” – they’re THREE mutually exclusive states or properties, each of which confers category membership.

However, the standard biological definitions – endorsed by dictionaries OED and Lexico, by Wikipedia, by various biological journals including the Journal of Theoretical Biology, and by various authoritative biologists and philosophers of biology – stipulate that the sexes are monothetic categories, the “necessary and sufficient conditions” to qualify as members being the possession of functional gonads of either of two types; those with neither are thereby necessarily sexless:




"Female: Biologically, the female sex is defined as the adult phenotype that produces [present tense indefinite] the larger gametes in anisogamous systems.

Male: Biologically, the male sex is defined as the adult phenotype that produces [present tense indefinite] the smaller gametes in anisogamous systems."


Diddly-squat in any of those definitions about any “past or future functionality”. They’re all about being able to reproduce – right now – because one has the ability to produce – right now – the gametes that are the essential elements in any sexual reproduction. Nice summary of that by Paul Griffiths – university of Sydney, philosophy of science and biology, co-author of Genetics and Philosophy – in an Aeon article:

"Nothing in the biological definition of sex requires that every organism be a member of one sex or the other. That might seem surprising, but it follows naturally from DEFINING each sex by the ability to do one thing: make eggs or make sperm. Some organisms can do both, while some can't do either [ergo, sexless]."


But a serious social problem – which Griffiths goes into some detail on – that the biological definitions are profoundly antithetical to and seriously conflict with the structure-absent-function definitions of Hilton and company. Very nice summary of that conflict – basically between monothetic and polythetic definitions, respectively – by Marco Del Giudice of the University of New Mexico:

"On a deeper level, the ‘patchwork’ definition of sex used in the social sciences [and by Hilton and Company] is purely descriptive and lacks a functional rationale. This contrasts sharply with how the sexes are defined in biology. From a biological standpoint, what distinguishes the males and females of a species is the size of their gametes: males produce [present tense indefinite] small gametes (e.g., sperm), females produce [present tense indefinite] large gametes (e.g., eggs; Kodric-Brown & Brown, 1987)"


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Pretty much every word or term is fuzzy, or ambiguous, or dependent on context. Except in math (what is a square?) and perhaps aspects of physics (what is an atom?) or chemistry (what is a molecule?).

Certainly when it comes to fuzzy concepts like Truth, Reality, Knowledge, Fact, Freedom, Soul, God/Divinity, Mind, Friendship, Love, Virtue, Consciousness, Good/Bad, Morality/Ethics, Free will, Self, Creativity, Time, Supernatural, Conservative/Liberal, Honesty, Society, and so on.

It is liberating to let go of the notion that everything has, or must have, a precise meaning/essence. This will facilitate discourse and reduce strife of all kinds.

However, it is useful in a given discussion to define key terms for the purposes of (ftpo) that discussion. If agreement on that can't be reached then it is pointless to continue the discussion. The parties will be talking past each other possibly without even realizing it.

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The pickle jar joke did seem very tongue-in-cheek. Most people in general, regardless of political persuasion, seem to have lost the ability to appreciate irony or satire. Humor, and in particular these types, are an evolutionary adaptation to the tragedy of existence, ie they make it bearable, and even, enjoyable. I may not agree with Walsh' politics on many levels, but his movie revealed cognitive dissonance in trans ideology that require discussion.

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What is a helium atom?

Atoms are binary. They are either intended to be hydrogen or helium. We can't scrap this truth just because of a handful of exceptions. (About 1% of the atoms in the universe are different from H or He).

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To believe that a man can, in reality, become a woman requires the same kind of magical thinking as a belief in god. In the US, both beliefs are protected by the First Amendment as is my view as an atheist that they are religious nonsense.

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A wonderful and balanced overview of the issues -- kudos!

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So many people confuse sex and gender. Sex is about (the design plan for) gamete size, as noted in the article. Gender is a separate axis and is not discrete, it's continuous. "Male" and "female" are sex descriptors, "man" and "woman", "masculine" and "feminine" and so forth are gender descriptors.

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