Transgender ‘social contagion’ study now threatens academic freedom

The former dean of Harvard’s medical school is warning that Brown University’s failed handling of a controversial study on gender dysphoria poses a threat to academic freedom.

Jeffrey S. Flier contended in a commentary in the Quillette that social pressure on the university is influencing its conclusions about the research.

“For centuries, universities struggled to protect the ability of their faculties to conduct research seen as offensive – whether by the church, the state, or other powerful influences. Their success in this regard represents one of the great intellectual triumphs of modern times, one that sits at the foundation of liberal societies,” he wrote. “This is why the stakes are high at Brown University. Its leaders must not allow any single politically charged issue – including gender dysphoria – from becoming the thin edge of a wedge that gradually undermines our precious, hard-won academic freedoms.”

WND reported the study was suppressed by Brown after it concluded the sharp increase in transgenderism among children and teens is likely a result of “social contagion.”

Essentially a mass hysteria scenario.

The Brown University study is titled “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports.”

An in-depth report by the Federalist summarized the study’s conclusion: “‘Rapid-onset gender dysphoria’ among teens and young adults may be a social contagion linked with having friends who identify as LGBT, an identity politics peer culture, and an increase in internet use.”

However, the Federalist said the study “was quickly yanked from Brown’s news releases after a transgender activist feeding frenzy, and the journal it was published in is reconsidering the publication.”

Flier explained the study by Lisa Littman, an assistant professor, was questioned after it went through the standard review process and was published by PLOS One.

While questioning study results certainly is allowed, he said, the actions by PLOS One and Brown raise “serious concerns about the ability of all academics to conduct research on controversial topics.”

He pointed out gender dysphoria is “an important issue that cries out for more research” because, especially for children, “profound, life-altering decisions” are involved.

Littman’s research, he said, “suggested that this often occurs [adolescent claims of gender dysphoria] after heavy exposure to social-media content extolling the benefits of gender transition.”

That conclusion requires additional research, but Flier said the fact that Brown University “deleted its initial promotional reference to Dr. Littman’s work from the university’s website – then replaced it with a note explaining how Dr. Littman’s work might harm members of the transgender community – presents a cautionary tale.”

He wrote: “Increasingly, research on politically charged topics is subject to indiscriminate attack on social media, which in turn can pressure school administrators to subvert established norms regarding the protection of free academic inquiry. What’s needed is a campaign to mobilize the academic community to protect our ability to conduct and communicate such research, whether or not the methods and conclusions provoke controversy or even outrage.”

Flier noted the rigorous requirements for research involving people, the institutional review boards, the analysis of the study methods, the data, the peer review and ultimately the publication.

But Littman’s critics then did not base their criticism on any systematic analysis. Instead, Flier said, they “seem principally motivated by ideological opposition to her conclusions.”

“Unnamed individuals with strong personal interests in the area under study seem to have approached PLOS One with allegations that her methodology and conclusions were faulty. Facing these assertions, which predictably drew support from social media communities populated by lay activists, the journal responded rapidly and publicly with the announcement that it would undertake additional expert review.”

Flier wrote: “In all my years in academia, I have never once seen a comparable reaction from a journal within days of publishing a paper that the journal already had subjected to peer review, accepted and published. One can only assume that the response was in large measure due to the intense lobbying the journal received, and the threat – whether stated or unstated – that more social-media backlash would rain down upon PLOS One if action were not taken.”

Compounding the problem, he said, Bess Marcus of Brown’s school of public health stated “conclusions of the study could be used to discredit the efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate perspectives of members of the transgender community.”

Flier charged, “Why the concerns of these unidentified individuals should be accorded weight in the evaluation of an academic work is left unexplained.”

But he said it’s a “spurious basis” for a school to cite them for its actions on already reviewed and published research.

“At a time such as this, when a university’s academic mandate is under threat from diverse ideological actors, there is simply no substitute for a strong leader who supports academic freedom and discourse. The dean’s letter raises serious questions about whether the dean of Brown’s School of Public Health is willing to be such a leader,” he said.

The study looked at gender referrals in the United Kingdom, anecdotal and news reports, and the “rapid recent growth in transgender treatment centers,” circumstances that are all present in the U.S. as well, the report said.

But Brown, under pressure by LGBT activists, essentially apologized for releasing the study.

“Brown community members express[ed] concerns that the conclusions of the study could be used to discredit the efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community.”

The Federalist translated: “The reason trans activists went nuts is that the study reinforces what plenty of parents, public health experts, and doctors have been saying: Transgenderism looks a lot like a dangerous fad. It’s telling that their response was to demand suppressing the results. It’s also telling that Brown chose to prioritize the unreasonable demands of a tiny minority above the potential well-being of children and the process of scientific inquiry.”

Littman conducted the original work after her interest was sparked by parents describing clusters of gender dysphoria outbreaks among friend groups.

She recruited several hundred children ages 11 to 27 who filled out a 90-question survey that took about 30 to 60 minutes to complete.

“Littman found a number of things that make transgender narratives look terrible. For example, she explored the horrifyingly irresponsible lies anonymous internet users frequently offer to confused kids who were apparently free to browse for this information online,” the Federalist reported.

Bottom line: Nearly 90 percent of those young people who “became gender dysphoric” did so after some of their friends did.

“This makes it obvious why transgender activists do not want this information public,” the report noted. “It suggests many gender dysphoric young people hit a rough patch in life (or several), have poor or immature coping skills, and got the message from peers, online, or both that transgenderism was a handy, simple explanation for their feelings that also offered instant social acceptance and attention.”

author-image Bob Unruh