Johns Hopkins Researcher Responds After Over 500 Experts Condemn His Sexuality, Gender Report

A gender neutral restroom is seen in a city building in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 14, 2016.
A gender neutral restroom is seen in a city building in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 14, 2016. | (Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

Nearly 600 health experts have signed onto a letter condemning a 143-page report issued last year by two distinguished scholars at Johns Hopkins University that argued there isn't enough scientific evidence to suggest that people are born with a certain sexual orientation or gender identity.

As previously reported, Paul McHugh, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins, and Johns Hopkins scholar-in-residence Lawrence Mayer authored a report on sexuality and gender published in The New Atlantis last August that, among other things, refuted claims that sexual orientation and gender dysphoria are caused by natural traits and innate behavior.

Although McHugh and Mayer's report was not peer-reviewed, it cited many other peer-reviewed studies to help progress its arguments. The report also professes to be a "careful summary and an up-to-date explanation of research — from the biological, psychological, and social sciences — related to sexual orientation and gender identity."

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The report has been cited in a Supreme Court amicus brief filed by the conservative Liberty Counsel in support of a Virginia school district being sued by a transgender student for the right to use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with the student's gender identity. The bill has also been cited by opponents of the proposed transgender bathroom non-discrimination legislation introduced in New Hampshire.

In light of the report being cited for justification to oppose proposed laws and judicial action, Lauren Beach, the the director of LGBTI Research at Vanderbilt University, released a letter signed by hundreds of scholars that criticizes The New Atlantis report because it is not peer-reviewed.

The letter claims that the report "misleads readers" and its "conclusions do not reflect current scientific or medical consensus about sexual orientation or gender identity research findings or clinical care recommendations."

In an interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday, the 85-year-old McHugh said that "this is not a serious letter" because the objection that the signatories have to the report is not made clear. 

"This letter is a very difficult letter to answer because the main point about this letter is that they just don't like us," McHugh said. "That's all there is about this matter. I'm sorry they don't like us but if they disagree with something specific, they should say so. They should make the specific objection clear to us. After all, we said in the article that we expected there to be ongoing discussion about our views, interpretation or even what the data should signify. Now, we expect something more than just saying, 'We don't agree with them and lots of other people don't agree with them too.'"

The four-paragraph letter, which was finalized last Wednesday, was first reported on by The Daily Beast. Signatories include scholars and experts from Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, medical institutions, medical associations and various doctors and health professionals.

The letter reads:

"Dr. Paul McHugh and Dr. Lawrence Mayer's Fall 2016 report, 'Sexuality and Gender: New Findings from the Biological, Psychological and Social Sciences,' published in the 50th issue of the non-peer reviewed bioethics magazine The New Atlantis, misleads readers about the state of scientific research and evidence-based clinical practice guidelines addressing the health of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ).

As researchers with expertise in gender and sexuality, and/or as clinicians who serve LGBTQ people, we are called to correct the record. A substantial body of research points to stigma and its consequences as contributing to the mental and physical health disparities among LGBTQ people. Based on scientific consensus, many major medical associations have issued guidelines and policy statements calling for clinicians to affirm and support the sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression of their patients as part of a standard, evidence-based approach to high quality, patient-centered healthcare.

Although the 'Sexuality and Gender' report cites many peer-reviewed scientific articles, the interpretation, analysis, and summary of the scientific evidence in the report has not been peer reviewed. As scientific and medical experts, we affirm that the report's conclusions do not reflect current scientific or medical consensus about sexual orientation or gender identity research findings or clinical care recommendations. As such, the report's conclusions should not be viewed as a source of scientific or medical justification to support any legislation, judicial action, policymaking or clinical decision-making affecting the lives of LGBTQ people or their families.

In summary, as researchers and clinicians with expertise in gender and sexuality, we affirm that the "Sexuality and Gender" report does not represent prevailing expert consensus opinion about sexual orientation or gender identity related research or clinical care."

McHugh contended that the letter is just "an attempt to silence us and it won't succeed."

"That's what it is. Left, right, center, what have you, I am disappointed that 600 people don't like me," he said. "But I would like them to explain what exactly in that article we got wrong and where the information is that we should have put in. We are not against anybody. We are a group of doctors talking about the treatment of patients."

Beach told The Daily Beast that the purpose of the letter is to persuade lawmakers and the public to question the reliability of McHugh and Mayer's report.

"We are writing to the public at large as experts in this area of LGBTI health and we want to send a strong message that peer-review is essential for scientific integrity," Beach said. "We want to clearly state the New Atlantis article is not peer-reviewed and that — as experts — we disagree with the conclusions expressed in the report. They're scientifically and medically unfounded."

McHugh told CP that since the report is merely his and Mayer's take on the findings from other peer-reviewed articles, it shouldn't need to be peer reviewed. 

"If they object to an article written in a non-peer-reviewed journal, do they object to an article on science written in The Atlantic or The New Yorker, which happen all the time?" McHugh asked.

"We aren't saying something new in this, which requires peer review. We are saying 'This is how we read the science today.' That's what the public is interested in."

The end of the letter lists references to studies and policy statements from a number of major medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association.

Beach told The Daily Beast that many of the signatories of her letter felt that McHugh and Mayer misrepresented their research in their report and "felt it was critically important that their work be framed in line with the scientific conclusions that it supports."

"I don't know which ones they say are misrepresented and how they should have been represented. They didn't tell us in the letter, did they?" McHugh stated. 

While some Left-leaning watchdogs have tried to discredit McHugh by claiming that he has a "history of peddling anti-LGBT junk science,"  CP spoke with Mayer last August and asked him about McHugh's reputation and the impact it might have had on the report. 

"Every line in this [report] I either wrote or approved of," Mayer said at the time. "There is no bias either way. The bias is just towards science."

CP reached out to Mayer Tuesday for comment on last Wednesday's letter but received no response by press time.


Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith Follow Samuel Smith on Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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