Editors at The New Atlantis have responded to over 500 health experts who claim last August's controversial report by two Johns Hopkins researchers, which found that there is not enough scientific evidence to suggest that sexuality and gender orientation are innate traits, shouldn't be taken seriously.
On Thursday, editors at the quarterly journal devoted to science and technology issued a lengthy statement criticizing the four-paragraph open letter, which was signed by scholars from Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, various medical institutions and medical associations.
"We are always eager to see substantive criticism of the essays, articles, and reviews published in our pages," the statement reads. "Unfortunately, this open letter is a flimsy and pathetic exercise in disparagement."
An open letter that was signed by nearly 600 health experts and scholars was released last week and it argues that a 143-page report on sexuality and gender published in The New Atlantis' fall issue and written by Hopkins professor Paul McHugh and Hopkins scholar-in-residence Lawrence Mayer "misleads readers" and "does not represent prevailing expert consensus opinion about sexual orientation or gender identity related research or clinical care."
Due to the media attention that the letter, organized by Lauren Beach, the the director of LGBTI Research at Vanderbilt University, has received, the editors of the journal felt inclined to respond.
The first critique the statement offers is that the open letter never makes any specific arguments about why the Mayer and McHugh report was misleading readers. The editors believe that the open letter is "devoid of substance."
"Seven months have passed since the 'Sexuality and Gender' report was published and made freely available online — plenty of time to read it with care and to craft a response. But rather than engaging with, critiquing, or challenging the content of the report, the signers of this letter identify no specific claims, interpretations, or conclusions that they wish to criticize," the statement reads. "The letter asserts that the report 'does not represent prevailing expert consensus opinion,' but it does not specify how exactly the report differs from that opinion. Nor does the letter offer reasons for why the 'prevailing expert consensus opinion' is closer to the truth than the analysis and arguments offered by Dr. Mayer and Dr. McHugh."
The open letter seems to imply that there are established consensus views on issues of sexuality, gender-identity. However, The New Atlantis editors asserted that "much of the scientific work in these fields is inconclusive."
"As 'Sexuality and Gender' explains, many of the studies in these fields are not epidemiologically sound (that is, they have small samples or are badly designed) and many have not been replicated," the editors wrote.
To prove their point, the editors cited a 2014 paper by Columbia University's Mark Hatzenbuehler and colleagues that was also cited by the open letter.
The paper attempts to prove that structural stigma is strongly associated with mortality for sexual minorities and even asserts that "sexual minorities living in communities with high levels of anti-gay prejudice" could have average life expectancies 12 years shorter than sexual minorities living in "low-prejudice communities."
"This would seem to be a very alarming finding. However, a more recent paper published in the same journal examines the same data and is unable to replicate the study's key finding," the editors argued. "It would seem that Hatzenbuehler's study used a flawed analysis and reached a false conclusion."
One of the biggest points stressed in the open letter was the fact that the The New Atlantis is not a peer-review journal, a fact that The New Atlantis admits. However, the editors assured that when it comes to articles on technical subjects its editorial team "consults experts and carefully checks facts, as we did in preparing 'Sexuality and Gender.'"
The editors also accuse the writers of the open letter of either "misreading" or being "intentionally misleading."
The statement takes issue with the open letter's implication that Mayer and McHugh's report "rejects the proposition that stigma plays a role in the disparities in health outcomes between the general population and non-heterosexual and transgender subpopulations."
The editors assert that the "Sexuality and Gender" report "repeatedly" acknowledges the fact that there is scientific evidence linking stigma and "social stressors" to disparities in health outcomes.
"The report examines that evidence with care, offering an assessment of many of the studies (including some mentioned in the open letter) and their strengths and weaknesses, noting some of the difficulties inherent in studying this subject, and ultimately concluding that there is evidence that social stressors likely account for some, but not all, of the disparities," the statement explains.
The report also criticizes the medical guidelines that the letter suggests are "based on scientific consensus" and "part of a standard, evidence-based approach." As an example, the editors point out the fact that the letter cites guidelines established by the Endocrine Society. The statement claims that recommendations in the Endocrine Society's 2011 guidelines for the treatment of transgender patients is "far from being based on robust evidence and scientific consensus."
The editors explain that none of the recommendations were based on "high" quality evidence.
In its final point, the editors' statement questions whether all 573 signatories to the letter can really be considered "experts."
"Given that they identify no specific problems with either the reasoning or conclusions of 'Sexuality and Gender,' the open letter offers no reason to believe that any of them have read the report that they condemn, let alone all the scientific literature that they cite as being opposed to its findings," the statement reads. "Perhaps actually reading the report would have been a more intellectually responsible use of their time than gathering signatures."
In an interview with The Christian Post earlier this week, McHugh issued similar thoughts to that of the editors and said that the open letter "is not a serious letter."
"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.'"