When there’s a difference of opinion between science and politics on a matter pertaining to scientific study, which should prevail?
Why, politics, of course. And scientists, pressured to toe the line, increasingly give in. This happens not just in the United States but around the world, notably in Canada, where Dr. Jordan B. Peterson has taken a lot of heat for challenging PC dogma in the area of gender. It’s happening in Sweden as well, where another renowned professor, Germund Hesslow, has been under pressure for months to apologize to an offended student and modify his teachings and terminology concerning biological sex differences.
Prof. Hesslow refused to apologize.
A report filed in September by Academic Rights Watch (and just posted, appropriately, by Dr. Peterson), outlines the case of Dr. Hesslow, Professor of Neurophysiology and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Lund University. His lecture on “Heritage and Environment” was challenged by an offended student because it was “in possible violation of the university’s discrimination and equal treatment policies.” After an internal investigation, Hesslow was acquitted of any wrongdoing, but it was determined that there was still “risk for discrimination” (I supposed that means, when we get down to it, that the administration is afraid of lawsuits). The faculty was advised to do whatever actions it deemed necessary to minimize that risk.
So Erik Renstrom, the faculty dean, wrote a letter to Hesslow, advising him of a number of new “gender strategies” introduced by the faculty. “In regard to the criticized lecture,” the letter said, “the program management has already informed you of the correct terminology regarding gender identity and sexual orientation.” Apparently, what the faculty had a problem with was Hesslow’s answer to a student’s question; he told the student that “homosexual women have a male sexual orientation.” Also, with regard to transsexuality, he said that “whether it’s a sexual orientation is a matter of definition.” Oops, not supposed to say that, at least if it bothers a student.
It’s not that what he said was scientifically wrong, but that it did not respect “the terminology as defined by Swedish law.” According to the Swedish Discrimination Act, transsexuality is not a sexual orientation, and this is not even dependent on the definition of such terms. The LEGAL definition, not any scientific definition, is what counts, and the professor is expected to use that. In other words, the will of the majority of the Swedish people as expressed by legislation in the Swedish parliament determines the terminology to be used by a scientist in his lectures when it comes to the biology of sex differences.
That’s not how science is supposed to work. (Incidentally, you’ll find distinct parallels here with “climate science,” but I digress.) Science can’t just bow to public opinion. It must be allowed to go against beliefs that are commonly held but that turn out to be WRONG. To quote Academic Rights Watch, “Objecting to Hesslow’s scientific conclusions on the grounds that they fail to comply with current legal terminology is a symptom of an unusually deep intellectual failure.”
When Hesslow replied to the offended student, he explained his rationale for saying that female homosexuals have a “male sexual orientation.” He said there was research linking homosexuality in women to exposure to the male hormone testosterone in the womb. He summarized these and similar findings as “male sexual orientation” because they report an effect of the male sexual hormone. He had also qualified this by saying that it was “a matter of a definition.” But it can’t be a matter of definition according to the Swedish Discrimination Act, which appears to be giving every term an absolute meaning --- as defined not by scientists but by bureaucrats.
What Hesslow had told the student in his class was backed by research. (In fact, a twin study with the same findings has been reported by the BBC.) But in saying it, he was going against law and university policy, so he was told to apologize...and that was just the beginning.
Not only is Hesslow now expected to use the "correct" terminology, he’s also supposed to “broaden the perspective” of his lecture, by supplementing it by “a lecture on perspectives on sex and gender in medical science.” The school will also feature more “gender directives”: a mentor program for senior researchers that will “focus on gender,” plus a new seminar series “with focus on the grounds of discrimination which are introduced by the theme of trans-persons’ encounter with health care.” Sounds more like sociology than biology to me.
Hesslow is simply attempting to have an evidence-based discussion in his classroom, and political correctness has made that impossible. The Swedish constitution and various international agreements supposedly protect freedom of expression and also research. But if one person’s hurt feelings take precedence, then such protection is gone.
But that’s what is happening at Lund University in Sweden, where the medical school has been politicized, and where school policies are being used as “ideological instruments” to stop researchers from informing students of findings that are difficult to reconcile with the political agenda.
Of course, on American campuses, a professor or guest lecturer who dares to color outside the lines of political correctness can even spark violent protest. Students run to their “safe spaces” and demand firings. And good luck to any politically incorrect researcher in the fierce competition for grant money.
Increasingly, we’re all expected to deny reality. The ultimate example of that is the idea of changing a birth certificate to reflect “gender identity” rather than “gender biology.” I wonder what Prof. Hesslow would say about that.
I’m guessing he, as a biologist, might say that no matter how much someone “feels” like the opposite sex, desires to be the opposite sex, dresses like the opposite sex, lives like the opposite sex, uses the pronouns of the opposite sex, takes hormones to appear and sound more like the opposite sex, or has surgery to resemble the opposite sex –- no matter how skillfully this was done –- he or she is still the biological sex that was evidenced at birth, in every cell of his or her body in the form of DNA. We can revisit this fact if and when it’s possible to change that aspect of a person’s DNA, but for now, at least, someone who’s born male will remain biologically male throughout life.
He’s more likely to be hemophiliac. He’s more likely to experience a hernia. He’s more likely to wear a size 12 shoe. And he’s much, MUCH more likely to father a child, though perhaps with frozen sperm. These are absolute genetic differences; ignoring them is a denial of reality.
On the other hand, the case of a person “identifying” as another gender, for whatever reason (we don’t know why this happens) is very real. One way of staying in contact with reality would be to leave birth certificates alone (unless there was some kind of bureaucratic mistake at the hospital) but to modify some official forms to include two separate lines about gender, as in: 1) Biological gender (circle one) M F 2) Gender identity ____________________. A person born male but who lives as a woman would circle “M,” for “male,” and on the “gender identity” line would write “female.” In other words, this person is a biological male living as a female. That is accurate.
I’ll bet a biologist like Prof. Hesslow would like this idea. But if he does, he’d better not say so in class.