Friday, January 05, 2018

Some people don't understand what a scientific definition is (or how to actually respond to points raised in a comment)

Recently, a friend posted the statement: "There are only two genders: male and female. Do you agree?"

This provoked a stream of comments. Most happened to take a position that favored the proposition. But then I noticed this statement:
This is a scientific question, based on data; it is not a philosophical one. Does the subject have "XX" chromosome or "XY" chromosome? It's very simple. It has nothing to do with judgment. One could inject hormones, do plastic surgery, alterations, makeup, etc. etc. all they wish, but the "XY" and "XX" chromosome will forever determine sex. It's a simple fact. 200,000+ years of evolution will not change due to the minority whims of certain members of a society.
*Sigh* As it was written, the position doesn't actually support it being a scientific question, but rather a position based around some science, while leaving out a bunch of other science. It also fails to equate sex with gender, which - in biology - are not always considered the same thing. So, to this I decided to reply:
As you laid it out, your comment has a few issues that need to be dealt with before you can call it an airtight argument.

First, are you defining "sex" and "gender" as the same thing? (Note: this isn't itself a scientific question - which you say your
explanation is - but a cultural and philosophical one. Science can work from whichever definition is used, but science itself doesn't say one way or the other, since determining the degree of synonymous-ness isn't a scientific question.)

Second, where do intersex individuals fall in your schema? (Intersex being individuals who are XXY or XYY or some other combination of more than two sex chromosomes.)

Third, where do XX embryos that have developed in environments with lots of androgens or XY embryos that developed in environments that blocked androgen production fall into your schema? (This refers to the many developmental studies in which high levels of androgens during development cause marked sexual behavioral changes that mimic that of the other sex.)

Fourth, there have been far more than 200,000+ years of evolution when it comes to mammalian sexual reproduction. (In other words, by restricting it to the last 200,000+ years, it seems that you are indicating that this is a particularly *human* issue, which circles back to the rationalization of the first point I listed, above. This is a scientific question, since restricting the evolutionary period to merely 200,000+ years means that the discussion is not about sexual reproduction in mammals in general, but to humans specifically.)

If you respond to these four points, then your argument could be drastically improved. However, as a scientist, I can tell you that your argument, as it currently stands, isn't really well-formulated scientific argument.
Although it's lengthy, I was pointing out that this guy needed to address four things for his argument to be more scientific:
  1.  Define "gender" in terms of its relation with the term "sex."
  2. Explain how to manage with intersex individuals within his definition.
  3. Explain how to manage with individuals who developed with heightened androgens within his definition.
  4. Explain how his limitation to 200,000+ years of evolution is sufficient to explain sex differences, the presence of intersex individuals, and the impact of androgen environments on brain development.
Seems pretty straight-forward, no? Okay, maybe it's not easy to do, but what I got back was laughably indignant:
Umlud, your total argument is false. First off, bastardization of the language. Sex and Gender are interchangeable in this case.  [Presentation of dictionary definitions as opposed to science-based definitions.]You can play with words and bastardize their definitions all you want. But words have meanings.

*There is much debate in the scientific community over the XXY chromosome (Klinefelter Syndrome - an anomaly)
These occur in 1 out of about 50,000 males. It generally does NOT make them "feel like a woman in a man's body."
Please prove that it does, you might win a Nobel Peace Prize.
Wow. It seems like this guy didn't really get past point 1, and it doesn't seem like this guy really understood what I was saying in my comment. My point was that he needed to determine how sex and gender were related, and not make a commentary on whether sex being different from gender is a bastardization - a claim that I never made. (Take heed: he will continue to make commentaries on claims I don't actually make.)

As for there being "much debate" about people with Klinefelter Syndrome... I don't know what he's talking about. As far as I know, there is no debate about the existence of Klinefelter Syndrome. And it is bloody clear that XXY is not the same as either XX or XY, which were the only two examples he was providing in his "scientific" definition. And note - for the second time in one comment - he responds to a claim that I never made ("It generally does NOT make them 'feel like a woman in a man's body'").

So, I try again:
Thanks for your response, but you have failed to harmonize point 4 with your position on point 1.

As for the response to point 2, you haven't actually incorporated it into your position, especially given how you have chosen how to respond to poi
nt 1.

I don't see your response to point 3.

As of right now, you haven't revised your initial argument, taking into account of the deficiencies I have pointed out. You have only given definitional answers to the points I raised, which is not the same thing as actually using those definitions to improve on your deficient opening argument. Even though I don't agree with your thesis, I remain more than happy to help you craft an argument with far fewer internal errors than what you have.

Let me know if you'd like that assistance or if you're happy to let your faulty argument stand as-is.
I was thinking that - maybe if I pointed exactly to the things that he should be addressing - he might actually come up with answers to the critiques I proposed. I had hoped that this would be enough. Boy was I wrong:
Nope. Your argument is off from the get go. Your definitions are crooked. No sense in arguing if someone is going to choose definitions of terms ad lib: Basic Law 101. Hey [moderator] I thought you were going to delete this post (for the litany of arguments I did post that tore Umlud's arguments to pieces and addressed what he wrote - as I predicted he would - (that FB stopped me from posting - as evidenced by the screen captures sent to you by private message.) I can’t argue fairly if FB blocks me from doing so. So I’m out.
Apparently, someone flagged his comment, which is annoying, especially when there is a nice back-and-forth going on between two people who (appear) to be happy with continuing with that back-and-forth. But what I find hilarious is this guy's continuing preference to respond to claims I never made. This time it's a return to a presumption that I am the one choosing definitions (I'm not; I was letting him choose his own definition). His moaning that his comment - where he "tore my arguments to pieces" - was lost. Oh, well, if it was so good, I'm sure that he could just write it again - maybe with an even better presentation. And then he made this statement (presumably about people who have Klinefelter Syndrome):
Jeez... There’s a reason they called anomalies...
Ooooh, boy. He makes this statement without understanding the ramifications of saying that people with Klinefelter Syndrome are anomalies...? (I am being kind and assuming that he means it in a statistical sense, and not in some normative sense.) But if he is saying that it is statistically anomalous to have Klinefelter Syndrome, how does that square with being transgender? Both are statistically anomalous, but that doesn't mean they don't exist! And if he is happy to exclude people with Klinefelter Syndrome from his definition, then why is he not willing to exclude transgender people, too?

... and he still never addressed the question about people who develop in high androgen environments! Given his position on people with Klinefelter Syndrome, and his stated position on people who are transgender, then what is his position about people who develop with major hormonal exposure?

But before I could formulate a full response (I was on my phone at the time), he shoots off two short comments, which erode the validity of his initial position:
Refer to the words “both genders.” Your initial premise is wrong.
I have reviewed the texts. No one has ever written "both genders." He is - again - responding to claims I never made.
By the way, there are people born with two heads, etc. These are called anomalies too; they are extremely rare.
Yes, they are statistical anomalies, because they are so extremely rare. This point is not helping his position, though, for the exact reasons I explained above. I did manage to compose a response to his points, though:
Please show me where your initial comment uses the phrase "both genders." It's late here and I might have missed it.

But, again, if you are going to equate sex and gender, then you still need to take care of point 4 that I explained to you initially.

That you don't want to actually address the weakness in your argument that is point 4, given your stated preference for your definition, is somewhat worrying, especially since it seems like you really do want to make a solid and valid science-based argument.

However, as I pointed out in my initial comment, your argument - as it was presented - was lacking in four specific areas. You have answered the first point, and you seem to be wanting to ignore the second point by calling it an anomaly. Of course, if you choose to call intersex an anomaly, it returns us back to the question of your definition, and whether you wish it to be universal in nature or exclusionary of anomalies. If the former (i.e., universal definition), then you must find a scientific way to include intersex while excluding transgender. If the latter (i.e., exclusionary definition), then you must find a scientific way to justify excluding intersex from the definition, but including transgender.

The same goes with point 3, and how you will choose to include or exclude them from your definition, and the scientific reasons for doing so.

I look forward to reading what you come up with.
Again, I was hoping - perhaps a faint hope - that this guy would be able to understand that - in all his off-base comments - he wasn't actually responding to things that I actually was talking about, even though he continuously thought that he was making responses to things that I was talking about. His response the next day is just too funny:
I can’t argue with you when you fail to read or comprehend what I have already posted. It is plain as day when I wrote of two genders, then fully explained why your criticism of that comment was wrong... I don’t know why any “scientist” (It’s nearly impossible for anyone to call them self a “scientist” - without a PhD - scientists nearly ALL have PhDs) and if you do have a PhD then how in the hell do you have time to argue this nonsense on FB with idiots like us? Look it up: nearly all “Scientists” need a PhD to live and eat. I seriously doubt you do...then that makes you a fibber or a bs’er (I suspect the latter hence your twisting language) if so, why bother arguing with you?
What's funny is not the part where he claims that I am almost certainly not a scientist. (Yes, that part is funny, too.) But what I found so funny is that he claims that he made a criticism of my comment. Unless he is redefining words, I didn't see any substantive criticism to any actual claim that I made. I saw plenty of retorts to claims that I never made, but to actual positions that I stated? Nothing. (Well, except for clarifying that he wants to say that sex and gender are the same.)

Then there's that strange point that he seems to be making that a scientist is the only one who can make scientific arguments. (I'm not 100% certain he is saying this, though, because his syntax is so muddled in that part of his comment.) But if he wants to make having a PhD in a scientific discipline the basis for making a scientific argument, then he cannot make a scientific argument, unless he has a PhD in a scientific discipline. I mean, if I'm the goose, then he's the gander.

Also, his desire to shift the argument from actual points of his definition to arguing about my attitude and making wild presumptions about whether I am a scientist is - unfortunately - the mark of a person who cannot figure out how to disengage from an argument he knows that he is losing: try to smear the person, and that will hopefully allow you to disengage from the argument, since it's not worth arguing against someone "bad."

It was clear that he wanted to finish, but it was clear that he wanted me to raise the white flag, and not him. So I decided to let him go, but with one final comment:
I have a PhD. From the University of Michigan. In ecology and natural resource management. So, I guess that makes me a scientist, as per your definition. Cheers? But since you brought it up, what are your qualifications for making scientific claims? Do you have a PhD in a science discipline?

As for this particular topic, I took physiology and brain development several years ago, but I also have been reading papers on the topic. Not enough to actually qualify as an expert in the field, but enough to know what's going on.

Next, to your point about me making definitions. I think you may have confused my conversation with you with someone else's points. I merely asked if you were equating sex and gender, not that they cannot be the same thing. I was then saying that - if you equate the two - then the scientific, biological implications of that action will require you to make certain adjustments to your definition, namely intersex individuals and individuals affected by androgens during fetal development. I then finished by pointing out the problem of citing 200,000+ years as your time reference, since - again, from a evolutionary biology starting point - that time frame explicitly limits the discussions to that of the evolution of modern humans, while the evolution of mammalian sexual reproduction extends far beyond your stated time frame. The science-based implication of setting such a limitation to your definition is that it would insufficiently cover the points you were trying to make, especially when you would need to incorporate individuals who are intersex and who developed under higher levels of androgens.

At no point did I say that your choice of definition was not scientific. And at no point did you actually write of two genders. Sure, you might have implied it, but definitions require the terms to be explicitly stated, or else people can infer whatever they want.

Also, I don't think I failed to understand the terms that you wrote. However, it seems that you have failed to either understand or much care about how the argument you wrote is not actually scientifically valid, given the shortcomings that I outlined. I come to this latter conclusion by your repeated statements that you refer to things that you never actually wrote, and that you infer intention and understanding on my part for things to which you don't actually have evidence, one way or another.

I will understand if you don't really wish to continue this particular conversation, even though I have been thoroughly tickled by your comments imposing motivations on me without evidence on your part. Still, if you wish to actually make a substantive response in the form of a restatement of your initial argument, which adequately takes into account the points made (by a scientist!) regarding the internal and external validity of the statement you made, I'd be happy to read it. If you prefer not to do so, though, I completely understand; scientific rigor isn't for everyone.

That was over 24 hours ago. Still no response from him.

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