Aaron Harburg

Pseudoscientific Organizations

Gender Ideology is Harmful?

Whilst perusing Facebook this afternoon I came across a rather fascinating declaration: Gender Ideology Harms Children. Being a gay man and having some transgender friends I took an active interest in this article. Regardless of whether the contents of this declaration are true, I discovered by the mode of discourse that this organization, and virtually all of their published materials, lack credibility.

Warning Signs of Pseudoscience

The first thing I noticed was the language. A lot of scientific literature that I’ve read (you know, the stuff that is peer-reviewed in journals and such) uses a very humble tone. Even if the data points strongly towards confirming a theory that explains some phenomena, it will still allow for some level of error. This declaration on the other hand uses phrases such as:  “This principle is self-evident.” It is littered with other absolute phrases such as “no one” and “do not.”

The second thing I noticed was the complete lack of citations. There are no links to other articles, studies, or data that backs up their assertions. This is especially troubling considering that they mention some statistics. They also mention DSM-V and provide their own interpretation of what they are mentioning which isn’t congruent with the majority opinions of the psychiatric community.

The third tip off was the overall format. It’s not unreasonable to a have a press release or article summarizing the results of a meta-study and then put it in bullet points. However, usually at least some sort of white paper is usually attached. It’s even forgivable if they don’t cite their sources in a release as long as they do in the attached paper or study. There is none. These were just the first few things that jumped out. There are several others that I could go into, such as the lack of focus, irrelevant details, and more.

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Pseudoscientific Organization

American College of Pediatricians is Not Scientific

With a fancy name of “American College of Pediatricians” I figured they might have something of more substance elsewhere. I headed over to their front page to discover basically everything they publish is on the hot-button issues of gender & sexuality. Without surprise they parrot the usual conservative soundbites. If you look at their mission statement their agenda is clearly visible. And I mean agenda. Further down you see a list of “core values.” For example: “Recognizes that there are absolutes and scientific truths that transcend relative social considerations of the day.” Meanwhile they declare “To engender the honest interpretation of scientific pediatric research, without deference to current political persuasions” which is laughable given they don’t seem to cite any.

After a little bit further digging I discovered that they ascribe to reparative therapy. Specifically mentioning another pseudoscientific organization, NARTH. Some day  I will release my full critique of reparative therapy, but let me say this entire field is fraught with pseudoscience. Regardless, it is very likely most of the doctors associated with this organization are primary care physicians without a research background who have conservative political leanings.

American College of Pediatricians is Abusive

The point of this essay is not to address the issues they are addressing. I’m not really 100% certain what I believe about them. It is to point out that there is harm done when an organization like this puts out content to feed political agendas without scientific substance through a veneer of scientific authority. First of all, it is the logical fallacy of ad verecundiam to cite an authority (in this case themselves) as evidence for a position without being congruent with the scientific consensus. Secondly, it arms people who do not have the critical thinking skills to interpret it, and social tact to explain it, to hurt others. More often than not I see this kind of stuff make the rounds on social media and be used as a weapon against sexual minorities. Thirdly, and most importantly, it over-exalts empirical science. As I stated at the beginning, scientific literature rarely (and never should) put out dogmatic declarations. In large part this is because empirical science is fundamentally incapable of arriving at the kind of certitude found in religious declarations or philosophical principles.  The neoconservative tendency to use scientific findings as they do scripture mangles the purposes of each field.  Furthermore, science doesn’t actually *prove* anything. The scientific method is designed to *disprove* theories, not create them.


Morality is Beyond Science

If you’re going to state that it is *immoral* to do something, that is beyond the realm of scientific inquiry. While they didn’t quite say it, that’s the implication they made. Scientific methods can supply data as evidence for an argument, but it cannot be the cause of them. I’m sure Dr. Josef Mengele was very scientific, but he was also appallingly unethical. Mixing up philosophy, specifically ethics, with scientific inquiry is a deadly mistake since scientific inquiry is neutral to questions of right and wrong. Malcolm in Jurassic Park (which I just watched last night) makes this point very eloquently. Mixing these up unintentionally is ignorant. Mixing these up intentionally is evil. Let’s hope it is the former.