June 12, 2023 - 7:00am

Springer Nature is doubling down on its decision to retract a controversial paper about trans-identifying teens and their parents. Despite nearly 2,000 researchers and academics signing a letter in support of the article, Springer nonetheless decided to retract the paper without disciplining its editor.

Co-author Michael Bailey has run afoul of trans activists before. He has a pesky habit of being a free-range researcher who follows his curiosity wherever it leads. In interviews, he is disinclined to make predictions, preferring to see the data first. 

Critics — many of whom could better be described as professional activists, rather than academics — balk at Bailey’s research-first approach. Twenty years ago, the scientist faced vicious attacks for daring to write frankly about the sexual motivations that drive some men to transition. His 2003 book The Man Who Would Be Queen hit the press at a particularly inconvenient moment, when trans activists were seeking to desexualise transgender identity in the public imagination. As punishment, activists flung every insult and accusation — no matter how baseless or horrifying — at Bailey that they thought might squash his book and its insights. 

Recently Bailey made another inconvenient outing, publishing an article on the controversial issue of rapid-onset gender dysphoria earlier this year in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Bailey and his co-author, the pseudonymous Susanna Diaz, analysed a survey of 1,655 parents whose children had no childhood history of gender dysphoria, only declaring a transgender identity upon adolescence. 

Girls outnumbered boys three-to-one. Parents reported that 60% of girls and 38% of boys had at least one friend declare a transgender identity around the same time. In 73% of cases, parents reported that the child suffered a stressful event — like romantic rejection or the death of a loved one — shortly before coming out as transgender. 

Over half (57%) of young people had a prior history of mental health issues, with these problems preceding the onset of gender dysphoria by over three years on average. Bailey and Diaz observed that “youth with a history of mental health issues were especially likely to take steps to socially and medically transition”. Parents reported that, after social and/or medical transition, their children’s psychological functioning declined. Parent-child relationships suffered, too. 

Following activist pressure, the academic publishing company Springer Nature retracted Bailey and Diaz’s article on the grounds that the parents had not specifically consented to have survey results published in a peer-reviewed journal. (The parents did, however, consent to the publication of survey results, which is more than can be said for much peer-reviewed research, including some of the articles most frequently cited by trans activists.)

When Bailey challenged this decision, citing 19 other articles that are open to the same charges, Springer Nature refused to reconsider. In the process, the publisher even opened the door to retracting dozens — possibly hundreds — of other articles that rely on survey data. An analysis commissioned by the Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine suggests that Springer Nature would need to review tens of thousands of articles for compliance with this new “standard”. The toll such retractions would take on social-scientific research would be immense: 

Survey research is the backbone of social science and plays an invaluable role in studying underprivileged and hard-to-reach populations. The highly specific language in the consent forms, which Springer Nature now insists should have been included, is unlikely to be present in many—or any—of the papers based on respondent-provided data.
- Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine

Trans activists have spent decades trying to shut down inquiry and debate at all costs. But they may get more than they bargained for this time. If taken to its logical conclusions, Springer Nature’s reckless decision to appease the mob by retracting Bailey and Diaz’s article risks ripping the ground out from under activists’ feet. But perhaps no review is forthcoming, and Spring Nature simply needed to find any hook on which to hang an inconvenient researcher, scientific integrity be damned.

Eliza Mondegreen is a graduate student in psychiatry and the author of Writing Behavior on Substack.