May 24, 2023 - 7:00am

A new paper on gender dysphoria is to be retracted from an academic journal by one of the world’s largest academic publishers, Springer Nature, which publishes Nature magazine and Scientific American. The paper — entitled “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria: Parent Reports on 1655 Possible Cases,” was published on 29th March in Archives of Sexual Behaviour, and has been hosted online by the SpringerLink website since.

Researchers J. Michael Bailey and Suzanna Diaz were told by a Springer Nature employee that the decision to retract was based on a lack of “written informed consent” by participants in the survey about having their scores and data published. The two researchers now have until 26th May to agree or disagree with the retraction before it is finalised.

Speaking to UnHerd, Michael Bailey dismissed the idea that informed consent was a necessary prerequisite for such research. “How many surveys have you taken that did not ask you for informed consent? I would say ‘most’ in my experience,” he said.

In an earlier article for UnHerd, Bailey notes that he consulted with his IRB about gaining retrospective approval on the consent issue. He was told that retrospective approval could not be provided for already-collected data, but the policy allowed him to co-author publications using Diaz’s data. IRB approval is only required in certain institutions and Diaz, the researcher who launched the survey and collected the data, did not have to seek it. 

IRB expert Brian Gladue, Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation at the UNT Health Science Center, told UnHerd that Springer Nature’s justification for the retraction is “extremely flimsy”. “This is an extraordinary after-the-fact requirement that’s being used by someone other than the legitimate authority. The IRB said that written consent wasn’t required but then Springer Nature asked for it afterwards. Why not insist on it for all publications that involve survey data? This is not only unusual, but precedent-setting,” he said.

The research, which focuses on parents’ reports on gender-dysphoric adolescents and young adults whom the parents believe have Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD), gained over 42,000 downloads before the decision to retract. ROGD is a theory that links the explosion in cases of gender dysphoria among young females to a socially contagious false belief that they are transgender. The paper found 1,655 cases of ROGD in which the parents said that these young people had a high proportion of pre-existing mental health problems, predating their gender dysphoria by four years on average. It also found that the best predictor of transition was consulting a gender specialist, where parents often felt pressured to transition their children.

Shortly after the article’s publication on 29th March and the controversy that followed it, criticisms of Bailey’s and Diaz’s research began to surface. On 19th April, the Listserv of the International Academy of Sex Research (IASR) shared a message that it was “consulting” with both the Archives of Sexual Behavior’s editor and their publisher Springer Nature about the “ethical questions” raised in the research. Then, on 10th May, a publisher’s note appeared on the paper alerting readers to “concerns” about its methodology. This resulted in the decision to retract the paper days later.

The article will remain live, available for download, but with a notice that it has been retracted from Friday. In the future, the journal can remove access if it chooses.

Springer Nature has been contacted for comment.

is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.