August 29, 2023 - 10:00am

The recent Scientific American article “Evidence Undermines ‘Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria’ Claims” purports to be scientific journalism but is neither scientific nor journalism. It is yet another attempt to smother the fledgling but promising theory of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) in the cradle.

There has been an immense rise in the rate of gender dysphoria diagnoses during the past decade, especially among adolescent girls. Many of these girls with longstanding emotional issues suddenly acquire the strong belief that they are transgender after seeing peers do the same thing. These observations are behind the theory that ROGD is a social contagion in which the false belief that one is transgender spreads.

The Scientific American article provides a brief synopsis of the recent retraction of my article with several quotes by “experts” denying any support for ROGD. These “experts” are notable primarily because they are committed to promoting gender transition for persons who claim to have gender dysphoria. None have conducted research relevant to ROGD, and no research was reviewed in the article.

But if the recency of the gender dysphoria epidemic among adolescent girls should discourage certainty about its nature, the “experts” are not deterred. As one writes: “this is just a fear-based concept that is not supported by studies,” while another claims: “to even say it’s a hypothesis at this point, based on the paucity of research on this, I think is a real stretch.” A third argues: “it is not rapid-onset gender dysphoria. It’s rapid-onset parental discovery.” Trust children, not parents.

Scientific American doesn’t provide any reason why anyone might believe ROGD, or for that matter disbelieve any transgender activist. Nor does the article mention problematic trends such as the huge increase in referral rates of children and adolescents to the Tavistock child gender identity clinic.

I was not surprised by the low quality of the Scientific American piece. That is because the publication has become a purveyor of progressive ideology under the thin guise of science. Indeed, over the last few years it has published pieces such as “Modern mathematics confronts its white patriarchal past”, “Denial of evolution is a form of white supremacy”, and “The idea of two sexes is overly simplistic”. Based on these pieces, how does it expect to be considered a serious magazine anymore?

After reading the resulting article, I’m glad I refused to give an interview to the lead reporter. Sadly, it is usually possible to know ahead of time what journalists will write about gender dysphoria topics. This is especially true of Scientific American.

Thankfully, the truth of scientific theories is not ultimately resolved by how positively media covers them — though it sometimes feels this way — but instead by good, solid data. In collaboration with Lisa Littman and Ken Zucker, I am on the verge of beginning a long-term follow up study of adolescents with gender dysphoria. I am confident that if ROGD theory is true, our study will provide evidence for it. And if ROGD is false, we will find evidence against it. That’s how science works.

J. Michael Bailey is a Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University