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RTÉ makes false claim about social contagion factor in trans identification being “debunked”

RTÉ news yesterday falsely told viewers that the American Association of Paediatrics (AAP), a widely respected medical organisation, had ‘debunked’ the argument of ‘social contagion.’

Education Correspondent Emma O’Kelly make the claim on RTÉ’s News at Six yesterday evening. She was discussing the recent release of a letter from the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA), which she described as “the Catholic Church, which runs more than 90% of primary schools here, laying down a marker.”

During the discussion O’Kelly also incorrectly stated that social contagion was the argument that merely informing children about transgenderism or trans issues would cause children to decide, purely on that basis, that they were transgender.

Social contagion is actually an argument that broadly claims that individuals, particularly children, can be influenced by their peers or their broader environment to engage in particular behaviours, exhibit certain emotions, or begin to identify or present themselves in particular ways. In relation to transgenderism, it is linked to the concept of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, which proponents claim is a type of gender dysphoria brought on by peer pressure or social influences.

That letter argued that it was inappropriate to teach primary school students about certain aspects of transgenderism given the age of the children involved, and that forcing them to do so “might add to a growing psychological contagion amongst young and vulnerable children.”

Gript can reveal that O’Kelly was wrong to assert that the AAP had debunked social contagion on two separate counts. Firstly O’Kelly’s statement that the AAP had published research on this area appears to be simply false. In response to queries from Gript O’Kelly directed us to a paper from August 2022 titled ‘Sex Assigned at Birth Ratio among Transgender and Gender Diverse Adolescents in the United States.’ This study was not published by the AAP, but rather by external academics, Turban et al., and published in the AAP Journal Pediatrics.

It appears O’Kelly saw a press release from the AAP, or the numerous headlines which resulted from that press release, in which they note the publication of the study and that the study authors claimed that it had debunked the theory of social contagion, and, mistakenly assumed that the AAP were the actual authors of the study.

Whilst this may have been simply a mistake on the part of O’Kelly the second issue is more wide-reaching. It’s simply not correct to say that the study debunked the argument of social contagion, so much as it would be correct to say that the results do not support the idea of social contagion.

The study does state in its conclusions that “results from this study also argue against the notions that TGD youth come to identify as TGD because of social contagion,” but the study was itself substantially limited and there are significant methodological issues with its results.

Indeed, two weeks after the research was released a letter to the editor of Paediatrics was published. That letter was titled ‘Science and Public Health as a Tool for Social Justice Requires Methodological Rigor: A Response to Turban et al.’

This letter was co-written by four academics who identified themselves as “scientists, methodologists, and clinicians working in gender-affirming care.”

They went on to say that they ‘applaud’ Turban et al.’s attempt to address “the deleterious and unsubstantiated rhetoric of the anti-transgender movement,” and that they refuted the idea of social contagion and rapid-onset gender dysphoria, which they called ‘unsubstantiated,’‘misonceptualized,’ and ‘gross misinterpretation of trans communities’ social support, cohesiveness, and connectedness.’

Nevertheless, these academics noted several critical flaws with the design of, and the data analysed within, Turban et al.’s work. Not least of which was that the study “severely misrepresents the robustness of the sample.”

The study design was said to have “serious threats to validity,” and the authors conclude that, “Under these circumstances, the trend analysis is comparing subsets of trans youth from different states and any differences are likely due to sampling bias making the trend analysis invalid.”

The authors noted that there was substantial over and under-sampling in the data analysed, which the study did not account for. The authors argue that “Because the author’s methodology did not account for oversampling, their analysis provided biased results and shifted the “national” estimate that is driven by a single state.”

The authors close the letter by applauding the attempt to combat the “anti-transgender movement,” but argue that “While this study was admirable, we find that the results were overinterpreted and that the theoretical and methodological shortcomings of the article run the risk of being more harmful than supportive.”

An article published in the Wall Street Journal roughly two weeks after the research was released argues that “Dr Turban’s study is deeply flawed and likely couldn’t have survived a reasonable peer-review process. The swift response from the scientific community made both points clear—with even those who support hormones and surgery for gender-dysphoric youth noting that Dr. Turban’s shoddy science undermined their cause.”

The authors of this article, a paediatrician and a fellow at the Manhattan Institute argue that “The AAP has stifled debate on how best to treat youth in distress over their bodies, shut down efforts by critics to present better scientific approaches at conferences, used technicalities to suppress resolutions to bring it into line with better-informed European countries, and put its thumb on the scale at Pediatrics in favor of a shoddy but politically correct research agenda.”

They base this argument on a situation which they say demonstrates a clear bias on the part of the AAP’s leadership.

“Last year a resolution was submitted to the AAP’s annual leadership forum to inform the academy’s 67,000 members about the growing international scepticism of pediatric gender transition. It asked for a thoughtful update to the current practice of affirmation on demand.

Even though the resolution was in the top five of interest based on votes by members cast online, the AAP’s leadership voted it down. In their newsletter, they decried the resolution as transphobic and noted that only 57 members out of 67,000 had endorsed it.

The following year, however, when only 53 members backed a resolution that supported affirmative intervention, the AAP allowed the motion to go through, saying that the previous year’s measure was “soundly defeated” while this year’s received “broad support.” When members submitted another resolution to conduct a review of the evidence, the AAP enforced for the first time a rule that shut down member comments, effectively burying it.”

This is not the only time that concerns have been risen about the AAP’s approach to topics related to transgenderism.

In 2022, roughly a week after the release of Turban et al.’s work, an AAP whistleblower leaked internal files to the Daily Mail. Those files revealed that many rank-and-file members of the association feel that it is “endorsing great harm without high quality or long-term evidence of benefit”.

The leaked documents raise questions about the so-called Dutch protocol or affirmative care and allege that a “leading vaginoplasty surgeon” had said that “100% of males” put on the “affirmative care/Dutch protocol lose all sexual sensation and function”.

Notes from another AAP member “strongly urge” the association “to adopt policies or make statements concerning the treatment of gender dysphoria in children and youths ONLY after an open and methodically sound process to ensure those statements are based on medical evidence rather than ideology”.

Another expressed concern about the AAP’s current stance saying there are “a myriad of ethical questions surrounding puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgeries among youths/adolescents” while claiming that debate on the issues were “silenced egregiously” at a national conference.

We reached out to O’Kelly for comment, but had not recieved any response, save the study she was referring to, before publication.

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