Scientists Oppose Administration’s Gender Definition Proposal


(From Press Release) – More than 1,600 scientists have signed an open letter opposing the US Administration’s proposed legal definition of gender, saying that it cannot be supported by the scientific evidence and is an unethical assault on human rights and basic dignity.

The scientists, including eight Nobel laureates, are speaking out in response to the proposal to legally define gender as either male or female, determined at birth based on anatomy, or later using unspecified genetic tests.

The scientists call on the Administration to withdraw the proposal, and also urge elected representatives to “oppose its implementation, as it would cause grave harm to transgender and intersex Americans and weaken the constitutional rights of all Americans.”

The letter explains how the Administration’s proposal, which was leaked to the New York Times, is unscientific and promotes pseudoscience, despite the administration’s claim that it is “grounded in science” as well as unethical and in violation of human rights and basic dignity.

“There are no genetic tests that can unambiguously determine gender, or even sex,” the letter states, and “even if such tests existed, it would be unconscionable to use the pretext of science to enact policies that overrule the lived experience of people’s own gender identities.”

Not only is the proposal unscientific, the letter explains, but it “erases the identities of millions of Americans who identify as transgender (individuals whose gender identification differs from their assigned sex at birth) or have intersex bodies (individuals with biologically atypical patterns of male and female traits).”

In addition to erasing transgender and intersex people, the proposal also endangers them, because they “are at increased risk of physical and mental health disorders resulting from discrimination, fear for personal safety, and family and societal rejection” and “affirmation of gender identity is paramount to [their] survival, health, and livelihood”. Intersex people are at particular risk of being harmed by the proposal, as they may “be legally classified in ways that erase their intersex status and identity” and be subjected to “more medically unnecessary and risky surgeries at birth.”

At the time of this release, the letter had attracted 1,642 signatures. The signatories include biologists, geneticists, neuroscientists, social scientists, biochemists, and other scientists in solidarity. The signatories include scientists working in industry and government as well as academia. The number of signatories continues to grow as scientists add their names. The letter, and complete list of signatories, can be found online at

The signatories include nine Nobel Laureates (listed by year of award):

  • Sheldon L. Glashow of Harvard & Boston University (1979, Physics),
  • Dudley R. Herschbach of Harvard University (1986, Chemistry),
  • Richard J. Roberts of New England Biolabs (1993, Physiology or Medicine),
  • Eric Wieschaus of Princeton University (1995, Physiology or Medicine),
  • Wolfgang Ketterle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2001, Physics),
  • Andrew Fire of Stanford University (2006, Physiology or Medicine),
  • Craig Mello of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and UMass Medical School (2006, Physiology or Medicine),
  • Carol W. Greider of Johns Hopkins University (2009, Physiology or Medicine), and
  • Jean-Pierre Sauvage of the University of Strasbourg, France (2016, Chemistry).

The letter is addressed to elected officials, but the authors hope it will have a broader impact. “We also feel it is critical for this message to reach transgender and intersex people, many of whom are reading the news and feeling like the scientific community doesn’t care about them as human beings,” says Russell Neches, one of the letter’s authors. The letter may also serve an educational role for both policy makers and the public at large.

The letter was a grassroots effort. Immediately following the publication of the New York Times article about the administration’s proposal, with its “grounded in science” claim, scientists began voicing their objections on social media. Twenty-two biologists and other scientists in related fields planned and wrote the letter collaboratively.

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27 thoughts on “Scientists Oppose Administration’s Gender Definition Proposal”

  1. Jeff M

    First, delete all the “scientists” from the list that are not American.  Then delete those that are easy to identify activists.  Then be honest about the challenging problems that are tradeoffs for policies for making gender assignment ambiguous and changeable based on individual preference…  and the Administations position here is very rational.

    1. Don Shor

      delete all the “scientists” from the list that are not American.

      Why? Are American scientists the only ones with expertise on gender? Or is this just a particular bias of yours? But if you want to do that, here’s the list:
      Let us know what you come up with. Rough percentage would be fine. I see a lot of American scientists there.

      Then delete those that are easy to identify activists.

      Again, let us know what you come up with.

      Then be honest about the challenging problems that are tradeoffs for policies for making gender assignment ambiguous and changeable based on individual preference…

      And be honest about the impact of being transgender in a culture that believes it is an individual preference.

      the Administations position here is very rational.

      Not even close to rational, nor is it intended to be.

    2. Howard P

      Are you too young to remember when doctors did a circumcision (Washington state, seem to recall it was a military hospital), that went horribly wrong, and several infections and surgeries later (some botched), the he was surgically turned into a she?  What would be the sex/gender of the child?  X-Y chromosomes, no male parts, and a surgically constructed vagina.  Male, or female?  Guess you might support a new sex/gender… mutant?

      Not common, but frequently, external genitalia is absent/ambiguous at birth… not an expert in this area, but there are no 100% clear answers as to sex/gender…

      It is generally believed that the “Father of Our Country” couldn’t be… an XXY chromosome.  Was Washington male/female/mutant? Appears he was “shooting blanks” when it came to sex… gun fired, no viable ammo to find the target eggs-actly.

      1. Jeff M

        I don’t deny these and other situations exist and I support protections.  But I don’t support reengineering of society as unaccepting of a primarily binary gender difference.  There is too much general societal risk and harm that would be caused by this, and there are reasonable remedies to most of the problems faced by people having physical, psychological and mental gender association challenges.

    3. Richard McCann

      Jeff M, why do you have such a problem accepting that there are facts that do not adhere to your world view? The only people that I’ve seen with such a closed mind are ignorant through lack of education.

      1. Jeff M

        Richard McCann.  Why do you have such a hard time thinking beyond your ideological bias box and continue to demonstrate a complete lack of objective reasoning when faced with an opportunity to virtue signal?

        The only people I have seen owning this malady are those having pursued education credentials to remedy their personal insecurities but unfortunately they end up pompous and close-minded as their fragile sense of self gets wrapped up in continuely attempting to prove others are inferior to their intellectual prowess.

        Studies continue to prove that a high percentage of college graduates show a drop in critical thinking skills compared to when the graduated high school.  I don’t think that happened to me given how I attained my degree, but maybe you?

        The point I made that you fail to acknowledge is the trade-off problems for society when the girls and boys bathrooms and locker rooms are a free-for-all.  Nobody is debating the fact that there are a small minority of people owning gender ambiguity and that we need to ensure societal acceptance; however the campus identity politics mob is taking it too far and thus trampling on the safety of others.  In consideration of these safety issues, I think the Administration is doing the right thing.  That is how objectivity works… weighing pros and cons, not making a rigid stand that would make your socialist college professor happy.

        1. Tia Will

          The point I made that you fail to acknowledge is the trade-off problems for society when the girls and boys bathrooms and locker rooms are a free-for-all”

          There would be no problem with this if all children were taught that anyone could use any bathroom of their choice. It is learned, not genetically programmed that people need different areas to dispose of bodily waste, and to bathe and change clothing.


    4. Tia Will

      Wait a minute Jeff. Please explain why the scientific opinion of an American is more valid than that of an expert from another country. Why does one’s status as an “activist” make it any less valid. Do we then, according to that rationale delete the opinions of all those on Trumps team of advisors since they are clearly all “activists”? Finally, your choice to misspeak. It is not individual “preference”. It is individual self identification. There is a huge difference.

      You are right on one point. There are challenging issues. And pretending, as the administration wants to do that this is an easy, black and white, male vs female decision does not acknowledge that fact.


    5. H Jackson

      Jeff M.: First, delete all the “scientists” from the list that are not American.

      That’s weird.  Are you also interested in discrediting scientists who are naturalized U.S. citizens?  I’m not sure what being American or not has to do with this discussion.

      Somehow it seems in line with the thinking that one should only listen to and appreciate U.S. artists, writers, performers, and musicians.  Austrian economists?  Adam Smith?  In the trash already.

      1. Jeff M

        Tia / H Jackson – The debate is one related to a societal and cultural issue of the US.  Sure, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  But we are talking about a political opposition to a policy that a foreigner would not have a stake in.

        Interesting that I am guessing that both of you went hard into the “Russians Influencing US Politics” Establishment/Media-storm outrage.  Yet here you sanction foreigners attempting to influence our politics.   Double-standards?

        1. Tia Will

          Oh for heaven’s sake Jeff. Let’s parse this a little further. How about if the “foreign” doctor is one who is working here in the US? What is they don’t give a damn about American politics, but do care in accuracy of sexual/gender based issues? What if they were American, but now applied for and obtained citizenship in another country? Do you see how ridiculous it becomes to criticize people’s discussion of an area of expertise because of their nationality?

  2. Edgar Wai

    What laws require a distinction of gender? Most (if not all?) of the Penal Code is not gender specific. What is gender for? Is the only concern about public restrooms?

    Why does the law need to know a person’s “gender”? Just to separate male and female prisoners, and for what purpose? If someone is already in prison and commit a crime in prison, what should happen?

    1. Howard P

      If you don’t know the importance of gender (what is gender for?), can’t help you there… it is important to me in very basic ways.

      But if you are focussing on law, ‘profiling’, consideration of job applications, I agree.

      Women are capable of raping males and other women… it is still wrong, and should be treated the same in the legal venue as a man raping a woman , or another man.

      Yet, there are a lot of historical biases in the law, as adjudicated, based on gender… a presumption that a child belongs with the mother in the event of a marriage dissolution.  That if a man is accused of committing rape against a woman, he is presumed guilty (not by law, but by bias of the legal system)… if a woman is accused of rape against a man, the bias shifts big time… after all “it is impossible for a woman to commit rape, especially against a man”.

      Agree with your main points/questions, Edgar… good questions… I have no problem with unisex bathrooms.  Except for small kids, it’s not like we would see anything we hadn’t seen before.


      1. Eric Gelber

        Right. Because who wins an athletic competition, or what bathroom someone uses, are more important than respect for the rights and dignity of people who don’t fit your understanding of gender that you learned in your junior high biology class. Gender identity is complex; it is not a simple matter of one’s biology at birth.

        1. Jeff M

          Gender identity is general NOT complex except for a very small minority of people… a very small minority.

          And so if I understand your position, to hell with women that work and strive to be a winner in athletics only to lose to a transgender competitor owning signifant more testosterone and muscle mass.  Do I have that right?  How is that fair?

          1. Don Shor

            only to lose to a transgender competitor owning signifant more testosterone and muscle mass. Do I have that right? How is that fair?

            Yes, it would be terribly unfair. Terribly unfair. We must keep the world of sports absolutely pure of such complexities as people who don’t fit into your binary world. So let’s make those hypoandrogenists take drugs, so they conform. The world must be binary! It must be! And that’s what really matters, not the discrimination against your fellow 1 million+ intersex and transgender citizens who are trying to go about their lives freely and without being hassled.

  3. Tia Will


    Lots of stories of transgender students winning female athletic competitions.  Is that fair?”

    If you really want to address “fairness” in sports, I am game. I agree that female athletes should be paid the same as their male counterparts. How about using that as a starting point?


    1. Jeff M

      Professional athletics is an entertainment business and pay is commensurate with the revenue generated by the paying consumer.  If and when female professional athletes are successful in generating the same consumer demand, then I agree that they pay should be equal to their male cohort.

  4. Edgar Wai

    Athletic competition can still divide the competition based on different classes, or just have everyone complete in the same class.

    In boxing there are different weight classes. For running, maybe height? Regardless how you divide the athletes, you still get derive the overall champion regardless what gender the athletes are.

    For changing rooms in schools, just make more rooms or partitions with different sizes. The smallest ones would be for individuals. The biggest one would be for those who don’t care being seen by others or seeing others changing. If you just wear a poncho or a long T-shirt with your arms inside, you can change and no one can see anything but your head. I guess all the poncho changer can all fit in one big room or the gym,

    1. Jeff M

      Edgar Wai: I do agree with the need to rethink bathrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms.  They have never been well-designed and are a source of trauma for many people of any gender.  Don’t know about the poncho idea though… that seems weird.

      However, the athletics issue is the unfairness to cisgender female athletes.  Also, don’t see this flying very well for the Olympics.

      Athletics is one of the bright lines reminding us that males and females are biologically different.  I would not be surprised to read that social justice activists declaring binary athletic competition is a form of hate that much be abolished.  Absurd?  Well there are many things accepted as reasonable today that would have been considered absurd just a few years ago.  That is why we need people not afraid to push back… as eventually everything becomes absurd.

      1. Edgar Wai

        Actually, I think the topic of Athletes is off-topic. The original topic was about US laws. I don’t think there is US regulations on sports.

        So each sports association can make their own rules. Boy scouts can make their own criteria for their club’s membership. (?) Is there a strong relation between how US administration or laws define gender and how a club or a competition should admit all gender?

  5. Eric Gudz

    Thank you for doing this David – it means a lot to the communities of people who aren’t defined by a binary definition of gender. Visibility and acceptance will be critical in the years to come as we battle erasure from so many threats outside our community (and unfortunately from far too many within).

    Eric Gudz (they/them)

  6. Tia Will

    Gender identity is general NOT complex except for a very small minority of people… a very small minority.”

    That is certainly how we see it now. I am old enough to remember when it was believed that there were very few homosexuals. Turns out that is not true. Many were “in the closet” because society was so harshly unaccepting as to turn their life into a living hell if they “came out”. I have no idea how many people this will ultimately apply to and I don’t believe anyone else here does either.

  7. Alan Miller

    I have two friends who converted from male to female.

    One is an activist, angry, sure everyone is laughing at them, gets angry if someone accidentally says “he” instead of “she”.

    One is peaceful, not engaged in the politics of it, and says they totally understand how difficult it is to remember to change the gender you call someone, and laughs about it saying, “and maybe it’s because I kinda still look like a guy”.

    Both have had hormone treatments and have grown breasts and other female, or should I say ‘female’, traits.

    One says gender is a societal construct, speaks with words that are only used in transgender culture and gets mad when you don’t know the words, and is angry at the binary gender world.

    The other says she identifies as a female, and is biologically male.

    I said, “What, you are OK with saying that?”.

    She said, “of course, both are obviously true”.

    I wonder why people can’t accept that.  The two parameters are not the same thing.

    She is, by the way, a licensed medical doctor.

    And yes, there are people who are not physically either XX or XY.  I don’t know why what their percentage of the population is matters.  And like anyone, how they wish to identify is their choice — and what they are physically just is.

  8. Tia Will

    Thank you Alan for sharing your friends differing experiences and attitudes. I would also like to point out that most of the fear and anxiety related concerns regarding transgender individuals are limited to those of male to female conversion. I don’t hear a lot of anxiety surrounding females who transition to male. Strange since one of the primary demands of the oppositional straight world is using the bathroom of your birth gender. Doesn’t seem to occur to them that this would lead to increasing numbers of phenotypical males ( with beards, low voices and more heavily muscled bodies) using women’s restrooms because that is what their birth certificate says.

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