10 August 2020

Open Letter of Resignation from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS)

My 27-year association with SSSS must come to an end.  In the present culture war between science and popular appeal, the SSSS Board of Directors selected the latter. This is not the first time the SSSS Board abused their authority to silence science opposing their personal political views, and no valid organization can be in the name of science in name only.  I am grateful to the other sexuality scientists who have resigned in sympathy, both publicly and privately.

 

To acknowledge the facts: I have long posted news items and opinion pieces to SSSS’s member listserv.  In July, I posted an essay of my own, When is a TERF not a TERF, challenging the extremism that has taken over public discussion of trans issues, pointing out, for example, that the unwillingness ever to recognize anyone’s transition is different from citing the research suggesting children should wait until age 12 to transition.

 

A debate ensued, not focused on any argument or evidence submitted, but on whether such discussions should even be permitted.  The cessation of open, critical discussion is antithetical to the purpose of a scientific society.  Participating in the debate were three SSSS Board members and roughly a dozen general members, expressing a roughly 50/50 opinion [full thread downloadable here].

 

I then received an unsigned email informing me that I had been suspended from the listserv.footnote-1  Outrage among members ensued, triggering society resignations, list unsubscriptions, and a statement from the SSSS President, Zoë Peterson, defending the Board’s intervention.footnote-2

 

The Board took SSSS across the Rubicon on several levels:

1.     The board does not actually have the authority to suspend people from the member listserv.  The listserv policy (here) leaves such decisions to the list’s moderator, to whom the Board may only provide feedback.

2.     Although the SSSS President, Treasurer, and Student Representative each took active sides in the pertinent discussion, as shown in the thread, they did not recuse themselves from the Board’s official actions.

3.     While intervening in her role as SSSS President, Petersen indicated explicitly during the thread that she actively sought out views—not of mine, not of the 50/50 of list members expressing their opinions—but only of those who had expressed the same views that she herself did, without so much as a pretense of due process.

The SSSS Board did not respond to my emails pointing out these abuses of their authority.footnote-3

 

This is not the first time SSSS demonstrated its privileging sociopolitical opinion over science: In 2018, another researcher, Kevin Hsu, won the Ira and Harriet Reiss Theory Award for “the best social science article, chapter, or book published in the previous year in which theoretical explanations of human sexual attitudes and behaviors are developed,” a prize by the Foundation for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.  An audience member disliked the content of this award-winning, published article.  In response to the ensuing complaint, the SSSS Board informed members they had not had input into the Reiss Award; thus, “Moving forward, The Foundation for the Scientific Study of Sexuality will be incorporated into SSSS.  Starting in 2019, we will be maintaining full oversight of the awards process.”footnote-4  The Founder of the Award, Ira Reiss, condemned the SSSS Board, highlighting again its abandonment of the scientific mission.footnote-5 (See also https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-1420-y.)

 

SSSS’s demonstrable and repeated history of anti-scientific grand-standing gives scientists strong reason to pause before sending their manuscripts to the journal SSSS owns, The Journal of Sex Research (JSR).  Given that the SSSS Board already violates its own procedures to censor list members, take-over foundations, and disregard donors’ wishes, there is no reason to believe they would hesitate to abuse their authority with regard to JSR articles.  The SSSS Board has now forced manuscript authors to avoid JSR when evidence might potentially challenge someone’s political expectations, and they have compelled JSR readers to wonder “Does this content reflect the best science?  Or just the science we want people to hear?”

 

Moreover, the SSSS President, Zoë Peterson, was Associate Editor of JSR until last year, handling manuscripts, including the selection of reviewers.  Given her failure to follow SSSS policy for topics about which she has strong views, all scientists whose manuscripts were assigned to her must now question whether she treated them fairly or treated them as she did me: choosing to seek input only from those who share her views.  Although Peterson claimed “The SSSS Board of Directors would never attempt to block, censor, or interfere with the publication of a journal article that had been subjected to and withstood the peer review process,footnote-2 such a promise is empty.  Given an already repeated history of violating even formal established policies, authors have no reason to trust SSSS will not simply violate any such promise once again, as soon as anyone objects.  A scientific journal cannot be owned by an anti-scientific society and remain unaffected. 

 

It is unfortunate to have lost SSSS as a genuinely scientific organization, but there is little point in the collective pretense that it hadn’t already happened a while ago.

 

— James M. Cantor, PhD, CPsych, ATSAF

 

 

 

FOOTNOTE 1

 

On 2020-07-15, 8:51 PM, "SSSS" <thesociety@sexscience.org> wrote:

 

The SSSS Board of Directors has been made aware of several posts you have made that violate the SSSSTalk listserv guidelines, including the following:

 

Nasty, discourteous, unkind, uncivil, attacking, inappropriate, unprofessional, harassing, threatening, hateful, racist, sexist, homophobic, erotophobic, derogatory, or objectionable remarks or jokes that might be offensive to other people, abusive, defamatory, libelous, pornographic, obscene, invasive of another's privacy, or otherwise tortuous or unlawful messages will NOT be deemed appropriate. Courtesy is highly valued.

 

After a discussion and vote from the SSSS Board of Directors, your access to the SSSSTalk listserv has been suspended.

 

The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality 

1874 Catasauqua Rd. – PMB #208  |  Allentown, PA 18109-3128

 

 

FOOTNOTE 2

 

On 2020-07-16, 10:26 AM, "James Cantor" <jamescantorphd@gmail.com> wrote:

 

Please verify that I correctly understand:

·     Although “a discussion and vote from the SSSS Board of Directors” was taken, that is not the procedure outlined in the listserv guidelines.

·     Although the SSSS President, Treasurer, and Student Representative each took active sides in the pertinent discussion, they did not recuse themselves from that discussion or vote.  The email being unsigned masks the responsible leadership.

·     The SSSS President wrote, “Dear Finn, Jami, Jules, and others, I have corresponded with some of you privately, but want to say publicly that I hear you,” yet made no attempt to contact or hear “the defendant” or other critics of the view the President and other officers expressed holding.

·     The decision of the Board of Directors is the direct opposite of what a SSSS officer was quoted as saying: "I do not believe that he has violated any of the prohibited behaviors that, according to our policy, could invoke an investigation and potential termination of membership."  Although not communicated directly from that person, no officer corrected that statement (despite reassurances of listening), and no other warning or other indication of a change in what is acceptable was sent to me.

I will interpret lack of response as confirmation.

 

- James Cantor

 

 

FOOTNOTE 3

 

On 2020-07-20, 4:48 PM, "SSSS" <thesociety@sexscience.org> wrote:

 

Dear SSSS Members,

 

I love this organization. It is my academic home and has been the cornerstone of my professional life. I gave my first research presentation at a SSSS conference. As a student and junior scholar, senior SSSS members were my mentors and role models. Now, many of my most valued and loyal friends are people that I met in this organization. I agreed to run for President of SSSS because I care deeply about and am indebted to SSSS and many of its members.

 

Recently, I have heard from many of you who have contacted me individually or who have posted on the listserv. Some individuals have expressed concerns about the future of this organization. Those comments break my heart. I believe in this organization and its mission. I readily acknowledge that SSSS, as an organization, and I, as its leader, are far from perfect, but I also believe that SSSS and I have the ability to improve and grow.

 

It is usually my policy to provide a prompt response to all emails from SSSS members, but the volume of emails recently has prevented that. I want you all to know that I have been reading your messages. I am listening to you, and this letter is my attempt to respond publicly to the large collection of messages that I have received.

 

Before I continue, let me clarify one thing: I am currently the SSSS President, but I want to be totally clear that I speak only for myself. This is not an “official statement” from SSSS. Any official action within SSSS must occur by a majority Board vote.

 

That brings me to my main point: There was a majority Board vote to suspend a SSSS member’s access to our listserv. I know that some members are very upset about that decision. I want to help put that decision into context and into perspective.

 

First, we did not revoke anyone’s membership in our organization. We did not ban anyone from presenting at our research conferences. We certainly did not tell anyone that they could not review for or publish in our society’s journal. In fact, we did not even revoke anyone’s access to the listserv. We simply suspended one person’s access in accordance with our listserv policies. In the meantime, as a Board, we are discussing our policies and procedures around the listserv and considering the value and purpose of the listserv and whether the listserv is the best format in which to have the types of difficult but important conversations that have been occurring over the last week.

 

Second, the Board’s vote to suspend one member’s access to the listserv had nothing to do with the suppression of science. Like many SSSS members, I have devoted my career to science because I believe that it is critical to positive change. I also share the view expressed by many on the listserv discussion that science is neither infallible nor apolitical, and that is exactly why professional discussions, disagreements, and critiques of scientific ethics, methods, and interpretations are essential. I would not support suspending someone from our listserv simply for posting and/or politely and professionally discussing a scientific article or a research finding—even if that article or finding was controversial. Although I do not want to speak for any individual Board member, from my perspective, that is not what the Board was doing in this case. The suspension in question was not due to any single post; rather, the Board felt that, in this instance, there was a long-term pattern of harassment from one member against several other members—even after those other members had repeatedly asked that member to stop. The Board believed that this unwillingness to be responsive to other members’ entreaties violated the guidelines of the listserv.

 

Third and related to my prior point, I am aware that one or more individuals have suggested that, because we suspended a member from our listserv, we might also be willing to interfere in the editorial independence of the Journal of Sex Research, SSSS’s outstanding and well-respected academic journal. I would hope that it is obvious that suspending someone from a member listserv, for which the stated purpose is posting “announcements of workshops, conferences, and meetings; publications; professional news items; awards and honors received by SSSS members; employment opportunities; and recruitment solicitations for sexuality-related research,” is not remotely equivalent to censoring peer-reviewed science. Nevertheless, I want to be clear about this (and on this, and only this, point I speak for the entire Board of Directors with their agreement): The SSSS Board of Directors would never attempt to block, censor, or interfere with the publication of a journal article that had been subjected to and withstood the peer review process. The editor of JSR has always been granted complete editorial independence, and I, personally, would not support any infringement on that.

 

Fourth, I want to correct some misperceptions that I have heard expressed about our listserv. Although we retain the right to do so, no one monitors or reviews any posts prior to their distribution to the listserv. This means that no posts have been suppressed; there is literally no one to suppress them. Recently, there was a technical issue with our listserv host, and thus, there were some delays between when posts were made and when they showed up. Indeed, the Board’s own message was delayed for several hours after we posted it. The delayed posts were not being suppressed or even reviewed; they were simply stuck in cyberspace. Additionally, only one person received a suspension from our listserv. No one else has been removed from our listserv unless they failed to renew their membership or unless they asked to be removed.

 

Of course, even after these clarifications, I understand and fully accept that some of you will still disagree with the Board’s decision to suspend someone from our listserv. Some members will feel that the Board’s actions in this case did not go far enough; some members will feel that the Board went too far. Differences of opinion in an organization are inevitable. Although I have no expectation of agreement from all sides, I can assure you that the Board acted with good intentions, intensive discussion, and a genuine desire to improve our organization.

 

Finally, and most importantly, to our transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming members who raised this issue and who have expressed that they have long felt hurt, disrespected, marginalized, and unprotected on our listserv and within our organization, I hear you and I thank you for sharing your experiences and reactions with such honesty and courage. I am deeply committed to making SSSS a supportive, inclusive, and harassment-free professional home for you. Even as you read this, the Board is working on a specific action plan around this issue. I vow to keep all members updated on the process and to seek your input as we go. You will be hearing more from me and the Board going forward.

 

Let me close by thanking you—my academic family—for trusting me to serve as your leader. It is hard for me to watch a fracture grow in the organization that I love—especially when that organization is one I am helping to steward. I am optimistic, though, that we can work together to mend this fracture in a way that, ultimately, makes our organization stronger. SSSS is worth it.

 

Warmly,

Zoe Peterson

SSSS President (2019-2021)

 

 

FOOTNOTE 4

 

On November 15, 2018 at 4:18 PM SSSS <thesociety@sexscience.org> wrote:

 

Dear SSSS Members and Annual Meeting Attendees,

 

The SSSS Executive Committee is aware of past and more recent incidents of language and behavior that has made transgender persons and other attendees feel unwelcome, unsupported, marginalized, or attacked at our Annual Meetings. We apologize. We want to assure all Members and attendees that we fully support you and stand with you. We are trans-allies.

 

We want to be clear that the Reiss Theory Award was selected by The Foundation for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, which is separate from SSSS. The Members of the SSSS Board of Directors and the SSSS Annual Meeting Program Committee have not had input into decisions regarding the Reiss Award. Moving forward, The Foundation for the Scientific Study of Sexuality will be incorporated into SSSS. Starting in 2019, we will be maintaining full oversight of the awards process. This information is provided as an explanation, not an excuse.

 

We are taking steps to help all Members and attendees feel safe and welcome at SSSS events. For example, SSSS is currently creating a new Civility and Anti-Harassment Policy to supplement our mission and ethics statements. The policy will include prohibitions against harassing, demeaning, or discriminating against any identity group. It also will include expectations that scientific and philosophical disagreements and challenges be expressed in a respectful and civil manner. We will be inviting feedback from the membership on this policy in the coming months.

 

As a part of the Annual Meeting, all attendees will also receive a post-conference survey, on which anonymous feedback can be provided that can assist us in making improvements in preparation for SSSS 2019 in Denver.

 

We care deeply about the experiences of our Members and conference attendees, and we are working hard to ensure a more welcoming and inclusive environment at all SSSS events. We wish to continue serving as your professional home.

 

SSSS Executive Committee

Eric Walsh-Buhi, President

Zoe Peterson, President-elect

David Bimbi, Treasurer

Terry Humphreys, Secretary

DJ Angelone, Membership Chair

Mandy Peters, SSSS Executive Director

 

 

FOOTNOTE 5

 

On 2018-11-16, 5:50 PM, "ira reiss" <irareiss@COMCAST.NET> wrote:

 

Hello to all:

 

Back in 2006 I founded the Reiss Theory Award Plenary in order to develop social science, research tested, theories concerning sexual behaviors and attitudes.  I feel the need to respond to the SSSS executive board’s email yesterday concerning Kevin Hsu’s published article on transgender behaviors and attitudes that won the Reiss Theory Award at this year’s SSSS Montreal meetings.

 

The response from the SSSS executive board Thursday, to this paper was, inadequate, inaccurate, and inappropriate for a scientific organization.  I did not attend the meeting but I contacted both Kevin Hsu and the moderator of the session, Jean Levitan, and I read the many emails that came in from SSSSTalk and Sexnet.  It seems that Christine Milrod had rudely interrupted Kevin’s talk on some transgender issues.  Jean Levitan told Milrod to let Kevin finish his paper and then raise her comments or questions.  The audience also came in asking Milrod to wait until Kevin was done.   It was an unfortunate disturbance but it was not created by Kevin and was effectively contained by Jean Levitan the moderator.  After the talk Jean Levitan apologized to Kevin for the actions of Christine Milrod.   Ken Zucker, an expert in the area of this talk was there and summed up his reaction by saying that Kevin gave a “superb talk with amazing data.”

 

When I read the email yesterday from the SSSS executive board Members I was shocked to see what seemed like a statement criticizing the selection of this paper for the award.   Was it Kevin’s fault that he was criticized by Milrod?  Was he expected to use only the terminology and conclusions that Milford wanted?  SSSS is supposed to represent in their actions scientific based conclusions and explanations.  The executive board in their email to the SSSS membership never cited any flaws in his research or theory work that was presented.   Where was the scientific evidence that supported the boards statement that the problem was in “the awards process”?

 

Paul Vasey, the Award Committee chair at that time and the members of his Reiss Theory Award Committee voted to select Kevin Hsu’s paper.  That Award Committee examination of publications and voting on a winner was the award process that was followed since 2006.   Nothing specific was said in the SSSS executive board’s message to back up their criticism of the award process and it seemed to me that they were likely reacting to some objection from Milrod or others that Kevin Hsu didn’t agree with their perspective.  Kevin was presenting his findings and his explanations. and some of his work seemed to clash with what Milrod wanted to hear.  A scientific award doesn’t change because someone without convincing evidence just objects or was bothered by the findings.  No specifics on the problem the board had with the award process was in the executive board’s email yesterday.

 

Also, the promise that the SSSS executive Board would from now on “take full oversight over the awards process” sounded authoritarian. I would expect them to say they would keep the award process fair and science based and would not yield to emotional outbursts or positions that lacked scientific support.   Would the executive board when they “took full oversight” make their “award process” decisions the same way they made them in this executive board Message?  Would they cancel an award by the Reiss Theory Award Committee because someone found the publication offensive or disturbing?  The answer to that question is not clear and is of serious concern. 

 

This is not a minor issue that will just pass.   Today the emails coming in are asking SSSS members to resign from SSSS.  The executive board cannot just claim they wanted to keep things civil.  Their actions express a non scientific perspective and they need to clarify and discuss their views.    It’s time for the executive board to discuss scientific concerns that I’ve expressed above and those expressed by many others in their emails.  The board needs to build confidence in the membership and in the public that they will act in line with the name of our organization which was founded as--The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.

 

Ira

 

Ira L. Reiss

Website: https://sites.google.com/a/umn.edu/reiss/

13 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for writing this and standing up for the truth. We are just in the beginning, but people like you refusing to go along with this cultural brainwashing is encouraging. I fear for my possible daughter's futures.

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  2. Thank you for standing up to publicly denounce this scientific institutional capture. Science without a grounding in truth is nothing more than an ideology or religion, and I am an atheist through and through.

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  3. Unfortunately, your post here is as biased as were your responses in the listserve threat. The thoughts you were pursuing with your essay were opinions. They were not based in science. Your statement condemning Peterson for siding with opinions that matched her own opinions is unfounded based on the transcripts. Instead it appears as though your responses were purposefully antagonizing rather than scientific. I stand with the SSSS decision.

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    Replies
    1. So much so that you posted this anonymously lol. Get out of here.

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    2. This is Peterson isn't it?

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  4. How does Anonymous stand with the SSSS decision if you're anonymous? Chuck from Alabama.

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  5. Thank you for speaking out. It’s important for the center to speak out against these fringe attacks.

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  6. To Anonymous:
    "I stand anonymously with the SSSS decision." There, fixed it for you.

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  7. We’re in precarious times. In a world vying for more tolerance and understanding, the pendulum has swung so far, all discourse is being shut down in favor of unquestioning ideology. It begins with sentiments such as, “I’m triggered,” “this topic is akin to violence,” or any other examples of emotional embellishments and hyperbole. Then throw in a few logical fallacies (straw man, begging the claim, etc), and you have the real “gaslighting” going on here.

    I have to hand it to them; their playbook is predictable, and for the time being, effective. If you don’t regurgitate every TRA sound byte, you’re guilty of the worst atrocities known to humankind. Concerned about the risk/benefit analysis of puberty blockade for eight-year-olds? You’re akin to a murderer. Worried about potential harms of self-ID? You’re on par with racists.

    It’s one thing to see anonymous social media users resort to these pathetic tactics, but it is downright disheartening to see what is happening in scientific circles. Yet another psychology fad, akin to the false memory syndrome of the 1980s. We’ll be ruining far more lives this time around.

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  8. Thank you James.

    SSSS - shame on you for kowtowing to the angry homeopathic flat-earth mob. You are pathetic and no longer speak in the name of science.

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  9. I really hate acronyms in the gay community. Remember when it use to be one or two things? Long were the days when you were; gay, bi and trans. Now in 2020 its LGBTTQQIAAP, whatever that means. In my opinion its ridiculous, pretty soon in the near future we will add bestiality to the mix. I am all for human rights but there has to be a limit to acronyms that hold so much power in society today. Freedom of expression has flown out the window and maybe taking our words to seriously and confusing vocabulary gender specific norms with actual individuals has to stop. Stop it queer community.

    Going back to the topic here..

    As a gay male I could not imagine being a parent and having a child face those issues, certainly I would want my child to be happy. Children are always developing and changing who they are, I would want my child to fit in and be accepted. Let's face it children can be cruel especially in playgrounds. I couldn't imagine being a child and having to go through all that, gender specific clothing tells people who you are and when we use clothing to express yourselves at a very young age, it could hinder a child's development. Why because other kids would be cruel and bully that child. There has to be a silverlineing to helping your child transition and maybe that might mean allowing them to express themselves using one token of trasition rather then the whole lot. Keeping my child's safety in mind would be my number one concern.

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  10. What stood out for me when I read the comments was that there was a clear difference between the scientific & therapeutic community. I could feel the tension between the feelings of those who feel that they are therapeutically protecting the trans community & your focus on wanting a debate that remained both factual & logical. It seemed to me you are all on the same team and in agreement at some level but each party has missed ‘the rub’ as I call it. The feelings needed to be untangled from their responses & I felt they could have attempted to understand your focus on the facts and you could have validated their feelings about the topic rather than suggest it’s emotional abuse. For me that was unnecessary & incendiary.

    I’m very surprised the SSSS felt the need to parent this discussion by pulling the plug. Likewise I feel debate is vital, and was surprised to hear one commenter experienced your conduct as violent. Stephen Fry’s quote comes to mind “I find that offensive. ' It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that. ' Well, so fucking what."

    I do think you have been unfairly treated & accused of behaviour simply because you were being robust in your stance.

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