The Disgraced Academic | Paul R. McHugh M.D.

Jubilee Nunnallee 5/11/2019

“…talking always feels like defending and I’m tired of asking for permission to exist.” – Brie Spangler (Beast)

Recent years have brought Gender studies & Queer theory to the forefront of political and social debates. In recent months I have distanced myself from these discussions for several reasons but partially due to self-care. After a while it became mentally exhausting for me to participate in these debates, combating the sheer level of ignorance shared amongst political reactionarist. Yet, in-spite of my absence I have tried to keep up with Queer news and current events. I understand that the now disrepute Paul R. McHugh M.D. has resurfaced but not for the reasons I had come to expect. Recent articles have appeared that lambaste McHughs academic integrity by accurately scrutinizing his anti-Queer “research”. This article is meant as such and should not be viewed as a schadenfreude. Although, I must confess that it does feel good to see this old-fuddy finally get his comeuppance. The purpose of this thesis will be to extirpate the specific violations of McHughs academic dishonesty which will then unmask his prejudice.

To give a brief history, Paul R. McHugh M.D. is a psychiatrist from one of the world’s most elite medical schools, John Hopkins University (JHU). Before coming to JHU he was a graduate from Harvard Medical School. These days he’s seen in the media parading himself as an expert in the field of sexuality and gender where he writes ‘opinion pieces’ on anti-trans studies. But his studies, specifically on gender & sexuality, are not peer-reviewed and go completely against the whole of the scientific consensus. The term “opinion-pieces” is not a slur, McHugh has often referred to his work as opinion-pieces. To be clear, despite McHughs impressive credentials he has little to no clinical or research experience with transgender children nor adults. The only work he has ever published on this topic are meta-studies. These meta-studies (opinion-pieces) are mostly conjectured material that are not factual. McHugh supports his conclusions by pulling from other research studies which have later been found to be misrepresented.

Of course his lack of clinical expertise has not stopped Republican and religious support for this man and his relationship with anti-trans hate groups. In 2002, the New York Times reported that McHugh identified himself as a Democrat but also as culturally conservative; interpret that however you wish. Although, throughout his illustrious career he has aligned himself with the Republican party. He is a part of the American College of Pediatrics which is designated as a conservative hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In 2001, he was appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush to the Bio-ethics committee. His work has also been cited numerous times in support of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. The former New Hampshire state Republican rep., J.R. Hoell cited McHughs work against (HB 478), a bill that would protect against gender discrimination. Unfortunately, as of 2018, the four term state rep. has not sought reelection (sarcasm implied). His research is shared uncritically across religious and conservative sites. His latest paper Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences, co-authored with Lawrence Mayor M.D. in 2016, was published in the disreputable journal Ethics and Public Policy Center & The New Atlantis. Which you may be shocked to learn that both journals that claim to be “academic” are in actuality politically conservative publications.

In this paper he makes several bold assertions, one in particular about post-op transgender people that have undergone gender confirming surgery (GCS). His claim was that GCS is harmful and showed that transgender people have a high risk of depression, substance abuse, anxiety, and suicide. His proof?! He references a study by the Swedish physician Cecilia Dhejne M.D. at Karolinska University, but not surprisingly we later learn that her research was misrepresented. It turned out that the 1973 study, that lasted over 30 years, found it hard to keep track of the respondents. And the sample size, at the conclusion of the study in 2003, was too small to produce any significant findings. But where Dr. Dhejne was misquoted was in her closing statements about GCS. That GCS ‘alone’ would not suffice because we must treat the transgender bigotry that is prevalent in society. Later studies, such as one authored in 2010, lead by Mohammad Hassan Murad M.D., validates Dhejne conclusions. It took a sample size of over 1800 transgender patients all whom have undergone GCS. What the study showed was a drastic improvement in health and a better quality of life by having a long term support system and living in a more welcoming society. You almost want to give McHugh the benefit of the doubt but that becomes difficult given his academic credentials and his anti-LGBTQ+ track record.

Setting aside his blatant academic dishonesty to say that he’s contributed nothing to his field wouldn’t be accurate. In 1975 Marshal F. Folstein, Susan Folstein, and Paul R. McHugh published a paper that included an appendix for the mini-mental state examination (MMSE). A simple questionnaire now widely used in hospitals as a reliable test for early dementia. It should be noted that in an academic research paper ‘where your name appears’ shows your level of contribution. Although, McHughs name appears last in the cited research it wouldn’t be fair to not give him some credit. However, this would not validate any claims he’s made about transgender people; that would be an appeal to authority. Although, if we could make our own appeal to authority then it would also be true that McHugh has been publicly denounced by the faculty and staff at JHU. Citing some of the talking-points and research studies stated here. In their op-ed version of the original published article in the Baltimore Sun, several faculty and colleagues at John Hopkins University (i.e., Chris Bevrer, Robert W. Blum, and Tonia C. Poteat) were critical in their dismissal of McHugh and Mayors findings,

We wish to make clear that there are many people at Hopkins who hold a profound and long-standing commitment to the health, wellness, well-being, and fair and non-stigmatizing treatment of LGBTQ people and communities. We do not believe that the “Sexuality and Gender” report cited above is a comprehensive portrayal of the current science, and we respectfully disassociate ourselves from its findings. (Baltimore Sun Op’ed, 2016).

McHugh and Mayor also make several other erroneous claims in their paper, such as homosexuality not being supported by scientific evidence, that homosexuality is likely due to early childhood trauma and sexual abuse, and that gender identity is not supported by scientific evidence. Of course, none of this is true. Here is a link to a blog from transgender activist Cakeworld that lists over 90 separate scientific peer-review articles on how hormones ‘alone’ affect sexual orientation and gender identity. I could continue but everything else he claims in this study is just visceral and mean spirited. Again, to date McHugh has no clinical experience with gender nonconforming patients. He has only ever published ‘meta-studies’ that cites others work which he intentionally misrepresents. It’s important to note that despite his tenor and influence JHU has also publicly distanced themselves from McHugh’s bigoted crusade. Ronald J. Daniels, the current JHU President, has reaffirmed their commitment to Queer studies and supportive treatment. In 2017, JHU has even reopened a NEW transgender surgical treatment center that McHugh closed nearly 40 years prior. I take some satisfaction in that he is still alive to see it.

If I could speak on McHughs character for a moment I would say McHugh displays a type of cognitive bias known as crank magnetism. The term was coined by psychologist and scientific blogger Mark Hoofnagle. In his discussion of denialism Hoofnagle describes people that tend to believe in pseudoscience that more often have a disposition towards similar beliefs with the same biased thinking pattern. Put simply, McHughs conclusions do not accurately address any of the scientific research on gender nor sexuality. From reading his papers you will immediately be struck with a strong sense of an emotionally charged character with a demonic tone. He seems deeply entrenched in his bigoted viewpoints. The flawed data he misrepresents displays a profound use of confirmation bias — cherry-picking any information in support of his claims. There is absolutely no evidence to support any of McHughs erroneous claims which leaves his arguments nothing more than conjecture. McHugh has made a career out of pimping his credentials to promote a conservative agenda. His true profession is that of a charlatan, a political pundit, who no longer cares about substance nor academic integrity. To the best of my knowledge he has made no effort to distance himself from any of his previous outlandish claims. Given the available information it is clear that McHugh should never be cited nor taken seriously as a mental health expert. He has disgraced himself and his academic profession.

2 thoughts on “The Disgraced Academic | Paul R. McHugh M.D.

  1. Thank you for this article. I am watching The Keepers on Netflix and I looked up McHugh. I was flabbergasted to learn of his background. I am happy to read that there are people like you that are questioning, challenging and discrediting him. I am also happy that he is there at John Hopkins to see the reopening of the transgender surgical treatment center at John Hopkins. Once again, thank you for your article.

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