Jubilee Nunnallee 5/11/2019
“…talking always feels like defending and I’m tired of asking for permission to exist.” – Brie Spangler (Beast)
The Disgraced Academic | Paul R. McHugh M.D.
Recent years have brought Gender studies and Queer theory to the forefront of political and social debates. I have distanced myself from this discussion partly due to personal reasons and self care. After a while it became mentally exhausting for me to combat the sheer level of ignorance and bigotry still lingering amongst impressionable minds. Yet in-spite of my absence I have tried to stay in the loop by keeping 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 McHugh’s 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 McHugh finally get his comeuppance. Besides his collegiate reputation being strained, what this thesis will prove is the obvious truth about McHugh’s bigotry and academic dishonesty.
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 But his studies, specifically on gender & sexuality, are not peer-reviewed and go completely against the whole of the scientific consensus.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 published on this topic are meta-studies. These meta-studies (opinion-pieces) are mostly conjectured material using invective arguments, which McHugh will try to support by referencing other studies that 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 aversion towards 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. Though throughout his long 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. 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 actually 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 was 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 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.
But 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, McHugh’s name appears last in the cited research it wouldn’t be fair to not give him some credit. But this would not validate any argument he’s made about transgender people that would be an ‘appeal to authority’. If we could make our own appeal to authority though then it’s also true that McHugh has been publicly denounced by the faculty and staff at JHU; citing many of the talking-points I’ve made 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 Mayor’s 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 other erroneous claims in the 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 conjectural and mean spirited. Again, to date McHugh has no clinical experience with gender nonconforming patients. He has only published meta-studies that cites others work that 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 and gender 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.
This next point is not to characterize McHugh. But at the 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 often have a disposition towards similar beliefs with the same core thinking pattern. This is simply a supposition but McHugh addresses gender nonconformity and sexuality by attacking the same ideological chimera that he somehow equates to anything that is non-heteronormative. Put simply, McHugh’s claims are not actually addressing any of the scientific research on gender or sexuality. His demonic tone is that of a paranoid old man that’s lost touch with reality. McHugh’s true profession is that of a charlatan and political pundit for the conservative agenda. To the best of my knowledge he has made no attempt to clarify or distance himself from any of his previous outlandish claims. It is my view that he should never be cited nor taken seriously as a mental health expert. And to anyone who still quotes him, I no longer believe care about substance nor academic integrity.
“The report, published last month by The New Atlantis“, In ‘Sun’ op-ed, Johns Hopkins faculty members disavow report on gender, sexuality (2016). Retrieved from https://hub.jhu.edu/2016/09/29/gender-sexuality-report-response/
“How anti-LGBTQ activists are leveraging junk science to advance their agenda”. McHugh Exposed (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hrc.org/mchughexposed
Mohamed B. Elamin Magaly Zumaeta Garcia Rebecca J. Mullan Ayman Murad Patricia J. Erwin Victor M. Montori. Hormonal therapy and sex reassignment: a systematic review and meta‐analysis of quality of life and psychosocial outcomes(2010). Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2265.2009.03625.x?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false
Hoell, JR., Rep. JR Hoell: HB 478 is a danger to women and children (2017). Retrieved from https://www.concordmonitor.com/Endangering-women-and-children-in-NH-8446648
Dhejne C1, Lichtenstein P, Boman M, Johansson AL, Långström N, Landén M., Long-term follow-up of transsexual persons undergoing sex reassignment surgery: cohort study in Sweden (1973-2003). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21364939
Hoofnagle, M., Crank Magnetism (2007). Retrieved from https://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2007/06/28/crank-magnetism-1
McHugh P., Mayor L., Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences (2016). Retrieved from https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/executive-summary-sexuality-and-gender