Brown University retracted research suggesting that young peoples’ decisions to transition from one gender to another is influenced by their peers and social media after angering the transgender community.
The university published behavioral and social sciences professor Lisa Littman’s research, “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults,” revealing that students and young people considering transitioning may be affected by their peers.
Littman conducted her study by posting a 90-question survey on three websites where parents had reported rapid onsets of gender dysphoria. The responses were recorded anonymously and 256 parent-completed surveys met the study’s standards.
In nearly 40 percent of the friendship groups described, the majority of the members became “transgender-identified.”
Over 60 percent of the transgender adolescents had been diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder or neurodevelopmental disability prior to the onset of their gender dysphoria, according to the study’s results.
After the study was published Aug. 16, the university received feedback from the transgender community about the research and its intentions.
“Community members express[ed] concerns that the conclusions of the study could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community,” Brown University School of Public Health Dean Bess H. Marcus said, according to The Telegraph. Marcus also said university members had complained.
Littman refers to “social and peer contagion” in the study, defining the phrase as “cluster outbreaks of gender dysphoria occurring in pre-existing groups of friends and increased exposure to social media/internet preceding a child’s announcement of a transgender identity raises the possibility of social and peer contagion.”
Peer contagion has also been shown to play a role in other body dysmorphic illnesses like eating disorders, Littman notes.
“Brown and the School of Public Health strongly value academic freedom and support our researchers in their pursuit of knowledge and discovery. We are deeply committed to free inquiry and also support rigorous debate to advance understanding of important and complex issues,” university spokesman Brian Clark told the Daily Caller News Foundation Wednesday.
“We feel strongly that researchers have a responsibility to be vigilant in research design and analysis, especially when there are implications for the health of the communities at the center of our research … It was this responsibility — not the subject of the research — that informed the decision to remove the article,” Clark added.
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The university maintains that the study’s research design and methodology were flawed, and that removing the article from distribution is the “most responsible course of action,” Clark told TheDCNF.
Brown’s faculty and staff are “on the cutting edge of research on transgender populations and we fully expect that to continue to be the case moving forward,” Clark added.
The study was published in “PLOS One,” and the journal has said it will follow up on the university’s concerns about the study’s designs as well as seek expert commentary on the study’s methodology.
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