Research into trans medicine has been manipulated | The Economist

Court documents recently released as part of the discovery process in a case involving youth gender medicine in Alabama reveal that WPATH’s claim was built on shaky foundations. The documents show that the organisation’s leaders interfered with the production of systematic reviews that it had commissioned from the Johns Hopkins University Evidence-Based Practice Centre (EPC) in 2018.

From early on in the contract negotiations, WPATH expressed a desire to control the results of the Hopkins team’s work. In December 2017, for example, Donna Kelly, an executive director at WPATH, told Karen Robinson, the EPC’s director, that the WPATH board felt the EPC researchers “cannot publish their findings independently”. A couple of weeks later, Ms Kelly emphasised that, “the [WPATH] board wants it to be clear that the data cannot be used without WPATH approval”.
Ms Robinson saw this as an attempt to exert undue influence over what was supposed to be an independent process. John Ioannidis of Stanford University, who co-authored guidelines for systematic reviews, says that if sponsors interfere or are allowed to veto results, this can lead to either biased summaries or suppression of unfavourable evidence. Ms Robinson sought to avoid such an outcome. “In general, my understanding is that the university will not sign off on a contract that allows a sponsor to stop an academic publication,” she wrote to Ms Kelly.

Eventually WPATH relented, and in May 2018 Ms Robinson signed a contract granting WPATH power to review and offer feedback on her team’s work, but not to meddle in any substantive way. After wpath leaders saw two manuscripts submitted for review in July 2020, however, the parties’ disagreements flared up again. In August the WPATH executive committee wrote to Ms Robinson that WPATH had “many concerns” about these papers, and that it was implementing a new policy in which WPATH would have authority to influence the EPC team’s output—including the power to nip papers in the bud on the basis of their conclusions.

Ms Robinson protested that the new policy did not reflect the contract she had signed and violated basic principles of unfettered scientific inquiry she had emphasised repeatedly in her dealings with WPATH. The Hopkins team published only one paper after WPATH implemented its new policy: a 2021 meta-analysis on the effects of hormone therapy on transgender people. Among the recently released court documents is a WPATH checklist confirming that an individual from WPATH was involved “in the design, drafting of the article and final approval of [that] article”. (The article itself explicitly claims the opposite.) Now, more than six years after signing the agreement, the EPC team does not appear to have published anything else, despite having provided WPATH with the material for six systematic reviews, according to the documents.

No one at WPATH or Johns Hopkins has responded to multiple inquiries, so there are still gaps in this timeline. But an email in October 2020 from WPATH figures, including its incoming president at the time, Walter Bouman, to the working group on guidelines, made clear what sort of science WPATH did (and did not) want published. Research must be “thoroughly scrutinised and reviewed to ensure that publication does not negatively affect the provision of transgender health care in the broadest sense,” it stated. Mr Bouman and one other coauthor of that email have been named to a World Health Organisation advisory board tasked with developing best practices for transgender medicine.
Another document recently unsealed shows that Rachel Levine, a transwoman who is assistant secretary for health, succeeded in pressing wpath to remove minimum ages for the treatment of children from its 2022 standards of care. Dr Levine’s office has not commented. Questions remain unanswered, but none of this helps WPATH’s claim to be an organisation that bases its recommendations on science.

Source: Research into trans medicine has been manipulated

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