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Anthropology groups cancel all-female panel defending biological sex as 'necessary category'


A “Let’s Talk about Sex Baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology” panel has been canceled by the American Anthropological Association and the Canadian Anthropology Society, which stated the topic would cause too much “harm.”

“This decision was based on extensive consultation and was reached in the spirit of respect for our values, the safety and dignity of our members, and the scientific integrity of the program,” states a Sept. 25 letter to the panelists from the two groups.

The panel was slated to be presented at the American Anthropological Association’s and Canadian Anthropology Society’s joint annual conference in November.

The canceled scholars were set to focus on the fact that while “it has become increasingly common in anthropology and public life to substitute ‘sex’ with ‘gender,’ there are multiple domains of research in which biological sex remains irreplaceably relevant to anthropological analysis,” according to the panel’s description.

However in their letter scrubbing the presentation, the two groups stated the “reason the session deserved further scrutiny was that the ideas were advanced in such a way as to cause harm to members represented by the Trans and LGBTQI of the anthropological community as well as the community at large.”

The canceled all-female panel was to feature a number of scholars who have defended biological sex in the sciences and research.

Among them was Carole Hooven, who has lectured on human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and has been called transphobic for defending “biological reality,” and University of Alberta’s Kathleen Lowrey, a Canadian anthropologist who was dismissed from an administrative campus position for her views on sex and gender.

“Cancellations like this are intended to have a chilling effect, and direct research away from the topics the cancelers find objectionable,” Lowrey said in an interview Tuesday with The College Fix.

Another panelist was San Jose State University anthropology Professor Elizabeth Weiss, who has made headlines in recent years for refusing to accept progressive narratives in the field.

In an email to The College Fix on Tuesday, Weiss said that “anthropology conferences were once a place to hear new research, debate previously researched topics, and help move the field in a direction that could help us better understand humans.”

The panel’s cancellation shows there “is no room for debate and the false narrative of ‘harm’ is being used to silence scholars who view the world as complex and worthy of study,” she said.

The cancellation letter from the presidents of the two groups, Ramona Pérez and Monica Heller, stated that “going forward, we will undertake a major review of the processes associated with vetting sessions at our annual meetings and will include leadership in that discussion.”

The American Anthropological Association told The College Fix the decision was based on ethical principles.

“The first ethical principle in AAA’s Principles of Professional Responsibility is to ‘Do no harm.’ The session was rejected because it relied on assumptions that run contrary to the settled science in our discipline, framed in ways that do harm to vulnerable members of our community,” the group said in a prepared statement. “It commits one of the cardinal sins of scholarship—it assumes the truth of the proposition that it sets out to prove, namely, that sex and gender are simplistically binary, and that this is a fact with meaningful implications for the discipline.”

On Sept. 26, the canceled panelists wrote an open letter to Pérez and Heller pointing out their presentation had been approved in mid-July and they were not given any indication there were concerns until it was axed, calling the decision a “shock.”

“Our panel included a group of diverse women, one of whom is a lesbian. In addition to having three fields of anthropology presented in our panel, our panel also included anthropologists from four countries with three languages – an international panel concerned about the erasure of women,” the letter stated.

It also argued the panel planned to address the topic with care: “Our panel description … acknowledges that not all anthropologists need to differentiate between sex and gender. One of the abstracts explicitly expresses concerns that ignoring the distinction between sex and gender identity may cause harm to people in the LGBTQI community.”

The panelists also wrote that Pérez’s and Heller’s suggestion their presentation would compromise the scientific integrity of the program was “particularly egregious, as the decision to anathematize our panel looks very much like an anti-science response to a politicized lobbying campaign.”

Lowrey said the cancellation is a bad look for the American Anthropological Association.

“People who are canceled will give up on traditional institutions like AAA, and the discipline and scholarship needs to be carried out in new ways and new venues,” she told The College Fix.

“New institutions will be organized or a pushback will start gathering force so that these institutions like AAA will be more responsive to the scholars they are trying to push out,” she said.

UPDATED: Two days after publication, the American Anthropological Association provided a statement. We have updated the article with a portion of its response.


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