Male advantage due to testosterone? The first crucial question in the debate, followed by a remarkably bad or dishonest assessment of the evidence to totally rewrite the physiology of male vs female performance. Here’s the clip, then a handful of tweets to correct the falsehoods
Veronica Ivy describes a testosterone-performance link as a “nonsense argument”, but she has to first deceptively reframe the issue to do this, & sidestep physiological reality. Note the question - Male VS Female difference, so it’s male compared to female. Not “within” M or F
Her response is that endogenous T has “zero impact on athletic performance”. Then she tries to explain this as a revolutionary breakthrough in knowledge. It’s nothing of the sort. What she does is to take evidence WITHIN male and WITHIN female, & pretend its relevant BETWEEN them
So if we look at a men’s athletic cohort, & a women’s athletic cohort, we find poor relationships between performance and T level. This is obvious, though. Why? Because they’re homogenous & similar for that characteristic already. That is, Men have already been androgenised, and
…women have not been androgenised by the effects of T during development. She is making a classic error of selection here. If you take a group that already has (or lacks in the case of women) an attribute, that attribute becomes less important for the outcome of interest.
Easiest example - we all know that VO2max is crucial for endurance runners, right? But within a group of Olympic marathon runners, it has lousy predictive value for performance. Why? Because everyone from that elite marathon group has already been selected out for that attribute!
Similarly, height is clearly important for basketball, but WITHIN the NBA, height matters much much less, because it’s a characteristic possessed by all the competitors too. Attribute X gets you through the door. But once in, all the other attributes matter, & what you share with
…everyone else is no longer decisive. You’d be an idiot to conclude that VO2max or height don’t matter for endurance performance and basketball on the basis of your assessment of elite runners or NBA players only. You have to look at the whole population & find those who lack it
When you do that, then hey, look, a high VO2max is a prerequisite to be an Olympic marathoner. Now, go back to the question - does T affect performance? It’s deeply misleading to force the answer into a “male only” and “female only” group. The key here is Male COMPARED TO female
That’s what Ivy can’t and won’t address, she has to avoid it, because it’s so clear that performance differences BETWEEN M and F exist in large part because of physiological differences that arise due to T’s androgenizing effects in male bodies. Pretending otherwise is deceitful
This leads us to the next important concept that she’s misleading viewers about. The level of T is not the point, it’s the effects of T on the physiology. That’s important for two reasons. One, T levels become a red herring. Two, it begs questions of ‘correcting’ the advantage
So, had he been given a legitimate answer to this question about T and performance, @smerconish’s next question here might have been “OK, and if T creates the advantages, then can it be reduced in order to remove the advantages?”. That’s what sports policy has tried to do before
@smerconish Here, one must look to data, and ask whether the physiological attributes that are clearly distinct as a result of T in M vs F bodies, things like muscle mass, strength, power etc, are removed or reduced when T is suppressed? The answer, from dozens of studies, is clearly, no.
@smerconish That is, while T suppression causes some reduction in various ‘systems’, it fails to reduce them sufficiently for parity. So, advantages persist. That’s the root of unfairness & safety concerns for women’s sport. At this point, some may depart and assess that evidence differently
You may say it doesn’t matter, that inclusion trumps those 2 imperatives. That’s a matter of assessment, philosophy etc. I don't agree, I believe women have a right to a protected category & what is being “protected against” is created by androgens like T, despite Ivy’s mythology
What really can’t persist is the kind of nonsense rewriting of physiology that @sportisaright engages in here. It’s not even “weeds”. If you’re in the media, you have to call out this kind of misinformation,irrespective of motive. Opinions? Fine. But we don’t get to make up facts

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More from @Scienceofsport

19 Mar
Here’s another example of an extremely poor reading of a concept related to testosterone and male sports advantages. Here a scientist takes the admittedly poor research by World Athletics to conclude that T is not driving most (or all) the male advantage. This is wrong because...
...the necessary comparison here, the crux of the issue, is not whether some females WITHIN the female category have advantages, but the male vs female advantage. As such, trying to find a relationship between T & performance WITHIN men or women is pointless and irrelevant to...
....the discussion. The question is whether the T difference BETWEEN men and women (and specifically, the androgenization driven by T) explains performance differences BETWEEN men and women. And it does. Aside from this, whoever makes this error should be ashamed of their lack of
Read 10 tweets
19 Feb
Of all the arguments in this controversial area, this is the one I find most difficult to address, because the person has such a different view about what creates value in sport that we may as well be discussing a totally different subject. Worth discussing the concepts briefly:
Let’s discuss one sporting example, from the Osaka vs Williams match yesterday. I watched that, knowing that both those players had opportunities that many others, perhaps with similar potential, did not have. I often watch sports like tennis, cycling, rowing etc, and wonder how
…many others, given the same opportunities, would be capable of better performances than I’m watching? That’s not to say people are given success on a platter, but it’s undeniably true that sporting success = innate ability or potential realised through training PLUS opportunity
Read 16 tweets
5 Feb
You’ll look long and hard, and still fail, to find a debunking of something as poor and weak as this one. Simply saying the opposite thing preceded by FACT (in caps) doesn’t qualify as a debunking of anything. Except maybe intelligent insight.
Very brief responses to each. The first one is sloganeering and non-scientific. For the sporting argument, it relies on a common but flawed overlap argument because of "a range of physical characteristics” in women, which is obvious, but irrelevant
“They overlap because of a wide range” is irrelevant. Comparison should be typical M vs typical F, or elite vs elite, performance-matched vs performance-matched. Not a manipulated comparison between extremely good F and relatively mediocre M, to conclude “They’re the same”!
Read 12 tweets
24 Jan
@oldeisyoung @helenopinion @Rolnikov That’s great, she’s probably on the far right of the athleticism spectrum within the female sex. But the comparison with you is absolutely irrelevant, because, and I say this factually, you’re not an elite athlete. How does she compare to the top 10% of men? Nothing sexist here.
@oldeisyoung @helenopinion @Rolnikov So the thing for your sister is that if you got your wish, the only sport she could ever do is play it socially against (and again, I’m being blunt here) mediocre males like you. The moment she stepped on a court or track, or jumped in a pool against top 10% males, she’s nowhere
@oldeisyoung @helenopinion @Rolnikov And if that still seems sexist to you, spend some time on wiki and compare world records in track and field, swimming, weight lifting, cycling. Or even high school records. NCAA winning times. Take your pic. Check how many males are far ahead of the best females in history.
Read 7 tweets
8 Dec 20
New study on transgender & performance. The paper’s title could've been “Significant endurance & strength-endurance advantages are retained for up to 2 years despite T reduction in TW: Implications for the assumptions of fairness in current policies”. Some thoughts to follow
First, remind ourselves of the principle and why the results matter. Sports policies have allowed inclusion of TW who lower T for 12 months on the assumption that this removes the male physiological advantages sufficiently to create fairness when women’s sport is “opened” up (2/)
The obvious (though amazingly unasked) question is “Is there evidence showing that this actually works? In other words, does T suppression remove the biological advantages that necessitate a separate women’s category in sport?" This is the question the study is trying to address:
Read 20 tweets
29 Nov 20
The @dailymaverick asked me to do a piece on the trans woman in sport issue. It’s necessarily short and high level, but here it is. Writing it made me realize there are some key questions everyone who wades into the debate upfront should answer. Wanted to share them here (1/_)
The first question, before any other “shots are fired”, should be:

“If there is ZERO evidence for what happens to performance and/or biology in trans women undergoing treatment, what should happen for sport? Would you allow inclusion, or would you exclude until it exists?” (2/)
This is so important because it reveals a “value system” and understanding of women’s sport. If you believe in inclusion in the absence of evidence, you’re saying that women’s sport should be OPEN to self-ID, and then evidence must be provided to prove unfairness or risk. (3/)
Read 16 tweets

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