Editor's note: The following letter was sent to the National Academies by Dr. Barbara Nash on 12 May 2003 in response to their publication of The Man Who Would Be Queen by J. Michael Bailey.

May 12, 2003

Bruce Alberts
President, the National Academy of Sciences
The National Academies
2101 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20418

Harvey V. Fineberg
President, the Institute of Medicine
The National Academies
2101 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20418

Dear Drs. Alberts and Fineberg,

I am writing to express my deep concern about the National Academies publication of a book by J. Michael Bailey entitled The Man Who Would be Queen. The book reflects poorly on the Academies' usually high standards for publication. Despite its subtitle of "The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism", it is nothing of the sort. The author's approach is entirely unscientific, and his conclusions pose a danger to transgender individuals particularly as the book may be used to influence public policy. Publication by the National Academies Press unfortunately lends both a presumption of academic legitimacy and significant visibility to this work of unsubstantiated personal opinion.

While Mr. Bailey is entitled to his opinions, my major concern is that the National Academies Press would place its imprimatur on this particular book. I shall return to that concern momentarily. I am aware that my colleague Joan Roughgarden at Stanford has already provided a detailed account to you of problems with this book. I won't go into as much detail here, but I do feel the need to point out the most egregious instances of absence of scientific integrity in the work.

Mr. Bailey's book doesn't even rise to the standard of "junk science". Junk science at least purports to be scientific by presenting observational data and interpretations made from those data that are expressed in the context of contemporary thought and argument. Mr. Bailey on the other hand eschews traditional data gathering techniques. Rather, he relies on recruiting research subjects (a convenience survey as opposed to more traditional survey instruments) by "cruising" gay clubs frequented by transsexuals who engage in survival sex. No wonder that Bailey later concludes that one of his two classes of transsexuals consists of homosexuals that are commonly engaged in the sex trade. Bailey's data are anecdotal and subject only to his personal interpretation in which he expresses great confidence in his preface: "Knowing his occupation and observing him briefly and superficially were sufficient for me to guess confidently about aspects of (his) life that he never mentioned.... I know what kinds of activities interest him and what kinds do not." (p. ix). Is this the standard for data acquisition - conjecture as evidence? It would be as if as a volcanologist I could discern the life history of a rock by noting its glint in the sun and its heft in my hand. There is a reason we invest in mass spectrometers and electron beam instruments. It is to provide tangible, reproducible observations that are ultimately shared and interpreted, perhaps in differing and more enlightened ways by interested parties. Nowhere in Bailey's book are there raw data or tabulated results of surveys. When survey results are mentioned there is never a reference to the original data source, nor is there a description of sample size, variance or standard deviation. No references are provided to any other studies that are mentioned as supporting evidence. In fact, with the one exception of a 1991 paper by his colleague Ray Blanchard in the list of suggested readings at the end of the book, there are no specific literature references to any other research studies on the subject.

Bailey distinguishes two classes of transsexuals, homosexual and autogynephilic. This distinction is not new with Bailey - it was originally proposed by Ray Blanchard over 20 years ago, and it has enjoyed very little resonance in transgender studies. Mr. Bailey has no trouble distinguishing between the two groups because "Most homosexual transsexuals are much better looking than most autogynephilic transsexuals." (p. 180). This inelegant dichotomy is simply inadequate to describe the diversity the transgender spectrum and experience. But Bailey has no interest in directly confronting contemporary alternative views. He simply dismisses them. People who disagree with him are liars ("Most gender patients lie,..." p. 172) (..."many autogynephiles provide misleading information about themselves..." p. 175). transgender narratives are not to be trusted and are ignored ("...(transsexuals) tell stories about themselves that are misleading and, in important respects, false." p. 146). Or his detractors are incompetent ("... sex researchers are not as scholarly as they should be and so don't read the scientific journals." p. 176). For someone who neglects to cite the literature, this is an amazing statement.

Bailey concludes that the overwhelming majority of transgender persons are autogynephilic transsexuals, and indicts and stigmatizes that entire group by stating that autogynephilia is a paraphilia linked with masochism, sadism, exhibitionism, frotteurism, necrophilia, bestiality, and pedophilia (p. 171). This is an outrageous and unsubstantiated statement. He further asserts that "...there are two reasons to think that these sexual paraphilias have some causes in common." His reasons? "Paraphilias occur exclusively (or nearly exclusively) in men. Second, paraphilias tend to go together." (p. 171). Surely if one were to honestly arrive at such a conclusion, one would feel compelled to supply a more substantial scientific argument than guilt by association.

Throughout the book there is also a consistent theme of homophobia and stereotyping of gay men. For example: "I cannot imitate the gay accent, and I cannot even describe it, but chances are, you know what I'm talking about." (p. 70). Or, "I often don't have to hear a man talk or know what he does in order to have a strong suspicion he's gay. Sometimes it's enough just to see him move." (p. 73). These types of statements remind me of anti-Semitic diatribes about how to identify Jews by facial type and speech patterns.

I won't take the time here to enumerate the factual errors in the book and the failure to reference or confront contemporary studies that may disagree with the author's contentions. Science succeeds in part through self-regulation arising from the variable interpretation of observational data. Bailey makes this a daunting task for critics because he provides only his personal opinion based on anecdotal accounts stemming mostly from a limited and self-selecting population. It doesn't even meet the lowest standards of junk science. It more closely resembles a lengthy op-ed piece.

As a professor of geology and geophysics for 32 years whose research has been supported by NSF, NASA, DOE and the U.S. Geological Survey, I am confident that I can distinguish good science from bad science. Recently, I have designed a course on transgender studies. Part of the course examines scientific approaches to the phenomenon. Some studies are good, others are not, and students are asked to assess why. The Man Who Would be Queen will not be on the reading list because it lacks any scientific rigor whatsoever and would be a waste of students' time as well as a source of considerable misinformation. What distresses me is that that the book may be adopted uncritically in courses taught in social sciences or humanities especially because of the imprimatur provided by the National Academies Press and its promotion by the Press. Further the I fear the work may be deemed credible because of the reputation of its publisher, thus facilitating incorporation of its uncritical and erroneous assertions into the formulation of public policy contesting civil rights and social justice for transgender individuals. There is no question in my mind of such an application. As Bailey says, " "My undergraduate students ... are especially hesitant to support surgery for nonhomosexual transsexuals, once they learn about autogynephilia." (p. 206).

The promotional materials for the book are unbecoming a professional scientific association. As Presidents of your respective academies, I recommend you take a moment to view the web site of the National Academies Press promoting your book. It is sensational and lurid. The Press says, "the book is grounded firmly in science" and presents a cover showing a pair of hairy legs in high heels. The opening line is " Gay. Straight. Or Lying." The ad poses the critical question, "Are gay men genuinely more feminine than other men? And do they really prefer to be hairdressers rather than lumberjacks?" And if you buy the book you can read about "Kim, a strikingly sexy transsexual who still has a penis and works as a dancer and a call girl for men who like she-males while she awaits sex reassignment surgery." It reads more like the headline in a supermarket tabloid rather than what one would expect from the respected press of the National Academies.

I am reminded of a recent controversy in the social sciences over published research findings in the arena of firearms regulation that had bearing on the formulation of public policy. In 2000 Michael Bellesiles wrote the book Arming America that argued that firearm ownership was far less common in early American history, that the gun culture revered by the National Rifle Association is a recent phenomenon, and their interpretation of the Second Amendment is in error. He received the prestigious Bancroft Prize for his book. Subsequently, inspection of his data revealed that much was fabricated. The prize was withdrawn, and Prof. Bellesiles resigned his faculty position at Emory University. More recently, the source of some statistical data in More Guns, Less Crime (1998) by John Lott, an advocate of arming citizens, has come under scrutiny, and his credibility is currently being questioned despite his highly complex econometric analysis. What made the challenges to these works possible is that the authors presented data, true or false, that were available for scrutiny and evaluation by interested parties. In The Man Who Would be Queen, the reader is not presented with such an opportunity to formulate a reasoned response.

The National Academies should not be in the business of supporting such unscientific and prejudicial works. To do so can only reflect poorly on the Academies and their scientific integrity. I believe it is only appropriate that the National Academies withdraw their support for the book.


Barbara Nash
Professor of Geology and Geophysics

For more on this book and the theories that inform it, check out my Bailey-Blanchard-Lawrence clearinghouse.