OCPA carries my latest, on pastors who measure the kingdom of God by the size of government budgets:
Alas, the good Babylonians of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches aren’t interested in prophecy but in profits for their government friends. Check out their “Areas of Focus” page to see all the different domains in which they demand justice in the form of bigger government budgets. From the environment to health care to poverty, they’ve got one bell and they keep ringing it: more money for government bureaucracies, no matter whether it does any good.
Under “Education” they demand, without asking how much we already spend or whether it’s effective, that “funding should be increased across the board” for government schools. And they opine that “public school teachers should be recognized as professionals who deserve to be paid as professionals.” When they say “paid as professionals” they don’t mean paid based on how well they get the job done in the judgment of those for whom they’re supposed to work, which is how professionals actually get paid in every profession not dominated by government cronyism.
It sure would be nice to think that the disastrous NAEP results would awaken some inkling of a prophetic instinct from these pastors, but they remain mired in captivity to special interests:
If you want to know why their vision of the kingdom of God only includes government-controlled schools and doesn’t support any other schools, you won’t find out from them. They don’t explain. But you might find out by consulting their good friends at Pastors for Oklahoma Kids, whose social media feed is a sewer of falsehoods about the evils of school choice programs.
Much is at stake in whether pastors represent the kingdom of God to the powerful, or represent the powerful to the kingdom of God:
Obviously the reason I want churches to dump this left-wing pabulum is not because I want them to preach right-wing pabulum. Nor would I want them to go silent, and leave the kingdom of God without a public witness for justice and mercy in the world. But would it be expecting too much if we asked them to give a damn whether or not the ever-bigger budgets they have spent decades demanding are having any positive impact on students?
To defend the good name of someone who has been wrongfully dishonored makes Hunter Scott worthy of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award. Scott is an example of the heroism required to stand up to “cancel culture.”
To be clear, “cancel culture” is the public dishonoring, shunning, and reduction in economic and social prospects for people improperly accused of wrongdoing. I emphasize “improperly” because people who do engage in egregious wrongdoing demonstrated by a process that meets reasonable standards of evidence deserve to be dishonored, shunned, and have reduced economic and social prospects.
When people lament “cancel culture,” they often fail to make this distinction. While it is amazing how many people have been wrongfully cancelled, it is even more amazing how many high-profile people have engaged in horrible behavior who seem to experience no consequence for doing so.
Al Sharpton fueled the Crown Heights riots — a modern day pogrom — saying “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.” Instead of being cancelled, Sharpton has had his own show on MSNBC for over a decade. Ed Rollins bragged to Time magazine after his work on a 1993 election that “he secretly paid black ministers and Democratic campaign workers in order to suppress voter turnout.” Instead of being cancelled, he became a political commentator for CNN and then Fox as well as the national campaign chairman for Mike Huckabee’s 2008 run for president. Folks like Sharpton and Rollins didn’t seek to make amends or have to spend even a little time in the penalty box.
But Charles McVay III was made a scapegoat by the Navy and was court-martialed without having done anything wrong. Frankly, even if McVay had made some errors, he did not deserve the treatment he received. Remember that Al Copeland was not a paragon of virtue. He and those honored with an award named after him, just like all the rest of us, are flawed human beings. But Copeland and the winners of The Al made significant contributions to improving the human condition despite their flaws.
Hunter Scott improved the human condition by standing up for McVay. And in some sense, Scott represents all of the people who previously attempted to defend McVay, including sailors under his command, who were unsuccessful in their efforts to rehabilitate McVay. The people who stand up to a cancel mob when it is too strong to defeat require more courage than the person who stands up when conditions permit success. So, in honoring Hunter Scott with The Al, we honor even more all who attempted and failed to exonerate McVay.
Charles McVay III had a lot to live up to. His father was a U.S. Navy admiral during WWI and commanded the Pacific fleet in the 1930s. The younger McVay graduated Annapolis in 1920 and had a stellar career in military intelligence, rising to chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Combined Chiefs.
He took command of the USS Indianapolis – “The Ship of Doom!” – in 1944.
Under McVay’s command, the Indianapolis came through Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and even survived a direct hit from a kamikaze aircraft that penetrated the hull. Then it got a new job: transporting nuclear material and parts to be used in the construction of Fat Man and Little Boy.
But in the early morning of July 30, 1945, after dropping off a top-secret nuclear delivery, the Indianapolis was surprised by a ruthlessly efficient submarine attack. She sank in 12 minutes. Of her 1,195 men, 879 perished.
Only about 300 died in the initial attack. The remainder died while awaiting rescue, which didn’t come until four days later, because the Indianapolis had not been reported missing. The crew was finally rescued only because a pilot spotted them, stranded without provisions in shark-infested waters and unable even to fit everyone into the lifeboats.
The failure of those at her intended destination port to report that the Indianapolis was overdue was at first attributed in the Navy’s records to a “misunderstanding” of the protocols for communication about secret missions.
But McVay, who survived (though wounded) was never told this. His demands for an explanation went unanswered. But at least they did tell him one thing. They told him that his SOS signals had not been received.
As it turns out, there was definitely a signal that got lost in the noise, but it wasn’t McVay’s.
We now know that three separate Navy radios had received the SOS signals sent out by the Indianapolis as it sank:
One did nothing because the commanding officer was drunk.
Another did nothing because the operator decided it must be a Japanese ruse.
The third did nothing because the commanding officer had given orders that he was not to be disturbed.
That is how over 500 sailors get “misunderstood” right out of this vale of sorrows.
Covering up this information was apparently not enough. The Navy felt it needed a fall guy for this catastrophic confluence of incompetence. While Admiral Chester Nimitz argued for leniency, he was overruled by a sterling sample of American manhood in the person of one Admiral Ernest King, who had a long memory. Years earlier, King had been the subject of a letter of reprimand by McVay’s father, when King was caught sneaking women onto a ship. (“King never forgot a grudge” testified the elder McVay.)
So King decided to court-martial McVay for the loss of the Indianapolis.
McVay remains to this day the only captain in the history of the U.S. Navy to be court-martialed for the loss of his ship by act of war.
McVay pointed out that he had requested a destroyer escort and had been denied, even though the Indianapolis lacked the submarine-detecting equipment that destroyers would have had. And McVay had not been informed of recent submarine attacks in the area because the intelligence was classified.
Alas, to no avail. McVay was convicted.
Although Navy Secretary James Forrestal overturned the conviction, McVay’s career was over. He was promoted to rear admiral when he left the service, but that was cold comfort to a man who knew he had been destroyed unjustly.
For the remainder of his life, as a result of his false conviction, McVay was hounded by vicious phone calls and letters from relatives of the sailors who died under his command.
He died by suicide in 1968. In his hand they found a toy sailor he had been given as a boy.
And that’s where his story would have ended, if not for another boy.
In 1997, 12-year-old Hunter Scott did something vitally important that all patriotic Americans who love truth, justice and the American Way should do on a regular basis: He saw a really well-made middlebrow pop-entertainment movie.
Specifically, he saw the classic Spielberg shark thriller Jaws, which includes a speech about the sinking of the Indianapolis. Fascinated, young Scott decided to do his sixth-grade National History Day project on the topic – and ended up launching a campaign to exonerate McVay.
Scott was far from the first to tilt at this particular windmill. McVay’s son, other survivors of the sinking, historians and others had been at it for years.
But it was the plucky lad from Pensacola who finally found the attack pattern that would sink the Navy’s injustice. He personally interviewed over 150 Indianapolis survivors and reviewed over 800 documents for his little school project – including declassified records establishing the sequence of Navy failures.
And this time, the signal didn’t get lost in the noise.
Scott contacted his congressman, who did his best impersonation of another Scott – Scott Glenn – and arranged for hearings. In October 2000, the United States Congress sent President Clinton a resolution exonerating McVay, which he signed.
George Washington may not seem like an obvious contender for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award. The Al normally highlights someone whose contribution to improving the human condition was not previously widely known or properly acknowledged. George Washington is hardly unknown and his contributions are memorialized in the name of our nation’s capital, a state, cities strewn across the country, statues in other towns, the one dollar bill, and several universities. Washington’s image is carved into the side of a mountain. He is about as well known as anyone in the US.
But he is mostly known as the “father” of our country — the general who defeated the British and became the first president of our new nation. He is also increasingly known for his role as a slaveholder. While both these positive and negative accomplishments are important, his biggest contribution to our country is less commonly acknowledged. He didn’t just lead our country, he voluntarily walked away from power to allow someone else to be selected as leader.
The problem of succession has plagued every governmental system, company, religious movement, and family for all of human history. The transfer of power to the next leader has always been problematic. How can we get the current leader to leave before they cease being effective? How do we ensure that the next person will be capable? How do we make the switch without too much disruption or even violence?
Marxists and others convinced that advantage only compounds advantage over time so that inequality becomes severe and unchangeable have never paid close attention to how incredibly hard it is to sustain any endeavor over time. In almost every organization, the quality of leadership has a tendency to fade over time as the attributes required to obtain the position become detached from those required to sustain let alone expand its greatness.
Businesses tend to reach their zenith during or shortly after their founder’s leadership. Great families fade into oblivion in no more than a few generations. Inevitably, a future leader will be a drunk or a fool, squandering the advantages accumulated by their predecessors.
One of the main drivers of this organizational entropy is the inheritance of leadership. Kings typically remain in power until they bequeath that role to a child. To avoid fights over which child, most regimes embrace the principle of primogeniture, where power goes to the oldest son. There have been brief-lived alternative methods of succession, such as in the early Ottoman Empire when whichever of the Sultan’s sons could conspire to outwit and destroy his siblings would become the next Sultan upon the death of the prior one. This process may select for political acumen, but it proved too bloody and chaotic to sustain. Picking the oldest son may be orderly and relatively peaceful but it also unlikely to select the most meritorious.
With the founding of the American Republic, we explored another alternative to primogeniture — selection of leaders by popular election. If, to invert Clausewitz’s maxim, politics is war by other means, then the contest among candidates for election would resemble the violent struggles among the Sultan’s sons in tending to select those with greater political merit. It’s an ingenious and relatively peaceful way to select quality leaders except for one, central weakness.
What makes the person who currently occupies the position accept that there needs to be a new election and then to abide by its results? To say that this is required by the Constitution, fails to understand that legal requirements can be ignored or modified by whoever is in power, if they have enough power and desire to do so. Putin has changed term limits and election laws several times now. Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 18th year of his 4 year term as president of the Palestinian Authority. Having laws requiring elections and the transfer of power is far from a guarantee that power will be transferred as planned.
The most important contribution of George Washington to improving the human condition was in establishing the precedent that a virtuous leader should voluntarily relinquish power. To be sure, this precedent is not always honored. Shortly after Washington set his example, Napoleon was carted away to exile after failing to remain in power for life, saying “They wanted me to be another Washington.” And more recently Xi has violated the precedent set following Mao by seeking and receiving another term as leader of China.
Despite increasingly heated disputes in the United States over elections, it is worth noting that Washington’s example of voluntarily leaving office following elections remains universally practiced in this country. Perhaps by honoring Washington with The Al we can help ensure the continuation of the peaceful and meritorious transfer of power developed and preserved in the American political system.
Do you enjoy being able to click on a product in Amazon and have it delivered to your door the same day?
Thank Fred Smith, who founded FedEx in 1971 and stepped down from the CEO chair this year.
The benefits Smith’s work have brought to the whole world are far, far greater than what we experience simply by virtue of being able to click on a knickknack and then have it in hand before the Earth has finished a rotation. The explosive economic growth of the modern world, which powers everything from longer lifespans and new medical inventions to the drive toward greater political and social equality at the heart of commercial republics, depends essentially upon transportation. The modern economy does not grow because modern science invents new stuff; people have been inventing new stuff since they were people. The modern economy grows in part because it gives people (at least in principle) enforceable legal rights to property and contract, which gives them social space to unleash their constructive potential. But it also grows because the scope and extent of economic exchange has expanded radically, and we realize huge gains from trade. Better transportation means more trade, which means more growth, and while economic growth does create major new social challenges we didn’t have before, it is on balance one of the best things the world has ever known.
But don’t discount the value of being able to click on a knickknack and then have it in hand before the Earth has finished a rotation! The ability to manage our time more efficiently – to have more flexible and adaptable access to the resources and opportunities we acquire through exchange – is of tremendous value to every one of us. Time is not money, time is value, and value is the only thing that ultimately matters to economic life.
Smith outlined his bold vision in a term paper he wrote for an economics class in college. Tremendous value was being lost because shipping services were not coordinated. The trucker drops it off at the dock and then it sits there until the boat leaves; the boat drops it off on the dock and then it sits there until the other trucker comes to pick it up. An integrated global transportation network could eliminate this colossal waste by tightly coordinating transportation schedules. It might not work for shipments that need special treatment, but for the average home or office sending an average package, it would be a huge improvement.
His professor gave his paper a “C.”
After two tours as a Marine in Vietnam (including the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts), Smith came home to realize his dream. In 1971 he incorporated “Federal Express,” partly because he thought the word “Federal” would make customers feel like their shipment was an important part of the national economy (which of course it was), and partly because he hoped to lure the Federal Reserve Bank as a customer. In 1973 the company began operations in Memphis – centrally located, good weather and friendly local airport officials who were willing to make improvements to attract Smith’s business.
But the big opportunity came in 1977, when Congress “deregulated” the airline industry. “Denationalized,” while not technically correct, would be at least somewhat closer to the truth. The upraised hand of cronyism and special favor that had stood in the airport door since humanity first defeated gravity at Kitty Hawk was at last removed.
Smith had, of course, been among those who fought hard for years to get Congress to take this vitally important step. So we owe him that, too.
FedEx snapped up seven jumbo jets of its own, beginning the process by which they would take full ownership of their transportation network, unlocking further efficiencies.
They were listed on NYSE the following year.
Whereupon they launched one of the greatest ad campaigns of all time: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
And the pièce de résistance:
That last one is Al-worthy just by itself.
A 2015 Harvard Business School article on FedEx’s system is titled “The World’s Largest Continuous-Flow Process.” That characterization, as applied to FedEx, may no longer be technically correct. But while Jeff Bezos runs away with all the publicity, it was Fred Smith who really invented the global commercial chain we rely on today.
Giving Fred Smith the Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year Award is so simple, even Jay Greene can do it!
This year, we will recognize our fifteenth ever Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year. A few more months (or perhaps half of another honoree?) and the award will be ready to suit up like Al in his racing suit and drive.
That’s right, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded, so it is time once again to honor those who have bettered the human condition with the Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year award! Nominations can be submitted by emailing a draft of a blog post advocating for your nominee. If Jay likes it, he will post it with your name attached. A winner will be announced after Halloween.
Al Copeland may not have done the most to benefit humanity, but he certainly did more than many people who receive such awards. Chicago gave Bill Ayers their Citizen of the Year award in 1997. And the Nobel Peace Prize has too often gone to a motley crew including unrepentant terrorist, Yassir Arafat, and fictional autobiography writer, Rigoberta Menchu. Local humanitarian awards tend to go to hack politicians or community activists. From all these award recipients you might think that a humanitarian was someone who stopped throwing bombs… or who you hoped would picket, tax, regulate, or imprison someone else.
Al Copeland never threatened to bomb, picket, tax, regulate, or imprison anyone. By that standard alone he would be much more of a humanitarian. But Al Copeland did even more — he gave us spicy chicken.
The 2021 winner of The Al was Ken “Heinie the Tank Buster” Adam, a German Jew expatriate who first became known in the RAF for his proficiency with bombs, and then became known in Hollywood as a master set designer who helped his studios avoidbombs. Adam shaped our imaginations as we envisioned our world through stories, above all by inventing the original Bond villain volcano lair. Adam burst forth at the apex of a mountain of excellent nominees, includingNazar Mohammad Khasha, who gave his life for his right to mock the Taliban; Christopher Lee, real-life embodiment of The Most Interesting Man in the World; Ryan Peterson, who stunned the world by going out and doing actual shoe-leather reporting on the supply chain crisis that contributed new factual knowledge, instead of just regurgitating talking points; Joseph Friedman, inventor of the bendy straw; and John and Justine Glaser, integrationist inventors of the black and white cookie.
The 2020 winner of The Al was Nat Love, who overcame enormous adversity and injustice to live a magnificent American life: “I think you will agree with me that this grand country of ours is the peer of any in the world, and that volumes cannot begin to tell of the wonders of it.” Love conquered all amid a field including Nick Steinsberger, who helped pioneer fracking; Charles Hull, who invented 3D printing; and Hans Christian Heg, an immigrant abolitionist hero whose statue had been torn down by a “justice” mob.
The 2019 winner of The Al was Mildred Day, who brought parents and children together over delicious goodness by inventing the Rice Krispie Treat – following in the fine tradition of Al Copeland himself, improving the human condition by bringing us great food. Day came out of the Al oven ahead of political pranksters Chad Kroeger and JT Parr; and Bob Fletcher, who helped three Japanese-American families in California keep their farms after WWII-era internment.
The 2017 winner of The Al was Stanislav Petrov, who literally saved the world from nuclear destruction by refusing to follow Soviet orders to retaliate against what he suspected (as was later confirmed) was a false warning of a US strike. It’s not quite as important as bringing the world spicy chicken, but it’s pretty close! Petrov nuked an impressive set of runners-up, including Whittaker Chambers, witness against communism; Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, creators of Rick and Morty; and Russ Roberts, author and host of EconTalk.
The 2016 winner of The Al was Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, who ordered all the POWs under his command to identify themselves as Jews, foiling a Nazi attempt to separate Jewish prisoners and kill them, and refused to back down even with a gun to his head. Edmonds cheated death among a very competitive field of nominees, including Tim and Karrie League, founders of Alamo Drafthouse movie theaters; political humorist Remy Munasifi; and humorous political journalist Yair Rosenberg.
The 2015 winner of The Al was internet humorist Ken M. He not only made us laugh by making idiotic comments on social media (which would have been enough), he revealed with his humor the ridiculousness of trying to change the world by arguing on the internet. Ken M laughed off a strong field of nominees, including Malcolm McLean, inventor of shipping containers; Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons and Dragons; and John Lasseter, founder of Pixar.
The 2014 winner was Peter DeComo, the inventor of the Hemolung Respiratory Assist System. To save a life, DeComo drove all night to retrieve a lung machine from Canada, then demonstrated incredible quick wits when border control tried to block its entry into the US because it had not yet been approved by the FDA. DeComo snuck his win past a worthy field, including Marcus Persson, the inventor of Minecraft; Ira Goldman, the developer of the “Knee Defender”; Thomas J. Barratt, the father of modern advertising; and Thibaut Scholasch and Sébastien Payen, wine-makers who improved irrigation methods.
The 2013 winner of The Al was musical satirist Weird Al Yankovic. Weird Al brings joy to people of all ages, while puncturing the pretensions of puffed-up celebrity entertainers. He lampooned an impressive set of nominees, including performer/skeptics Penn and Teller, crowdfunding website Kickstarter, and WWII industrialist Bill Knudsen.
In 2011, The Al went to Earle Haas, the inventor of the modern tampon, proving that advances in equal opportunity for women come from entrepreneurs more than government mandates. Haas cycled to the front of the pack amid a strong flow of nominees: Charles Montesquieu, the political philosopher; David Einhorn, the short-seller; and Steve Wynn, the casino mogul.
The 2009 winner of The Al – in the first year the award bore that name – was Debrilla M. Ratchford, who significantly improved the human condition by inventing the rollerbag. She rolled to victory over Steve Henson, who gave us ranch dressing; Fasi Zaka, who ridiculed the Taliban; Ralph Teetor, who invented cruise control; and Mary Quant, who popularized the miniskirt.
Also noteworthy from 2009: History’s greatest monster, William Higinbotham, was declared permanently ineligible to receive The Al. He remains the only individual thus disqualified. In (dis)honor of Higinbotham, The Higgy award has been bestowed on (un)worthy candidates annually since 2012.
OCPA carries my latest, on how an Oklahoma program to support day care services in “child care deserts” is being supported by people who demonize school choice programs:
This program to empower parents to get help from non-government service providers in the task of raising their children of ages three and under is being lavished with positive attention by people who regularly demonize school choice programs, which do the same thing for children of ages four and over. Here as in so many other places, empowering people to make their own choices is always right, unless it hinders the special interests who control the government school monopoly from keeping their gravy trains running on time.
Does my article discuss a whole lot of other examples where we support, and even demand. the principle of choice everywhere except K-12 education? You bet your Pell grant it does!
The Oklahoma day care policy is not analogous to school choice in one other respect, though: It is structured as a direct subsidy to day cares rather than a direct support to parents:
If Oklahoma really cared about parents in “child care deserts,” it would give the parents daycare ESAs and let them get services from any legal provider, including hiring a babysitter. In other words, it would let them control their own lives. And it wouldn’t stop doing that when the children turn four—because the government school monopoly is a statewide education desert.
A timely reminder for the school choice movement as well, to stay vigilant when it comes to our political allies who are interested in structuring programs as subsidies for schools rather than empowerment for parenets.
Last week the Heritage Foundation released my new study on the effect of state policies easing access to puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones on youth suicide rates. The study generated a large amount of attention from policymakers, the traditional media, and on Twitter. Given that the topic is a highly emotional and politicized one and given the low quality of discourse on Twitter, much of the social media response was inaccurate and ad hominem. Fortunately, Twitter is not the real world and the serious response of a number of policymakers with steps they are taking to address the risks posed by these drugs makes responding to Twitter critics pointless.
The reactions of two prominent commentators, Jack Turban and Jesse Singal, however, warrant a response, not for the merit of their criticisms but because they have enough influence outside of Twitter that their mistaken criticisms might undercut the positive policy responses my study has facilitated. Turban is a professor at Stanford Medical School and is the author of two of the three studies claiming that puberty blockers and hormones are protective against suicide and therefore must be made widely and readily availably. Singal is a journalist who has engaged in extensive criticism of Turban’s work and is therefore someone that skeptics of these medical interventions might look to for guidance on what to think about my new study.
Other than dismissive and ad hominem comments, Turban’s main objection to my research is that minors are not supposed to be getting access to these drugs without parental consent so that looking at variation in state policies regarding the ability of minors to access health care without parental consent would be irrelevant. He writes, “One thing to note is that @TheEndoSociety and @wpath guidelines require parental consent to access gender-affirming hormones. This entire report is based on the incorrect assumption that minors can easily access hormones without parental consent.” He adds, “Since trans youth account for about 1.9% of teens, only a fraction of those desire hormones, only a few percent of those are able to access them, and of those even fewer would access without parental consent, the logical jump made by the Heritage people doesn’t make sense.”
I never claim that “minors can easily access hormones without parental consent.” My study is based on the natural policy experiment that results from some states having one fewer barrier to minors getting these drugs by having a provision in law that allows minors to access healthcare without parental consent, at least under some circumstances. It just has to be easier for minors to get these drugs, not that they can do so “easily.”
But Turban seems to suggest on Twitter that this virtually never happens. Where would I get the idea that minors can access these drugs without parental consent? It comes from Turban’s own research. In his 2022 study on the effects of cross-sex hormones on suicidal ideation, he analyzes the results of a survey given to a convenience sample of adults who identify as transgender. In Table 1, he reports that 3.7% of those who say that they received cross-sex hormones between the ages of 14 and 17 are still not “out” to their families as transgender. These respondents must have obtained those drugs without parental consent since their parents do not even know that they identify as transgender. In addition, we see in that same table that only 79.4% of those adults who got hormones between the ages of 14 and 17 say that their families are supportive. We might reasonably assume that unsupportive families would not have given consent to their teenage children getting hormones, especially if they continue to be unsupportive several years later when those children are now adults. Yet somehow, nearly a fifth of those who got the drugs as teenagers did so despite the lack of support from their families.
If we accept Turban’s claim that 1.9% of teenagers identify as transgender, that translates into 1,900 out of every 100,000 teenagers. My finding is that easing access by reducing the parental consent barrier increases youth suicide rates by 1.6 per 100,000 young people. For my result to be plausible, it would only have to be the case that .08% of teenagers who identify as transgender would have to seek these drugs, find that it is easier to access them when states have minor consent provisions, and then kill themselves to result in an additional 1.6 suicides per 100,000 young people. And this assumes that the entirety of the increase in suicides occurs among individuals who identify as transgender and get the drugs, even though we know that there is a contagion effect with suicide so that the 1.6 increase would include young people who did not get the drugs but were influenced by the deaths of others.
The bottom line is that the magnitude of my study’s estimated increase in suicide risk associated with these drugs is entirely plausible given Turban’s own numbers about the frequency with which minors are accessing these drugs without parental consent.
Other than name-calling with words like “misleading,” “crude,” and “shodd[y],” Singal has two seemingly substantive objections to offer. First, he claims “this isn’t even about blocker and hormones — it’s about which states have lower ages of medical consent. Then he says ‘Well, around the time blockers became available, the suicide rates go up.’ This is an exceptionally crude approach.” Second, he embraces a criticism expressed by Elsie Birnbaum that it is ridiculous to describe states like Texas and Utah as having “easier” access to these drugs, adding: “This is a good catch and should immediately cause anyone with any knowledge of this subject to deeply question the study.”
With both of these criticisms, Singal appears to think that the proper way to study the effects of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones would be to compare the suicide rates in places based on the number of prescriptions being dispensed, the number of clinics offering these treatments, or their state reputation as being more or less permissive on transgender issues. While I understand why it is tempting to think that these direct comparisons would be better, if our goal is obtaining an unbiased, even if imprecise, estimate of causal effects, it is far better to focus on state minor access provisions. Because modern research designs for isolating causal effects are not necessarily intuitive, let me try to offer a brief explanation for readers (and Singal) who are not trained researchers.
The gold-standard research design for isolating causal effects is a randomized controlled trial (RCT), in which a lottery would assign some people to get the drugs and others not to get the drugs. Researchers would then compare the outcomes for the two groups over time. Any significant differences in their outcomes would have to be caused by the drugs and not by some preexisting difference between the treatment and control groups, since the two groups would be identical, on average, at the start of the experiment. Unfortunately, the effects of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones in treating what is called gender dysphoria has never been studied with an RCT. Turban, the Biden administration, and others claiming with confidence that these drugs save lives should support an RCT to prove what they say, but they do not, and we are left without the kind of rigorous evidence that is normally required for initial approval of drugs by the FDA.
Short of an RCT, there are a number of research designs that have been developed that attempt to imperfectly approximate the causal rigor of a true experiment. They do so by looking for ways in which exposure to treatment is “exogenous.” That is, they look for why some people get the drugs while others do not for reasons that are unrelated to factors that might separately influence the outcomes. A lottery is perfectly exogenous because chance determines who gets the treatment and chance has nothing to do with causing outcomes. If the reasons that some people get the treatment while others are in the control are related to the outcomes, however, then we have an “endogeneity” problem and the results are biased.
It is easy to illustrate this endogeneity problem in Turban’s research on this issue. Turban examines a survey of adults who identify as transgender and compares those who sought and got these drugs to those who sought but did not get the drugs in terms of their more recent thoughts about suicide. One of the reasons some people who sought these drugs would be unable to get them would be if they were not considered psychologically stable, since being psychologically stable at the time is supposed to be a criteria for prescribing the drugs. Rather than being random and unrelated to later outcomes, the reason that some people end up in Turban’s treatment or control groups is caused by their psychological condition when they sought treatment, which would be related to the suicide outcomes being measured — or endogenous. It is obviously biased and unhelpful to compare treatment and control groups that begin with different average psychological health in terms of their later psychological outcomes.
The same endogeneity problem applies to how Singal seems to think this issue should be examined. We know that there is significant comorbidity between gender dysphoria and other challenges that young people have, including depression, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorder. To the extent that demand for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones is related to people having other psychological challenges, comparing places based on the number of prescriptions or clinics would be endogenous and misleading. It would be biased by the likelihood that places with more of these drugs being dispensed would also be places with a higher prevalence of other psychological challenges, which would be related to suicide rates in those places independent of whether the drugs helped, hurt, or made no difference. Similarly, comparing states based on whether they had reputations for being permissive or “blue” states would be endogenous and misleading. It would be comparing treatment and control groups that differed at the start in ways that are related to suicide outcomes.
To find something closer to the true causal effect, we would need exogenous sources of variation in the treatment other than a lottery. My study takes advantage of plausibly exogenous variation in exposure to treatment with respect to WHERE there is a lower barrier to accessing treatment, WHEN that treatment is available, and WHO is affected by the treatment. States adopted policies about the ability of minors to access healthcare without parental consent for reasons that had nothing to do with, and generally long preceded, the transgender issue. On the margin, parental consent is one additional barrier to minors getting puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.
Singal believes that it is a defect of my study that this variation in minor consent policies is not “about blocker and hormones,” but he fails to understand this is a virtue of the research design. Because minor consent provisions are a barrier to accessing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones that is not “about” this issue, variation in the existence of this barrier is exogenous and helps isolate causal effects. It’s true that minor access provisions are not the most important or direct barrier to access, but they help generate unbiased effects. To the extent that these provision are entirely unrelated to the issue, they would be random noise and would bias effects toward zero but would not bias the direction of the results.
In addition to exogenous variation regarding where these drugs could be accessed with or without an extra barrier, we have exogenous variation in when the drugs became available. This is why it is important that we observe that there is no difference in youth suicide rates between states with or without minor access provisions before the drugs are introduced but there is after.
Lastly, we have exogenous variation in who would be affected. If states with a minor access provision began to differ systematically with respect to suicide only after 2010, we should observe this pattern also among a slightly older population that would not be affected by minor consent provisions. The fact that there is no effect for a slightly older population is also important.
Obviously, it would be far better to have an RCT if we wanted to isolate the causal effects of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones on youth suicide. But absent an RCT, my study uses quasi-experimental research design features that generate credibly causal effects. It’s imperfect, but it is a huge improvement over the obviously endogenous research design that Turban and Green use and much better than the direct but endogenous approaches that Singal criticizes my study for lacking.
Channeling all of his Twitter erudition and a penchant for research nihilism, Singal asserts that my study is no different in its defects from prior ones: “The dude makes perfectly fair comparisons of some of the past work on this subject, most notably Jack Turban’s, and then he reaches into basically the same bag of tricks. It’s SUCH a bad article.” While I like being compared to The Dude, claiming that my study is comparable to those by Turban and Green is just incorrect.
Twitter is a dangerous place for young people with gender dysphoria, but it is also a dangerous place to discuss the merits of different studies. If Turban or Singal were willing, I’d be happy to get together in a public forum to discuss these issues at greater length. An audience would benefit far more from such a discussion than Twitter name-calling and drive-by research critiques.
I’ll respond to one more substantive objection that Jesse Singal echoes and that was raised initially by Dave Hewitt, an English substacker. Hewitt claims that my results are sensitive to outlier states, such as Alaska or Wyoming, that have above-average youth suicide rates. He attempts to illustrate this concern by switching whether AK and WY are classified as having a minor access provision or not. He then produces a graph that shows the unadjusted difference in suicide rates between states based on the existence of a minor access provision shrinks to zero if both AK and WY are switched in how they are classified.
Importantly, Hewitt only shows us the unadjusted difference, not the final results adjusting for baseline differences in state suicide rates, as displayed in Chart 3 and Appendix Tables 2-5 in the study. States differ in their average suicide rate across the entire time period studied, including the years before puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones were introduced as a therapy for gender dysphoria around 2010. Hewitt is aware of this fact when he notes, “The suicide rate of this age group in Alaska is far higher than any other state… Wyoming has the highest overall suicide rate in the country across all age groups.”
Because there are time-invariant factors that might make some states have higher or lower youth suicide rates, my analysis controls for each state’s suicide rate at baseline. And to the extent that there are time-variant but age-invariant factors that affect the change in suicide rates over time, I control for the annual suicide rate in each state in each year for a slightly older population that should be unaffected by a minor access provision.
Yes, Alaska and Wyoming have high suicide rates and switching states with high rates from the treatment to the control group would alter the unadjusted difference between those groups of states. But this is irrelevant to the question of whether states experience a change in youth suicide rates when cross-sex treatments become available based on having one fewer exogenous barrier to minors accessing those treatments — especially when we control for time-invariant and age-invariant factors that make the rate higher in some states than in others.
Switching states from one category to the other is also the wrong way to test whether the results are sensitive to one or two states. The proper way to test for sensitivity would be to run the regression with all of the controls and to drop individual states from the analysis to see if the result still holds. If any single state is driving the result, then dropping it from the analysis should substantively change the result.
I’ve done this and Hewitt’s (and Singal’s) concerns about sensitivity to outlier cases are unfounded. If I drop Alaska from the analysis presented in Appendix Table 2, the result remains unchanged. If I drop Wyoming, the result remains unchanged. If I drop Alaska and Wyoming at the same time, the result remains unchanged. In fact, I’ve dropped each of the 50 states and DC one by one and the results remain statistically significant and virtually identical in magnitude across all 51 robustness checks.
I’m working on revising this “working paper” and submitting to a peer-reviewed journal and will comply with the replication data set policies of that journal. In the meantime, Hewitt, Singal, or anyone else interested in replicating my analysis and trying other robustness checks can easily do so by downloading and analyzing the data. The study lists the handful of data sources and provides links. The full model specifications are also provided in the appendix tables.
I went to see The Northman and I came out thinking: “Yes, that was definitely a Robert Eggers movie.”
I liked it! But I didn’t think I had very much to say about it – a Robert Eggers movie in general doesn’t take place at the level of consciousness and is intentionally difficult to surface at that level – so I didn’t blog about it. I was tempted just to post: “This is a great Robert Eggers movie, but it is a Robert Eggers movie. So if you go and you don’t like it, you have no complaint coming.”
But I just walked out of Alex Garland’s Men, and now I think I have something to blog about both these movies.
One aspect of The Northman – only one aspect, this is a Robert Eggers movie after all – is its attempt, bold almost to the point of foolhardiness, to bring the viewer inside the mentality of genuinely pagan religious belief. I say “genuinely” pagan because it’s quite rare to see pagan religion depicted in anything like an authentic manner. Half the problem is that since the rise of the advanced religions, which have permanently changed our way of understanding truth and goodness, it’s almost impossible to subjectively realize a pagan worldview – and the various attempts to revive paganism, which range from the sinister to the ridiculous, almost never make the effort, because the attempts are (consciously or unconsciously) motivated by political passions. The politics are always in the driver’s seat.
One thing I really appreciated about The Northman is that I think – as far as any of us can really know – Eggers has really given us a glimpse (no more than that) of a genuinely pagan perspective. That’s quite an artistic achievement.
The difficulty with it is that the world of real paganism is constituted by things that are, well, pathetically silly to anyone who has the advantage of having lived in the world of advanced religion (even if you yourself don’t believe) and have therefore learned to do things like differentiate truth from myth or associate justice and beauty.
So not everyone is going to be prepared to follow where Eggers wants to take you.
And I do think Eggers, with masterful skill, has given us a few hints – in ways that are subtle enough not to become a distraction that takes us out of the world of the story – that he knows perfectly well that these things really are silly – or horrible – for those of us who have been better taught.
But I also think one point of The Northman is to show us that, for people who had no better options available, to kill your enemies and go on killing them until they kill you in order to win glory in Valhalla, while it involved a sacrifice of human decency that was painful to oneself as well as to others, was not necessarily worse than the cold, calculating pursuit of mercenary self-interest that human life bereft of all religion inevitably becomes.
Men has moved me to blog about this aspect of The Northman, because Men is a movie about the intractability of evil – but one that slowly, by a very shocking series of twists and turns, brings us to the point where we can have sympathy even for people who do terrible things, without accepting or excusing their evil. Precisely because evil is intractable, because evil is a web all of us are born already caught in, as we inherit our wounded souls from the wounded souls of those who came before, and inflict wounds on others because we are wounded.
In other words, while Men is not actually about religion and does not even broach the question of whether there is a way out of the web of evil or what that might be, it is a movie about evil that is clearly biblical in formation. (For crying out loud, the trailer shows the main character eating a frigging apple that gets called “forbidden fruit.” How much more obvious do they have to make it?)
Exactly as the Bible says, sex is not the cause of evil, but dysfunctional sexuality is the most obvious and most monstrous (in the original sense of the term) effect of evil. Men fear they are not loved, and feel how ruinous it is to be unloved. So, wrongly and inexcusably but in a psychological sense inevitably, they approach women in a variety of ways in postures of demand. The hurting of women that results ranges from the trivial to the catastrophic. Women know this all too well. So, wrongly and inexcusably but in a psychological sense inevitably, they approach men in a variety of ways in postures of preemptive blame. This prompts men to fear they are unloved, and so on forever, each generation passing on its wounded souls to the next.
At least, among those who have found no way out of the web.
The emphasis, in Men, is on the culpability of men – unsurprisingly, not only in light of the title but in light of Garland’s previous work. The entire cycle is portrayed, though. And in the end, as our heroine is dramatically confronted with the intractable nature of evil, with the fact that even her tormentor was born within a web of woundedness, she comes to – not to forgive, no, and certainly not to excuse. But, I think, at least to pity, before she does what is necessary and then turns away.
OCPA carries my latest, on a bill in Oklahoma that would enact the truly extraordinary reform of holding school board elections on Election Day. The edu-special-interests hate the idea, because of course public schools are “the cornerstone of democracy” but not, like, the kind of democracy where schmucks like you and me get a vote:
It goes without saying that they consistently oppose, in the name of democracy, everything that might make education actually accountable to the people it’s supposed to serve. Whether it’s transparency about what is being taught or school choice policies or legal protection for parental rights, actual democracy is always somehow anti-democratic. Education schools have even invented elaborate political theories to justify defining “democracy” as their unaccountable rule over us.
One of the cornerstones of this strange kind of democracy is holding school board elections at extremely unusual times—generally in the spring. Surprising as this is to ordinary people who are blessedly unfamiliar with the techniques of political rent-seeking, it’s actually quite rare for school board elections to be held on Election Day. This ensures that only the most highly motivated voters participate – the special interests who profit by governing the system for their own advantage. So school boards, who are the front-line party responsible for negotiating terms with school employees, mostly represent the interests of the employees, not the public who pays for the system and is supposed to be served by it.