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Anti-LGBTQ fake science is spreading in Singapore

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In July 2022, a school counsellor at Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) gave an anti-LGBTQ presentation to the school’s 16-year-old students. In it, he displayed false scientific claims about LGBTQ+ identities and played a Christian video that promoted unscientific “conversion therapy”.

One of the slides presented by the HCI counsellor to minors

Of the many issues surrounding this incident, perhaps the most striking is the fact that fake science was used to conceal and justify hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community.

But the reality is yet more troubling: it wasn’t the first time fake science was used to spread anti-LGBTQ hate in Singapore. Fake science has made its way here, seemingly with the purpose of promoting anti-LGBTQ discrimination — and many of them come from America.

While this definitely doesn’t amount to foreign interference, this pattern of US-based fake science sowing misinformation in Singapore is unsettling at the very least.

The normalisation of fake science can also be dangerous to wider society here:just imagine what would have happened if Singapore’s pandemic response policies relied on fake science like the Trump administration did.

So let’s dive deep into recent instances where fake science made its way here to promote discrimination, understand the dangerous effects of fake science, and look at how we can move forward together.

This article gets technical in some areas, so we made them skippable

Here’s the thing: we’re really going to dig into the details of fake scientific claims and papers, which means that there’s going to be a lot of technical details. We’ve made it easier to read by providing a summary at the top of each section, with a collapsible section that contains the full details.

But before we get any further, here’s a quick summary of some technical details you’ll need to understand, and a breakdown of the different types of fake science out there.

Some quick technical details to go through

TL;DR

  • Statistical significance describes whether a finding is likely meaningful or happened only by chance. A low p-value (usually less than 0.05) suggests that a finding is meaningful or statistically significant.
  • The peer review process is one where experts in a field review a scientific paper for credibility and rigour, before it gets published in a scientific journal.
  • Peer review used to signify a paper’s legitimacy, but many peer reviewed papers are now junk papers with fake or erroneous science. That’s because junk scientific journals — which collect payment from authors to publish their works — have flourished, and they have nearly no standards since they profit from publishing as many papers as they can.

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What is statistical significance?

In simple terms, the statistical significance of a finding describes whether the finding is meaningful or whether it happened due to random chance.

Statistical significance is often represented by the p-value (which ranges from 0 to 1), which is the probability that the result happened by chance. The higher the p-value, the more likely the result happened due to chance alone, and the less likely the finding is real.

For instance, a test can show a 50% difference in results, but if it comes with a p-value of 0.8, it means that the odds that the results happened due to pure chance is 80%. That’sfar too high for the result to be considered a real one.

In general, scientific papers use a threshold of p-value < 0.05 to determine whether a finding is meaningful (i.e. a less than 5% chance that it happened due to random luck). When a finding passes this threshold, it’s called “statistically significant”.

Peer-reviewed papers can be junk

There is a common misconception that peer-reviewed papers are trustworthy, but that’s not always true. While peer review used to be the gold standard for research legitimacy, changes to the scientific journal industry have made it less so.

In simple terms, peer review is a process where a paper is subject to critique by experts within the same field. The idea is to ensure that the research is robust and legitimate enough to be published in scientific journals.

Scientific journals used to charge expensive subscription fees to professionals who want to keep up to date with the latest scientific discoveries. To retain their subscribers, journals are incentivised to publish only legitimate and robust papers.

However, a new category of “open access” journals emerged, where the articles could be read and accessed by anyone for free. Instead of readers paying to read the articles, authors of papers would pay to have their work published.

This shift created a conflict of interest, where journals are incentivised to accept and publish as many papers as they can. Many fake journals emerged, and they adopt incredibly low peer review standards and accept almost any kind of research in a bid to maximise profits. As a result, many dubious, erroneous, or even fake research papers will get published in these journals.

Peer review is no longer the mark of a paper’s quality or legitimacy.

Instead, we need to look at the reputation of the journal, details of the research methodologies, and other factors, to determine if a paper is legitimate. This is bad for readers, because it puts the onus on us to find out if a “scientific paper” actually practised real science.

The many forms of fake science

One of the things that makes fake science difficult to identify at times is the fact that it comes in many different forms. The following categorisation isn’t exhaustive and has overlaps, but provides a useful framework to think of and identify different types of fake science.

TL;DR

  • Fabricated science makes up fake “facts” and statistics, and tends to be the easiest to spot because they appear exaggerated.
  • Junk science is one step up, and uses flawed methodologies or analyses to arrive at fake conclusions or results.
  • Misrepresented science happens when someone presents the findings of a paper in a misleading way, often with an agenda. This is the trickiest to spot.

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1. Fabricated science

This is the most blatant form of fake science, where “facts” — and in many cases, “hard facts” like statistics — are made up.

For instance, a source could claim that “1 in 15 homosexuals are paedophiles” (like Hwa Chong Institution’s school counsellor did), but fail to provide any real evidence of such claims.

Fabricated science is one of the easiest to spot, because the “facts” tend to be exaggerated and unbelievable, and often lack attribution to credible sources or real evidence.

2. Junk science

Junk science is one step up from fabricated science: instead of making numbers up, it employs flawed methodologies and analyses to arrive at research findings. The findings are still fabricated, but done in a more sophisticated way.

For instance, a researcher could intentionally perform the wrong statistical analyses on their data to produce false findings (e.g. by excluding certain data without a compelling reason, or by slicing and dicing data in ways that they’re not supposed to).

In general, junk scientific papers have major issues with their methodologies, and may present conclusions that contradict its data. However, this can be difficult for the average person to tell.

3. Misrepresented science

This type of fake science happens when someone presents the findings of a scientific paper in a misleading way, often to support a particular agenda.

The simplest form of this would be to completely misrepresent the findings of a paper — for example, to claim that a study finds that pink himalayan salt is beneficial to your health when the study found no such results. To spot this, readers would need to find the source paper, read it, and realise that the paper’s conclusions differ from what was presented.

A more dangerous form of misrepresented science could be when a junk scientific paper is passed off as a legitimate one — for example, someone could misrepresent a junk paper as the “official paper” of a reputable longitudinal study, and quote the junk paper’s findings as the “official results”. This is more insidious, because readers who find the source junk paper will find its conclusions consistent with what is presented, and will need to dig deeper to realise that the junk paper is not in fact part of the legitimate study.

Now that we’ve covered some basic ground, let’s dive into recent instances where fake science was deployed to justify anti-LGBTQ messages.

Instance 1: Katy Faust’s fake science on same-sex parenting

Katy Faust is an American Christian anti-LGBTQ campaigner who focuses a lot of her attention on banning same-sex parenting in the US.

Her main argument is that same-sex parents lead to worse outcomes for children than heterosexual ones, and therefore society should “protect children” by banning same-sex parenting. But her claims aren’t backed up by actual science, despite her attempts to pretend that they are.

Katy Faust’s misinformation on same-sex parenting found its way to Singapore when people began sharing posts on social media that used her material to push for a constitutional ban on same-sex adoption.

An example of a Facebook post that quoted Katy Faust’s “science”

Katy Faust’s “review” is a blog post published in 2017, where she claimed that studies show that children of same-sex parents have worse outcomes than those of heterosexual parents.

Let’s address some major red flags.

She misrepresented third-party articles as “official results”

Katy Faust mentioned two legitimate American nation-wide studies: the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) and the National Health Interview Study (NHIS). In simple terms, these studies measure health outcomes of Americans across a long time period, and serve as a data source for researchers to find patterns or trends.

However, Katy Faust misrepresented two unofficial journal papers as the “official results” of those studies. Both papers were written by Donald Paul Sullins and published in the “British Journal of Education, Society and Behavioural Science”.

Katy Faust attempted to pass off junk papers as “official” studies.

While the papers used data from Add Health and NHIS, it is deceitful to claim that they were “official results” of the studies. Donald Paul Sullins’ papers were not officially commissioned by the studies, and like we mentioned, almost any researcher could use data from Add Health and NHIS in their papers.

Katy Faust’s misrepresentation is akin to saying that a street painter’s sketch of King Charles is the “official royal portrait” — that’s not how any of these work at all.

But it gets worse.

Donald Paul Sullins’ papers were published in a fake journal

TL;DR

  • Donald Paul Sullins’ papers were published in the “British Journal of Education, Society and Behavioural Science” (BJBS).
  • BJBS is a fake journal.
  • We know this because of its red flags: it’s not British, and accepts almost any kind of research.
  • We also know this because we submitted a fake paper to BJBS, which got published in 9 days including the peer review process.
  • The fake paper we sent was obviously fake: the authors had fake credentials (University of Simisai, Singapore), half the references were fake, the methodologies were fake, etc. No peer reviewer or editor spotted any of the mistakes.
  • BJBS even lied to its readers that they received our fake paper 2 months before the day we sent it over, likely to make their peer review process seem longer and more robust.

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Unfortunately — but perhaps unsurprisingly — the “British Journal of Education, Society and Behavioural Science” (BJBS) is a fake journal. We know this because of two things.

First of all, it has all the hallmarks of a fake journal:

  • They are not British, but are in fact based in India. They were forced to remove “British” from their journal name after many requests from organisations in academia.
  • They accept almost any kind of research in any field that’s vaguely related to their journal name — even those that are not original or showed no results.

The second reason we know it’s a fake journal is because we wrote and submitted a fake scientific paper to them, and it got published.

Yes, you read it right.

We submitted a fake article with extremely dubious and incorrect claims, and it got published in the BJBS in just 9 calendar days. The peer review process only took them 5 days.

Our obviously fake paper got published by BJBS in just 9 days.

At this point, it’s also worth noting how dishonest the journal is: we sent the fake paper to them on 5 March 2023, but they lied to have received it 2 months earlier on 8 January 2023, just to make the peer review process seem longer than the 5 days it took them.

We sent the paper to BJBS on 5 March 2023, but they lied in the published paper that they received it 2 months earlier on 8 Jan 2023.

On top of being deceitful, the journal’s peer-review process is also comically inept.

For instance, the journal did no background checks on the authors and their credentials at all. Our fake paper’s authors are “Jin Rabak” and “Hen Guai Lan”, and both of them are from the fake “University of Simisai” in Singapore. A simple google search would reveal that the authors have fabricated credentials.

The published article also had numerous telltale factual errors:

  • We claimed that Singapore’s land size is 500 sq km (it’s 720 sq km) (page 2).
  • The racial breakdown of participants in Table 1 consisted of 85% White folks, followed by some Black and Hispanic folks, and 4-5% of “Others”, even though we mentioned that the research was conducted in Singapore, where about 96%+ of the resident population are Chinese, Malays, and Indians (i.e. “Others”) (page 3).
    • On top of that, the racial breakdown for right-handed mothers adds up to 101% instead of 100% (page 3)
  • We claimed that we randomly selected 200 households in Singapore, and it formed a perfect sample of 100 left-handed and 100 right-handed mothers, where all of them have LGBTQ+ children (page 2). This recruitment strategy is extremely unlikely and dubious, because only ~10% of the population are left handers, and only up to ~20% of the Gen Z population identify as LGBTQ+. No reviewer or editor raised major questions about this ridiculously serendipitous recruitment process.
  • We claimed that we adopted the Acceptance of Sexual Minorities (ASM) scale from previous research, and that the scale has been proven to be legitimate (page 2). The ASM scale was completely fabricated, and no reviewer or editor questioned its existence.
  • There were many numerical inconsistencies between tables and texts:
    • Table 2’s right-handed mother’s acceptance score of “2.16” vs. text’s “2.76” (page 3).
    • Table 4’s less religious t-value of “3.38” vs. text’s “3.88” (page 4).
    • Table 4’s more religious t-value of “1.75” vs. text’s “1.15” (page 4).
    • Table 4’s more religious p-value of “.255” vs. text’s “.2S5” (page 4) (yes, we really tried to push it)
  • In section 2.3, we mentioned that the ASM scale is a 7-point Likert scale, but the results in section 3.2 put the scores on a 5-point scale (pages 2 and 3). Nobody asked why we did that.
  • Most of the references in the paper were completely fabricated, erroneous, or completely irrelevant to the statement that cited it. None of the peer reviewers or editors found any of these issues.
    • 6 out of 14 references were completely fabricated (References 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, and 14).
    • 7 out of 14 references used fabricated author names (References 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, and 14).
    • 9 out of 14 references used fabricated URLs (References 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 14).
    • Only 2 out of 14 references were real papers that were relevant to the text (References 1 and 11). Only 1 of them had the correct citation format (Reference 1).
    • 6 out of 14 references were real papers that had nothing to do with the statement that quoted them (References 3, 7, 8, 9, 12, and 13).

If any of the peer reviewers or editors wanted to check the legitimacy of any part of our paper, they would have easily realised that it’s completely fabricated and fake.

But nobody found anything wrong.

The “British Journal of Education, Society and Behavioural Science” is a fake journal that publishes anything so long as you pay for it, and lies to its readers about the way they publish their articles.

At this point, some of you might still say: yes, Sullins’ papers were published in a fake journal, but they might still hold some truth, right?

Well, buckle up.

Donald Paul Sullins’ work is junk science

One of Sullins’ papers that Katy Faust cited was “The unexpected harm of same-sex marriage…”.

In it, Sullins makes reference to a series of papers published by Wainright, Russell, and Patterson (WRP), which showed that there were no observable differences in outcomes between children of same-sex and heterosexual parents. Sullins performed a re-analysis of the original data (which was obtained from AddHealth), and claimed that his analysis showed that children of married same-sex parents had worse depressive outcomes than those of unmarried same-sex parents.

This paper has so many issues.

TL;DR

  • The paper used data from 1995, but same-sex marriage only started to be legalised in the US in 2004, and was only fully legalised in 2015. The categorisation of “married” vs “unmarried” same-sex parents isn’t real.
  • The paper used the CES-D questionnaire as an indicator of a person’s wellbeing, but the CES-D should only be used as an aggregate score. Sullins split the questionnaire up into fragments and performed his analyses on those fragments — his “results” don’t mean anything.
  • Sullins’ main “finding” claimed that married same-sex parents were worse than unmarried same-sex parents, but his statistical analysis did not compare those two groups at all. Instead, Sullins compared both groups against married heterosexual parents, and his “results” (which are junk) showed that same-sex parents actually fared better.
  • In summary, Sullins didn’t just perform analyses that were wrong, but his “results” don’t even support his central claim.

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First, there were no truly “married” and “unmarried” same-sex parents in the dataset, because same-sex marriage wasn’t even legal yet. WRP’s original analysis drew from data in 1995, and same-sex marriage only became legal in the state of Massachusetts in May 2004, and throughout the US in 2015.

Next, both the original WRP and Sullins’ papers used the CES-D questionnaire as part of their analysis of mental health outcomes. The CES-D is an aggregate scoring system: it has 20 questions about how frequently someone experienced a range of positive and negative emotions, and an aggregate score (from 0-60) is generated at the end. A higher aggregate score suggests a higher likelihood of depressive symptoms. Some versions of the CES-D questionnaire even state that it should not be scored at all if some questions are blank.

However, Sullins blatantly disregards this, splits up the CES-D questionnaire into fragments, and presents “results” based on fragments of the CES-D rather than the actual aggregate scores. Sullins probably did this to p-hack, where a researcher who couldn’t find any real statistical results in the initial analysis dices up their dataset and over-analyses different factors so as to create fake statistically significant results.

Yet it gets worse: Sullins’ claim isn’t even backed up by his own results. Even though he claimed that married same-sex parents produce worse outcomes than unmarried same-sex parents (a claim that Katy Faust repeats), his statistical analysis did not compare those two groups. Instead, he compared all groups to married heterosexual parents.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at one of the charts that Sullins used to demonstrate his “findings” (the numbers with asterisks indicate statistically significant results):

At first glance, this chart seems to suggest that (blue line) married same-sex couples lead to statistically significantly higher negative outcomes than unmarried same-sex couples. That is not what his data shows. The correct interpretation of his data is that married same-sex couples lead to statistically significantly lower negative outcomes compared to heterosexual married couples, i.e. they performed better.

In other words, even though his analysis showed that same-sex parents led to better outcomes (which is factually not true because CES-D scores are not meant to be chopped up like that to begin with), Sullins presented his findings in a way that suggested the complete opposite. This is an alarming display of dishonesty.

Sullins’ paper also had several comparatively minor issues:

  • Sullins slips into casual first-person language in his paper (pages 2, 4, and 5), which is generally frowned upon.
  • In the Results section of the paper’s Abstract, Sullins included “findings” that were not even statistically significant. Importantly, those “findings” were not statistically significant because Sullins did not perform statistical significance tests on them.
  • In the Introduction section of the paper, Sullins quotes a 2012 research by Regnerus to support his assertion that same-sex couples make worse parents (page 3). This research has been denounced by experts, and Regnerus even eventually admitted that his study was problematic and can’t be used to conclude that same-sex parents are worse.

In summary, Donald Paul Sullins used the categorisation of married/unmarried same-sex parents before same-sex marriage was legal, performed analyses on fragments of the CES-D questionnaire when he’s not supposed to, performed analyses across the wrong sample groups, and misrepresented his “results” in his paper’s misleading title, abstract, and charts.

This convoluted mess of a paper is junk science at its highest form, and a low blow to the scientific community at large.

Katy Faust’s review is fake science

Let’s go back to Katy Faust’s review.

Just like claiming that a street busker’s cover of Taylor Swift’s Anti-Hero is the “official Taylor Swift concert”, Katy Faust claimed that Donald Paul Sullins’ papers that used AddHealth and NHIS data were the “official results” from those studies. That’s not true.

We then found that Donald Paul Sullins’ papers were published in a fake scientific journal, and that his science is junk science.

In essence, Katy Faust’s review and conclusion was full of misrepresentations and relied on junk scientific papers published in fake journals.

At best, this means that Katy Faust is quite scientifically illiterate and really should not be quoted as an expert on science. At worst, it suggests that she is someone who is willing to warp facts and make fake scientific claims so long as they fit her agenda.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out that, for every research that claims that same-sex parents fare worse than heterosexual parents, there are many more that show the opposite.

On top of that, we shouldn’t forget that children who are not adopted are left to survive in the foster care system. Any “scientific” argument to ban same-sex adoption is really an argument that children in foster care are better off than those who are adopted by same-sex parents. Yet Katy Faust presented no evidence to address this, which suggests that her intentions lean towards spreading LGBTQ+ hate rather than “protecting children”.

But unfortunately for us, Katy Faust isn’t alone in her use of fake science to encourage discrimination.

Instance 2: Quentin Van Meter’s fake science on transgender healthcare

Dr Quentin Van Meter is an American medical doctor who spends much of his time spreading misinformation about transgender healthcare. As we will soon discover, however, Van Meter has a rather problematic relationship with science.

Van Meter made his way into Singapore through a webinar that was held in February 2021, where he presented himself as an expert on transgender health (spoiler: he isn’t a real expert).

An extract of Quentin Van Meter’s webinar invitation, where he presented himself as an expert on transgender healthcare.

At first sight, Dr Quentin Van Meter’s credentials seem legitimate: he is the president of the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) after all.

The problem? ACPeds is a sham medical association.

American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) is a hate group

TL;DR

  • ACPeds is a fringe anti-LGBTQ advocacy group that is designated a hate group (a designation shared by the Ku Klux Klan), and only has 600 members.
  • In contrast, the American Academy of Pediatrics, a real paediatrician medical association in the US, has 67,000 members.
  • ACPeds has been denounced by reputable medical associations, and has a track record of misrepresenting studies to fit their agenda of anti-LGBTQ hate.

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Underneath the professional-sounding name, ACPeds is actually not a medical association, but an advocacy group that focuses a lot of its attention opposing same-sex adoption and transgender healthcare, linking homosexuality to paedophilia, and promoting “conversion therapy”.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a real paediatrician medical association in the US, has 67,000 members compared to ACPeds’ 600 members.

In fact, ACPed is so radical that the US Southern Poverty Law Center has officially designated them a hate group (other notable hate groups include the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi group Aryan Nations).

On top of that, the US National Association of Social Workers (which has 120,000 members) also referred to ACPeds in an official court filing as a “small and marginal group” whose views are “out of step with research-based positions of the AAP and other medical and child welfare authorities” (page 15).

ACPeds also has an alarming track record of misrepresenting scientific papers to fit their agenda.

For instance, they misrepresented research by Dr Gary Remafedi by claiming that it showed that most adolescents who experience same-sex attraction no longer experience it by 25. Dr Remafedi’s research actually showed the opposite. ACPeds even misspelt Dr Remafedi’s name repeatedly when they cited his work.

ACPeds also misrepresented Dr Francis Collins’ work in genetics to claim that homosexuality in kids can be “cured”. Dr Collins, who was the director of the US National Institutes of Health, published an official statement to criticise ACPeds’ “misleading and incorrect” representation of his work.

After learning all these about ACPeds, it’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the man running a discredited association was also personally discredited by a US court as an expert.

Quentin Van Meter was discredited as an expert of transgender health by a US court

In February 2020, Quentin Van Meter was presented as an expert witness in a Texas divorce case. The couple’s child was undergoing gender-affirming care, and both parents disagreed on whether the treatment should continue.

In his testimony, Van Meter argued strongly against gender-affirming care, and allegedly called all transgender youths “delusional”. After listening to his testimony, however, the judge ruled that Van Meter is discredited as an expert in transgender healthcare and struck him off as an expert because he failed to offer a “fact-driven” testimony.

While this humiliating incident might have stopped most people from continuing to present themselves as an expert, it certainly didn’t stop Van Meter. He would go on to spread even more fake science on the subject in Singapore.

Quentin Van Meter peddled fake science during trans healthcare webinar

TL;DR

  • Van Meter claimed that transitioning worsens the mental health of trans individuals, but misrepresented studies that in reality do not support his claim. Current medical consensus is that transitioning is beneficial to trans people.
  • Van Meter claimed that most trans youth don’t grow up to be transgender, but misrepresented studies that in reality do not support his claim.
  • Van Meter claimed that youths “become” trans because they think that transitioning makes them happy, but provided no scientific evidence for his claim, and ignored the fact that transgender individuals routinely get murdered in his country for their identity.

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Local transgender support organisation TransgenderSG has compiled a useful and robust list of corrections to the fake science shared by Quentin Van Meter during his webinar. We recommend reading it to understand the full scope of corrections.

Here is a short summary.

First, Van Meter claimed that transitioning worsens the mental health of trans individuals and increases their suicide risk. That isn’t true — the science overwhelmingly shows that transitioning improves the wellbeing of transgender people.

On top of that, the “evidence” that Van Meter provided are deeply flawed:

  • He misrepresented intersex people to be the same as transgender people, when it’s basic knowledge that they are not. He argued that many intersex people who had their genitalia reassigned at birth without consent (often with permanent damage) suffered mental anguish, and wrongly concluded that transitioning is bad. The logical conclusion from this example would actually be that ensuring that someone is able to live their true gender is of utmost importance, i.e. gender-affirming care and transitioning are important.
  • A Swedish study found that adult trans persons who have undergone reassignment surgery still had elevated suicide rates compared to the average population. Van Meter misrepresented it to wrongly conclude that it is the reassignment surgery that led to the “increase” in suicide rates. That’s not true, because the study didn’t even compare pre- and post-surgery effects, so there’s no “increase” to speak of. The study’s lead researcher has publicly spoken out against misrepresentations such as Van Meter’s.
  • When giving “evidence” that transitioning led to elevated risks of depression and anxiety in trans youths, Van Meter cited studies that did not distinguish between transition status. Many studies that actually looked into transitioning found it to be beneficial to trans youths.

Second, Van Meter claimed that 80-90% of children with gender dysphoria don’t grow up to be transgender. This is not true. Many studies he cited were conducted in the 20th century, and focused on effeminate boys and homosexuality rather than transgender identities. Some of the studies focused on gender stereotypes and even included children who did not meet the diagnostic criteria for gender identity disorder.

Third, Van Meter also provided his personal theory that youths are “becoming” trans because they think that transitioning makes them happy. Unfortunately—and we hope that this is obvious by now — this theory has no scientific basis at all. Van Meter’s theory is so unscientific that it ignores the fact that trans people face tremendous mistreatment and discrimination, and are frequently murdered in many parts of the world just for being trans.

In other words, his personal theory is about just as legitimate as the conspiracy theory that the world’s governments are run by alien reptiles.

Quentin Van Meter runs a sham medical association that’s in reality a hate group, and has been discredited as an expert of trans healthcare by a court. Yet he still presented himself as an expert on trans healthcare in a Singaporean webinar, where he peddled false scientific claims to healthcare professionals and parents of transgender children, seemingly to encourage the discontinuation of life-saving and beneficial healthcare treatments for transgender individuals.

This is extremely worrying. But Quentin Van Meter isn’t the only fake expert who spoke on transgender healthcare in Singapore.

Instance 3: Julie Harren Hamilton’s fake science on transgender healthcare

In August 2021, Julie Harren Hamilton made an appearance in a Singaporean webinar as an expert on transgender healthcare. In it, she spoke about how parents and medical professionals should work with transgender children.

However, her credentials (or lack thereof) and past publications lead to serious questions about her ability to understand and speak on transgender healthcare issues.

An extract of Julie Harren Hamilton’s webinar invitation, where she presented himself as an expert on transgender healthcare.

Julie Harren Hamilton is not a doctor

First of all, Julie Hamilton isn’t a medical doctor, but a PhD holder. She has a doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy, which doesn’t exactly make her an expert in transgender healthcare.

To position herself as an expert on transgender healthcare, she would have to rely on her other areas of work.

That’s where things take a pretty dark turn.

Julie Hamilton’s handbook on the fake science of “conversion therapy”

Warning: this section contains graphic descriptions of domestic abuse and suicide.

TL;DR

  • Julie Hamilton co-edited a handbook on “conversion therapy” that teaches parents how to turn their LGBTQ+ children straight.
  • “Conversion therapy” is fake science, and has been discredited by most reputable international medical and scientific associations.
  • A quarter of Julie Hamilton’s handbook was written by George Rekers, whose “science” on “conversion therapy” was based on a harrowing experiment he conducted in the 1970s on five-year-old Kirk. Among other things, George Rekers instructed Kirk’s parents to beat him up whenever he exhibited effeminate behaviour.
  • Kirk’s father beat him up for over 10 months, and George Rekers used that experiment as proof that homosexuality in children can be “fixed”. But Kirk remained gay, and killed himself at age 38. His family attributes his suicide to the abuse they helped perform on him when he was five.
  • Kirk’s experiment is featured in Julie Hamilton’s handbook as an example of a successful case study of “conversion therapy”.

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Julie Hamilton was an editor for a handbook on “conversion therapy” published in 2009, called the “Handbook of Therapy for Unwanted Homosexual Attractions: A Guide to Treatment”. The handbook includes instructions to teach parents how they could turn their LGBTQ+ children straight.

“Conversion therapy” is fake science.

The American Psychological Association did a thorough review of scientific research on “conversion therapy” practices and efficacies in 2007, and concluded that those practices are unlikely to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity, and may in fact cause harm.

Over 70 national and international professional healthcare associations have since rejected “conversion therapy”, saying that it lacks medical basis and threatens the health of participants (page 115). Many countries have banned “conversion therapy”.

Alan Chambers, who ran America’s biggest “conversion therapy” organisation Exodus International, was one of the “experts” who wrote a positive review at the back of Julie Hamilton’s handbook in 2009. Yet 3 years later in 2012, he announced that “conversion therapy” has never worked, apologised for the harm his organisation has caused, and shut it down.

But Alan Chambers isn’t the only problematic name associated with Julie Hamilton’s handbook.

One of the handbook’s contributing authors is George Rekers, who wrote about 25% of it, explaining how people could “fix” homosexuality in children. But his “science” was based on a series of harrowing experiments he conducted in the 1970s on Kirk Murphy, a five-year-old boy.

Among other things, Rekers instructed Kirk’s parents to beat him up whenever he exhibited effeminate behaviour, with a hypothesis that such violent conditioning will stop him from “becoming” gay. Kirk’s father followed the instructions and beat his son up brutally, often with a belt, until the boy screamed and had scars all over his body. Kirk’s elder brother even asked him to try “crying harder” in hopes that his cries will make their father lighten his blows. Kirk’s sister remembered having to drown out Kirk’s screams with a pillow.

This chilling experiment went on for 10 months, with Kirk’s family claiming that they continued it at home for longer. At the end of his experiment, Rekers concluded that homosexuality in children can be “fixed”, and went on to build a multi-decade career spreading “conversion therapy” practices.

But Kirk remained gay, and killed himself at the age of 38. His family believes that the brutal experiment they performed on him as a kid destroyed him.

Yet Kirk’s experiment was listed as a successful case study of “conversion therapy” in Julie Hamilton’s horrific handbook, under the pseudonym “Craig” (pages 301-302).

(Side note: Rekers was later disgraced after being caught spending time with a gay male escort he hired through rentboy.com, which suggests that he, like Alan Chambers and many in the ex-gay or “conversion therapy” movement, are people who themselves have not been able to change their sexual orientations.)

Julie Hamilton’s bogus theories about homosexuality

Julie Hamilton’s affinity with fake science extends beyond her handbook on “conversion therapy”.

Almost the only other material that can be found about her is a video in which she discusses her theories about homosexuality.

One of them is that being LGBTQ+ itself causes depression and mental health issues, not the discrimination or familial rejection that LGBTQ+ individuals go through. Her “evidence” is that LGBTQ+ individuals in Denmark, a country with significantly less LGBTQ-rejection, still face elevated levels of depression.

While this sounds credible at first, it’s nothing more than a misrepresentation of facts.

For instance, a 2019 study found that more than a third of men in Denmark still think that gay sex is wrong (page 548, in Danish), and 57% of queer men still experience harassment due to their sexuality (page 34). In other words, even in a place as accepting as Denmark, a significant portion of LGBTQ+ individuals still face rejection from a significant portion of their society. When we understand this context, it isn’t surprising that LGBTQ+ individuals in Denmark would still face elevated rates of mental health issues.

Furthermore, the science is conclusive that LGBTQ-discrimination leads to worse mental health outcomes for LGBTQ+ people. Countries and states that legalise same-sex marriage also see declines in suicide rates in LGBTQ+ people post-legalisation, which further supports the association between discrimination and mental health outcomes.

In essence, Julie Hamilton’s theories about sexuality are wild misrepresentations of facts that aim to persuade others that a person’s sexuality and gender identity can be changed.

Julie Hamilton peddled fake science during her Singapore webinar

We won’t go into much details here, because Julie Hamilton essentially repeats many of the same false scientific claims that Quentin Van Meter made in his webinar, as well as those she made in her video on homosexuality.

Julie Hamilton isn’t an expert on transgender healthcare

Nothing frames Julie Hamilton as an expert on transgender healthcare. The only materials she has produced are a handbook about the fake science of “conversion therapy”, and a video in which she shared fake science on homosexuality.

Yet she has successfully positioned herself as an expert in Singapore, a country that takes pride in being highly educated and scientifically literate.

The reality of transgender healthcare

Before we proceed further, it is our responsibility to take some time to share the real science behind transgender healthcare. We reached out to Dr Jeremiah Pereira (MBBS (Singapore), MRCP (UK), M.Med (Internal Medicine)), who runs a gender-affirming clinic, to seek clarity on some important aspects of trans healthcare.

Dr Pereira studied Medicine at the National University of Singapore on a SingHealth Undergraduate Medicine Scholarship and graduated with their MBBS in 2018. They subsequently completed their MRCP (UK) and M. Med (Internal Medicine) in 2021. As part of the Singhealth Internal Medicine Programme, they rotated through and gained diverse experiences in various medical subspecialties. Their main areas of interest now are sexual health and gender-affirming care.

TL;DR

  • Transgender healthcare isn’t nascent or “experimental”, but an established science with decades of evidence and strong medical consensus. Healthcare professionals follow the SOC 8 guidelines, which were written by a team of experts.
  • It’s a myth that transgender healthcare means prescribing all the medical interventions available. There is no “template” for transgender healthcare; not all trans people will need or want all the different interventions. Each person’s needs are different.
  • Based on SOC 8 guidelines, transgender healthcare doesn’t encourage irreversible medical intervention for prepubescent youths. Psychosocial or reversible medical interventions are recommended instead.
  • Fake experts spread alarmist myths in order to distress parents and mislead them into thinking that trans healthcare is “experimental”, overly prescriptive, and irreversible on youths.

HIDE THE DETAILS

Transgender healthcare is an established science with strong medical consensus

After hearing the arguments from fake experts such as Quentin Van Meter and Julie Hamilton, it’s easy for us to assume that transgender healthcare is an area of medical science that is still nascent and “experimental”.

However, Dr Pereira assured us not only that trans healthcare has come a long way in the last few decades, but that its fundamentals “have been clearly defined and are empirical”.

For instance, Dr Pereira told us that healthcare professionals typically refer to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health for updated, evidence-based guidelines with regards to transgender health. The current guideline is the “Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender and Gender Diverse People, Version 8” (SOC 8), which was published in September 2022.

These guidelines are developed by a team of medical experts, based on decades of scientific and empirical evidence.

Importantly, Dr Pereira pointed out that the guidelines are intended to be flexible to meet the diverse healthcare needs (including cultural variations of experiencing gender) of transgender people globally. This flexibility in guidelines debunks another common misconception of transgender healthcare.

There is no “template” when it comes to trans healthcare or transitioning

A common myth that fake science experts tend to spread with regards to trans healthcare is that professionals want to prescribe all of the medical procedures available to every trans person. That’s not true.

Dr Pereira told us that there is no “template” approach to transgender healthcare, and that a transgender person “may need to undergo all, some, or no interventions” depending on their unique, individual needs.

They told us that “good healthcare is always patient-centric”, and that gender-affirming care is really a holistic approach at addressing a trans person’s social, mental, and medical health needs.

Each person’s healthcare needs will be different, and real professionals wouldn’t recommend or prescribe all the available options to every person.

Transgender healthcare doesn’t encourage irreversible medical intervention for youths

Another falsehood that fake experts spread about trans healthcare is that its practitioners would prescribe irreversible medical intervention to youths and children. Their intention is likely to cause alarm in parents and to create a false impression that medical professionals are loose and easy when it comes to irreversible interventions.

Dr Pereira explained to us why that is simply not true.

“The SOC 8 is quite clear that prepubescent gender diverse children aren’t eligible for medical or surgical intervention, and instead should access developmentally appropriate psychosocial practices that will sustain them over time into adolescence,” Dr Pereira clarified.

On top of that, Dr Pereira also highlighted that medical interventions indicated for gender diverse adolescents include reversible interventions, such as puberty blockers and menstrual suppressors. “These options afford gender diverse adolescents the much needed time to explore their gender identity without the worry of the irreversible changes of puberty,” Dr Pereira said.

In other words, actual medical experts (who would follow SOC 8 guidelines) wouldn’t even recommend irreversible medical intervention to youths who have not started puberty. The only people who claim otherwise are fake experts who lack an understanding of the reality of trans healthcare.

The dangers of fake science

In July 2020, Joanna Theng and Jaime Wong came under heavy criticism after they published a video that linked the gay community to Satanism. Yet despite the horrific claims the pair made in their video, what they did was perhaps less insidious than the onslaught of fake science we’re seeing today.

Because while their personal beliefs were harmful and hurtful, they didn’t try to pass them off as secular, scientific facts.

The use of fake science is dangerous because it repackages discriminatory beliefs as “scientific facts”, with the goal of encouraging people outside of their belief circles to engage in discrimination. In other words, people who create and promote fake anti-LGBTQ science are co-opting secular society’s language to promote their own agenda of discrimination.

Certain aspects of fake science make it a particularly tricky problem to deal with.

Fake science is much easier to create than to debunk

It is so much easier to make fake stuff up than it is to debunk them.

For instance, the fake paper that we submitted took less than a day to write. Similarly, a Facebook post summarising the “findings” of fake scientific papers may only take a couple of minutes to create.

On the flip side, this article took many months to research and write, because debunking fake scientific claims requires us to read and understand the details of each claim. Heck, even reading an article that debunks fake science takes longer than reading a post that mentions it.

The burden of work is truly unequal: it is much easier to find fake scientific papers that support absurd claims than it is to dissect the papers and explain why their claims are false.

LGBTQ-related scientific knowledge is already lacking here

To make matters worse, LGBTQ-related knowledge in Singapore is already lacking to begin with, which means that the average person would have very little existing knowledge to discern whether “facts” about LGBTQ+ identities are real or fake.

This lack of knowledge is largely caused by the state’s institutionalised discrimination and erasure of LGBTQ+ people. In schools, LGBTQ+ identities are erased and shunned, which means that students don’t get accurate information about such identities. In media spaces, LGBTQ+ topics are censored, which prevents a wide segment of our population from hearing accurate information about LGBTQ+ identities.

In fact, the state of LGBTQ-related scientific knowledge is so bad that a recent study of 320 clinical medical students in Singapore found that only 12% of them answered all 11 true-false questions about LGBTQ+ health correctly.

Despite the recent repeal of 377A, the state has reiterated its anti-LGBTQ stance on housing, employment, media regulation, and education. This continued state-sanctioned discrimination signals to people that LGBTQ+ identities are still something undesirable and wrong, which, coupled with the already weak understanding of LGBTQ+ identities, makes it even more likely that the average person here will believe false but negative “scientific facts” about LGBTQ+ people.

Fake science can have long term effects

The immediate harm of fake science is obvious: wrong information is shared. This can already be disastrous, especially when it comes to healthcare information.

Yet it doesn’t stop there. Fake science can have long term effects on the general public’s ability to discern fact from fiction.

We have already seen the beginnings of this during the pandemic: groups such as “Healing the Divide” began spreading fake scientific information about the coronavirus and vaccination. Even though the group was stopped by the authorities, fake information about COVID-19 continued to spread; most of us have probably received anti-vaccination messages from someone in our extended family in the last few years.

The normalisation of misinformation — including fake news and fake science — can have destabilising effects on society. We’ve seen this happen in the US with the Trump administration — fake information about the pandemic led to a weak response and loss of public trust in healthcare institutions, and made the US the country with the highest COVID-19 death rates among advanced nations.

Singapore is still pretty far away from the dire straits the US is in right now, but we cannot take this for granted. The moment fake science and misinformation proves to be successful at swaying public opinion on any single topic, other bad actors will use it to pursue their own nefarious agendas.

Once that happens, it will be an uphill battle to debunk fake information.

So what can we do?

How we can combat anti-LGBTQ fake science

To effectively combat anti-LGBTQ fake science, we’ll need to adopt a multi-layered approach.

Get better at the technical details

This is the most obvious one: get better at spotting fake science.

The problem with this approach is also obvious: not everyone has the expertise or time to go through the details.

Some false scientific claims are easy to spot, such as those that lack any credible source. But perpetrators of fake science are sophisticated, and have a dizzying catalogue of tricks to employ: from fake scientific journals to fake medical organisations, to the many different ways they could misrepresent research findings.

Greater general scientific literacy can only bring us so far.

More exposure to LGBTQ+ information

To guard against misinformation surrounding LGBTQ+ identities, we need to expose people to accurate LGBTQ+ information.

This includes teaching students evidence-based information about LGBTQ+ identities, allowing accurate representation in media spaces, and more. When the public is well-informed on LGBTQ+ matters, it’s less likely for fake science to mislead them.

Institutionalised erasure of LGBTQ-related information not only diminishes an LGBTQ+ individual’s sense of self worth, but also makes it easier for bad actors to promote discrimination against them through fake science.

Ask yourself: how would we apply the same “science” to other scenarios?

Most anti-LGBTQ fake science aren’t just presented as “facts”, but are used as a basis to encourage discriminatory actions.

When we’re presented with a “scientific fact” about the LGBTQ+ community, we shouldn’t just question the science itself, but ask ourselves how we would apply the same science to other scenarios or groups of people. That way, we can find out if our conclusions were really based on science, or an underlying bias against the community in question.

For instance, in the example where someone shared Katy Faust’s fake science about same-sex parenting, they didn’t just share them as “facts”, but used them to promote a complete legislative ban of same-sex adoption.

Apart from scrutinising the “science”, we need to ask ourselves how we would apply the same science to other communities in Singapore. For example, if “science” shows that children of specific ethnic or religious groups fare worse than children of another group, would we feel comfortable pushing for a complete adoption ban for those groups? Do we have that right?

Are we comfortable taking this same course of action for all socioeconomic groups that can be “proven” to fare worse as parents? Do we try to understand how we can help them bridge that gap, or do we rush in to stop them from having children altogether?

If the same science seems to justify action against a particular community but causes pause for action against another community, then it isn’t a matter of science but a matter of prejudice.

In another example, Quentin Van Meter and Julie Harren Hamilton presented themselves as “experts” on transgender healthcare for children. How would we apply the same science to other scenarios of childrens’ healthcare?

For example, if someone were to claim to be an expert on asthma in children, what credentials would we expect them to have? Would we be happy to listen to an expert who was previously discredited as an expert on asthma? What if we realise that the expert published a handbook on asthma that involves experiments where parents would beat up their child?

The exercise of applying the same “science” to other scenarios is a useful litmus test to pick apart any underlying biases we have in our rush to recommend actions based on “science”.

Because at the end of the day, it’s not just the legitimacy of science that matters, but also how we choose to apply that science to society and the people around us. The same set of “scientific facts” can just as easily be applied to lift people up as it can be to put them down.

Without being grounded by a common set of understanding and respect, the pursuit of science — fake or otherwise — can lead us down a dark, dystopian future where research is done not to improve lives, but to crush them.

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