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After backlash, publisher to retract article that surveyed parents of children with gender dysphoria, says coauthor


Springer Nature will retract an article that reported results of a survey of parents who thought their children’s gender dysphoria resulted from social contagion. The move is “due to concerns about lack of informed consent,” according to tweets by one of the paper’s authors.

The article, “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria: Parent Reports on 1655 Possible Cases,” was published in March in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. It has not been cited in the scientific literature, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science, but Altmetric, which tracks the online attention papers receive, ranks the article in the top 1% of all articles of a similar age.

Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) is, the article stated, a “controversial theory” that “common cultural beliefs, values, and preoccupations cause some adolescents (especially female adolescents) to attribute their social problems, feelings, and mental health issues to gender dysphoria,” and that “youth with ROGD falsely believe that they are transgender,” in part due to social influences.

Michael Bailey, a psychology professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and the paper’s corresponding author, tweeted:

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Bailey told Retraction Watch that he would “respond when [he] can” to our request for comment, following “new developments on our end.” Neither Springer Nature nor Kenneth Zucker, editor in chief of Archives of Sexual Behavior, has responded to similar requests.

The paper reported the results of a survey of parents who contacted the website, with which the first author is affiliated. According to the abstract, the authors found:

“Pre-existing mental health issues were common, and youths with these issues were more likely than those without them to have socially and medically transitioned. Parents reported that they had often felt pressured by clinicians to affirm their AYA [adolescent and young adult] child’s new gender and support their transition. According to the parents, AYA children’s mental health deteriorated considerably after social transition.”

Soon after publication, the paper attracted criticism that its method of gathering study participants was biased, and that the authors ignored information that didn’t support the theory of ROGD.

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Archives of Sexual Behavior is the official publication of the International Academy of Sex Research, which tweeted on April 19:

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The episode prompted a May 5 “Open Letter in Support of Dr. Kenneth Zucker and the Need to Promote Robust Scientific Debate” from the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism that has now been signed by nearly 2000 people.

On May 10, the following publisher’s note was added to the article:

“readers are alerted that concerns have been raised regarding methodology as described in this article. The publisher is currently investigating this matter and a further response will follow the conclusion of this investigation.

Six days later, the publisher removed the article’s supplementary information “due to a lack of documented consent by study participants.”

The story may feel familiar to readers who recall what happened to another paper in 2018. In that paper, Brown University’s Lisa Littman coined the term ROGD. Following a backlash, Brown took down a press release touting the results, and the paper was eventually republished with corrections.

Bailey has been accused of mistreating transgender research participants, but an investigation by bioethicist Alice Dreger found that of the many accusations, “almost none appear to have been legitimate.”

In a post on UnHerd earlier this month, Bailey responded to the reported concerns about the study lacking approval by an Institutional Review Board (IRB), and that the way the participants were recruited biased the results.

IRB approval was not necessary, Bailey wrote, because Suzanna Diaz, the first author who collected the data, was not affiliated with an institution that required it. “Suzanna Diaz” is a pseudonym for “the mother of a gender dysphoric child she believes has ROGD” who wishes to remain anonymous for the sake of her family, Bailey wrote.

The paper included the following statement about its ethical approval:

“The first author and creator of the survey is not affiliated with any university or hospital. Thus, she did not seek approval from an IRB. After seeing a presentation of preliminary survey results by the first author, the second author suggested the data to be analyzed and submitted as an academic article (he was not involved in collecting the data). The second author consulted with his university’s IRB, who declined to certify the study because data were already collected. However, they advised that publishing the results was likely ethical provided data were deidentified. Editor’s note: After I reviewed the manuscript, I concluded that its publication is ethically appropriate, consistent with Springer policy.”

In his UnHerd post, Bailey quoted from the journal’s submission guidelines:

“If a study has not been granted ethics committee approval prior to commencing, retrospective ethics approval usually cannot be obtained and it may not be possible to consider the manuscript for peer review. The decision on whether to proceed to peer review in such cases is at the Editor’s discretion.”

“Regarding the methodological limitations of the study, these were addressed forthrightly and thoroughly in our article,” Bailey wrote.

Adam Marcus, a cofounder of Retraction Watch, is an editor at this news organization.

A version of this article first appeared on

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