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Sex is binary, say majority of scientists polled

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Sex is binary, according to the majority of British scientists in a poll.

The difference between sex and gender has become an increasingly incendiary topic as activists, scientists and politicians all debate the terms and the implications they have for policy.

But a survey of almost 200 scientists at British universities, conducted by The Telegraph and Censuswide, found 58 per cent of respondents think sex is binary, except in rare cases such as intersex individuals.

Less than a third (29 per cent) agreed with the statement “sex is not binary”, while one in eight people (13 per cent) had no views or preferred not to answer.

However, almost two thirds of scientists (64 per cent) said gender was fluid, while 22 per cent said gender is binary, and 14 per cent gave no answer.

“To me this just means that at least 29 per cent of the academics that filled out this questionnaire do not understand the biological concept of sex, and at least 22 per cent of them do not know what gender means,” Dr Wolfgang Goymann, professor for behavioural biology at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence, told The Telegraph.

Dr Goymann recently published an article in the journal BioEssays, where he said some scientists are arguing that sex is a graded spectrum rather than a binary trait.

“Leading science journals have been adopting this relativist view, thereby opposing fundamental biological facts,” he said.

“While we fully endorse efforts to create a more inclusive environment for gender-diverse people, this does not require denying biological sex.

“On the contrary, the rejection of biological sex seems to be based on a lack of knowledge about evolution and it champions species chauvinism, inasmuch as it imposes human identity notions on millions of other species.”

The survey touched on a range of topics that are divisive in the scientific community such as the origin of Covid, the Government’s pandemic modelling and gain-of-function research, as well as the gender/sex debate.

Only UK lecturers were invited to fill in the form and more than half were educated to PhD level or higher. The faculty of social sciences accounted for 18 per cent of the participants, 13 per cent were medicine and 12 per cent were life sciences.

Review launched

The survey results come as the Government is launching a review of sex and gender data in research, which spans the entirety of the public sector but will also have scope to “consider research institutions” outside the public sector, including universities.

Prof Alice Sullivan, head of research at the UCL Social Research Institute, is leading the review which will make recommendations in six months’ time.

Helen Joyce, director of advocacy at Sex Matters, a human rights organisation that campaigns for clarity on sex in law and everyday life, told The Telegraph: “This survey has two remarkable findings. The first is that 29 per cent of academics are apparently unaware of the obvious fact that sex is binary.

“The second is that nearly two-thirds of academics say that ‘gender is fluid’. That is a strikingly confident statement about a nebulous concept.

“Most ordinary people think “gender” is just a polite alternative to “sex”, so are these academics talking about personal style – masculinity or femininity; or assertions about “identity” – that is, states of mind?

“This muddle feeds through into academic research and public policy. It’s concerning that people supposedly among our best and brightest are seemingly blind to this confusion.”