Transgender athlete research rejected after professor called trans women ‘males’
Transgender athlete research has been shut down after a professor called trans women "males".
Dr John Armstrong, a scholar at King's College London (KCL), applied to carry out a survey of elite athletes and volunteers on whether trans women, who are born male, should compete in women's track and field categories and whether they felt they could express their views.
However, the university's ethics panel rejected his application last week citing equality and diversity concerns, in what has been labelled an attack on academic freedom.
In a rejection letter, the university said: "The language is not sensitive and the misgendering of athletes is not appropriate... there is obvious bias in the language and there is very little scientific reasoning underpinning the hypothesis."
KCL took issue with how Dr Armstrong had referred to trans women as "males" in his research proposal.
Dr Armstrong's application had said: "The principle aim of the project is to find the views of athletes and volunteers on the question of when males should be allowed to compete in the female category in athletics."
The row comes as World Athletics President Seb Coe banned trans women from competing in female international events this week, to defend fairness in women's sport against the well-documented scientific advantages gained by those who have undergone male puberty.
UK Athletics has said it wants an "open" category for those of all sexes, while national track, field and cross-country competitions for English school pupils will bar trans girls from female races too.
However, Lord Coe said "we're not saying no forever" and there remains a patchwork of rules on trans athletes at national, Olympic and grassroots level.
Dr Armstrong, a reader in financial mathematics, also accused the ethics chiefs of an "ad hominem" attack on his expertise after they questioned why he was leading the project.
He is already conducting statistical analyses on trans athletes and had brought in Prof Alice Sullivan, a leading survey expert, as co-investigator of the proposed project.
KCL's panel also said "there is a risk that some participants might be unhappy or distressed by the questions that are being posed to them" and asked Dr Armstrong to "please contact the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion team to seek input on the wording used".
Dr Armstrong told The Telegraph: "They appear to be trying to prevent me from using the concept of sex at all. I am not misgendering any individuals, I am just accurately using the terms male and female.
"I’m being blocked from conducting research and it’s impacting upon my academic freedom.
"No serious work has been done by the various federations to try to find out the opinions of people in athletics, both at the grassroots and elite athletes.
"By refusing to allow people to conduct research that doesn’t meet certain activist viewpoints, that undermines the credibility of research in general."
Former GB athlete Mara Yamauchi, the third-fastest British woman ever to have ran the marathon, told The Telegraph: "Female voices in sport have repeatedly been silenced, ignored and intimidated.
"Research like Dr Armstrong’s is therefore valuable, necessary and important. It is disappointing to hear that it has been blocked. This is yet another example of academic freedom being diminished."
Fiona McAnena, sports director at campaign group Fair Play For Women, said: "Sport is organised by birth sex - male and female. If we can't refer to that, we can't have women's sport. Do these people think we shouldn't have sport for women, just mixed sport? All sport would be dominated by men and boys."
A King’s College London spokesman said: “While we can’t comment on individual research applications, we are strongly committed to ensuring that the research carried out by our staff and students is consistently of the highest quality and to the most rigorous standards.
"This is important to instill confidence in academic communities, funding bodies, and crucially the public that the data, findings, and results produced by our researchers are sound and trustworthy.”