Christine Burns' Open Letters to the President of the National Academies,
and an example of the National Academies' response to such letters.

Christine Burns Open Letter to the Academies Presidents of May 6, 2003

An example of Suzanne Woolsey's response letter to writers to the Academies' Presidents of May 22, 2003

Christine Burns 2nd Open Letter to the Academies Presidents of May 25, 2003



From: Christine Burns []
Sent: 06 May 2003 23:24
Subject: A Letter of Concern

Dear Presidents Alberts, Wulf and Fineberg

I write to you from the United Kingdom as an active campaigner for the rights of transsexual people and in connection with your publication of the book "The Man Who Would Be Queen", by J M Bailey.

First I will introduce myself:

Until recently I was a vice-president of the organisation "Press for Change" (, I have written widely on issues surrounding the lives of transsexual people for over ten years, I provide consultancy to organisations on how to responsibly handle the gender "transitions" of staff through my business "Plain Sense Ltd", I am a member of the Parliamentary Forum on Transsexualism and I have been very closely involved as a specialist in consultation with officials in Her Majesty's Government for over three years on research which culminated in the public announcement of legislative plans in December 2002.

You can see details of this official work on the web site of the Lord Chancellor's Department at and you can familiarise yourselves with historic events surrounding this landmark policy announcement starting with the Press for Change press release on the topic at You can also find out more about myself at and a more complete bibliography of my own work at

The UK Government's official detailed assessment of the issues facing trans people in UK society is also available online from the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) at and the unanimous plenary judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in July 2002, which finally prompted the Government to bring forward legislative plans, can be retrieved direct from the ECHR's web repository at :

I offer this lengthy preamble to my letter in order to place beyond doubt the seriousness with which authorities in Europe and the rest of the world now consider the rights of transsexual people, and the weight accorded by those authorities to an extensive volume of authentic scientific research into the etiology and best practice treatment of transsexual people.

The consensus on these issues is reflected in the Government's own policy document for the press and public, which you can read at and which very clearly states :

 What transsexualism is not

Transsexualism is not transvestism or cross-dressing for sexual thrill, psychological comfort or compulsion.

It is not an orientation towards people of the same sex.

It is not related to paedophilia.

It has nothing to do with drag queens.

Transsexual people do not choose their gender identity. Transsexualism is an overpowering sense of different gender identity rather than any sexual orientation: transsexual people may be heterosexual, gay/lesbian or celibate.

It is not a mental illness. It is a condition considered in itself to be free of other pathology (though transsexual people can suffer depression or illnesses like anyone else).

The policy statement goes on to cite the findings of the European Court of Human Rights, itself having taken expert witness testimony from recognised practitioners around the world :


Extracts from the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in Goodwin -v- UK and I -v- UK delivered on 11 July 2002

 It remains the case that there are no conclusive findings as to the cause of transsexualism and, in particular, whether it is wholly psychological or associated with physical differentiation in the brain. The expert evidence in the domestic case of Bellinger -v- Bellinger was found to indicate a growing acceptance of findings of sexual differences in the brain that are determined pre-natally, though scientific proof for the theory was far from complete. The Court considers it more significant however that transsexualism has wide international recognition as a medical condition for which treatment is provided in order to afford relief (for example, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual fourth edition (DSM-IV) replaced the diagnosis of transsexualism with "gender identity disorder"; see also the International Classification of Diseases, tenth edition (ICD-10)).

The United Kingdom national health service, in common with the vast majority of Contracting States, acknowledges the existence of the condition and provides or permits treatment, including irreversible surgery. The medical and surgical acts which in this case rendered the gender re-assignment possible were indeed carried out under the supervision of the national health authorities. Nor, given the numerous and painful interventions involved in such surgery and the level of commitment and conviction required to achieve a change in social gender role, can it be suggested that there is anything arbitrary or capricious in the decision taken by a person to undergo gender re-assignment. In those circumstances, the ongoing scientific and medical debate as to the exact causes of the condition is of diminished relevance.

While it also remains the case that a transsexual cannot acquire all the biological characteristics of the assigned sex (Sheffield and Horsham, cited above, p. 2028, § 56), the Court notes that with increasingly sophisticated surgery and types of hormonal treatments, the principal unchanging biological aspect of gender identity is the chromosomal element. It is known however that chromosomal anomalies may arise naturally (for example, in cases of intersex conditions where the biological criteria at birth are not congruent) and in those cases, some persons have to be assigned to one sex or the other as seems most appropriate in the circumstances of the individual case. It is not apparent to the Court that the chromosomal element, amongst all the others, must inevitably take on decisive significance for the purposes of legal attribution of gender identity for transsexuals (see the dissenting opinion of Thorpe LJ in Bellinger -v- Bellinger cited in paragraph 52 above; and the judgment of Chisholm J in the Australian case, Re Kevin, cited in paragraph 55 above).

The Court is not persuaded therefore that the state of medical science or scientific knowledge provides any determining argument as regards the legal recognition of transsexuals... The Court ...... attaches less importance to the lack of evidence of a common European approach to the resolution of the legal and practical problems posed, than to the clear and uncontested evidence of a continuing international trend in favour not only of increased social acceptance of transsexuals but of legal recognition of the new sexual identity of post-operative transsexuals.... [The Court] is not convinced...that the need to uphold rigidly the integrity of the historic basis of the birth registration system takes on the same importance in the current climate as it did in 1986...

...In the twenty first century the right of transsexuals to personal development and to physical and moral security in the full sense enjoyed by others in society cannot be regarded as a matter of controversy requiring the lapse of time to cast clearer light on the issues involved. In short, the unsatisfactory situation in which post-operative transsexuals live in an intermediate zone as not quite one gender or the other is no longer sustainable. (Domestic recognition of this evaluation may be found in the report of the Interdepartmental Working Group and the Court of Appeal's judgment of Bellinger -v- Bellinger).

The Court does not underestimate the difficulties posed or the important repercussions which any major change in the system will inevitably have, not only in the field of birth registration, but also in the areas of access to records, family law, affiliation, inheritance, criminal justice, employment, social security and insurance. However, as is made clear by the report of the Interdepartmental Working Group, these problems are far from insuperable... No concrete or substantial hardship or detriment to the public interest has indeed been demonstrated as likely to flow from any change to the status of transsexuals and, as regards other possible consequences, the Court considers that society may reasonably be expected to tolerate a certain inconvenience to enable individuals to live in dignity and worth in accordance with the sexual identity chosen by them at great personal cost.

Decisions of courts elsewhere in the world, most notably those in Australia and Florida, have in the last nine months continued to build on the same consensual arguments.

It was therefore with great surprise and regret that I learned of the Academies' publication of a book by J M Bailey which seems to inhabit a universe where none of this enormous body of work exists and where, in its place, the author performs a gross disservice to the name of science. You will note that I don't advance any particular etiology to oppose J M Bailey's - merely the observation that a work of this kind should properly acknowledge other peer-reviewed conclusions when merely offering unsubstantiated opinions in place.

In you presence Sirs I am no scientist. I have school-level qualifications in Physics and Mathematics, a First Class Honours Degree in Computer Science and a Masters degree in research connected with computer operating systems but I would not presume to lecture yourselves in the basic conduct of all scientific research.

Nevertheless I respectfully ask you to examine the content of a book you have published with all of your prestige of your academies and which purports to represent the same sort of "science" which your other authors practice. I invite you to look for rigour and controls, honesty and open-mindedness in interpretation of data, and to ask yourselves what this example teaches the next generation of students. I ask you to consider the disrepute into which you bring all that other honest academic endaevour, and the questions which must ultimately be asked about the authority of your institution so long as such poor scholarship is passed by yourselves as acceptable. Above all I ask you to give very serious thought to the very real hurt and damage which the authoritative publication of this poorly-justified work does to the lives of tens of thousands of trans people and their families around the world.

When helping the UK Government to prepare for the announcement of its new policy plans in the last weeks of 2002 I collected together the biographies of one hundred trans people and their partners in the UK and published them as a living testimony to their diverse and successful lives. You can read these mini biographies at and you may notice that none of them would fit neatly into the model evolved by J M Bailey in his pursuit of Drag Queens in gay bars. J.M Bailey could have read these biographies too .. but then I suspect, given his statements on the reliability of trans testimony, that he would have classified these 100 souls as liars, one and all.

When the UK Government's policy was announced by the lead Minister, Rosie Winterton MP she commented to the press that:

"I have been impressed by the case put forward by the Trans community and the persuasive arguments they have used in illustrating the plight of an often forgotten minority in society. If democracies are measured by how they treat their minorities then I believe it is absolutely right that the 5,000 strong Trans community be afforded the same rights enjoyed by the other millions of us in the UK"

The UK Government has not gone soft in the head. The fact that it took over 33 years of detailed and patient work to bring about this moment in history for one of the very smallest minorities in the UK tells its own story about the weight of real scientific, sociological and legal work which was involved in getting people to open their eyes wide enough to see past their stereotypes and false axioms. It is therefore all the more amazing that the United States .. that country so often regarded as being ahead of the wave in every other sphere .. could have been the place to nurture a publication so regressive in its content and approach.

I plead with you therefore to consider very carefully the damage and hurt perpetrated in your name and to show by your prompt and unequivocal actions that you recognise a mistake when it has been made and have the corporate humility and honesty to own up and put it right.

Yours sincerely

Christine Burns
Email :




Office of Communications 500 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: 202 334 1212
Fax: 202 334 1210


We have received your message about the book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, by J.
Michael Bailey, and I am responding on behalf of the National Academies. We
appreciate knowing of your concerns and recognize that the contents of this book
are controversial. The copyright page of the book carries the following notice:
"Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this
volume are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the
National Academy of Sciences or its affiliated institutions." This statement
applies to all books published by the Joseph Henry Press. Joseph Henry Press
publications are not reports of the National Academies, but are individually
authored works on topics related to science, engineering, and medicine.

In our opinion, the best response to writing with which one disagrees is more
writing. Those who hold views contrary to those expressed in this book are
encouraged to present and publish the evidence and reasoning in support of their

Suzanne H. Woolsey, Ph.D.
Chief Communications Officer





From: Christine Burns []
Sent: 26 May 2003 20:35
To: Bruce Alberts; Bill Wulf; Harvey Fineberg
Cc: Bill Colglazier; Suzanne Woolsey; Barbara Kline Pope; Peter Raven; Stephen Mautner
Subject: Scientific Freedom vs Scientific Responsibility


Copied to :

Dr Suzanne H Woolsey PhD
Chief Communicaitons Officer
National Academies of Sciences

From Christine Burns, M.Sc., B.Sc., C.Eng., M.B.C.S.
Member of the Parliamentary Forum on Transsexualism and
Former Vice President of Press for Change (

Dear Presidents Alberts, Wulf and Fineberg

Almost three weeks ago I wrote to you from the UK to express concern about the issues raised by your academies' publication of the book "The Man Who Would Be Queen" by Prof. J.M.Bailey of North-Western University.

After so long with no reply, and because it is possible that my original letter may have gone astray, I am writing again. I am also attaching a copy of that earlier letter to refresh your memories. Furthermore, as I believe that other correspondents have received responses via the communications office of the publishing company itself, I am also copying this open letter to Suzanne Woolsey.

In some ways I am grateful that you haven't replied to my previous open letter as this affords the opportunity to update the expression of my concerns in the light of events over the last three weeks. Nevertheless, I would appreciate a reply on this occasion. A considered reply please - not a cut and paste of the standard one, for the core issue in this affair has now moved very quickly from a concern about why you published such a shoddy peice of work with the authority of your organisation, to the question of how you have sought to defend that action in the light of increasingly serious evidence of scientific fraud.

First and foremost I will state for the avoidance of doubt that my concerns (and those of many others) are not about the right of Mr Bailey to publish his peculiar, sexually-biassed, non-mainstream ideas at all. America did not invent the concept of free speech - your country's founders merely incorporated the idea into the constitution in a way which gave inadequate attention to the parallel requirement for responsibility. In my view Mr Bailey is entitled to publish his views by all means, just as people are entitled to decide they want to teach creationism in place of Darwinism. The question is about the implications of WHERE his ideas have been published, and the false stamp of authority which they acquire as a result. That is, unless you are of the view that the academies' imprimatur should carry less authority than I was given to believe that it did.

So, this debate is not about freedom of speech or its subset "academic freedom". It is about the fact that all rights come with responsibilities attached, and that is as true in the academic sphere as in the world at large - especially when the matter at hand is a book which purports to bridge between the two worlds and present "authentic science" in a form which is intended to be accessible to the public.

In my own country certain media carry authority, and hence a responsibility for the way in which they lend that authority to ideas they disseminate. Examples include the BBC - and until recently used to include the London Times. At the other end of the scale there are plenty of tabloid newspapers and these enjoy a very wide license to print what they like, regardless of its accuracy or effect. Those imprints are not taken seriously however, just as the London Times is nowadays taken less seriously too as a newspaper of record, because it let go of the editorial discipline required to maintain people's unquestionning trust in its word.

I would urge you to think about that object lesson with care as I proceed. Where do you wish to remain in the landscape of publishing? Are you to remain a "BBC type" or become a "Times type" ? Do you pursue absolute integrity or sales figures?

The standard reply which Suzanne has so far sent to your concerned correspondents appears to view the issues raised by Professor Bailey's book as a simple difference in academic opinion, which should be addressed by the normal process of adducing more and better evidence or opinions to support another view. This naive interpretation is wide of the mark however. Let us examine the emerging evidence for why:

1. First and most importantly there is the emerging possibility of academic fraud. On the face of it, and I am obviously not in the position to verify the evidence which is being published, there appears to be a strong indication that Professor Bailey may have falsified the data which he presents. His "research subjects" are coming forward in print to say that they have not only been misrepresented in Bailey's book, but that he refused to make changes to correct that misrepresentation prior to publication. If the accusations are proven then there is no debate to be had with his "ideas". One doesn't debate with liars, and science has no place for them. I would therefore urge you to look at the evidence being presented on the internet and, if necessary, investigate the claims being made to the extent you require to be assured of its authenticity. What you then do is a question of public morality.


2. Second there is the question of wider misrepresentation. It is not the case that Professor Bailey's ideas are new and waiting to be opposed. In fact they are old ideas that have never held much sway in academic circles beyond a small self-serving community of researchers who have a poor reputation with the people they were supposed to care for. The rest of the research community, along with the political and legal communities in Europe and Australasia, have long-since moved on from this point with ideas and constructs to better describe and serve the people whose lives are Bailey's "research subjects". This therefore raises the question of the author's purpose in publishing - especially in going to such lengths to carefully discredit or avoid mention of work which doesn't agree with his ideas. This would not perhaps be so serious in a purely academic publication. Proper peer review usually weeds out such bias but, even if it doesn't, the audience is already well-enough informed to be able to take a judgement on what they read and to respond quickly through the publication's letters pages. Publishing a book for a wider audience is very different, however - especially when the ideas which are advanced are designed to pander to the worst form of pre-existing prejudices and stereotypes. This is where the matter of scientific responsibility is most acute, and I would venture that the most compelling indicator for why this matter is so serious is your own apparent inability to fully comprehend the wrongness of what he says. I am acutely aware that as you read this you are picturing the words coming from -- well, let's face it -- a sexual deviant.

3. Thirdly there is the question of Professor Bailey's own unwillingness to participate in the debate which you suggest. This seems a very strange behaviour on the part of any kind of scientist. Once again there is ample evidence of the author's unwillingness to hear from anyone whose data didn't fit his theories PRIOR to publication. Subsequent to publication, he has then retreated even further into his shell and the statement of his self defence on the book ends with the enticing suggestion that people should only write to him if they are disposed to be converted to his views. Unfortunately sirs, having spent more than a decade meeting many hundreds of transsexual people and learning how to bear the responsibility of representing them before the leaders of my country, I would not be in a position to state that I could meet such terms - Professor Bailey's unwillingness to come out and play fairly precludes the kind of debate which Ms Woolsey recommends.

See Professor Bailey's response to critics at :

To return to Suzanne Woolsey's "defence" of the publication, therefore, it really is not appropriate to dignify this issue as a simple matter of polite scientific "difference".

To have a difference there must be a valid proposition on both sides, and the growing consensus from readers of Bailey's work suggests his "side" to be based on nothing more than unfounded opinion bolstered by risible "research" and data presentation which is increasingly appearing to have been wilfully falsified. There is no polite way to put this : the man has been accused of lying in print in ways that endanger the lives and well-being of transsexual people throughout the world. If substantiated that evidence makes him a fraud, and renders the academies and those who continue to associate themselves with Mr Bailey's work as willing accomplices to that fraud. History will not view you well.

To assert that such behaviour is merely "controversial" is to suggest that Pol Pot was just being a bit controversial too.

If you want a way in which to classify the continued support for this book then I would offer you the alternative : Incitement to hatred.

As I have said, the most disturbing aspect of this affair is the ample evidence of your own apparent inability to comprehend what's wrong with the ideas being advanced. To me, as an experienced rights campaigner, the book is not dangerous because it peddles a set of ideas which people might choose to believe, but because it provides a false stamp of scientific authority to beliefs that are already out there in your country. Trans people die because people believe these things already. What Bailey is doing with your complicity is to pass the rocks and knives to the mob.

As I intimated at the beginning of this letter therefore, the debate has moved on significantly in my own eyes.

It is not about Bailey's book itself. That is already well on its way to being utterly discredited, along with the author and those who allegedly helped him to edit it. The debate is now about the role of your own organisation and the way in which it wields editorial responsibility when it is discovered to have made a publishing mistake which negatively affects people's lives.

You are not now just being watched and evaluated by trans people alone. Around the world concerned people are waiting to see how you react.

As before I would strongly urge you to put from your mind the notion that these words are coming from the minds of people caricatured in the book which you uncritically recommend to the world. The criticism is coming from the very different people whose successes, intellectual abilities and ethics are simply not represented at all in that distorted picture.

And do not underestimate the anger and determination which those people have to see this through. We have all grown up in a world which for decades was constrained and rendered fearful by the likes of Professor Bailey exercising unbridled power to describe us in derogatory terms. The extent of that abuse rivals other famous historical examples of scientific complicity in the control of the lives of minorities. In spite of all that, however, transsexual people have thrived and extracted themselves from the ghetto to confront their abusers. And we are not going to allow ourselves to be put back there.

Yours sincerely

Christine Burns

Email :




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