by Laurel Duggan
The University of Washington (UW) and Seattle Children’s Hospital (SCH) conspired to cover their tracks after falsely claiming their study had found that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones improved mental health for transgender youths, according to emails obtained by Jason Rantz.
UW and SCH spokespeople agreed not to correct inaccurate news articles that were written based off their press release and to ignore questions from outlets they characterized as conservative, including the Daily Caller News Foundation, after independent journalist Jesse Singal published a thorough critique of the study and the UW press release. UW had claimed their February study found that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones “caused rates of depression to plummet” among trans youths when, based off their own data, depression only decreased 1 percentage point for that group and no causal relationship was established.
“I can’t overemphasize how much cover was provided to UW by the fact that after my initial article, it was *only* conservative outlets that reached out about this scandal,” Singal wrote. “The comms team is explicit about this over and over in their internal emails. Because it’s The College Fix and The Daily Caller &c reaching out, they see no need to engage or respond. Lib outlets had no interest in pursuing a story about a hospital distorting suicide research.”
1/ I’ve now read the full cache of emails Rantz obtained, and I can’t overemphasize how much cover was provided to UW by the fact that after my initial article, it was *only* conservative outlets that reached out about this scandal.https://t.co/8DgHvIucgu
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) August 28, 2022
Staff acknowledged that the initial press release was inaccurate and discussed their plans to ignore reporters and not proactively address falsehoods that had been spread by UW about their study’s findings, noting that there had been overwhelmingly positive coverage in the mainstream press, internal emails Rantz shared with the DCNF revealed. They noted in multiple emails that reporters who had reached out were conservative, which some staffers viewed as justification for not responding to their inquiries.
“Laurel Duggan is from the Daily Caller, which was launched by Tucker Carlson,” one email read (Duggan, the author of this article, is employed by the Daily Caller News Foundation, not the Daily Caller).
Transgender youths who took puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones had a 57% chance of moderate to severe depression at the beginning of the study and a 56% chance after a year, still about eight times higher than the general population, in the study. Yet UW researchers concluded that these drugs were associated with improved well-being, and a university press release claimed the drugs “caused rates of depression to plummet,” and justified the claim by comparing the control group, which did not take puberty blockers or hormones, to the cohort that did: While depression did not significantly decrease in the treatment group, it increased in the control group.
The control group, however, shrunk from 92 to six people throughout the study, and most of those who left the study were not receiving treatments. Children whose gender dysphoria went away or who were doing well mentally would naturally be more likely to lose touch with the clinic, Singal pointed out, meaning that even researchers’ conclusions about the control group performing worse than the treatment group is questionable.
Despite the large number of dropouts in their study, UW researchers concluded that “risks of depression and suicidality may be mitigated with receipt of gender-affirming medications.”
UW altered its online press release April 8, removing claims that hormones and puberty blockers caused improved mental health, which can still be viewed in archived webpages. The new version of their release, however, still did not clarify that participants in the study who took treatments saw virtually no improvements; it also included a quote from a researcher who claims hormone treatments are “lifesaving” and claimed “gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary adolescents likely mitigated rates of depression and suicidality.”
Dr. Carrie Mendoza, director of FAIR in Medicine, said the mismatch between the study’s results and how it was sold to the public raises “serious concerns about the risks of allowing scientific research on complex issues be driven by political or ideological concerns, rather than a search for the truth.”
“Treating adolescent anxiety and depression is complex,” Mendoza told the DCNF. “Humane medical practice requires rigorous application of the scientific method in order to provide objective and nuanced information for parents making potentially life-altering decisions for their children.”
An SCH spokesperson confirmed that the university had corrected its press release and said UW stands by the initial study and its design. UW did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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Laurel Duggan is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Seattle Children’s Hospital” by Sage Ross. CC BY-SA 4.0.