Pride in STEM is wholeheartedly disappointed in the decision taken by Sense About Science to shortlist Helen Joyce for the Maddox Prize, with the following motivation: 

“Helen Joyce has been shortlisted for her courage in raising the importance of considering biological sex differences in health and social research, and the need for medical interventions to be evidence-based and transparently researched.”

This fluffy statement doesn’t tell you that Sex Matters, the group Joyce is the Director of Advocacy for, has signed the Women’s Declaration International (WDI) Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights, which calls for essentially the removal of all healthcare, legal recognition, and protection for all trans people globally. This should be self-explanatory as abhorrent but since the motto of Sense About Science is “Because evidence matters” – this declaration goes against every single one of the World Health Organization’s guidelines on HIV, viral hepatitis and STI prevention.

Medical interventions in gender-affirming care are already evidence-based and transparently researched – a recent example is the JAMA Surgery paper on how gender-affirming mastectomies have an “overwhelmingly low” regret rate. In that work, the researchers used a 100-point scale, with 100 representing full regret for the procedure. They found that the mean score was 4.2 and the median was zero.

These findings agree with other studies that report dissatisfaction with gender-affirming surgeries is only seen in about 1 percent of cases. These follow-up cases span decades, challenging the unfounded idea that regrets around gender-affirming procedures might not become apparent for years. That research team also compared their findings to surgery regret unrelated to gender-affirming care. Only one had a lower mean score (surgery to treat urinary incontinence, with 2.5).

The transphobic antigender movement in Europe is partially bankrolled by the U.S. Christian Right whose views on evolution and science are well known. The links between between online anti-vaxxers and transphobic groups have been made clear for a long time, including overt alignment with antisemitic conspiracy theories related to George Soros which features in Joyce’s book.

Sense About Science states that it is an organisation that values evidence. The links between transphobic rhetoric that Joyce furthers and antiscience, antivax, antisemitic, and racist claims are strong, and this should certainly be evidence for the organisation to interrogate against the rest of its values before highlighting such a cause.

Joyce has previously called trans people a “huge problem in a sane world” and describes them as “damaged”. She has also stated that the NHS rainbow badge scheme –  created to be a way for NHS staff to demonstrate that they are aware of the issues that LGBT+ people can face when accessing healthcare – is worse than alleged rapist and sex trafficker Andrew Tate.

Pride in STEM has contacted both Sense About Science and Springer Nature (who sponsors the awards) for comment. 

“Nature is a sponsor for the Maddox Prize. The prize is nominated and judged independently, however, Nature’s Editor in Chief and Sense about Science’s CEO, have a space on the jury and sign off on the winner of the award. As a global publisher, we stand up for the principles of scholarly freedom and firmly believe that all those involved with research have the ethical obligation to uphold intellectual integrity and avoid preventable harms that may arise in the course of research or its communication. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is one of our highest strategic priorities and we respect and support the trans community and stand against discrimination in any form,” a spokesperson for Nature told us. 

“Anyone can nominate or be nominated for the Maddox Prize, with the independent international judging panel shortlisting only in relation to the criteria of the prize. Helen Joyce was shortlisted for her work raising the importance of considering biological sex differences in health and social research, and the need for medical interventions to be evidence-based and transparently researched,” Dr David Schley, Deputy-Director of Sense about Science, told us.

“Sense about Science consistently campaigns for the use of evidence to inform open, honest public discourse, and we champion the public’s right to the best available evidence when making important decisions. We will not be making policy statements on any of the issues raised by this year’s shortlist, including those on sex and gender, but are highlighting the importance of having space in society for open and honest discussions on these issues. The Maddox Prize demonstrates how we all lose out if researchers are prevented from asking difficult questions or sharing their findings.”

“Contested issues can often be exploited by groups seeking to divide society, and we believe it is important to challenge binary narratives that suggest there are only two sides, and allow researchers to provide the evidence and nuance needed to make important decisions, which science is best at delivering.”

One of the judging criteria for the prize is “How did the nominee engage others in the discussion?” We believe that calling people who disagree with you ‘damaged’ and a ‘huge problem in a sane world’, comparing them to an alleged rapist and sex trafficker, and perpetuating antisemitic conspiracy theories would be disqualifying enough but apparently it is not.

We find it shameful that someone that advocates so vehemently against the well-being of LGBTQIA+ people, part of a movement aligned against scientific knowledge, is being honoured by being part of this shortlist.