Pittsburgh Law and Anthropology Professor Causes Uproar in Denying Ability to Tell Gender from Human Bones

There is an interesting controversy that has erupted at the University of Pittsburgh after Dr. Gabby Yearwood, who teaches in both the anthropology and law schools, was asked by swimmer Riley Gaines if he could tell the gender of persons from skeletal remains. He denied that it was possible despite the widely accepted ability to do so in his field. The answer may reflect the ongoing push in anthropology, discussed in an earlier blog column, to put an end to gender identifications. Some insist that anthropologists need to know how an ancient human may have chosen to identify themselves.

Yearwood reportedly was asked the question by Gaines, who achieved national notoriety in opposing the inclusion of transgender athletes like the University of Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas in women competitions. Like J.K. Rowling who has raised concerns over the threat to feminist gains from some transgender policies, Gaines is now ostracized and often prevented from speaking at events.

To its credit, Pittsburgh refused to yield to demands to bar Gaines and others from speaking on campus. This controversy appears to have resulted during the event that many sought to cancel.

Gaines asked Yearwood, “If you were to dig up two humans one hundred years from now, both man and woman, could you tell the difference, strictly off of bones?”

According to Fox, Yearwood answered “No!” and then took umbrage after the room erupted in laughter. He reportedly reminded them that he was “the expert in the room” and asked “Have any of you been to anthropological sites? Have any of you studied biological anthropology? I’m just saying, I’ve got over 150 years of data, I’m just curious as to why I’m being laughed at. I have a PhD!” The videos posted on Twitter only show the first part of that exchange.

Gaines reportedly responded that “Every single rational person knows the answer: men have narrower hips, their skulls are different, they have an extra rib, their femurs are longer, their jaws are different.”

One expert is quoted by the College Fix as disagreeing with Yearwood though offering a correction also to one of Gaines’ statements.

San José State University archaeology Professor Elizabeth Weiss has said that determining the sex of skeletal remains “is a critical skill in forensics and any diminishing of this skill will negatively impact criminal investigations, denying the victims and their families justice.” She added that “Riley Gaines is correct on many traits, but males do not have an extra rib. This myth comes from the Adam and Eve story.”

Schools like Boston University note that

“Sex is typically determined by the morphology (shape) of the pelvis or skull and long bone measurements. ‘However, many of the areas on the skeleton that are used for sex estimation may be missing or damaged due to trauma, poor preservation, animal scavenging and nature of the incident (explosive). Therefore, it is important to examine other areas of the skeleton that preserve well and are potentially sexually dimorphic (show differences between females and males),’ explained corresponding author Sean Tallman, PhD, RPA, assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology.”

In fairness to Yearwood, experts have said that determining gender occurs along a spectrum of analysis because some women may easily be mistaken for men. Indeed, there is research showing an overcounting of male skeletons in studies by famed anthropologist Aleš Hrdlička, who helped found the modern study of human bones and served as the first curator of physical anthropology at the U.S. National Museum.

This controversy is part of a wider debate unfolding on our campuses.

University of Kansas Associate Professor Jennifer Raff argued in a paper, “Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas,”  that there are “no neat divisions between physically or genetically ‘male’ or ‘female’ individuals.”  Her best selling book has been featured on various news outlets like MSNBC.

Raff is not alone. Graduate students like Emma Palladino have objected  that “the archaeologists who find your bones one day will assign you the same gender as you had at birth, so regardless of whether you transition, you can’t escape your assigned sex.”

Professors Elizabeth DiGangi of Binghamton University and Jonathan Bethard of the University of South Florida have also challenged the use of racial classifications in a study, objecting that “[a]ncestry estimation contributes to white supremacy.”  The authors write that “we use critical race theory to interrogate the approaches utilized to estimate ancestry to include a critique of the continued use of morphoscopic traits, and we assert that the practice of ancestry estimation contributes to white supremacy.”

It is not clear if this movement influenced Yearwood’s answer. He has been a leader in calling for “critical engagement” and “activist research” to change the field of anthropology.

Dr. Yearwood’s bio shows that he is widely published and known in his field.

“Gabby M.H. Yearwood is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Managing Faculty Director for the Center for Civil Rights and Racial Justice in the Law School at the University Pittsburgh. He is a socio-cultural anthropologist earning his Ph.D from the University of Texas at Austin in Anthropology focusing in Black Diaspora Studies and Masculinity. His research interests include the social constructions of race and racism, masculinity, gender, sex, Black Feminist and Black Queer theory, anthropology of sport and Black Diaspora. Dr. Yearwood holds a secondary appointment with the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program at Pitt.  Dr. Yearwood is also a teaching member of the Pitt Prison Education Project.”

Among his courses is “Activist Anthropology” the description of which reads:

“[T]his course will teach students that ‘critical engagement brought about by activist research is both necessary and productive. Such research can contribute to transforming the discipline by addressing knowledge production and working to decolonize our research process. Rather than seeking to avoid or resolve the tensions inherent in anthropological research on human rights, activist research draws them to the fore, making them a productive part of the process. Finally, activist research allows us to merge cultural critique with political action to produce knowledge that is empirically grounded, theoretically valuable, and ethically viable.’ (Speed 2006). This course will teach students both the importance and value of conducting research that moves outside of the “ivory tower” of academia. “[A]ctivist scholars work in dialogue, collaboration, alliance with people who are struggling to better their lives; activist scholarship embodies a responsibility for results that these “allies” can recognize as their own, value in their own terms, and use as they see fit.” (Hale 2008) This course will explore major conceptual work on the role and ethical responsibility of anthropological research and social justice issues.”



122 thoughts on “Pittsburgh Law and Anthropology Professor Causes Uproar in Denying Ability to Tell Gender from Human Bones”

  1. Well, gosh I’d guess the TV Show “Bones” would beg to differ with Yearwood, and I would venture to say the majority if not all forensic scientists also. There are great differences between Male and Female. The old saying you can take the boy out of the country but not the country out of the boy is no longer applied. In certain sectors of society, it could be said: you can become a girl if you think you are a girl, besides “chromosomes lie” and are nothing more than “White Privilege.”

    Olympic Games Records show a clear athletic advantage to Males. Some examples:

    100 meters, Women 10.61 Seconds, Thompson-Herah / Men 9.63, Usain Bolt. diff (0.98 sec.)
    1,500 meter, Women 3.53.11 minutes, Faith Kipyegon / Men 3.28.32, Ingebrigtsen. (24.79 sec.)
    400 meters, hurdles Women 51.46 seconds, McLaughlin / Men 45.94, Warholm. (5.52 sec.)
    Long Jump, Women 7.40 meters, Joyner-Kersee / Men 8.90 meters, Beamon (4.92 feet)
    Shot Put, Women 22.41 meters, Slupianek / Men 23.3 meters, Crouser (2.92 feet)
    Javelin Throw, Women 71.53 meters, Menendez/ Men 90.57 meters, Thorkildsen (62.5 feet)

    World Champion Weightlifting Records

    64 kg weight class: Snatch, Women 117kg, Deng Wei (260 lbs)
    67kg weight class: Snatch, Men 155kg, Huang Minhao (342 lbs) (plus 82 lbs)
    87 weight class: Clear & Jerk, Women 187kg, Li Wenwen (412 lbs)
    89 weight class: clear & Jerk, Men 220kg, Karlos Nasar (485 lbs) (plus 73 lbs).

    The absurdness of this issue can be explained by ‘mentalese’ [The American Heritage Dictionary 5th edition 1.” A hypothetical language in which concepts and propositions are represented in the mind without words.” 2. “A hypothetical non-verbal language in which concepts are represented in the mind”] developed by J.A. Fodor “The Language of Thought”. This goes back again to President BURDEN, we believe in truth over facts, as in; my mind is made up.

  2. There are two regions of the human pelvis by which males and females can be distinguished, and together they are definitive, IMO.

    1. The subpubic angle is almost always greater in females than males. If you can approximate the angle using your 2nd and 3rd digits, the pelvis is male.

    If the subpubic angle is too great for you to approximate using the 2nd (fore-finger) and 3rd digits (middle finger), but you can approximate it with the angle of your first and second digits (thumb and forefinger), the pelvis is female.

    This is virtually definitive. Wikipedia shows this nicely, but you better look at it before it gets scrubbed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pubic_arch

    2. The greater sciatic notch is usually much more “open” in the female pelvis than the male. Though a bit less definitive than the subpubic angle, on a population basis the generality holds srongly, especially at the extremes. https://open.oregonstate.education/aandp/chapter/8-3-the-pelvic-girdle-and-pelvis/ (And how long before this gets scrubbed?)

    These two differences in female are accommodations for child birth and are why (with some others adaptations) the pelvic inlet of females is larger and differently-shaped than in males. The child-bearing adaptations come at the cost of locomotion efficiency, which is an adaptation that favors males.

    On the issue of Dr. Yearwood’s appeal to his own authority (“I have a Ph.D.), I myself prefer modesty over self-aggrandizement.

    Finally, males and females have the same number of ribs.

      1. Mass murders are almost always men. Commercial jets almost always arrive safely.

  3. What’s next?…

    We found a skeleton holding a shield, a gladius, showed signs of sharp force trauma to the rib cage, yet there were earrings beside the skull. This proves drag queen shows existed in Rome.

    1. Darren,

      I can’t tell if the is from Babylon Bee or a ‘serious’ but woke archaeologist– and that’s frightening.

  4. “He reportedly reminded them that he was “the expert in the room.” The Phd.

    “Experts” as a self-described class have shown, shabby, compromised, dishonest, and unworthy of the respect they demand, particularly of late in the Covid mess.

    Someone wearing a sign announcing one as a ‘Science Oracle’ or that “The Science is Settled and No Discussion is Needed or Allowed” might just as well have a sign saying: “Beware! I’m A Fraud”.

    I have greater confidence in an expert who doesn’t pretend absolute certainty and who lets his evidence and reasoning buttress his argument rather than his ‘credentials’.

    His credentials may dispose to be me more willing to listen, but then he must make his case.

  5. I have to chuckle at the image of the good professor Yearwood being perplexed that no one believed his assertions despite his pronouncement that “I have a PhD.”. Pal, a PhD is earned for performing novel and individual research. It does not grant omniscience nor infallibility as my wife frequently and regrettably gleefully reminds me. In life one should learn quickly that with a PhD. one has the privilege and authority to prescribe over-the-counter medications to oneself and little else. In my career, it has been a rewarding pleasure to interact with a lot of smart people out there that do not have a PhD.

  6. Is it just me or is it really odd that nearly all of these professors making these idiotic remarks are black? In Yearwood’s case, he focused on “black diaspora studies.” The prosecutors going after Trump are also black. Me thinketh there’s a lot of politics in this professor’s madness.

  7. So Lucy isn’t really Lucy? Fact is, anthropology started it’s downward spiral when it opted for postmodernism over real science.

  8. Gender and sex are two different, but related concepts. You can usually tell sex from bones, but not gender..

  9. Jonathan: Judging from the paucity of comments “dem bones, dem bones, them dry bones” is not a big issue with your followers. The whole world has reacted to the indictment of Donald Trump and you are suddenly silent. To be fair, you are probably waiting for the indictment to be unsealed so you weigh on on the legal issues. But everyone else is not waiting–especially the supporters of Trump. The GOP is near unanimous in condemning the indictment–calling it a “political prosecution” and a “witch hunt”. MTG resorts to vulgarity :”Enough of this witch hunt bull….”! Donald Trump was the first to react. Thinking he is still the president he bizarrely announced on Truth Social the indictment is “Blatant Election Interference”. This was echoed by Kevin McCarthy. Can you imagine a more bizarre claim from the Speaker of the House?

    If anyone thought the GOP would find a saner nominee in next year forget that idea. The GOP is unified behind the Trumpster. The mantra from Republicans is now “We are all Trumpians”. So GOP politicians will spend almost all their time trying to tear down the Biden administration so Trump can win in 2024–from prison. Jim Jordan will use the House Judiciary Committee to investigate the “crimes” of Hunter Biden. MTG will speculate that the Nashville shooter was “probably taking hormones”. The GOP will push the Trump agenda–a load of conspiracy theories, refuse to draft a budget to avoid default, a culture-war offensive, block 150 Defense Dept. nominees over the Pentagon’s abortion policy. The Republicans in Congress will blame everything on the “woke” policies of the military and the Biden administration. Will the GOP spend anytime actually addressing issues important to Americans–like affordable housing and health care, climate change, inflation, etc.? Don’t count on it.

    Dana Milbank, an opinion writer for the Washington Post, has a new book: “The Destructionists: the 25 year Crackup of the Republican Party”. I highly recommend it for your weekend reading..

    1. During his first term in the White House, in the face of constant attacks from the left and his own party, Trump achieved gasoline under $2 a gallon, record low unemployment, inflation under 2%, rising real wages, a dramatic reduction in illegal immigration, new trade agreements with Mexico and Canada, higher tariffs on products from Communist China, lower American tax rates, reduced regulation of American manufacturing and energy production, withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, American energy independence, the rebuilding of the American military, increased military spending by NATO, creation of the United States Space Force, no new wars, reduced missile testing by North Korea, cancellation of the nuclear weapons agreement with Iran, recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the brokering of historic trade agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the restoration of quality medical care for veterans at the VA, elimination of the Obamacare mandate to buy health insurance, the right of terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs and treatment, the appointment of more than 230 federal judges who believe in following the Constitution, the appointment of three Supreme Court justices who believe in following the Constitution, and a welcoming environment in the Republican Party for good and decent Americans of all races and classes. Seventeen months after Trump left office, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade with a 6-3 vote. Go Trump.

      1. CARPA DIEM

        Trump should have resolved to seize the day in Lincolnesque fashion to Save the Nation, denied, not constitutional secession, but every form of communism in America, neutralized enemy purveyors, imposed martial law, suspended habeas corpus, and set about enforcing the law, including retroactively, putting America back under the dominion of the “manifest tenor” of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights (original).

        Trump failed to recognize the presence of existential war in America. Pence was a dastardly, backstabbing traitor to his President and to America, and one who prefers the current communist status over constitutional freedom.

        Trump will now pay for his failure to correctly assess and for his lack of resolve, while Pence is a hero to America’s direct and mortal enemies.

          1. “Ya know, Bill, there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years, sometimes ya gotta say what the —-, make your move!”

        1. It was Trump’s narcissism that lead to his fall. He still refuses to allow the only party that can compete with the Democrats to compete successfully. While I can easily agree he was successful in some areas, he lacked the necessary leadership to inspire others in leadership roles to follow.

          1. Thank you so much for the unassailable diagnosis, Doctorette. May Americans now rid America of wholly unconstitutional affirmative action et al. or do you still need it to appear to be a real person? Perhaps Americans should rid America of the Constitution. Oh, I forgot, you communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs, AINOs) already did that, huh? There is nothing as naturally accretive as tilting the playing field in your direction, is there?

            By the way, you may know something about this subject, more Americans die than are born – that’s referred to as a “death spiral” in the fertility rate. I am confident that a person as brilliant as yourself can crunch the numbers in that equation and calculate the death of Americans and America. Care to take a shot? Perhaps you have a solution; perhaps the death of its population is not a problem for a country.

              1. Simply brilliant, and irrefutable.

                Wait, I missed that part.

                Are you saying there are “meds” for the “death spiral” of the fertility rate in the U.S. or that the “great replacement” by illegal invasion will be efficacious and remedial, strengthening America, or whatever the new name will be after Obama and his Gal Friday and fellow beneficiary of affirmative action et al., “Suzy Q,” complete the process of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” into Afrexicoinabia, nay, “The Island of Dr. Moreau?”

                I must say, your riposte seems substantially evasive and principally vacuous.

                Was that by design?

                1. Yes, George, you are correct in all you have stated, past, present and future. Your assessment of my character is likely as unassailable as my assessment of your intellectual functioning.



      The whole world passed on these “fake” charges years ago but communist propagandists with TDS, such as yourself, can’t accept true, irreversible failure and muddle on as complete, incorrigible idiots. Presumably, that’s not unconstitutional or otherwise illegal. Actionable defamation, alternatively, is as legitimate a charge as those currently against Real President Donald J. Trump. But democrats don’t cheat in elections, right? Oh, hell no!

      Help me out here. Is it polite, within protocol, ethical, moral, legal or constitutional to disclose the contents of a non-disclosure agreement? Is a contract a contract or has jurisprudence been tossed out the window entirely? In a society of laws, shall the citizens obey the laws comprehensively? And, when the statute of limitations has run, does that mean that the statute of limitations has run?

    1. ‘Gaines asked Yearwood, “If you were to dig up two humans one hundred years from now, both man and woman, could you tell the difference, strictly off of bones?” ‘

      If we are looking at scientific/forensic evidence, which is the question Gaines asked, it isn’t to find out how someone is likely to have identified, but rather where someone fits in some clear classification, such as male/female. If, for example, the skeletal remains are part of a murder investigation this would be true.

      The academic argument here contains a bit of confusion about absolute certainty versus likelihood. This quotation, for instance, illustrates the point. “In fairness to Yearwood, experts have said that determining gender occurs along a spectrum of analysis because some women may easily be mistaken for men.” This is undoubtedly true, but isn’t necessarily important.

      Well, if we just look at size, male remains would come from a physically larger population. There will be some overlap with the smaller population. Is 90% likelihood of correct assignment acceptible? 95%? This should have been a starting point for an answer, but the professor failed to articulate it. I observe many academic arguments that dig up extremely rare example to undermine general rules. We are inexorably determined to reverse four hundred years of scientific progress in service of ideology.

  10. The gender virus afflicts government, institutions and virtue-signaling businesses. It confuses the young and corrupts everything it touches including media that are always happy to promote shiny new things, however specious. It emboldens enemies of America who see it as evidence of the decadence and moral depravity of the country and its intellectual elites. They especially like how genderism distracts, divides and weakens the military making it less able to defend against thug regimes in Moscow, Beijing and Tehran.

    This terrible harm come from a well-funded, well-organized campaign by leftists and their media enablers to normalize the fetishes of 0.01% of the population. Countries that don’t wake up and resist insidious gender programing are doomed. This means YOU, America and Canada. Too many useful idiots like Gabby Yearwood are busy trying to subvert everything you believe about science, biology and our binary species.

    When will someone in authority say the emperor of genderism has no clothes? When will news media find the courage to tell the truth about it?

  11. “[E]xperts have said that determining gender occurs along a spectrum of analysis because some women may easily be mistaken for men.” The key word in that sentence is “some”. We’re always going to find anecdotal examples that defy general truths, but do we change our fields of science to account for them? A high-minded liberal once dropped the “there are no absolutes” bromide on me. My response, “Just because a truth might not be 100% true, does not mean we shouldn’t operate on it as a truth.” Their argument appears to be if a truth can be found to be untrue .0001% of the time, then that truth is not true. If it’s true that “Men have narrower hips, their skulls are different, their femurs are longer, and their jaws are different” 99.9% of the time, I say we approach that as a truth. If a fact is only true 50.0001% of the time, there is some room for debate, of course, but we should still approach that fact as “generally true” or a generality. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with challenging the science on any matter, or a “generally accepted” truth, but the skeptic is going to have to seriously knock the percentages down before I take them serious. What is the goal of those who say that if something is ONLY true 99.9% of the time, then it’s not true? Is it chaos? What are the goals of the .0001 activists? If they cannot state this clearly, they deserved to be laughed out of the town square.

    1. “there are no absolutes”
      Is that an absolute? If so, there is at least one. If not, then why should we accredit it as having any value?

  12. There is biological sex, which is in the vast majority of situations binary, excepting only rare mutations. You don’t need a PhD to understand this, or perhaps you need a PhD to not understand this.

    Then their are gender roles which are societal constructs assigning traits to individuals based usually on their biological sex. Those gender roles are not immutable and could be a spectrum or even fluid, yada, yada, yada. However, traditional gender roles are based on how our society through trial and error over the millennia decided to assign roles — pink for girls, baby blue for boys, coal miners for men, secretaries for women, etc. Conservatives endeavor to preserve these traditional roles, thinking the millions of people over the millennia must have had their reasons. Progressives are like YOLO, like always. Nevertheless, they are right that gender is merely a social construct.

    What boggles my mind is that the majority of activists “rebelling against the social construct” are not trying to dissolve the traditional gender roles, but rather seem obsessed with those traditional roles and are trying to arrogate for themselves the right to choose the wrong social construct. Dudes want to assume the silliest traditional traits of gals, wear make-up, dresses and high heel. Chicks want to burp, chug beer and shoot up schools. And of course these men want to compete against girls in athletic competitions.

    If they wanted everyone to assume the same gray sexless gender norms, that would be one thing. It would be horrible but it would makes some sense. But they want to maintain our traditional gender norms, but just mix up the sexes so that we cannot be quite certain what might be lurking under that skirt. For that reason, it does not seem progressive as such, but rather confused and narcissistic.

  13. It is amazing that laypeople across America have become more accurate sources of scientific information than college professors on a whole range of topics.

    1. There’s thinking, and there’s overthinking. How many times have we said, “You’re overthinking this whole matter.” What Occam’s razor say? “Some of the times, the solution is the most simple one.” Some of the times, when we introduce variables, we overcomplicate matters to the point that we lose the central point.

  14. So I guess “Lucy”, the ancient remains found in Africa might actually be “Lloyd”??

    Tell you what liberal ladies, after NPR states that there is no proof that men have an advantage over women in sports, you all nod in agreement with the usual NPR garbage, you fight to eliminate gay men and women (since a gay man should be a woman and vice versa), let’s end woman’s sports now. Why have the WNBA, the LPGA, woman’s soccer. Let the woman compete with the men once and for all and let the best person win.

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