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. Yearwood’s rant about his expertise is an appeal to authority – his own. A logical fallacy.

    If every anthropologist in the world aggreed with Yearwood, it would not change the fact that he is wrong.

    The fact that errors are possible, does not mean that Gaines claim is incorrect.

    I would further note that contra Yearwood and others claims – it is very important to identify the sex of remains, otherwise it is not possible to correctly understand past history and the role that difference sexes played at different times.

  2. Yearwood is correct to the extent that there is enough variation in human males and human females and enough overlap that under sub optimal conditions SOME human male skeletons can be misidentified as female and SOME human female skeletons can be identified as male.

    But that is not the norm. No one will misidentify Catlin Jenner’s skeleton as female 10,000 years from now.
    The most masculine 5% of the male population have ZERO female equivalents.
    The most feminine 5% of the female population have ZERO male equivalents.

    This is why the very best female athletes can not compete with merely Good male athletes.
    It is why there are more men in prison than women and always will be.

    Recently in Canada where the rules for weightlifting competitions bar questioning a persons Claimed Gender.

    A Male weightlifter identifying for the day as female obliterated by more than 100lbs the records of a Trans weight lifter, who had previously similarly obliterated women’s records.

  3. There is a difference between cultural anthropology which seems to be this person’s specialty, and an anthropologist that identifies skeletal remains.

  4. It’s so confusing. There is no difference between sexes–apparently–and yet it’s of critical importance that a person be given hormones, surgery, and some amorprhic societal recognition (via pronouns, of all things!!) that you’re actually the sex you are not (for transgender people).

    It’s so confusing. Sex is biological and gender is social–but let’s muddy them both by making the terms interchangeable. Let’s pretend that a doctor is “assigning” your gender to you when you’re born, when really they’re making observations about your sex. And that’s just where it starts, for the Left.

    It’s SOOO confusing: Sex (apparently) has almost no value at all–all the matters is one’s “gender identity.”

    It’s so confusing: Science is super, super important–but the Left has chosen the concept of “biological sex” (one of the primary foundations of procreation of the human race) and decided that science is simply super, super wrong in that one instance. (Why would they pick on “sex” as the subject of so much of their critique–isn’t that interesting?)

    It’s a little bit odd and confusing: What does it mean to “be sure that you’re a Man–or Woman?” How can that be measured?

    It’s darn confusing: What other *convictions* do we allow in people–that we then treat with surgery to accommodate or “treat?” Are there any?

    I actually don’t think any of these are confusing–for me, the answers are perhaps nuanced–but they’re clear. The Left seems to have chosen this area to make it controversial–and I’m not entirely why they’ve chosen this hill to battle upon. But I’m up for it, and I’m pretty sure it’s a losing proposition–plenty of lawsuits to come against this ideology and its adherents.

  5. Doctors Report Startling Rise In Testicular Injuries Among Woman Athletes

    NEW YORK, NY — A new study indicates a disturbing trend as testicular injuries in women’s sports are increasing at an astounding rate. Researchers are baffled as these statistics have skyrocketed from literally zero reported testicular injuries among female athletes just a few years ago.

    “This new wave of testicular injuries to female athletes has really come out of nowhere,” said Dr. Ryan Kitchen of Boston College’s Institute of Sports Medicine.

    Continue at:


  6. Beyond X and Y

    Eva Gerdts, MD, PhD, Professor of Cardiology at the University of Bergen in Norway, who recently published a review in Nature Medicine of the sex differences in cardiometabolic disease, said many of the differences likely trace back to fundamental biologic differences between males and females. For example, she noted that the X chromosome is much larger than the Y chromosome and is home to about 1500 genes. Many of them that have nothing to do with sexual function but play important roles in immunity, the immune system, and the cardiovascular system.
    Kuehn BM. Getting to the Heart of Sex Differences: Growing Evidence Suggests Women’s Heart Disease Is Physiologically Distinct. Circulation. 2020 Apr 7;141(14):1198-1199. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.046557.

    New evidence suggests that sex hormones, sex-specific molecular mechanisms and gender influence glucose and lipid metabolisms, as well as cardiac energy metabolism, and function. Here we review sex differences in cardiometabolic risk factors, associated preclinical and clinical cardiac disorders and potential therapeutic avenues.

    Gerdts E, Regitz-Zagrosek V. Sex differences in cardiometabolic disorders. Nat Med. 2019 Nov;25(11):1657-1666. doi: 10.1038/s41591-019-0643-8.

    Sex differences abound in human health and disease, as they do in other mammals used as models. The extent to which sex differences are conserved at the molecular level across species and tissues is unknown. We surveyed sex differences in gene expression in human, macaque, mouse, rat, and dog, across 12 tissues. In each tissue, we identified hundreds of genes with conserved sex-biased expression-findings that, combined with genomic analyses of human height, explain ~12% of the difference in height between females and males
    Naqvi S, Godfrey AK, Hughes JF, Goodheart ML, Mitchell RN, Page DC. Conservation, acquisition, and functional impact of sex-biased gene expression in mammals. Science. 2019 Jul 19;365(6450):eaaw7317. doi: 10.1126/science.aaw7317.

  7. Gabby Yearwood is an Affirmative Action Professor with an Affirmative Action degree for studying an Affirmative Action subject.


    “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.”

    “But honestly, it wouldn’t change the decision.”

    – James Comey, Director FBI, Investigating Hillary Clinton’s Blatant Crimes, 2016

    1. Tooth enamel is the hardest tissue in the human body and survives burial exceptionally well, even when the rest of the skeleton or DNA in the organic fraction has decayed. Our method can reliably determine the biological sex of humans of any age using a body tissue that is difficult to cross-contaminate and is most likely to survive. The application of this method will make sex determination of adults and, for the first time, juveniles a reliable and routine activity in future bioarcheological and medico-legal science contexts.

      Stewart NA, Gerlach RF, Gowland RL, Gron KJ, Montgomery J. Sex determination of human remains from peptides in tooth enamel. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Dec 26;114(52):13649-13654. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1714926115.

      Recent work has disclosed the critical role played by enamel peptides in sex classification of old skeletal remains. In particular, protein AMELY (amelogenin isoform Y) is present in the enamel dental tissue of male individuals only, while AMELX (isoform X) can be found in both sexes. AMELY can be easily detected by LC-MS/MS in the ion extracted chromatograms of the SM(ox)IRPPY peptide (monoisotopic [M + 2 H]+2 mass = 440.2233 m/z)

      Lugli F, et al. Enamel peptides reveal the sex of the Late Antique ‘Lovers of Modena’. Sci Rep. 2019 Sep 11;9(1):13130. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-49562-7. PMID: 31511583; PMCID: PMC6739468.

        1. Very interesting!

          I guess, then, your sex is kinda hammered into you from conception! 😉

    1. Also difference in pelvis between races to accommodate Avg different head size ==> difference in athletic running abilities.

  9. I have some doubts that this is an actual quote from Ms. Gaines. 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.”

  10. The professor asks why everyone is laughing at him. In a normal world he would have known exactly why, because he said something that was absurd. His ideology has blinded him so much he can’t even grasp what common sense dictates.

    C.S. Lewis pointed out that the devil hates to be laughed at. The ideology he espoused is the devil, and we should continue to laugh at it because it is laughable.

  11. I think there’s just a lot of physiological & psychological measurement evidence that involves race that just can’t be denied. Wonder what Prof Elizabeth DiGangi thinks of this analysis regarding the physiological & psychological consequences of head size: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uo0hCehlN8A

  12. The anthropologist, Gabby Yearwood, is also black. In a sane society that shouldn’t make any difference. I have enormous respect for Thomas, Sowell, and Ayan Hirsi Ali, all of whom are brilliant.

    But universities are pushing people into credentials for racial ‘equity’ and some of those folks tend to rely on certificates rather than actual knowledge when challenged.

    They only look foolish and are laughed at when caught in a setting like this but are positively dangerous when [for more equity] they are put into powerful government agencies or medical settings.

    Also sad is that the diversity racket is likely to cast a shadow on the folks whose talent and work have genuinely merited their credentials.

    Imagine if we did the same with all redheaded males. Some would be great in their chosen fields and a fair number would not be but, in any event, we would be hesitant to put our health or lives in the hands of any male redhead until we were assured he was one of the good ones. Basically the diplomas of all male redheads, poor, good and great, are devalued by this corrupt system.

  13. . . . so regardless of whether you transition, you can’t escape your assigned sex.

    The whole notion of “assigned” sex is no more than obfuscation. When a person is born, the doctor doesn’t “assign” a sex, but observes the baby’s sex and records that sex on the birth certificate.

    1. Oldman,

      There is the unusual group of people in the Dominican Republic who have a fair number of children who are born with apparently female genitalia and who are treated more or less as girls until puberty at which time the girls remain girls and the testes of the boys descend and they realize “Okay, I am a boy.” I have read of another group in Africa where this occurs.

      Interestingly, this doesn’t have any psychological harms that can be seen. They apparently go on to lead normal lives. I read of one guy who claimed to have guessed he was a boy growing up because of his behavior. Boy and girl behaviors are different.

      A different case is that of David Reimer whose genitalia were damaged shortly after birth in a medical procedure. The thinking was that sex/gender differences were social rather than biological so his parents were convinced to allow sex change surgery and raise him as a girl. It didn’t work. He piled on, fists swinging, in schoolyard fights, was called Monster by the girls, and was kicked out of the girls’ restroom when he tried to urinate while standing. Apparently the sex differences in the brain are genuine even when you do surgery and everything else you can to convince someone he is a girl. Eventually his problems became so severe that his mother told him he had been born a boy. He asked his name, David, adopted it and immediately assumed a male role. But much damage had been done and he later killed himself. You can find more in “As Nature Made Him”.

      Anyone seriously thinking about these issues should keep these people in mind. Our controlling assumptions may be flawed, in fact, almost certainly are.

      1. There are people who have all kinds of different birth defects. The Dominican Republic boys (XY) have a 5α-Reductase deficiency. It is similar in some respects to Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome in result (although the latter is permanent).

        There also are children who are born without arms. This doesn’t throw biological knowledge into chaos such that we then cannot say whether or not human beings have arms.

        1. Outhouse,

          I think you misunderstood me. Rather than implying that biological knowledge is thrown into chaos by these examples, I think it is obvious that they point to the incredible stability of biology.

          Despite enormous pressures, including surgery shortly after birth, David Reimer’s mind remained strongly male. His inner self remained consonant with his birth/genetic sex although his whole world was against that inner, biological truth.

          The boys in the Dominican Republic retained a basic male mental identity despite being raised as, and appearing to be, girls. Again biology triumphed.

          The assumptions that these examples throw into question are those that assume gender identity is very plastic and can be changed with relative ease.

          The problem is that you can talk (or influence) a girl into believing she is a boy but you can’t talk her into actually being a boy, physically or mentally. Now many are discovering that fact only after they have been mutilated by surgery. Same with boys, of course, but girls seem more susceptible to being misled by social contagion.

          I was giving examples that show that biology is much stronger than the bizarre assumptions that prevail now.

          I will add that there likely are genuine cases of gender dysphoria but they are probably rare outliers. I think that is likely because we are complex and if something can go wrong in development then sooner or later it will go wrong. Count on it. Your children born without arms or legs are examples. Not everything that goes wrong will be so visible but it will still happen.

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