“Nature is Amazing”: Feathers Fly Over Claim of Scientific American Editor that Some Birds Have Four Sexes

We recently discussed the controversy involving a University of Pittsburgh anthropology professor who declared that you cannot tell the gender of an individual from their bones. Now the editor-in-chief of Scientific American Laura Helmuth is under fire for claiming that certain birds have four sexes.

On May 17, Helmuth tweeted a statement with a 2017 article in Audubon Notebook stating “White-throated sparrows have four chromosomally distinct sexes that pair up in fascinating ways. P.S. Nature is amazing[.] P.P.S. Sex is not binary.”

Various commentators cried “fowl.” They noted that the article in question referred to two types of males and two types of females with different feather stripping. The two different sets of feather markings produced different reproductive patterns between white-stripped and tan-stripped members.

University of New Mexico evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller tweeted “Why are you outright lying about what the paper says? A ‘type’ of reproductive strategy within a sex is not the same as a sex. Shameful that the editor of @sciam is showing zero scientific integrity.”

Similarly, biologist Colin Wright wrote “I don’t know if you genuinely don’t understand the paper or if you’re wilfully misinterpreting it. But either way, as the editor of @sciam this is embarrassing.”

The paper itself engages in what it calls an “oversimplification” and said that it is “almost as if” there were four genders:

“So the morphs differ in traits that parallel the usual differences between the sexes in birds. Looking at White-throats in the breeding season, we see four distinct types. To oversimplify, we could call them super-aggressive males, more nurturing males, somewhat aggressive females, and super-nurturing females. It’s almost as if the White-throated Sparrow has four sexes. That may sound like a joke, but it’s actually a good description of what’s going on.”

Various critics have objected that Scientific American has become more political and more woke under Helmuth.

This month the magazine published an article by Agustín Fuentes titled “Here’s Why Human Sex Is Not Binary. Ova don’t make a woman, and sperm don’t make a man.”

Fuentes stresses “As far as we know, there’s no other bird in the world with this unique arrangement.” However, he does attempt to tie this research to the ongoing debate over human sex. He notes:

“While sperm and ova matter, they are not the entirety of biology and don’t tell us all we need to know about sex, especially human sex.

Let me be clear: I am not arguing that differences in sex biology do not matter. They do. Nor am I asserting that reproductive physiology is not an important aspect of all animal lives.”


117 thoughts on ““Nature is Amazing”: Feathers Fly Over Claim of Scientific American Editor that Some Birds Have Four Sexes”

  1. They’re trying to rationalize: Levine’s Dreams of Herr Mengele with underage girls and boys, as they rationalized trans/homosexuality celebrated with pride (i.e. lions, lionesses, and unPlanned cubs) in parades with albinophobic symbols and rhetoric, as they rationalized denying women’s dignity and agency to perform human rites for social, redistributive, clinical, political, criminal, and fair weather progress and sequestration of the “burden” of evidence (i.e. carbon remains of human life deemed unworthy of life) in darkness.

  2. In recent decades, the left has significantly corrupted the integrity of the hard sciences, climate science, medical science, pharmacology, psychology, public health, car manufacturers, electric utilities, journalism, K-12, universities, religion, law enforcement, the courts, the military, and federal intelligence agencies. God help us.

  3. Krasner is just another Soros DA, IOW a hater and destroyer of humanity.

    Pure unadulterated politics in the form of Fauci-ism controls most popular scientific conversation Re. Covid 19. Fauci purchased with US tax dollars the Chinese Wuhan research that created Covid 19 (per the DOD and FBI) then of course he had to cover all that up so he paid leading scientists more “research grants” to lie and falsely promote the zoonotic source and NOT a lab source.

    Fauci deserves a lifetime prison sentence if not worse.

      1. Nope. Their agenda is to get you to extrapolate their half-wit nonsense science to humans.

  4. Scientific American has always been “pop science”, so I am not all that surprised that they would engage in this sort of puerile antics.

    I am more dismayed with this politicization of science having reached the editorial board of the publication, Nature. Just yesterday (5/19), they put a piece about “AI’s diversity crisis” that is yet another woke piece arguing for equitable participation in the AI field for the usual aggrieved groups, again, regardless of competency, and regardless of any salient benefit to the science, itself — its the same tiresome argument to latch a ball and chain on human progress so that everyone may have a trophy on their shelf

  5. In other news: Non-Binary Songbird Demands Flock Use “Its” Pronouns Among Species’ Songs and Calls

    “A disparaged, self-declared-non-binary robin has insisted that all other robins’ refusal to rewrite the thousand year old traditional call and auxilliary tweets is a sign of racism and sexism in the species. (As confirmed in an upcoming edition of Scientific American)

    Transliterated into English pronunciation, the standard call is:

    “Yeerillilly wheetoo twilleet eryhoo tweetwheet”
    Which roughly means, I am robin, hear me tweet.

    Yet this robin insists that it must be respected when it sings:

    “Yeerillillruuut wheetoo twilleet eryhuuh tweetwheet”

    The controversy has been very upsetting for the non-binary because it not only insisted that it be provided with its own unique nest, which is more square-like in the interior than circular. But it suffered the ridicule of other robins who filled its nest with dead, unappetizing slugs intead of worms (An insult in the bird community since it implies laziness and lack of initiative)

    The robin soon discovered other opportunities dropped to zero after incorporating its pronouns into its mating call. No females were impressed and they simply passed him by. In fact more cunning males set up nests in the vicinity to offer a “real man with a manly song” that was supremely more alluring by comparison. Some females even mated with the manly robins just out of spite and to ridicule the now ‘permavirgin’ robin.”

    1. Stephen Stucker of “Johnny” fame in the 1980 film “Airplane!” would have had a field day with these crazy pronouns, intersex, 36+ genders malarkey. The Left are in desperate need of humor

    2. There’s a mid size white bird here on the Midwest prairie, we always just called them cow birds, they’re communist & they are lazy. They follow cows around all day eating something out of the cow’s crap, like Commie/Fascist Libs do with CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS,NBC, PBS & when they go to reproduce they go find a pretty little Blue Bird’s nest , kick it’s eggs out & lay it’s own Sh*t Bird eggs in the nest.

      Well, the ole Granny I heard that information from she’d just grab up a rifle every time she’d see them & send them sh*t birds to bird hell.

      She loved Blue Birds… lol 🙂

      1. Just a bit of house cleaning, millions of Americans are rightful pissed at the total corruption of corporate & govt. None of us have been through anything like the past few years of Treason from much of the leadership we’ve been trusting.

        Citizens have Rights, among them is the 2nd Amendment. I & many others believe this is exactly the Wrong Time For Any Violent Action Unless Attacked First!!!! Just look what they’re doing to the Good Guy in NYC & the other in Austin.

        Others & I still believe our best defence currently is much like the non-violence of Jesus, Gandhi & like I think it was Romania where the people, unarmed stood in solidarity with only candles, telling the tyrants to go to hell we are not cooperating. Our current/former military, civil police, doctors, nurses, data base administrators, builders, bankers, developers & not a single worker or young kid that the azzhole globalist& their banker aholes have not screwed over in more then one way. Yes, I see them & others & I have been making records of them murdering us in mass. Yet there is now a growing ground swell of support of the people in the US & Western Europe that also see it. Just keep posting the truth the best you can, share links/ info with your family/friends & the corrupt b*stards will collapse by the weight of their sins against mankind.

        Pro Tip Use your Mind as the weapon & if that doesn’t work out we can always revert to sticks, stones & cursing.

        Welcome to the Frontlines of their War Against Us!

        Share the Links.



  6. I hope this is simply another massive dose of Chinese “daze and confuse” propaganda fired from the hip.

    If this is the state of basic science in America, America is in real trouble.

    China will likely beat America to the endgame, quantum computing.

    Can you say, “Xièxiè?”

  7. There is a fundamentally important distinction between this and what the left is trying to do regarding humans.

    There is a genetic basis for the distinction in sparrows.

    Find a homosexuality or trans-sexuality gene and you can claim that humans are like sparrows.
    Then we can have a rational debate over whether there are actually multiple sexes and whether the genetic distinction is sufficient to constitute a separate sex.

  8. “The paper itself engages in what it calls an “oversimplification” and said that it is “almost as if” there were four genders.”

    First of all, the paper does not say that. It mentions “gender” only once, saying “Within each gender, white-striped birds are more aggressive while tan-striped birds are more nurturing.” The paper also says “The resulting effect is that the White-throat really does operate as a bird with four sexes.” So the paper is clearly distinguishing between sex (effectively 4 sexes) and gender (two genders, each of which has 2 morphs). Did Turley even read the paper to understand how the authors use “sex” versus “gender”?

    The paper also links to two other papers. The first, titled “Supergenes and Sparrows with Four Sexes” — https://www.molecularecologist.com/2016/02/10/supergenes-and-sparrows-with-four-sexes/ — says “White-throated Sparrows have effectively four sexes, from their chromosomes to their reproductive behavior,” adding that “any individual bird is restricted to mating only with another bird of both the opposite sex chromosome and color morph supergene (approximately 1/4th of the total population).” The second, titled “Divergence and Functional Degradation of a Sex Chromosome-like Supergene” — https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(15)01562-6 — similarly notes “As a consequence of obligate disassortative mating the species effectively has four sexes, wherein any individual can mate with only 1/4 of the individuals in the population. … the species operates as though there are four sexes.”

    Turley is making a mountain out of a molehill. Would it have been better for Helmuth to include the word “effectively”? Sure. But it’s true that the scientific papers that the Audobon paper was reporting on do say that there are “effectively four sexes” in these birds because the dimorphs in each gender are restricted in who they can mate with.

    It’s true that nature is amazing, but Turley has no interest in discussing the scientific findings and why they’re interesting. He just wants to use the tweet for his own sociopolitical ends.

    1. Your comment would be more valuable if you would please explain what you mean by “restricted mating”. Are they infertile with the other color? If so, wouldn’t that make them different species not different genders? And if it’s just a mating preference then lots of animals including humans have mating preferences as to physical appearance and that’s not gender either

      1. If you want to better understand what the authors meant by the quote, you can read their paper.

    2. Similarly, biologist Colin Wright wrote “I don’t know if you genuinely don’t understand the paper or if you’re wilfully misinterpreting it. But either way, as the editor of @sciam this is embarrassing.”

      As usual you need to deliver your daily load of ad hominem attacks against Turley, you ignore his post and spew your personal invective.

      Turley is chronicling the reporting of the papers in question. Not the papers themselves. But rather a “scientific” journal, dragging the paper through the political sewage of today’s leftist politics.

      I know when all you have is Turlely hate, anything Turley adjacent will sate your cravings.

      1. You should look up a description of ad hom (e.g., https://iep.utm.edu/fallacy/#AdHominem) and understand why only some criticism constitutes ad hom, while other criticism does not. My criticism of Turley’s column is not ad hom.

        “Turley is chronicling the reporting of the papers in question. … a “scientific” journal, dragging the paper through the political sewage of today’s leftist politics.”

        Nope. He was commenting on a TWEET by a SciAm editor about a 2017 article in Audubon (not a scientific journal), which in turn refers to 2016 paper in a scientific journal, Current Biology. As I noted, that scientific paper states that “As a consequence of obligate disassortative mating the species effectively has four sexes, wherein any individual can mate with only 1/4 of the individuals in the population. … the species operates as though there are four sexes.” Turley is making a mountain out of a molehill about the tweet because it doesn’t include the modifier “effectively.” Colin Wright is welcome to his opinion that the tweet is “embarrassing,” but it’s unclear whether Colin Wright even read the paper in Current Biology or only relied on the Audubon article. On his website he says that he’s an evolutionary biologist, so he should be able to engage with science.

        1. Great explanation of what the rukus is about. Its not Turley

          It’s true that nature is amazing, but Turley has no interest in discussing the scientific findings and why they’re interesting.

          Yes WE KNOW…. Turley writes about his observations, not things that don’t interest him.

          “Now the editor-in-chief of Scientific American Laura Helmuth is under fire for claiming that birds have four sexes”

          The conflict is with the editor-in-chief of Scientific American( I guess the Scientific American is NOT a scientific journal) Laura Helmuth

          Again. Other than Truley shining a light on people of science doing back flips, denying there are only two sexes, Turely hasn’t voiced much of an opinion, on anything in particular

          1. She didn’t claim that “birds have four sexes.” Birds are a large class of vertebrates with over 10,000 species, and she spoke of a single species, saying “White-throated sparrows have four chromosomally distinct sexes that pair up in fascinating ways,” as there’s relevant evidence in this species, but not for birds as a class. The two male morphs in this species are chromosomally distinct from each other, as are the two female morphs, and each morph generally only mates with the opposite morph of the other sex, creating — as the authors of the original paper put it — “effectively … four sexes.” Helmuth isn’t doing backflips. It’s a tweet for god’s sake, not a treatise.

            Do you understand why the authors of the original paper say that this species “effectively has four sexes” or don’t you?

            1. Do you understand why the authors of the original paper say….

              This post is NOT about the deflection you insist on pushing

              This is your classic changing of the topic

              1. There’s not a huge difference between the authors saying the species “effectively has four sexes” and discussing the chromosomal differences and Helmuth’s tweet that “White-throated sparrows have four chromosomally distinct sexes.” Again, Turley is making a mountain out of a molehill.

  9. Scientific American turned to trash long ago.

    I used to enjoy it and was saddened when it began to be run by halfwits.

    1. When Scientific American endorsed candidates, and not on a scientific basis that I could discern, Ideclined multiple subscription renewal notices.

  10. The word “sex” and the word “gender” are not interchangeable. The intentional obfuscation of this fact is a big part of the problem. Living beings come in one of two sexes. “Gender” is not a thing. There is gender identity and there are gender roles which may or may not be unrelated to sex although I personally believe that’s nonsense. Since humans don’t have “gender” per se, no you can’t tell their gender from their skeleton. You can however tell their sex. Which leads to the question: if gender identity is unrelated to biological sex, why change biological sex (which is impossible anyway because chromosomes gonna chromosome) to fit gender identity? Isn’t that a contradiction?

    1. Not all “Living beings come in one of two sexes.” For example, some humans are born intersex, some are born as XX/XY mosaics, etc. And of course, there are plenty of living species that do not have sexes, or that produce both male and female parts (e.g., monoecious plants, hermaphroditic animals).

      As for ““Gender” is not a thing. There is gender identity and there are gender roles …,” your second sentence contradicts your first. “humans don’t have “gender” per se” is also false; we clearly have gender identities. Identity is a thing.

      “chromosomes gonna chromosome”

      But sex chromosomes are not all that effect the development of the sexual reproductive system. For example, an intersex person need not be an XX/XY mosaic. The development of the sexual reproductive system of a developing fetus is also affected by hormones released by the mother’s body during pregnancy.

      Biology is complex. We’re better off acknowledging that complexity.

      1. Some human beings are born without legs. Shall we base our understanding of human skeletal anatomy on that fact?

        1. Would you agree that it should be included in the range of human anatomical variations?

              1. Whether an argument based on outliers is weak depends on the substance of the argument. If someone makes an overly sweeping claim, it’s appropriate to point out the actual variations in arguing that it’s overly sweeping.

                  1. OK, though I’m not clear on what the “something” you have in mind is here (e.g., the fundamental nature and purpose of reproduction?).

                  2. Fair enough

                    Uncle Henry,

                    Please tell Aunt Sue she has never sent me her 4-H Kansas County Fair blue ribbon award winning Tipsy Pecan Pie, and that I would appreciate it if she sent it post-haste. I just bought a new bottle of Bacardi Gold Rum and it would accompany a piece of pie perfectly.

                    You are correct. Scientists never argue from the point of outliers. The troll is pulling your Kansas leg.

                    Dont forget to tell Aunt Sue!

                    1. Her name was changed when that twister lifted her house, which gave her a head concussion whereby the house landed on that very bad witch that provoked Toto to piss on her


    2. What I find absolutely stunning about the crazed wokeism around gender & race these days, is the simplistic focus on outward physical traits & complete dismissal of inner humanity. MLK referred to “content of character” as distinct from color of skin, but today all you hear about is color of skin. Likewise the gender thing. It’s no longer enough to be a feminine male or to express your inner femininity, or to channel your mother. No, to be feminine you have to whack off your parts & yell at heterosexual men for not dating you. Honestly I know plenty of heterosexual men with 10x more inner femininity than the bullies in lipstick out-competing biological women in sports.

    3. Deboluccia, you are correct. And the confusion begins in the teaching in elementary school. My daughter’s 5th grade class is now being taught that at birth a doctor makes a “guess” about the baby and “assigns” a gender. Even my daughter understands this is nonsense and that a doctor observes the physiological features of a baby to identify its objectively existing sex, which the doctor then records. The doctor does or says nothing in relation to what the subjective feelings of the child may be years hence, which is what “gender” means.

      To avoid loaded terms like boy or girl or man or woman, the lesson plan speaks of people with penises and people with vaginas.

      Transgenderism is actually a reactionary ideology in that it medicalises feelings and behaviour that do not conform to gender stereotypes, in effect denying that there are many ways to be a boy or girl. This is why many gay analysts view it as dangerously misguided. The “solution” it offers is to mutilate the body in a futile attempt to conform it to the mind. Behind it is the greed of the pharmaceutical companies and medical establishment, and their captured media and Democratic Party.

      Eventually, after enough damage is done, sanity will return, and this episode will be viewed in the same way as past horrors perpetrated by the medical establishment and supported by the media.

  11. So far today I have not read any comments accusing Professors Turley of bird transphobia. The transphobic bird crowd must be sleeping in late after getting drunk at the drag queen show. Their kids that they took with them to the drag queen show are sleeping in late too. No proof of age was required at the door.

    1. TIT, I’ve said this before and I will say it again. If these wack jobs can get you to believe this crap, they can get you to believe anything.

  12. The Scientific American editor succumbed to the temptation of confirmation bias. She desperately clung to certain data – however far fetched – that might provide some purchase for her belief that if confirmed would contradict the accepted fact that mammals (and thus humans) are sexually dimorphic. What Scientific American needs is an editor that is voraciously curious about new findings but is willing to let the preponderance of facts guide our thinking. Scientific American does not need an editor that brings to fore only articles that are convenient to some social theory.

  13. The curious case of the scientists who tried to make scientific evidence fit their ideology. Just makes them look like they peed all over their fingers.

  14. Scientific American has been politically driven since the early 80s, when it jumped on the antinuclear power bandwagon, as well as embracing other nonscientific crap like human caused global cooling (ice age) and then switching to global warming within a decade. The fact the editor now is so bold to lie/mislead about two sexes only for all animals in public just shows the state of antiscience that even exists in the scientific community. They ignore fundamentals like the Scientific Method, and the nature of uncertainty in real scientific investigation. I subscribed to Scientific American first in the mid 1970s, it used to be a great magazine, and then it became warped, and I quit in disgust.

      1. It’s no more true to say that than to say that the Right ruins everything it touches. Hyperbole of the sort that you’re repeating serves the country poorly.

        1. It’s no more true to say that . . .

          Oh yes it most certainly is, unless you’re living in an alternate reality. The Left has ruined comedy, education, entertainment, government, law, . . . and the list goes on and on and on and on.

          1. Whether some social entity is “ruined” is a matter of opinion, not a T/F claim in the first place.

            You and I clearly have different opinions.

            1. Comedy isn’t funny when it’s a left-wing political diatribe every night. That’s what has happened to late-night comedy now that Johnny Carson and Jay Leno have been replaced by leftists spewing politics. When comedy isn’t funny any more, it’s ruined. Evidently you disagree, and you’re entitled to your opinion.

  15. The absurd flows daily from the imbecilic left. The old saying that birds of a feather flock together has now morphed into gender dysphasia. These supposed scientists have their heads up where they shouldn’t be!

    From Jacob Bronowski ‘Face of Violence’ “The world is made of people who never quite get into the first team and who just miss the prizes at the flower show.”

  16. National Geographic has also been infected with the woke virus/cancer. A friend of mine canceled his subscription to NG about 15 years ago when he noticed that it was subordinating actual geography and science to leftist political causes.

  17. No more subscriptions to Scientific American. Why pay for that when I can get the same level of scientific thought from the NY Times and the WaPoo at a lower price?

    1. She was formerly a science editor for the Washington Post…….. Good grief. Scientific American has been politically driven since the 1980s.

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