What does it really mean to be a man or a woman? Can one be both? Neither?
In international track and field, critics have questioned the naturally elevated testosterone levels of female South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya. The Court of Arbitration for Sport earlier this year affirmed a ruling disallowing the two-time Olympic gold medalist from competing in certain races without decreasing her testosterone levels.
CU Boulder’s Roger Pielke Jr., who testified at the hearing in Switzerland, says the ruling was based on faulty science.
BRAINWAVES’ LISA MARSHALL: “You recently published a study that was critical of the science that this rule is based on. Can you talk a little bit about what you found out about the research?
PIELKE JR.: “We recreated their study and found that the data was shot through with errors, mistakes and we calculated about 17-32% of the data was flawed, which is a big number. It’s certainly not the basis for any sort of regulatory policy. We published our results and called for the original paper to be withdrawn.”
MARSHALL: “Is testosterone a good measure for athletic ability? And is it a fair measure by which to determine if an athlete is a man or a woman?”
PIELKE JR.: The science that the [International Association of Athletics] has done on this topic doesn’t really support their case. The one event for women that has the biggest difference according to whether the woman has high or low testosterone levels is the 100 meters. And it turns out that women with lower testosterone outperform women with higher testosterone.