Sat 13 Feb 2021 (updated: Sat 13 Feb 2021 , 11:51 ) — 6 min

A previous version of this post misidentified the nature of the article described below. We have corrected this

James Caspian's Ethics Review Approval Form leaked online in 2019
James Caspian's Ethics Review Approval Form leaked online in 2019


For 4 years now stories in the British press have raised the alarm over fits of campus wokeness, attacks on free speech in research, and claims of hostility to serious scientific research around detransition driven by "trans ideology". James Caspian, a psychotherapist and former student studying towards an MA in Counselling and Psychotherapy Practice at Bath Spa University is at the centre of one of these cases, owing to the fact that a research proposal on detransitioners was rejected at the stage of ethics approval.

Up until now, at least within the British press, this controversy has played out in the form of hearsay - James Caspian claims that his research approval was blocked because it was not politically correct and that therefore it was impossible to study detransition in the U.K. for fear of the potential backlash from what he describes as "trans ideology".

There has been limited primary source information in the public domain on this case beyond Caspian's claims, and the public have been largely left to follow the narrative reporting in mainstream news outlets, which themselves have largely appeared to be sympathetic to Caspian's claims. Meanwhile Bath Spa have, perhaps understandably, elected to avoid comment in light of repeated court cases which they might otherwise be better off fighting on the basis of evidence in front of a judge than in the realm of PR.

However, it is notable that despite strong claims made by Caspian in the press about his mistreatment by Bath Spa, he has so far lost every single time it comes to court or other ruling. These include:

  • Apparently an initial case in 2017 applying to the high court for judicial review1,
  • A case brought through the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (an independent regulatory body established to review student complaints).
  • A renewed application for Judicial review in 2019.

Nevertheless this hasn't stopped major media outlets from continuing well into last year publishing opinion pieces discussing the case on the basis that legitimate research had been quashed by tyrannically "woke" busybodies.2

However, Trans Safety Network have unearthed a key piece of tangible evidence to help understand this story. On an article about detransitioners published in by a French Canadian broadcaster in 2019, we found attached a copy of the document the UK press have spent 4 years talking about, but never directly publishing or linking: James Caspian's Research Ethics Approval Form from Bath Spa.3

Key points

At present, a copy of the initial ethics approval form is available, apparently in full, published by French Canadian broadcaster CBC.

In this it is clear that a wide array of quite thorny issues were raised:

  • His expected sample size was small: between one and four participants anticipated. Although this is not flagged as an issue in and of itself by the ethics board in the form, given the relatively small size of the potential detransitioner community, this provides potentially additional hurdles with regard to anonymity for a population of highly identifiable individuals.
  • His approach to preserving their anonymity was unclear: rather than laying out a detailed plan to protect participants' anonymity, he had only 15 words to say on the matter.
  • He had raised risks without plans to mitigate these: concerns as part of his research proposal mentioned a "risk of attack" from "trans activists", but at the same time appeared to have no plan for addressing how any such attack might be mitigated other than avoiding social media.
  • Lack of clarity around his own safety: the ethics board were concerned that he had no plans for his own emotional well-being despite being a psychotherapist himself.
  • Lack of clarity/informed consent for participants: they also raised concerns that he hadn't specified clearly how he was going to inform research participants about what will happen with the data collected and later used, and to some extent, his plans to tell participants that he would be the only one to see the data implied potentially misinforming them as to access to his research data available to colleagues reviewing his work.
  • A general lack of safeguarding for participants: he discusses conducting interviews in the homes of research participants but does not at any point address potential risks. He also proposes in his approval form that the research participants be required to make their own arrangements for psychological support, without any stipulation that such psychological support ought to be confirmed to be appropriate to the needs of participants and confirmation that such support is actually available.

These shortcomings in his plans to address the ethical challenges of doing research involving living human beings are clearly more wide ranging than those that have been discussed in the press, and suggest a much more substantial explanation for why his research proposal was first rejected, and then this rejection was supported in multiple subsequent court hearings.

How this form ended up falling into the hands of a French Canadian broadcaster to be published 2 years ago remains a mystery.

Renewed ECHR Case

This past week James Caspian has launched a new attempt to take this case further4, this time in the European Court of Human Rights, with the help of a legal group linked to the pro-Conversion Therapy5, anti-abortion6 religious lobby group Christian Concern.7 For many in the LGBT community, this is an alarming development given the increase in attempts by anti-LGBT campaigners to exploit media driven controversies around trans issues to obfuscate discussions around a proposed ban on conversion therapy (increasingly otherwise known as Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Efforts, or "SOGICE" for short).