Very interesting article by the National Geographic on women and gender in science and the changes and small revolutions happening within
Why It’s Crucial to Get More Women Into Science
Amid growing signs that gender bias has affected research outcomes and damaged women’s health, there’s a new push to make science more relevant to them.
By Marguerite Del Giudice for National Geographic, published 7 November 2014
“So what difference does it make when there is a lack of women in science? For one, it means women might not get the quality of health care that men receive.
It’s now widely acknowledged that countless women with heart disease have been misdiagnosed in emergency rooms and sent home, possibly to die from heart attacks, because for decades what we know now wasn’t known: that they can exhibit different symptoms from men for cardiovascular disease. Women also have suffered disproportionately more side effects from various medications, from statins to sleep aids, because the recommended doses were based on clinical trials that focused largely on average-size men.
Such miscalculated dosages often have not been discovered until the drugs were on the market. Just last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised women to cut their doses of the sleeping pill Ambien in half, after learning that the active ingredient in the drug remained in women’s bodies longer than it did in men’s.
Was the oversight in medical research deliberate? No, many scientists say. There was simply a routine procedural bias not to include sex as a variable in scientific research.
For generations, the model used in biomedical research to design drugs and products for everyone has been predicated on the physiology of an average-size male, historically the standard reference figure in Gray’s Anatomy, the medical textbook first published in the 1850s.
Even the rats (and other animals) used in scientific experiments have mainly been male. For years, many researchers were concerned that hormone fluctuations in female animals would skew the results of tests, and simply assumed that males could be used to reliably predict effects in both men and women. As a result, “sex, the biggest variable, has not been systematically evaluated and reported in the same way as variables like time, temperature, and dose, even in diseases that are female dominated,” says Teresa K. Woodruff, director of the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the primary U.S. agency responsible for health-related research, is now correcting this procedural bias.”
“Including gender in research could attract more women to science as well, Schiebinger says, because careers and avenues of research suddenly can become relevant to women.
She says that as more women get involved in the sciences—or any field historically dominated by men—the general knowledge in that field tends to expand.
“There are lots of places where you can show the direct link between increase in number of women and outcome in knowledge,” she says. “History, primatology, biology, medicine.”
It’s an idea that dovetails with a major shift that has taken place in how scientific inquiry is being carried out by research teams.
“Collaboration is now the foundation of much of STEM research … this is a huge change,” says Beth Mitchneck, who runs the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program, which supports women in the academic sciences and promotes institutional change.”