We hear a lot about gender balance in science, but what about gender in the research itself? This point, covered at the 4th Gender Summit, held recently in Brussels, really left an impression on WAX Science, the association for stereotype-free science. Gender bias in research is not just about the numbers, as WAX explains. Learn more about the concept of gendered innovations and its implications, as well as the Gender Summit, here.
This article was originally published in French on the WAX Science site: http://wax-science.fr/wax-y-etait-le-european-gender-summit/. It was translated by Abby Tabor.
The European Gender Summit aims to promote, disseminate and reflect on all sorts of ways to bring greater equality to science. As you might remember, we talked about it when WAX science won the video contest of the EGS in November 2012, with this film:
Well, this time, we didn’t just participate in a contest, we even presented a poster, over two days, on the theme of equality in science! This was a research project carried out between iGEM (an international synthetic biology competition) and WAX Science. You can see the details here. But here is the poster itself, which concentrates on equality in synthetic biology and shows that the teams who win the competition are, on average, closer to equality! (You can download the poster here: posterEGS)
To enlarge or download the WAX Sciene/iGEM poster, click here.
Not just numbers
We enjoyed two days of fascinating presentations on all the policies put into action in dozens of other countries to move towards greater equality. How to identify the brakes holding an institute back, how to find the right actions, implement them, measure the success of a measure, ensure that it lasts – in short, how to guarantee the recruitment of women just as competent as men and, especially, how to keep them?!
The new point that really struck us at WAX was the growing dimension of equality IN research, known as “gendered innovation”. Let us explain. The idea is that, today, efforts are being made to establish equality in the number of men and women in science, and also to put policies in place to promote it all. This is good.
But have you ever wondered if the “male/female” factor was included IN research? If the fact of working on male or female mice could influence the results? Whether the effect of endocrine disruptors was different on men and women? Or why the algorithms used in translation were biased and don’t recognize when a text is talking about a woman?
Although the biological difference between men and women seems obvious, this difference is not always clearly included in research. That’s called bias, because it throws off the balance of the final result; basically, we miss the truth!
What that means
This can involve medications that are not suited for part of the population (osteoporosis in men), inefficient transport systems (an example in Vienna), missed business opportunities, or even totally incorrect results (stem cell studies). A whole site (Gendered Innovations) is dedicated to case studies and we will do an article on WAX about it soon. All of this shows that gender in research is not only a question of quotas and ratios, but especially that not considering the “male/female factor” creates gender bias in research.
As one speaker rightly put it, “A physicist could never publish an article without indicating the temperature of an experiment, so basic is that data.” Something to think about…
You have questions? Feel free to ask us!
See the Storify of the European Gender Summit 2014.
WAX Science is a young association created in March 2013. Its goal is to promote among young people a science without stereotypes. To achieve this goal, WAX works, in particular, on developing innovative tools and approaches, rooted in the interdisciplinarity of the association’s members.
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