Science is objective. This includes factual conclusions based on research, experiments and statistics. However, scientific experiments are designed by humans and are subjective. According to dr. Lilian Hunt, the Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the British Health Organisation Wellcome Trust, this leads to bias. Bias is an opinion or perspective of something or someone, that is subjective, one-sided and usually has a negative effect on another party.  

Car manufacturers are constantly developing better cars for men

The research, conducted by the University of Virginia, concludes that women, even if wearing a seatbelt, are 73% more likely to be seriously injured in a frontal collision. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, part of this harrowing statistic is due to the crash test dummies used in mandatory safety testing. These dolls are mainly modelled after a male body type, which means that over the years, car manufacturers have started to produce safer cars for men.

This problem has been known for decades, but little has changed over the years. It was not until 2003, that a new ‘female’ doll was introduced, but that missed the mark: the doll is barely 1.60 meters tall and weighs 50 kilograms, which means that she only represents 5% of the female population.

Medical textbooks ignore people of colour

Textbooks on skin diseases have ignored people of colour for a long time. In 2020, at the age of 21, Malone Mukende, a medical student in the UK, published the clinical textbook Mind the Gap. At the same time, he posted on Twitter: “There is currently a pro-white bias in medical education that alienates me and others.” In Mind the Gap he describes skin diseases on coloured skin. The handbook is available online for free and has been downloaded more than 250,000 times in more than 100 countries. The actress Lupita Nyong’o tweeted about it and Angelina Jolie interviewed Mukwende for Time magazine.

Elsevier Health created the first full 3D representation of the female anatomy

The science of anatomy has long been based on the male body. Anatomy students learned about women’s bodies by viewing 3D computer models based on the physiques of white men. Elsevier Health is changing that and released the first female 3D anatomical model in April 2022. The female model gives much more insight into the workings of the human anatomy and ensures more equality in our understanding of female and male bodies. This 3D rendering helps health educators and medical professionals worldwide.

Women’s health is ‘underfunded and underexposed’

According to dr. Lilian Hunt, women’s health issues are often overlooked. They are influenced by scientific bias because women’s health has always been underfunded and understudied. Hunt: “A lot of research needs to be conducted on women’s health issues, around motherhood, menstruation – things that have been overlooked for a long time”.

How do we democratise science?

1. One of the ways to achieve this is by encouraging and enabling aspiring researchers from different backgrounds to become scientists. “You always bring your own experiences and prioritise what matters to you. That influences how you perceive things,” says dr. Hunt. “This is a natural process and you can’t force it. That’s why you have to involve a diversity of people in the research because that’s how you get new ideas.”

2. Another way to democratise science is to make funding contingent on meeting certain diversity requirements. National scientific agencies in several countries are already doing this. “There’s little consistency around the world about the right way to do it. But we are starting to see more consideration,” said dr. Hunt.

Science does not include everyone. As long as this is the case, we must change it together. This is where the industry needs to take a step back to counter the problem of scientific bias.

Sources

Sciences et discrimination : Les préjugés mortels qui affectent injustement les femmes et les personnes de couleur: https://www.bbc.com/afrique/monde-62055523

Waarom vrouwen 73 procent meer kans hebben om zwaargewond te raken bij een auto-ongeluk: https://www.nieuwsblad.be/cnt/dmf20191028_04689567