Academics ‘need training’ on sex and gender in research

Study says that universities need to ‘step up’ to continue progress made by funding agencies and journals

November 7, 2019
face recognition
Source: iStock

Universities must train academics to incorporate sex and gender analysis into their research and teaching, according to a new paper co-authored by a leading expert on gender in science.

The study, published in Nature on 7 November, says that many research funding agencies and peer-reviewed journals have developed policies in this area but “researchers and evaluators by and large lack expertise in sex and gender analysis”.  

It calls on universities to “step up” and provide training to academics across a full range of disciplines and for these initiatives to then be “mainstreamed into university education”.

Incorporating sex and gender analysis into research would help improve the reproducibility of studies, reduce bias, enable social equality in scientific outcomes and foster opportunities for discovery and innovation, according to the paper.

For example, “evidence that facial recognition systems misclassify gender more often for darker-skinned women than for lighter-skinned men has led to refinements in computer vision”, it says.

Londa Schiebinger, John L. Hinds professor of history of science at Stanford University and co-author of the study, said that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the US’ National Institutes of Health have online training modules for integrating sex and gender analysis into medical research but other disciplines, such as engineering and computer science, now needed to follow suit.

She said that academics had to be trained in this area not only to improve research but so that they could then train students to take social factors into account in their own work.

“Stanford should not be graduating students who go on to work at Google in computer science without this kind of awareness,” she said.

Professor Schiebinger called on university leaders to speak out about the importance of sex and gender analysis, adding that they could “even provide professors with special funding” to reorganise their degree courses to incorporate such analysis.

“People are really on board: they want to promote fairness, they understand [that] human bias needs to be dealt with in some way. The basic research has been done, professors now just need to integrate it into their courses,” she said.

“And they will increasingly need to understand how to integrate sex and gender in their particular topic in order to get funding and in order to have their papers published. There will be a self-reinforcing system that is looking for excellence.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: ‘Train researchers in sex and gender analysis’

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I found that googling "gender dimorphism in human brain size" helped me with sex and gender analysis across a range of related subjects.

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