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Stanford Gendered Innovations program offers tools for improving scientific research

Gender bias in the sciences isn't a one-way street. When reading the previous sentence, did you imagine the street's traffic flowed heavier in a particular direction? The peer-reviewed Stanford University project Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine and Engineering may paint a more complex and accurate picture, using sex and gender analysis as a resource to improve research and facilitate innovation. For example, as noted in a Stanford Report article, the program conducted a case study on osteoporosis in men, who often suffer from the disease later and less frequently than women but may experience more difficulty recovering from related fractures. Fortifying sex-specific research in this instance could lead to better patient care and a more nuanced understanding of the disease.

Gendered Innovations founder and director Londa Schiebinger, PhD, has collaborated with an international team to develop 11 methods for integrating tools for sex and gender analysis into science and engineering research projects. Since beginning in 2009 from start-up funding from the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, which Schiebinger directed from 2004-2010, Gendered Innovations also has completed 14 case studies demonstrating the benefits of using those methods.

Kathleen Sullivan writes in the Stanford Report:

The Gendered Innovations project was developed through six international workshops. In 2011, the European Union joined the project, followed by the U.S. National Science Foundation in 2012.

"The project was created through a unique international collaboration of scientists, engineers and gender experts," Schiebinger said.

The first workshop was held at Stanford in 2011 and the seventh – and last – will be held in September in Brussels, at the headquarters of the European Commission.

Methods of sex and gender analysis in research include Rethinking Research Priorities and Outcomes, which asks scientists to consider how gender norms influence priorities, who will be the research's beneficiaries and who will be left out, and whether new data is required to make funding-allocation decisions. Rethinking Language and Visual Representations, another of the project's analysis tools, seeks to remove assumptions that may limit or restrict innovation and knowledge as well as those that subconsciously reinforce gender inequalities. The article continues:

"Researchers will want to consider all methods and think creatively about how these methods can enhance their own research,"  [Schiebinger] said. "Our message is that researchers need to design sex and gender analysis into their project from the very beginning."

She said research has shown that sex and gender bias can be harmful and expensive.

"Between 1997 and 2000, 10 drugs were withdrawn from the U.S. market because of life-threatening health effects, and eight of them had more severe side effects in women," she said. "Developing those drugs cost billions of dollars and inestimable human suffering and death. So we have a very strong reason to be looking at sex and gender differences in medicine."

Schiebinger said the same is true for technology.

Previously:  Study shows many heart devices receive FDA approval without adequate testing on women and NIH awards aim to increase diversity in the sciences

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