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the feminist critique of science

Pearse Ward wardp at herald.usask.ca
Mon Sep 11 17:14:25 EST 1995

In article <43901.frest001 at maroon.tc.umn.edu>, Joy L Frestedt
<frest001 at maroon.tc.umn.edu> wrote:

> In response to Pearse's comments to Muriel...
> Au contraire, I think this is EXACTLY the point.  In the example you use, 
> the "way" in which science was done has been changed completely.  In the 
> record, the "male" way to DO science was to study only MEN...the "female" 
> way to DO science is to study BOTH men and women (all ages I hope). 

The way in which the science was done was not changed in this example.
What was studied was the difference. The way in which it was studied was
exactly the same.

For example, suppose I wanted to study the causes of lung cancer, and I
set up a retrospective study that relied on subjects filling out a
questionaire and then from that calulated a correlation between lifestyle
and risk of getting lung cancer.

If I included only men in the study, it would be wrong (biased) to
extrapolate the result to the population at large (women, children). My
results would only apply to the population studied.

If I then included women in the study, my results could be more widely
applied (even if you sorted the results by sex to account for differences
in biology or lifestyle).

The method hasn't changed, merely the sample population studied and the
applicability of the results.

If you are arguing for more attention and more funding for women's health
issues, then we do not disagree. If you are arguing that there is a
"female" way and a "male" way to do science and that one is superior, then
we do not agree.

In a sense, this argument is a red herring. The studies referred to as
being all male were mostly studies done in lab. animals (inbred strains of
mice). Selecting one sex was simply one more method for removing
confounding variables, and male mice happen to be less valuable.  Most
studies done in humans choose sample populations suitable to the study. I
would no sooner extrapolate data from a mouse system to a human one than I
would extrapolate data from an all human male study to an all human female

It does not make sense to study men and women in all cases. There is no
point in including males in a study of breast cancer as it is so rare in
males as to be statistically invisible. Similarly, it makes no sense to
include women in a study of prostate cancer. The point is, you set up your
study to include the population of interest. If you are concerned about
the apparent increase in lung cancer in women over the past twenty years,
why include men in your study?

 I> hope this means that the way we DO science has been changed DRASTICALLY 
> from now on!

How exactly do you envision the method of doing science to be in need of
change? I am not talking here about sample populations or what ought to be
studied but rather how it ought to be studied.


Pearse Ward
Dep't Veterinary Microbiology
Western College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, SK

---------- The road to hell is paved with good intentions ----------

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