Scientific Self Reflection

Like a small Russian doll investigating a larger sibling doll, some scientists research bias in science-culture. This happens in both formal and informal ways.

Formal examples of this meta research include a 2019 study from the University of Canterbury which ‘looked into decades of research from 28 scientific societies in four countries covering five science disciplines and found the science gender gap is real.’ [1] Similarly, 2018 research published in the journal Neuroview noted, ‘If you ask a 5 year old to draw a scientist, roughly half of the drawings will feature a woman… Ask those same kids at age 10 and the percentage of female scientists drawn drops to 25% and continues to decline…‘ [2]

Informal examples of meta science include science reporters at RadioLab who, in their series Gonads, [3] explore non-binary sex physiologies and gender constructs found within science, public education, sports arenas, and more. The podcast series G by RadioLab, and Race by Science Versus, report on racial biases and other strains of eugenics enmeshed in modern science. [4][5]

A New York Times article summarizes the past, present, and likely-future situation well noting, ‘In a discipline often portrayed as the ultimate meritocracy, scientists have struggled with how to effectively counter… bias.’ [6]

Bias does not necessarily mean that one is against something. It simply means that there is a predilection towards one direction versus another. For example, a researcher might find mindful practices so compelling that their favor for such exercises influences the way that they conduct their research. [7][8] Biases, these sorts of preferences, attractions, repulsions, dislikes – whether they are culturally embedded or otherwise, they are intimately woven in with our assumptions, ethics, and more. Having bias is a part of being a human. [9][10] Biases affect how science is conducted. [11][12][13][14]

In some situations you may be able to find meta research which relates to the science information you wish to share with your classes. A wide survey may have been conducted about how a particular aspect of bias does or does not affect your topic of interest. Yet, in many other moments, such research may not be available.

Whatever you find, I hope that the awareness of bias within science will further support you in asking yourself, how might bias relate to the reliability of the theory or research in my hand?

sources

  1. staff, S. X. (2019, September 4). New Data Analysis Proves Science is sexist. Phys.org. Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://phys.org/news/2019-09-analysis-science-sexist.html
  2. Redirecting. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2020, from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2018.07.045
  3. Radiolab: Radiolab presents: Gonads. WNYC Studios. (2021, August 6). Retrieved December 25, 2021, from https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/projects/radiolab-presents-gonads
  4. Radiolab: Radiolab presents: G. WNYC Studios. (2021, July 15). Retrieved December 25, 2021, from https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/projects/radiolab-presents-g
  5. Vs, S. (2019, October 15). Race: Can we see it in our DNA?: Science vs. Gimlet. Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://gimletmedia.com/shows/science-vs/6nhgxk
  6. Harmon, A. (2018, November 20). ‘enough is enough’: Science, too, has a problem with harassment. The New York Times. Retrieved January 25, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/science/gender-harassment-science-universities.html
  7. About the Authors Follow Jeremy Adam Smith UC Berkeley Jeremy Adam Smith edits the GGSC’s online magazine, Follow Jeremy Adam Smith UC Berkeley Jeremy Adam Smith edits the GGSC’s online magazine, Follow Kira M. Newman Kira M. Newman is the managing editor of Greater Good. Her work has been published in outlets including the Washington Post, Suttie, J. S. J., & Jazaieri, H. J. H. (n.d.). The state of mindfulness science. Greater Good. Retrieved December 25, 2020, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_state_of_mindfulness_science
  8. Mindfulness: New age craze or science-backed solution? Big Think. (2021, September 30). Retrieved December 25, 2021, from https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/mindfulness-science/
  9. Sapolsky, R. (2017, December 14). Why your brain hates other people – issue 55: Trust. Nautilus. Retrieved June 25, 2020, from https://nautil.us/issue/55/trust/why-your-brain-hates-other-people-rp
  10. seancarroll. (2018, July 9). Episode 1: Carol Tavris on mistakes, justification, and cognitive dissonance. YouTube. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j055VZN8Xys
  11. Howe, N. (2020, November 3). ‘stick to the science’: When science gets political. Nature News. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03067-w
  12. Fanelli, D., Costas, R., & Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2017, April 4). Meta-assessment of bias in science. PNAS. Retrieved February 17, 2020, from https://www.pnas.org/content/114/14/3714
  13. Sites. (n.d.). The Science of Bias. The Bias Inside Us. Retrieved December 25, 2021, from https://biasinsideus.si.edu/online-exhibition/the-science-of-bias
  14. Dutt, K. (2018, December 17). How implicit bias and lack of diversity undermine science. Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/how-implicit-bias-and-lack-of-diversity-undermine-science/
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