Comments for my TA: Week 8/9


Feminism and Biases in Research (sort of…)

When I’m surfing the net I quite often come across things that fill me with that special kind of rage, which I’m sure anyone who’s ever read the comments underneath a YouTube video will have felt too (  A prime example of the type of things that awake this rage is the following: (Organisers of a launch party for the PS3 game ‘Battlefield 3’ decided that the best way to prevent women from being offended by misogynist language often used by male gamers, was to ban women from attending the event at all. What an inspired solution! *headdesk*). Misogynist or sexist behaviour is one of my biggest pet-hates; even when it’s inadvertent, or just down to ignorance.   In fact, in some ways, inadvertent sexism is worse than deliberate sexism as it represents the persistence of acceptable misogynistic norms in our society and will undoubtedly lead to biases.

These days of course there doesn’t seem all that much for feminists to get angry about (apart from slightly moronic jokes about telling women to “get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich”) however, there are still many inequalities and biases against women in the world today and it is important that we recognise them and try to change things; particularly within the domain of science. There is a huge feminist movement within the social sciences to do with conducting “feminist science” and preventing biases against women in scientific research. It is my opinion that this is a hugely important endeavour; and I say this not just from a feminist perspective but also from the perspective of someone who aspires to be (hopefully) a scientist one day. Biases in society; be they sexism, racism, homophobia, or any other; will lead to biases in research, which can only impede the progress of science.

Currently there is almost no psychological research in the areas of gay attraction, relationships or civil partnerships; most research into the concepts of love and attraction has been conducted with monogamous heterosexual couples in mind because, until very recently, being gay was simply not socially acceptable. This means that a huge aspect of human relationships has barely been studied at all. Another bias in established psychological research is that, from the time psychology began to be investigated until about the 1970s or 80s, the prototypical research participant was the typical student at the time: white, male, well-educated and either upper- or middle-class. The same goes for the majority of researchers. The data gathered from these participants was considered the norm and became the standard against which all other groups and populations were judged. Also the methods of testing these participants also became the standard way of testing that phenomenon in all groups. Obviously these kinds of research biases led to erroneous conclusions. In 1976 Kohlberg claimed that: compared to men, women tended to be less morally developed. Gilligan argued against this in 1982 by pointing out that the moral dilemmas on Kohlberg’s rating scale focused almost exclusively on a ‘justice orientation’, which because males and females are socialised in different ways was more likely to favour the males. When females were tested on moral dilemmas with a ‘care orientation’, they scored just as highly for moral development as the males, just in a different way.

I won’t say that my Battlefield 3 example means that society is in some kind of misogynistic downwards spiral, but, since it is clear that norms and biases in society can not only affect us personally but also in the scientific domain, perhaps we as potential researchers should think more carefully about such instances as they may indicate a growing social bias that may one day affect our own research.

(It does interest me that whenever I go on the SONA website and someone is doing a videogame study, they only want male participants. How come the girls can’t get course credit for gaming?)


Sources and Things of Possible Interest:,+M.+and+Lapointe,+J.+On+the+Treatment+of+the+Sexes+in+Research.+1985.&ots=4NJi5JVnr4&sig=7EHwHNEVyfL7nik7UbHlfg_BAzU#v=onepage&q=Eichler%2C%20M.%20and%20Lapointe%2C%20J.%20On%20the%20Treatment%20of%20the%20Sexes%20in%20Research.%201985.&f=false

Something Quite Interesting?

In this week’s episode of QI they talk briefly about the difference between what scientists think of as a theory and what people in general think of as a theory; the old “evolution is JUST a theory” chestnut. It was indeed quite interesting and also quite relevant to some blogs, so I thought I’d post it here just for some stats/research methods funsies.

The relevant bit starts at about 11mins &20 secs in ( and Ben Goldacre, author of ‘Bad Science’ is in this episode too!)