We all know about the gender pay gap but how much do you know about the data gap?
In science the white straight male is used as the ‘average’ human. He’s the reason why supermarket shelves are built too tall for most people or why in a car accident you are 47% more likely to get seriously injured (more on this later). He is used as the starting point for all science and it’s seriously affecting everyone else.
If we looked at the world as 100 people, it would be a 50/50 split of men and woman and 80% of those people would be non white and 20% white. So what we are using as the ‘average’ would only represent 10% of the population!
If you’ve been with me for a while you will have seen me post about the fact that 70% of pain patients are women but 80% of pain studies are carried out on men or male mice. A we know that the female immune system responds completely differently to men’s (ours actually kicks in faster and we are less likely to die from viruses) it’s safe to say that a large section of pain medication simply won’t work on us like it should. Our faster reaction to viruses and difference in our immune systems could also be the answer to why more women are affected by chronic illness.
To take another example heart disease is the leading cause of death among women globally. A 2018 study published in the medical journal of Australia found that women were half as likely to be treated properly as men, and twice as likely to die six months after discharge. This is because women’s heart attacks present completely differently to men’s but we only have data on how men react. Most cardiologists don’t even feel confident about being able to diagnose a heart attack in a woman and that’s because the data just isn’t there. In fact most women don’t even realise they are having a heart attack in the first place because they experience the pain differently to men. Which leads to many being discharged and the reason why it’s such a deadly disease for women.
I mentioned earlier that we are 47% more likely to get seriously injured in a car accident. This is actually down to the fact that it is not a legal requirement that when testing cars you need to test for the average woman. The male crash dummy is used as standard but it’s much heavier and taller than most women which means the injuries it gets are very different. When they did bring in voluntary use of the female crash dummy many of the even the most safe vehicles were marked down because the female crash dummy sustained farm more serious injuries.
The way that we use the white male as the average in science is problematic. It’s leaving so many people without proper medical care, safety precautions and so much more. People are dying because of it. This is why we need to include marginalized groups in research. The baseline that we choose to use in science needs to accounts for these differences. More research needs to happen and most importantly we need to bring in laws that require that to be the case.
If you want to know more about the data gap there is an excellent article in the Guardian here. Which is an extract from the book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. It’s a completely eye opening read!