Sexism in science hinders quest for truth – leader comment

Research finds just a quarter of bird specimens in natural history museums were female in yet another sign of sexism in modern society.

Author and campaigner 
Caroline Criado Perez's Invisible Women won the Royal Society's science book prize (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Author and campaigner Caroline Criado Perez's Invisible Women won the Royal Society's science book prize (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

Invisible Women, by Caroline Criado Perez, shed new light on sexism in modern society. For example, women involved in car crashes are 47 per cent more likely to be seriously hurt than men, which may be explained by the use of male crash-test dummies in vehicle design and there are a host of other forms of gender bias in everything from medical drug trials to the usual temperature of offices. Unconvinced? Well, the Royal Society was so impressed that Invisible Women won its science book prize.

But it seems sexism isn’t even confined to our own species with natural history museums around the world apparently preferring male specimens.

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Sexism does not belong in a museum – Jane Bradley

Just 27 per cent of birds and 39 per cent of mammals in collections were female – a sex ratio that has persisted for about 130 years.

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There may be some non-sexist reasons involved – many male birds in particular have dramatic plumage, for example – but it’s hard to see any scientific ones.

The study of any species requires a representative sample. Such a fundamental bias will only lead us astray in our quest for the truth.