Theories And Conclusions Drawn From The Data

Emphasis upon traditional disciplinary approaches that are quantitative and maintain the distance between observer and experimental subject supposedly removes the bias of the researcher. Ironically, to the extent that these "objective" approaches are synonymous with a particular approach to scientific phenomena, they may introduce bias. As a corrective to such bias to a science that is too narrow, Sandra Harding proposes the notion of "strong objectivity" which recognizes the cultural, social, and historical forces that shape the questions asked by scientists, their approaches, and the theories and conclusions drawn from their data

Theories may be presented in androcentric, ethnocentric, or class-biased language. An awareness of language should aid experimenters in avoiding the use of terms such as "tomboyism" (Money and Erhardt), "aggression," and "hysteria," which reflect assumptions about sex-appropriate behavior (Hamilton). Researchers should use evaluative terms such as "prostitute" with caution. Often the important fact for AIDS research is that a woman has multiple sex partners or is an IV drug user, rather than that she has received money for sex. The use of such terms as "prostitute" may induce bias by promoting the idea that women are vectors for transmission to men when, in fact, the men may have an equal or greater number of sex partners to whom they are transmitting the disease. Even more important, by emphasizing AIDS in "prostitutes," healthcare practitioners are able to distance themselves and their patients from the risk ofAIDS. This may also lead to practitioners treating prostitutes as less than human and underdiagnosing AIDS in women who are not prostitutes. Focus on group characteristics such as "prostitute" or "poor, black, unmarried woman" repeats the initial mistake of identifying the disease by group rather than by behavioral risk.

Once a bias in terminology is exposed, the next step is to ask whether that terminology leads to a constraint or bias in the theory itself. Theories and conclusions drawn from medical research may be formulated to support the status quo of inequality for oppressed groups. Not surprisingly, the androcentric bias in research that has led to exclusion of women from the definitions and approaches to research problems may result in differences in management of disease and access to healthcare procedures based on gender. In a 1991 study in Massachusetts and Maryland, John Z. Ayanian and Arnold M. Epstein (1991) demonstrated that women were significantly less likely than men to undergo coronary angioplasty, angiography, or surgery when admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of myocardial infarction, unstable or stable angina, chronic ischemic heart disease, or chest pain. This significant difference remained even when the variables of race, age, economic status, and other chronic diseases (such as diabetes and heart failure) were controlled. A similar study (Steingart et al.) revealed that women have angina before myocardial infarction as frequently and with more debilitating effects than men, yet they are referred for cardiac catheterization only half as often. Gender bias in cardiac research has therefore been translated into bias in management of disease, leading to inequitable treatment for life-threatening conditions in women. Women exhibited higher death rates from angioplasty (Kelsey et al.) and thrombolytic therapy (Wenger, Speroff, and Packard).

Recognizing the possibility of bias is the first step toward understanding the difference it makes and combating it. Perhaps white male researchers have been less likely to see flaws in and question biologically deterministic theories that provide scientific justification for their superior status in society because they gain social power and status from such theories. Researchers from outside the mainstream (women and people of color, for example) are much more likely to be critical of such theories because they lose power from those theories.

In order to eliminate bias and recognize the cultural, social, and historical forces impacting their research, the community of scientists needs to include individuals who serve as members on review panels and as leaders to review studies from backgrounds of as much variety and diversity as possible with regard to race, class, gender, and sexual orientation (Rosser, 2000). Only then is it less likely that the perspective of one group will bias research design, approaches, subjects, and interpretations. Since the scientific method itself is supposed to be "self-correcting," if results are continually tested and subject to critical review, these biases are likely to be exposed.


SEE ALSO: AIDS; Feminism; Genetic Discrimination; Metaphor and Analogy; Prisoners as Research Subjects; Privacy and Confidentiality in Research; Race and Racism; Research Policy; Sexism

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