For a sweeping and much-lauded New York Times article on how the pandemic may play out over the next year, veteran science reporter Donald G. McNeil, Jr. consulted nearly two dozen experts in public health, medicine, epidemiology, and history. Initially, I only scanned the nearly 5,000-word story, and the names of experts sluiced by as I picked out predictive nuggets on lockdowns, death tolls, and vaccines. But after several women scientists called out McNeil for bias towards men on Twitter, I went back for a closer look.
Sure enough, only two of 19 experts cited were women: Luciana Borio, a former director of medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council, and Michele Barry, director of the Center for Innovation and Global Health at Stanford University. McNeil included quotes from both that mention family.
Once you notice the dominance of the (typically White) male expert, its hard to un-see it. Writing for prominent outlets, journalists have hailed men as scientific heroes of the coronavirus era and defenders of fact. Theyve quoted all or nearly all male scientists on epidemiological models, herd immunity, viral spread on surfaces, why some people get sicker than others, and how to prepare for a likely Covid-19 resurgence.
Not only are women being passed over and ignored, but also were getting people that dont know what theyre doing supporting decision makers, said Caroline Buckee, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
By having these very loud, usually male, voices in the media touting expertise when they dont have it, she added, that risks undermining the public trust in science itself.
Women are also noticeably less visible in the flurry of scientific publishing on the pandemic. Early analyses of both research databases and preprint servers, which publish studies before theyve undergone peer review, suggest that women are starting fewer projects and publishing less research than men. Right now, in Covid, we know for a fact that women are submitting fewer papers, theyre submitting fewer grants, and there are real downstream effects for that, said Lisa Carlson, an instructor at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and president of the American Public Health Association. If you arent getting recognized, funded, and published, she said, youre not going to succeed as an academic scientist.
Not only are women being passed over and ignored, but also we're getting people that don't know what they're doing supporting decision makers.
As a Black woman, Sara Suliman, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, said that its been especially hard as the global protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd last month bring to the fore centuries of dehumanization and discrimination. Being disenfranchised during the lockdown period wasnt just about being a woman, she said. I felt it was just a cumulative effect of all the microaggressions that I have been feeling in academia for a long time.
In a commentary published last month in Times Higher Education magazine, lead author Buckee and 34 other women scientists from North America and Europe expressed frustration bordering on rage at losing ground during a pivotal moment in scientific discovery. We all share the same experience: The scientific response to Covid-19 has been characterized by an extraordinary level of sexism and racism, wrote the women, who span the academic pipeline from graduate students to tenured faculty.
The worst impacts of the coronavirus will undoubtedly be the loss of lives, the collapse of economies, the disruption of humanitarian aid, and the decay of democracies, they acknowledged. But we fear that the hard-won progress for women in science will be collateral damage of this crisis.
The idea that women in science face systemic barriers is hardly news. Last year, the Lancet medical journal devoted an entire issue to research, commentary, and analysis on gender inequities in science, medicine, and global health. Women of color face the double jeopardy of racial as well as gender bias.
Amid the current pandemic, several women who contributed to the Times Higher Education commentary told me that those barriers started to seem insurmountable. The checks and balances meant to promote merit and protect against the default bias towards White men have broken down, said Buckee. The emergency and chaos of the pandemic has triggered longstanding male networks, with a lot of ad hoc, quick linking of men to decision makers.
One complaint is that the media and policymakers overwhelmingly turn to men as figures of scientific authority. When I asked about the controversy over why her story on European scientific heroes was devoid of women, New York Times Brussels correspondent Matina Stevis-Gridneff referred me to her comments on Twitter. They looked hard, she wrote, and struggled to find women who were the public face of the coronavirus response.
In fact, women outnumber men in the health sciences according to the APHAs Carlson. While scores of women are at the forefront of Covid-19 research, men are more visible, said Angela Rasmussen, an associate research scientist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. There are just more men to choose from, she said. And they tend to be more upfront and more willing to go in front of a camera and take credit.
Suliman suggested that this is entirely common. Theres a systemic issue of men feeling like they can become experts in a new domain in a way that women feel like maybe we need more time to assert ourselves before taking up that space, she said.
Its documented that we have to work a lot more to gain the same level of external validation, she added. And we internalize that.
Women who do take a public role have to armor up. Rasmussen, a widely quoted virologist, has to deal with creepy men sending her direct messages, she said. Women are more reluctant to put themselves out there, she said. And I think a big part of it is knowing that you might put yourself at risk for these really gendered insults and slurs, and even stuff thats scarier than that.
Another issue is that women take on teaching, mentoring, and academic service work more regularly than men, and are more likely to serve in operational roles or as the Times Higher Education commentary put it: getting shit done. In the context of the current pandemic, that often means working at a breakneck pace to coordinate multiple investigations, at multiple sites, often in multiple countries, said Rasmussen. That leaves the men, who are nominally in charge, to talk to the press, she said. Its not because thats their designated job, but thats who people call rather than the women who actually would be running a lot of these collaborations.
On top of all that, stay-at-home orders have foisted absurd expectations onto working mothers. Surveys by The New York Times, the Council on Contemporary Families, and YouGov in partnership with USA Today and LinkedIn, all find that while men have taken on more housework, childcare, and homeschooling during the pandemic, women still carry the larger share of the burden.
Theres a systemic issue of men feeling like they can become experts in a new domain in a way that women feel like maybe we need more time to assert ourselves before taking up that space.
Taken as a whole, the trend towards disenfranchising women is bad for science. A review of evidence in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, concludes that greater gender diversity in scientific organizations pays a innovation dividend in terms of smarter, more creative teams and new discoveries. And the same is true for racial diversity, said Suliman, noting that a colonial lens prevents Americans from recognizing the expertise of China and the Global South. If theres true diversity, if theres true equality and equity, and people can actually look at experts horizontally and not vertically, I think we would have averted the kind of crisis that were having right now.
For Suliman, who said her anxiety level is multiplied by 100 when she walks by uniformed police on the street, the protests are a stark reminder that equality and equity are not part of existing power structures. Usually, Black people and women are held to a higher standard at work anyway, regardless of being in a crisis situation, she said.
Trying to do that while carrying a burden both because of the revolution and because of our gender roles in society in general, she added, puts us at a huge disadvantage.
T he Times Higher Education commentary called attention to deeply entrenched societal issues of racism and sexism. The women who wrote didnt pretend that these were easily paved over. I did have pushback from people saying Youre not suggesting solutions. This just seems like a rant, said Buckee. And, yes, more programs that have been developed over the last several decades to support childcare, examine female candidates seriously, keep checks and balances to make sure were being fair would be welcome, she said. But until you change the culture and change how people view the world, especially the people that have clout senior White men until that changes, Im not hopeful.
I dont have any tidy fixes either, but I do know that science journalists like me can work harder to better represent the world we report on. Would McNeil like to have diversified his manel of experts commenting for The New York Times? I dont know. In an email, he said that he was in the penalty box and temporarily banned from talking to press after an appearance on CNN where he sharply criticized the administrations inadequate Covid-19 response.
For my part, Ive been reflecting on my own blind spots. I realized with embarrassment that in a recent story I wrote on Covid-19, my editor and I wound up cutting sections containing the perspective of a Black female internist who specializes in infectious disease. Considering that, according to data from New York City, African Americans are dying of Covid-19 at twice the rate of Whites, her insight could have made the story stronger.
Freelance science journalist Tara Haelle told me that she follows a lot of women scientists on Twitter because they provide her with valuable information as a journalist. The grunt work, the scientific work, the meaningful, important stuff thats happening related to the pandemic, including communicating that information to the public directly without any kind of filter or gatekeepers, [is being done by] women, she said.
In a recent column for the Association of Health Care Journalists, she also advised journalists to look for high-quality sources that can speak precisely to your subject. Its not just seeking out diverse sources and ensuring that youre quoting people of color and men and women, and other genders its not just an academic issue. Its not just a ticking-the-box issue. Its not just a social justice issue, she told me. Its a journalistic responsibility to ensure that you are truly capturing all the perspectives that are relevant to the topic youre covering.
But if youre not hearing womens voices, youre not getting the best science or representing science as it actually is, Buckee said. Of course, there are inequalities, but there are plenty of really good women scientists, she said. And without reflecting that adequately during a crisis and in the press you are doing a disservice to science overall.
- A bill would spend $1 billion on diversifying medical schools to close the racial health gap - NBC News - August 10th, 2020
- Pandemic acts as dress rehearsal for new medical school curriculum - Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis - August 10th, 2020
- The Unnamed Hero - Pager Publications, Inc. - August 10th, 2020
- Testing is the key to a successful fall reopening on campuses (opinion) - Inside Higher Ed - August 10th, 2020
- TUNE IN: Alexandria Addressing Back-to-School Worries in Virtual Town Hall - The Zebra - August 10th, 2020
- Community Healthcare honored during National Health Center Week - Times Record News - August 10th, 2020
- When Things Arent OK With a Childs Mental Health - The New York Times - August 10th, 2020
- Making sure patients, physicians know about the advances in treating female cancers - Norton Healthcare - August 10th, 2020
- 'We Are Here to Help Them' | Harvard Medical School - Harvard Medical School - August 10th, 2020
- In the face of challenges posed by a pandemic and racism, the White Coat Ceremony underscores the importance of our shared humanity - AAMC - August 10th, 2020
- Physician Group Wants Medical Schools To Waive The MCAT This Year - Physicians News Digest - August 10th, 2020
- Born with 1 hand, she's an inspiration in virus fight - ABC News - August 10th, 2020
- What to Expect in Medical School - AAMC for Students ... - August 8th, 2020
- International med students ease the path for others with new mentor group - STAT - August 8th, 2020
- Texas schools reopening mandate sets off another local control debate - The Texas Tribune - August 8th, 2020
- Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Morehouse School of Medicine Welcomes Its... - Diverse: Issues in Higher Education - August 8th, 2020
- Guntersville native joins Andrews Sports med team | Free Share - Sand Mountain Reporter - August 8th, 2020
- COVID-19 changing study of medicine on Long Island - Newsday - August 8th, 2020
- Health Care Workers Of Color Nearly Twice As Likely As Whites To Get COVID-19 - WUSF News - August 8th, 2020
- Dancing Wildcats Enjoy Smoother Transition to the Field of Medicine - UKNow - August 8th, 2020
- Kindness is the best medicine - Argus Leader - August 8th, 2020
- Kindness is the best medicine | Coronavirus | rocketminer.com - Daily Rocket Miner - August 8th, 2020
- With academic health center, the imagined can be reality - Las Vegas Sun - August 8th, 2020
- Need to Take the MCAT? You'll Still Have to Do It in Person - The New York Times - August 8th, 2020
- Why isn't ventilation part of the conversation on reopening schools? - STAT - August 8th, 2020
- A UT undergrad helped build the app that will assist students coming back to school this fall. Here's what it can do. - UT News | The University of... - August 8th, 2020
- Med School Professor Removed from Fellowship Director Post, Apparently for Publishing Anti-Affirmative-Action Journal Article - Reason - August 7th, 2020
- Good Shepherd celebrates one of it's first graduates on track to realize dream of becoming doctor - WDSU New Orleans - August 7th, 2020
- Change the course of the pandemic: UMass Medical School, Boston tech company at center of national push to - MassLive.com - August 7th, 2020
- Duality Health Begins Rapid Blockchain Innovation Cycle with Health Product Innovation Team at Dell Medical School - Tyler Morning Telegraph - August 7th, 2020
- Deciding whether to send your child back to school? Heres what the experts say to consider - nj.com - August 7th, 2020
- Kaine introduces bill that would support medical schools in underserved areas - WDVM 25 - August 4th, 2020
- Medical school affiliates on lack of diversity, burden of the 'minority tax' - The Stanford Daily - August 4th, 2020
- International medical school graduates need an easier path to practice in the US | TheHill - The Hill - August 4th, 2020
- The 'dura mater' handles medical training and motherhood with aplomb - DePauw University - August 4th, 2020
- Emory University doctor and former teacher suggests staggered starts, plexiglass lunch barriers to avoid COVID-19 spread in schools - 11Alive.com WXIA - August 4th, 2020
- President Houshmand and CMSRU Dean Reboli named to South Jersey BIZ Power 50 list - Rowan Today - August 4th, 2020
- 'Its a good mix of medicine and social justice': Medical student gets experience at NATIVE Project during pandemic - The Spokesman-Review - August 4th, 2020
- Addressing inequalities in women's health research | Contemporary OB/GYN - Contemporary Obgyn - August 4th, 2020
- New medical residents experience a different kind of welcome into URMC - University of Rochester - August 4th, 2020
- 'Not surprising': International graduate students respond to short-lived ICE directive - The Stanford Daily - August 4th, 2020
- MASKED-COVID Study to Assess Renal-Related Complications of COVID-19 - DocWire News - August 4th, 2020
- Addressing inequalities in women's health research - Contemporary Obgyn - August 4th, 2020
- Seeing the Health Care Profession Through the Eyes of a Medical Scribe - Hamilton College News - August 4th, 2020
- University of Medicine and Health Sciences Launches State-of-the-Art Virtual Tour - PR Web - August 4th, 2020
- Researchers With Game - Ohio Wesleyan University - August 4th, 2020
- List of medical schools in the United States - Wikipedia - August 3rd, 2020
- Disc Medicine Expands Leadership Team with Industry Veterans to Advance Hepcidin Modulating Therapies Toward the Clinic - PRNewswire - August 3rd, 2020
- Solomon Rajput '14 takes on Michigan incumbent for seat in Congress - The Dartmouth - August 3rd, 2020
- Fighting the Coronavirus, from New York to Utah - The New Yorker - August 3rd, 2020
- Boston doctor named hospital hero relied on human connection to get through COVID peak - Boston Herald - August 3rd, 2020
- Starkman: Beaumont Executive Paid $932000 by Hospital Vendor Whose Implants Were Pushed on Surgeons - Deadline Detroit - August 3rd, 2020
- Students need to be tested every 2-3 days for colleges to safely reopen - Yale News - August 3rd, 2020
- Taking Medicine and Tech to the Next Level: Ranney on New Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health - GoLocalProv - August 3rd, 2020
- Medical Schools Have Historically Been Wrong on Race - The New York Times - August 3rd, 2020
- After the Match: The Match in the Age of COVID-19 : Emergency Medicine News - LWW Journals - July 31st, 2020
- North Philly coronavirus risk: Temple University's return to campus is irresponsible - On top of Philly news - Billy Penn - July 31st, 2020
- Researchers Discover Stem Cells in Optic Nerve that Preserve Vision - Newswise - July 31st, 2020
- Pre-med students spend the summer studying COVID-19 - DePauw University - July 31st, 2020
- The Author of Blacks in Medicine on Race, Racism, and Health Outcomes - KCET - July 31st, 2020
- Five Questions With: Dr. Ben Abo on Snakes and Television - EMSWorld - July 31st, 2020
- We asked 20 medical experts whether they're sending their own kids back to school. Here's what they had to say - CNBC - July 31st, 2020
- NYU Long Island School of Medicine Is First School on Long Island to Start 202021 Term, May Be Microcosm of 'Hybrid' Class Model - NYU Langone Health - July 31st, 2020
- Medical education in the time of COVID-19 - Science Advances - July 31st, 2020
- Rutgers New Jersey Medical School - July 31st, 2020
- Discrimination in the medical curriculum: are medical schools providing students with equal access to the medical profession? - The European Sting - July 31st, 2020
- Marshall School of Medicine 1 of 9 schools to offer Mission Act scholarships to veterans - Huntington Herald Dispatch - July 30th, 2020
- Irish medical school students learning about Sarnia area - Sarnia and Lambton County This Week - July 30th, 2020
- Michigan Medicine named one of best 20 hospitals in U.S. News rankings - MLive.com - July 30th, 2020
- What Cuba Can Teach the U.S. About Confronting the COVID-19 Pandemic - southseattleemerald.com - July 30th, 2020
- Stem Cell Therapy Injuries More Widespread Than We Knew - UConn Today - July 30th, 2020
- Want to be a doctor? A lawyer? COVID-19 cases are rising, but these high-stakes exams are in-person only - USA TODAY - July 29th, 2020
- Payne named associate dean for health information and data science Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis - Washington University... - July 29th, 2020
- Mind the Gap: A 20-Year-Old Black Medical Student Is Writing a Guide Illustrating How Common Medical Symptom - The Root - July 29th, 2020
- Elizabeth Williams Talks Healthcare With Her Series "E Talks With Docs" - Jul 28, 2020 - Sports Are From Venus - July 29th, 2020
- School of Medicine one of nine schools to offer Mission Act scholarships to veterans - HNN Huntingtonnews.net - July 29th, 2020
- News | From ESL to Medical School, RIC Grad Overcomes Obstacles in Pursuit of Her Dreams - Rhode Island College News - July 29th, 2020
- Med students make history in Clovis - The Business Journal - July 29th, 2020
- The Doctor Behind the Disputed Covid Data - The New York Times - July 29th, 2020
- Dr. Stella Immanuel: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know - Heavy.com - July 29th, 2020