Stanford historian explores how gender analysis leads to innovation

Doing research wrong costs lives and money. Ten drugs were recently withdrawn from the U.S. market because of life-threatening health effects – eight of these posed greater threats for women.

Clearly, doing research right has the potential to save lives and money, and this is the goal of the Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering, and Environment project directed by Stanford history Professor Londa Schiebinger.

With an international team of more than 60 scientists, engineers and gender experts, Schiebinger has explored how gender analysis can open doors to discovery.

“Once you start looking, you find that taking gender into account can improve almost anything with a human endpoint – stem cell research, assistive technologies for the elderly, automobile design, transportation systems, osteoporosis research in men, and natural language processing,” Schiebinger said.

Led by Schiebinger, this game-changing initiative is now supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union.

Schiebinger, the John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science at Stanford, coined the term “gendered innovations” in 2005 and launched the project as a start-up at Stanford’s Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research.

Through a series of international workshops, drawing talents from across the United States, Europe and Canada, the Gendered Innovations group developed 23 case studies to demonstrate how sex and gender analysis has led to discovery in science and innovation in technology.

The idea, said Schiebinger, is that gender can be integrated as a variable into the earliest stages of research design – not considered after the fact when a product or drug runs into problems.

“The key move,” Schiebinger said, “is to incorporate gender as a variable when setting research priorities, methods and data gathering.”

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