“Science is political,” The Food Medic podcast, S4 EP7 (part 1): INFERIOR: How Science Got Women Wrong

The Food Medic, Dr. Hazel Wallace’s podcast, is a new one to me, and I’ve been digging into the archives to learn more and give it a try. The conversation I want to highlight today is with journalist Angela Saini, who got interested in the history of sexism in science whilst researching menopause. Apparently, there are/were contrasting explanations for the existence of menopause in humans, a rare if not unprecedented adaptation in a species to have a nonreproductive time period in the mature female of the species. Somehow it is both surprising and yet not at all unexpected that male scientists came up with the explanation that it was simply because older women are not sexually attractive, so there’d be no biological drive to be able to reproduce as women age. The counter-argument, developed by groups of scientists that include women, is that there is a biological advantage to have older women present to support the raising of children, the so-called Grandmother hypothesis. This is the first of several examples of sexism driving scientific thinking that Angela shares.

One point Angela makes is that from early on, women were pushing back on these ideas, but because they weren’t on equal footing, weren’t included in the scientific community, their ideas were not accepted or incorporated into the scientific understanding of the day. If we want science to be less sexist, we need more women in science. Much of this conversation resonates with the history of racism so prominent in early science and mathematics, justifying white supremacy, and with much of the cultural critique happening today as our societies grapple with the complex issues and biases around obesity and queer folk. And it seems to me that it offers up an obvious solution: if we want science to be less racist, less fat-phobic, less homophobic or trans phobic, we need more people of color, more people with higher levels of body fat, and more queer folk doing science.

I believe in science as a tool to figure out what is true and what just feels true; however, for that system to work, it needs to be inclusive of a wide variety of perspectives. We need to be testing our own biases and listening to folks from other points of view and with different experiences. That is part of my motivation for writing this blog–I’m hoping to contribute to and push back on the mostly male, mostly white, evidence-based fitness communication space, to encourage more inclusive thinking and to act as a counterpoint to some of the assumptions that come from underrepresentation by other members of the lifting community. It isn’t just because it’s nice to feel like I belong; it makes the conclusions we draw better and closer to the truth.

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