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Annals of feminist science: Lady neuroscientist complains about discrimination against female lab mice

June 7, 2019
Image result for laboratory rats
Image: YouTube
An essay published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science argues that the stereotypes that have plagued women since at least the 1800s — that they are emotional creatures who are more prone to hormone-fueled mood swings than men — have also affected decades of neuroscience research involving mice and other animals.
Until recently, most neuroscience labs have conducted their experiments on males only, said essay author Rebecca Shansky, a neuroscientist at Northeastern University in Boston. Scientists justified this exclusion by claiming that fluctuating hormone levels in females had the potential to make test results “messy.”
Uh-oh.
“I came to realize that we are viewing female rodents as research subjects through the same lens that we talk about women in society,” Shansky said. “That is problematic if we are supposed to be objective scientists.”

Discrimination against female rodents! There ought to be a law!

And fortunately, there is one, thanks to the Obama administration:

In 2015, the NIH, which spends more money on medical research than any other entity in the world, issued a mandate requiring scientists to conduct their experiments on both male and female animals in order to qualify for funding grants as of 2016.

But you know how men are. So soon enough:

The policy change prompted moaning and groaning at conferences and on social media from researchers who had never worked with female mice before. They publicly agonized over how to design experiments that would account for the variability of ovarian hormones and worried about the logistics of tracking the estrous cycle in female mice (not to mention the expense of adding a second cohort to their studies).

Some even wondered if it would be simplest to remove their ovaries altogether.

This got Dr. Shansky’s own ovarian hormones all a-flutter:

“The more I heard people talk about it, the more riled up I got,” she said.

And hell hath no fury….

What especially got under her skin was the underlying assumption that a rigorous study of the female mouse brain required all kinds of manipulations to compensate for female hormones — and that this was not the case with males.

“It felt like a double standard,” she said. “And I could see very quickly that this paralleled the way we think about women’s dispositions compared to men’s in humans.”

But isn’t there a leetle problem here?

As scientists would later discover, male and female brains do not function exactly the same, either in rodents or in humans.

Mmm. Doesn’t that mean that the two sexes actually…different?

Is this a place where Dr. Shansky actually wants to go? I’d watch it if I were she.

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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