Guest blog post by Emma Woodford, Satu Lipponen and Tanja Gohlert, Lights for Rights
All around the world scientists jumped into action last Saturday to march for science. In the face of its declining influence around the world, they hoped to inspire support for science itself, to gain recognition for scientific methods and to mobilise the forces of likeminded people for their cause.
But what alarmed researchers to march for their cause? Why are NGOs, science journalists, science communicators, educators and even concerned citizens joining the movement? Across all sectors, scientists need our support. For example, superstition around vaccinations have been causing measles outbreaks, instead of preventing them. The anti-vaccination movement has been growing so much that they now risk creating dangerous diseases. The spread of fake news, itself a dangerous disease, has helped to fuel anti-science conspiracies and should be addressed as a part of the campaign to push back against superstitious beliefs. While this is perhaps more prevalent in the US where the science marches originated, in Europe, cuts in education budgets and public investment in the sciences are causing serious worries for the future of science. Academic freedoms are not self-granted and scientific institutions need critical assessment: which is often the very nature of science itself.
The Lights for Rights Grassroots Group of Women in Belgium marched with the scientists because in these days of globalised science markets, equality is all too often forgotten – both in the way that women operate within the fields of science and how they are affected by them. A quick look back through history shows how history has forgotten the endeavours of female scientists such as Rosalind Franklin’s role in the discovery of DNA or the black mathematicians like Katherine Johnson behind NASA and the space race, forgotten until their story was recently retold in the film Hidden Figures.
While there can be no doubt that the scientific advances that led to improved methods of contraception like the pill and life-saving safe abortion methods have empowered millions of women, the fact that these scientific advances are not available for all women highlights how important it is for science and policy to come together to protect women’s health. While governments in wealthy countries can afford to buy HPV vaccines for girls and treat women who develop the virus later in life, millions of women and girls in developing countries do not have access to many life-saving treatments and prevention measures.
It is perhaps a little known fact that men and women experience diseases differently. Many clinical trials do not take gender into account, despite the fact that biology often dictates that men and women often react differently to drugs. A 2001 study reported that female patients have a 1.5 to 1.7-fold greater risk of developing adverse drug reactions than men. According to the authors the reasons for this increased risk included gender-related differences in pharmacokinetics as well as immunological and hormonal factors. In addition, women are more prone to problems with osteoporosis, immune disorders, eating disorders, breast cancer, and depression. In women, tiny arteries are more likely to clog; whereas in men, big arteries clog more often. Women report more incidents of pain and their bodies are less able to tolerate alcohol. This kind of knowledge is available and trustworthy when provided by peer reviewed scientific research not when pushed by fake news proponents basing their arguments on fear and superstition.
The Lights for Rights Grassroots Group led the Women’s March in Brussels in January to protest Donald Trump’s election as bad news for women’s rights, but also to protest the rise of nationalist and popularist policies in Europe. We are supporting the Science March with a clarion call for scientists, policy makers and politicians to ensure equality by recognising the work of women scientists in Europe and across the world, making sure that populism does not overshadow scientific evidence and ensuring the right of women to good health is upheld through universal access to healthcare including treatments that do not adversely affect women’s lives.Blogactiv Team