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December 25, 1996

Im/partial Science: Gender Ideology in Molecular Biology

Author Affiliations

Wells College Aurora, NY
Cornell University Ithaca, NY

JAMA. 1996;276(24):1990-1991. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540240068035

Bonnie B. Spanier's Im/partial Science is an eye-opening introduction to the way philosophical views influence biology. This topic is both intrinsically interesting and significant for the practice of medicine.

Spanier's thesis is that assumptions about proper social relationships can color all our enterprises, even apparently neutral ones like molecular biology. Thus, if we see sex differences as fundamental, our theory construction— even our perception of data—will tend to be compatible with that assumption. And if we embrace social hierarchy rather than egalitarianism, our theories will also reflect that view. Spanier believes these patterns of thought have led to the adoption of paradigms without sufficient consideration of possible alternatives, and to the failure to notice data inconsistent with those paradigms. Consequently, potentially fruitful paths of inquiry are ignored. So allegedly "objective" knowledge is incomplete or even erroneous, and this "knowledge" reinforces the questionable assumptions that informed it initially. Thus, for example,