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Response to: We need to talk about manels: the problem of implicit gender bias in sport and exercise medicine
A recent editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine asserted that the presence of implicit bias in Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM) is negatively affecting women in the field.1 We are concerned with the editorial’s lack of scientific approach, poor standard of evidence, and exclusion of important facts.
The editorial argued implicit bias results in pronounced real-world effects in the form of gendered differences in SEM and society as a whole. However, no substantial scientific evidence of the magnitude of implicit bias’s real-world consequences on gender differences was presented. Instead, circular reasoning was utilized as implicit bias was assumed to manifest the gendered differences present in the SEM field and society.
Implicit bias has been criticised within its field of psychology. A recent meta-analysis found little evidence that measurements of implicit bias are associated with any real-world manifestations of explicit bias or behaviour.2 Indeed, Patrick Forscher, one of the study’s authors implied in an interview that implicit bias’ use in policy making could be wasteful and even harmful.3
Research suggests gender has an influence on personality, career preferences, and priorities.4 Indeed, where more freedom is allowed, the greater the disparity in traditionally gendered sectors.5 Extrapolation of thes...
Research suggests gender has an influence on personality, career preferences, and priorities.4 Indeed, where more freedom is allowed, the greater the disparity in traditionally gendered sectors.5 Extrapolation of these basic biological and social facts indicate the potential for gendered differences in roles (e.g. serving on a panel) to be a result of situations arising from free choice. These are very important points to consider when discussing discrepancies between genders, yet were not mentioned in the editorial.
The argument above is of course not for absolute biological determinism, nor that sexism does not exist. Recognizing the fact that there are differences between women and men does not mean equity between genders cannot exist. However, valid evidence should take precedence over ideological narratives. Any statements on this topic should be made with caution as to avoid promoting unnecessary interventions.
The authors of the editorial are free to critically examine the evidence presented opposing their conclusions. However, the editorial demonstrated a low standard of evidence. For this conversation to move forward a higher standard of evidence should be sought and adhered to.
In conclusion, the authors of the editorial failed to meet the necessary burden of proof to claim that implicit bias is a primary cause for the complex phenomenon of gender discrepancies in SEM or society. As such, the likelihood is high that the interventions cited within the editorial are unwarranted and unhelpful.
1. Bekker, S. et al. We need to talk about manels: the problem of implicit gender bias in sport and exercise medicine. British Journal of Sports Medicine bjsports–2018–099084–4 (2018). doi:10.1136/bjsports-2018-099084
2. Forscher, P. S. et al. A meta-analysis of change in implicit bias. PsyArXiv 1–68 (2017). doi:10.17605/OSF.IO/DV8TU
3. Goldhill, O. The world is relying on a flawed psychological test to fight racism. Quartz (2017). Available at: https://qz.com/1144504/the-world-is-relying-on-a-flawed-psychological-te.... (Accessed: 9 April 2018)
4. Su, R., Rounds, J. & Armstrong, P. I. Men and things, women and people: A meta-analysis of sex differences in interests. Psychological Bulletin 135, 859–884 (2009).
5. Stoet, G. & Geary, D. C. The gender-equality paradox in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. Psychol Sci 095679761774171–20 (2018). doi:10.1177/0956797617741719