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Wed Jul 22, 2015, 12:49 PM

Meet Dr. Caroline VanSickle: Feminist Biologist

Meet Caroline VanSickle: Feminist Biologist

Last year, the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison extended an unusual job offer to scientist Caroline VanSickle: to join the country’s—and likely the world’s—first-ever endowed fellowship for feminist biology.

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“You can think of feminist biology as having two components,” Janet Hyde, UW-Madison’s Director of the Center for Research on Gender and Women, told The Cut when news of the university’s program was first announced. “First, it identifies gender bias in traditional biology and alerting students and scientists to possible gender bias… Another part is constructing new theories and new research that does away with these biases and leads to a more balanced biology that takes women into account.”

“We have a tendency to think, ‘Oh, there’s no sexism in science. Science is completely objective and you can’t possibly be doing science with unconscious bias or anything like that.’ And that’s really completely false,” VanSickle told the Ms. Blog. “Scientists are human and so they’re subject to those kinds of things, just as much in science as they are in any other area of work.”

VanSickle is a biological anthropologist with a specialty in paleoanthropology, researching the evolution of sex differences in human ancestors, or hominins, as seen in the fossil record. Now just over halfway into the two-year fellowship, she says she loves the opportunity to explore oft-forgotten scientific fields.
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What could be more feminist than that?


Feminist biology provides a new scientific perspective
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VanSickle is the first recipient of the Wittig Postdoctoral Fellowship in Feminist Biology, a position offered through the Center for Research on Gender and Women. I asked VanSickle to give me a brief history of the position and she explained that “Gertrude Wittig was a biologist who experienced sexism in biology.” Although she had no ties to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “she wanted to leave money to an institution that would try and change that.”

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However, her work has a strong gender component. “I try to look at questions in human evolution about what sex differences do we see in the past, and can we relate that to behavioral differences?” VanSickle said.

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So, what is feminist biology? “Feminist biology is an idea the evolved out of feminist critiques of biology. Biologists were doing things that were sexist and affected their results,” said VanSickle.
She continued to explain that feminist biology has two primary goals. The first goal is to get more women involved in biology. “As far as the sciences go, biology comes closest to having more women, but they are still far from equal,” VanSickle said.

The second goal of feminist biology is critically looking at what kind of questions biologists are asking and what kind of hypotheses they are testing. Caroline’s example of a success in the feminist biology field is that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are now requiring anybody applying for funding to specify how they’re going to do clinical studies on both genders.

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Read more: http://host.madison.com/daily-cardinal/science/feminist-biology-provides-a-new-scientific-perspective/article_db884190-4e86-11e4-b2ec-43ef2e4df5b8.html#ixzz3gdirESVl

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