Women not represented in clinical trials
This recent NYTimes article entitled Health Researchers Will Get $10.1 Million to Counter Gender Bias in Studies spelled out a huge problem that kind of blows me away as a statistician (and as a woman!).
Namely, they have recently decided over at the NIH, which funds medical research in this country, that we should probably check to see how women’s health are affected by drugs, and not just men’s. They’ve decided to give “extra money” to study this special group, namely females.
Here’s the bizarre and telling explanation for why most studies have focused on men and excluded women:
Traditionally many investigators have worked only with male lab animals, concerned that the hormonal cycles of female animals would add variability and skew study results.
Let’s break down that explanation, which I’ve confirmed with a medical researcher is consistent with the culture.
If you are afraid that women’s data would “skew study results,” that means you think the “true result” is the result that works for men. Because adding women’s data would add noise to the true signal, that of the men’s data. What?! It’s an outrageous perspective. Let’s take another look at this reasoning, from the article:
Scientists often prefer single-sex studies because “it reduces variability, and makes it easier to detect the effect that you’re studying,” said Abraham A. Palmer, an associate professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago. “The downside is that if there is a difference between male and female, they’re not going to know about it.”
Ummm… yeah. So instead of testing the effect on women, we just go ahead and optimize stuff for men and let women just go ahead and suffer the side effects of the treatment we didn’t bother to study. After all, women only comprise 50.8% of the population, they won’t mind.
This is even true for migraines, where 2/3rds of migraine sufferers are women.
One reason they like to exclude women: they have periods, and they even sometimes get pregnant, which is confusing for people who like to have clean statistics (on men’s health). In fact my research contact says that traditionally, this bias towards men in clinical trials was said to protect women because they “could get pregnant” and then they’d be in a clinical trial while pregnant. OK.
I’d like to hear more about who is and who isn’t in clinical trials, and why.