The Editor’s Role in Avoiding Gender Bias


In an old riddle about a doctor and a car crash, a man and his son get in a car accident and are rushed to the hospital in critical condition. The boy requires surgery and is immediately sent to the operating room. However, the surgeon looks at the boy and shouts, “I can’t operate on him, he’s my son!” How could this be? If you can’t think of the answer, don’t be discouraged. All but one respondent in a 2017 BBC video1 on gender bias missed the correct answer: that the surgeon is the boy’s mother. The responses ranged from “Perhaps the boy was adopted” to “It must be the father’s ghost!” This video does more than provide some interesting content; it highlights the prevalence of gender bias in society. Despite advances in recent decades, substantial gender bias remains in science and medicine. Science editors can help combat such bias by avoiding biased language in their publications and by helping ensure appropriate gender balances in their workplaces and publications. A Good Start The intention to avoid gender bias in editing is present but efforts could be improved. For example, many style manuals including the newest editions of the Chicago Style Manual and AMA Manual of Style have statements and recommendations about avoiding gender-biased language.2,3 The Council of Science Editor’s style guide, Scientific Style and Format,4 currently includes statements and recommendations about avoiding gender-biased language like making sure not to automatically use the male referent and only mentioning gender differences when […]

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