Nature journals join the effort to account for sex and gender in research

Funders such as the Swedish Research Council require that applicants state how their planned research accounts for sex and/or gender considerations. Now, some journals from the Nature portfolio are following suit, which could encourage wider adherence to this practice.  

Why are many women (and some men) uncomfortably cold indoors? At least in part because a key variable that goes into a widely used model for thermal comfort, the metabolic rate, is based on standard values for an “average” (40-year old, weighing 70 kg) male. Not surprisingly, when the average metabolic rate for young women engaging in light office work was actually measured, it turned out to be lower. This is one among hundreds of examples that support the need for taking sex/gender into account while designing scientific research or developing technology.

The lacunae of studies that do not account for sex were recognised relatively early in the biomedical field, not least when it comes to the development of new medicines. More recently, there has been discussion about how technology can both reflect preexisting gender norms and help shape them. As a result, several scientists have encouraged the consideration of sex and gender in research. The community has responded in many ways, for example by including design and reporting requirements for clinical trials, as well as requiring explicit accounting of sex and gender perspectives in grant proposals*. Some journals, too, have been requiring such accounting. Now, one of the heavyweights of the scientific publishing, the Nature portfolio of journals, has decided to join in.

Last month, some of the Nature portfolio journals began to ask potential authors to state whether and how their research accounts for sex and gender. For this purpose, authors are encouraged to follow the ‘Sex and Gender Equity in Research – SAGER – guidelines’. As with the Swedish Research Council, these journals will also ask authors to justify why sex and/or gender are inapplicable if the authors state that that is the case. Four of the journals will also assess how authors and reviewers are responding to these modifications to allow for learning.

Despite the efforts of the last decade or two, there is still a ways to go before the consideration of sex/gender perspectives become a routine part of scientific studies. In that context, the decision by the Nature portfolio is certainly welcome given its capacity to set the agenda. That high-impact-factor journals are asking for an accounting of sex and gender gives applicants for funding an added incentive for putting in some effort on this front. In the long run, as Stanford University’s Londa Schiebinger notes, it is also essential that universities do their bit by embedding analysis of sex and gender in their science curricula.

Ninad Bondre (Research Coordinator)

*See also our advice regarding sex and gender considerations.


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