August 12, 2020

Where are the experts in the coronavirus crisis? Why men have become a majority in opinion during the pandemic


Where are the experts? It is the question that has been around for several years on social networks, feminist organizations, newsrooms. Concern – and outrage – about the masculinization of opinion spaces and expert sources is one of the most repeated points on the feminist agenda in recent times. The question is not just a question, but an attempt to point out the still macho inertias in the distribution of care and the availability of time, social penalties or differences when it comes to socializing women and men. In the midst of an unprecedented health crisis, the question has been repeated: what about the experts? Why does a quick glance make us see that most analyzes are still done by men?

For the chief editor of the Scientific Information and News Service (SINC), Pampa García, the imbalance has been evident since the start of the pandemic. “It is not that the percentage has worsened compared to what used to happen, but in recent years, people who cover science in Spain are especially aware of having female sources. We keep this in mind and we look for sources, but even looking for them, it is still harder to find them” . However, the assessment of her work during the crisis is positive: “Traditionally, it has happened to us that we call an investigator of a ‘paper’ and refer us to her boss in case she gets angry or her partner because she says that she is not really a specialist in This has not happened to us during the pandemic, perhaps because the type of information we make at SINC makes researchers feel comfortable because they know that rigor prevails and they are less afraid. ”

Therein lies one of the reasons for the greater masculine courage when it comes to exposing oneself and the inhibition at times of many women: fear. Many experts point to online harassment, pointing out female ambition and also, to a greater extent, women’s mistakes, including reluctance among colleagues, as factors that contribute to reproduce this inertia. García Molina points out another reason: “We are covering a very complicated phenomenon from the scientific point of view because there are very few certainties and resounding truths, and there I think that women are more shy about affirming things while sitting down when we know that we cannot. Sometimes the correct answer is sometimes “you don’t know.” I think you have to interview people who are capable of saying it, to give nuanced opinions and pass it on to the public, even if they are less attractive to upload to a headline. in the end they shoot for people who do dare to express more emphatic opinions “.

Not so masculinized specialties

Because experts, there are, there are. Some disciplines in high demand in these months, from virology, immunology, epidemiology, or public health, they explain, are not especially masculinized. For example, in the Global Health Platform, coordinated by researcher Margarita del Val, 40% of current CSIC projects are led by women, a figure greater than 36% of representation of researchers in the body, according to a report of the Women’s and Science Unit of the Ministry headed by Pedro Duque.

The report, however, warns of the gap: “Statements by editors and publishers of academic journals warn of significant differences in the number of articles received during confinement signed by men and women. In a competitive career model where the number of publications is one of the greatest assets, confinement has allowed points in the race for ‘productivity’ to be accumulated for those who do not have to reconcile, who have had quality time available to write, which is an obvious comparative grievance and a form of indirect discrimination towards women scientists “. They are several ongoing investigations which point to the imbalance in the distribution of care during confinement –which already existed before– at the cost of increased flexibility and time for women. Neither research nor science lives oblivious to this reality: the time available to disseminate, write or attend to media diminishes as the conciliation does.

The European Economic Association, dedicated to publishing scientific articles, expressed its concern that during the first month of confinement, the ‘papers’ received for publication by academic men or researchers grew seven points compared to a year earlier. Those who came from female researchers dropped exactly the same amount, seven points.

A matter of visibility

A few days ago, the Minister of Science, Pedro Duque, was meeting with a group of researchers to discuss precisely how confinement and its associated factors may have affected its production. “Reconciling, keeping pace and becoming visible has been an added stress,” confirms the director of the Ministry’s Women and Science Unit, Zulema Altamirano. The person in charge, however, points out that the imbalance during these months has not widened, but rather has been a “continuation” of a gap that is narrowing, not without effort or setbacks.

“Perhaps we have been more aware of the media and that has made us even more vigilant. But yes, the visibility of the experts is greater than that of the experts,” he says. Altamirano stresses that working on this visibility and delving into the causes that cause it is now a priority for the Duque department.

Victoria Toro is the communication director of the Association of Women Researchers and Technologists (AMIT) and is very critical of some of the reasons that are sometimes used for the lack of parity. In a four-media analysis of a two-day pandemic, AMIT found that 27% of expert voices were female versus 73% male. There are many women to participate, to comment, to exercise as experts. Our database has 3,000 women registered, we cannot say that women do not want to participate. The president of the Immunology Society is a woman, there are many immunologists, public health experts, virologists, some of the most important research being done with coronaviruses is being done by women. Yes, the pressure on women is much greater. What I am not at all sure is that participation is no longer enough so that the presence is not balanced, “she says.

All coincide in a reflection: if we do not have the ‘chip’ in place so that parity becomes an essential criterion, inertia eats us.

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