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What we read: January 31, 2020

I was disappointed to read Hutchinson’s recent article in Outside about how to use science to make decisions about one’s approach to strength training. He referred to his approach as “evidence based,” yet each of the studies he cited had been sampled exclusively on men. He did not, however, mention the man-only research samples anywhere in the article. As he has written about the dearth of women as participants in exercise science research, I expected better from him.

And, as a result, the article felt like it was written to men, for men, by men making male the default human—gender wasn’t mentioned at all, anywhere. When man is the assumed norm, misogyny means they don’t have to be named because they are assumed as the default. Everyone else is Other.

However, although I appreciate Sim’s mantra that “women are not small men,” research has slowly but surely narrowed the gap between the presumed “biological” differences between men and women (most recently sounding the death knell to the final myth of brain differences, there are no significant differences in spatial reasoning ability). Yet, we know that medical research has systemically ignored women, either by refusing to include them in their studies because they are “too complicated” or only researching the diseases more likely to be experienced by men. This is, for example, why so much of the awareness about heart attack symptoms neglect to explore how those symptoms might be different in women, leading women to be less likely to seek medical care for a heart attack because they don’t recognize the symptoms. Additionally, research has found that some fitness and nutrition recommendations are different for men and women; for example, the much lauded keto diet has been found to have clinical success in men but can actually be harmful for women (same for intermittent fasting). Like all research, one needs to check the sample studied before blindly accepting the results and applying them to one’s life. Either way, though, someone translating scientific findings for the general public should include a discussion of the sample studied in each case—it is not just good journalism—it is an ethical imperative. Man is not the default option, and presenting research only verified in men as applicable to everyone reifies a system where anyone who isn’t biologically male is Othered. It also might lead someone to make changes in a fitness routine that are detrimental or even harmful. Science isn’t infallible, and science journalism certainly isn’t.

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