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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Gender perspective in medicine: a vital part of medical scientific rationality. A useful model for comprehending structures and hierarchies within medical science

Gunilla Risberg*, Katarina Hamberg and Eva E Johansson

Author Affiliations

Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Section of Family Medicine, Umeå University, NUS, S-90185 Umeå, Sweden

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BMC Medicine 2006, 4:20  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-4-20

Published: 24 August 2006

Abstract

Background

During the past few decades, research has reported gender bias in various areas of clinical and academic medicine. To prevent such bias, a gender perspective in medicine has been requested, but difficulties and resistance have been reported from implementation attempts. Our study aimed at analysing this resistance in relation to what is considered good medical research.

Method

We used a theoretical model, based on scientific competition, to understand the structures of scientific medicine and how they might influence the resistance to a gender perspective in medicine. The model was originally introduced to discuss how pluralism improves rationality in the social sciences.

Results

The model provided a way to conceptualise different fields of research in medicine: basic research, applied research, medical philosophy, and 'empowering' research. It clarified how various research approaches within medicine relate to each other, and how they differ and compete. It also indicated why there might be conflicts between them: basic and applied research performed within the biomedical framework have higher status than gender research and other research approaches that are performed within divergent research paradigms.

Conclusion

This hierarchy within medical research contributes to the resistance to a gender perspective, causing gender bias and making medical scientific rationality suboptimal. We recommend that the theoretical model can be applied in a wider medical context when different and hierarchically arranged research traditions are in conflict. In this way, the model might contribute to shape a medical community where scientific pluralism is acknowledged to enlarge, not to disturb, the scientific rationality of medicine.