Science and News and a Sexism Double Standard

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I think we can safely say that if the findings of this study were reversed, it wouldn’t be making news, much less getting the very-top-of-the-front-page treatment from the Providence Journal:

A big study of older patients hospitalized for common illnesses raises that provocative possibility — and also lots of questions. Patients who got most of their care from women doctors were more likely to leave the hospital alive than those treated by men.

If reversed results were reported, the story would be the flaws in the methodology.  As it is, the results are printed to make them seem more significant.  Saying that 11.5% of elderly patients die when treated by men, versus 11.0% treated by women, seems like a bigger deal than saying that 88.5% survive with men and 89.0% with women.  In the first case, 4.5% more patients die with male doctors; in the second, merely 0.6% more survive with women.

That small difference could be sheer coincidence or methodological flaws, and no news reporter is going to dig through the research to double-check whether every relevant factor (e.g., the average ages or specialties of the doctors) is adequately adjusted.  Similarly, what does it mean to get “most” of your care from women?

One might even file this story as “fake news,” and going forward, we shouldn’t expect that if the results from a future iteration of this report are different the public record will be corrected with the same visibly.  Actually, one might predict that the stories printed at that time will insinuate sexist recidivism, as if it’s a “setback for women.”



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