Invisible Women: the mouse grimace scale 🐭💔
In which we discover that male researchers are stressing out mice and rats and feel great empathy for our rodent friends
Well hello there GFPs! Welcome, welcome, take a seat. And happy Visible Women day to you too! This week in the podcast we’re looking at the economy - no wait, come back! We’re not talking about interest rates and gas bills I promise! Instead, we’re talking about the HUGE gap in the economic data that is caused by our failure to include (mainly) women’s unpaid care work in national accounting.
Readers of Invisible Women will already be familiar with the basics of this argument: the unpaid care work that is mainly done by women has a huge economic value, but because we don’t count it, it doesn’t count when we’re allocating resources. Or, you know, when we’re trying to Build Back Better (RIP). For this episode, producer Hannah and I travelled to ICELAND, where we posed with this boat/whale thing…
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…eyed up some men with pushchairs (sadly no pics), ate seaweed, and most importantly, got to chat with two of the organisers of the original 1975 women’s strike.
We also spoke to Nancy Folbre, feminist economics’ GOAT, who I cited liberally in Invisible Women, AND, we spoke to Khara Jabola-Carolus, one of the women behind Hawaii’s plan to *actually* build back better. See, not a mortgage or an OBR forecast in sight! This was such an inspiring and yet infuriating episode to make — I suspect / hope listening to it will feel similar…looking forward to hearing what you all think!
In other news, this week I’m off to DENMARK for more Invisible Women book tour (this one should have happened a while ago, but, you know, pandemic). I’ll be doing an event in Copenhagen on Saturday the 8th at 14:30 and another in Aarhus on Sunday the 9th at 15:00. Be great to see some GFPs there!
Gender data gap of the week
GFPs, last week we discussed how male doctors are so much worse at treating female patients. NOW it turns out they’re also rubbish with MICE (kind of).
This issue was first revealed in a paper published in 2014, which found that both mice and rats are really very stressed out by male researchers — with female rodents particularly affected. This was measured using the “mouse grimace scale” (which has broken my heart a little), which revealed that mice had a 40% decrease in pain response when a male handler was in the room — and this wasn’t because they were in less pain (the researchers demonstrated that the male scent “wasn't acting on pain pathways”), it was because they were so stressed out, as evidenced by these poor grimacing mice having “elevated blood levels of the stress hormone corticosterone”.
At the time, Jeffrey Mogil, a pain researcher and lead author of this study, said that this effect was “something that people have been whispering about at meetings for years […] But no one had bothered to look at this systematically,” which is, of course, unprecedented. He also said that the findings meant that researchers should report the sex of experimenters in their study write-ups.
Which obviously happened straightaway.
It’s now 8 years later and in the past couple of months, not one, but TWO papers have been released that look into this issue. One paper looked at mice, and the other looked at rats. And they BOTH found that male researchers are…still stressing the hell out of the rodents.
And look, I’m no scientist, but it seems to be that we should..perhaps do something about this? Both papers also suggested that failing to account for experimenter sex may be a factor in the replication crisis in life sciences. In fact, according to a write-up in the the New Scientist, the authors of the mouse study only decided to conduct this research because of a replication crisis within their own lab:
Todd Gould at the University of Maryland began investigating this issue after his team couldn’t replicate a simple lab result. The experiment involved a “forced swim test”, in which researchers place mice in a tank of water and see how long they keep trying to swim for. When they stop swimming, the researchers take them out, unharmed.
In previous tests with male experimenters, mice tried to stay afloat for longer if they were given ketamine, an antidepressant. But when Polymnia Georgiou, a female researcher who was working in Gould’s team, carried out the test, the mice gave up quickly regardless of whether they were given ketamine.
What they found was that when men administered ketamine injections, mice were more anxious, but showed a stronger response to the treatment:
Gould’s team showed that being handled by male experimenters caused the release of hormones known as corticotropin releasing factors, which activated a pathway critical for ketamine’s efficacy.
Which feels…kind of relevant when we’re trying to determine the efficacy of a drug? I dunno, feels like this whole thing might be telling us something about sex and why we should stop ignoring it in research or something??
Default male of the week
It's almost as if...designing tools to suit an average male hand disadvantages 50% of the population or something??? (and in this case of course disadvantages patients too, as we outlined on the podcast episode on PPE)
I have to say, looking at this study made me think back to episode 2 of the new season of Visible Women, the episode about pianos…and our very cross Royal Northern College of Music correspondent. I wonder how they would react to this paper, since it too acknowledges that female bodies exist…which as we all know, is “highly combative”…
Poppy pic of the week
That’s it! Until next time, my dear GFPs…..xoxoxo
PS! I’ve been sent this job opportunity for a policy fellow at the Medical Science Sex and Gender Equity (MESSAGE) project — you remember them, I covered their fantastic work on closing the data gap a few months ago. Looks like a perfect GFP fit!