Recently, the New York Times online is just starting to notice that studies about men don’t necessarily give answers to questions about women’s health. GOOD CATCH, NYT. WAY TO STAY ON TOP OF THINGS!

But that’s a post for another day. Right now, I just wanted to mention that feminism isn’t limited to snarky blog posts – instead, you can also have feminism in science!

“There’s nothing wrong with achieving a higher heart rate with exercise, and if you can maintain that, it’s fine,” said Dr. Martha Gulati, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine and preventive medicine at Northwestern, who led the study. “But it might be that some women are getting tired and need to stop or slow down because they’re not able to maintain their heart rate at the higher level. But they’ve been using the wrong numbers.”

You hear that?

“There’s nothing wrong with achieving a higher heart rate with exercise…”

Even if she’s a woman. There’s nothing wrong with her! Even a scientist said so!

I’ve done psych research (…in high school), and there’s nothing more frustrating than saying “people who are x do y” and having the people around you go “BUT WHAT ABOUT PERSON Z! SHE’S X BUT NEVER DOES Y!”

But that’s our fault as scientists, I think, for not making this clear to others. Because we ourselves forget that the scientific method, as it applies to people, isn’t quite the same as it applies to chemicals with the exact same composition. People are not the same: you can control for age, gender, sex, weight, height, smoking habits, eating habits, income, hair length, eye color, and wearing socks to sleep, and two people with the same characteristics in all of these categories will still be different.

When you talk about people, we’re never right when we talk about an arbitrary bloc of them – there is always an exception to your rule because people are not robots. I can say that it is likely that a woman who works out five hours a week won’t be as strong as a man who works out five hours a week, but I can’t assume that about an individual person. We are beneficiaries (or victims) of individual variation.

No big deal.

See, feminism’s not that hard!

Thanks to Jeremy for telling me this joke three years ago:

A historian, an engineer and a statistician are duck hunting. A duck rises from the lake. The historian fires first and shoots five feet over the duck. Then the engineer shoulders the shotgun and shoots five feet under the duck. The statistician exclaims, “got him!”

    • Eileen
    • July 26th, 2010

    Hey, Mara, is there any way you can include more of the article in this post? Not that there’s anything wrong with it the way it is, but in context (when you realize the study is claiming that the average woman should have a slower max heart rate than the average man of the same age) it makes a lot more sense. Of course, this way I’m required to click on the link, which may have been your intended goal…

    I do appreciate the clarification Professor Gulati made, though, ’cause I really wouldn’t want to have to feel guilty about continuing to hit my old max heart rate.

  1. August 9th, 2010

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