Bias in Textbook Illustrations

It strikes me that there are almost no illustrations of female bodies in the course book (“Neuroscience” fourth edition). I went through the entire text to verify my hunch (see below).

There doesn’t seem to be any explanation for the omission of female illustrations, leading me to the conclusion that this wasn’t a decision, but rather an ingrained bias of framing males as the “neutral” or “default” figure in spite of the fact that in the gross taxomy of humans there tend to be slightly more “female” organisms.

Research-level bias is mentioned in chapter 12: “Unfortunately, neither Penfield nor contemporary researchers have spent much time mapping the somatosensory maps of the female body and its unique features (what some have called the “hermunculus”).” (pg. 432). This oversight presents a clear opportunity for someone to study non-male somatosensory maps in depth – I wonder if anyone will.

In chapter 17, another blind-spot in our scientific understanding  is addressed: “Research on the physiology of the human sexual response has tended to focus unduly on men, but we will try to summarize some of what is known about both sexes.” (pg. 587).

When neuroscience research frames one type of person as the default, then significant variations can go unstudied.   There are also issues with simply studying “both sexes” as there are more than 2 sexes (e.g. intersex people), and the definitions of sex become more fine-grained as more variables interact (hormones, signalling, chromosomes…) In other words, neuroscience should be studying more than one sex more often.

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