Still no pill for men? Double standards & demarcating values in biomedical research

Elsevier, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Volume 91, February 2022
ChoGlueck C.
Double standards are widespread throughout biomedicine, especially in research on reproductive health. One of the clearest cases of double standards involves the feminine gendering of reproductive responsibility for contraception and the continued lack of highly effective, reversible methods for cisgender men. While the biomedical establishment accepts diversity and inclusion as important social values for clinical trials, their continued use of inequitable standards undermines their ability to challenge unfair social hierarchies by developing male contraception. Thus, the gender/sex bias present in contraceptive research raises the “New Demarcation Problem”: If we accept that values can and will play important roles in science, how can we nevertheless distinguish positive influences of values from more corrosive bias? I argue that biomedical researchers ought to aim their clinical trials at equity and utilize methodologies that actually achieve that aim. More specifically, I contend that we can avoid the problem of double standards by gender/sex in contraceptive research by utilizing more equitable standards. My demarcation strategy captures dynamic interplay between values and their effects, with direct policy implications for institutions conducting, funding, and evaluating clinical trials. For male contraceptive trials, this involves shifting risk assessment from an individual model to a shared model for sexual partners.