Missing women in data biases and the rise of alternative facts

  • In the post-modern age we inhabit we often assume data to be a product of indisputable fact. However, this is not always the case and errors and gaps regarding data biases can occur. As events such as Brexit have presented, people are becoming increasingly suspicious of data as a consequence, bringing around a new world of alternative facts and fake news. This blog-post will explore the missing data biases which affects women on a drastic scale and how this has led to an age of alternative facts.


    The starkest example of data bias within the world is within the realm of drugs and medicine. Perez (2019) argues that women are often overlooked in the medical sphere when it comes to assessing a diagnosis, often gendering the patient by assuming pregnancy to be a factor. This is something that was discussed by Janine Francois on the Scientistt podcast, which you can check out here https://anchor.fm/scientistt/episodes/Janine-Francois-Diversity-and-Racism-in-Academia-efc3so.


    The lack of representation of women within the medical field and the medical and gendered bias against women has led to a rise in alternative facts, within the sphere of fake news. Bauman (2000) presents many theories within his ontological research on modernity regarding why a new age of alternative facts concerning data biases has arisen. Bauman uses the analogy of the Holocaust to illustrate his hypothesis. He argues that modernity garnered the creation of science and science related cruelty. Within the holocaust, the Nazi soldiers were able to use science to their advantage by creating gas chambers which could kill plentiful amounts of Jews without the Nazi ever once having to look at their victim. When people learned of the horrific role science played within the Holocaust, they became apathetic to the advantageous nature of science within day to day life, leading to the first waves of alternative facts.


    For politics the rise of alternative facts can have scrupulous consequences. Brexit and the election of President Trump are profound examples of this. The idea that Muslims were ‘taking over’ seemed to fuel much of the rhetoric used to galvanise the Brexit and Trump voters.


    Despite fake news relying heavily, if not entirely, upon the hateful rhetoric espoused by Trump (regarding Mexicans as rapists, equating Muslims to terrorists etc.), much of the narrative surrounding fake news has bizarrely seemed to have been appropriated by Trump’s supporters, linking any negative media depictions of Trump as ‘fake news’. This can be problematic, as what is real and factually evidence based can get lost within this paradigm.  


    With fake news comes serious potential problems as many suggest this issue goes beyond a narrative of distinguishing between fact and fiction. It may be more astute to analyse phenomenon of fake news as an issue regarding the broader gap between left and right when we concern ourselves with the shifting of the narrative pertaining to the issue of fake news.


    The reality is, as illustrated in this blogpost, what is fake news means something different for those on the left, as opposed to those on the right. With these different narratives, it is as if a new language is being spoken.


    In a post within The New Yorker, author George Saunders intellectualised this conundrum by arguing that:


    Intellectually and emotionally weakened by years of steadily degraded public discourse, we are now two separate ideological countries, LeftLand and RightLand, speaking different languages, the lines between us down. Not only do our two subcountries reason differently; they draw upon non-intersecting data sets and access entirely different mythological systems.



    If this analysis is indeed true then that would come to mean that these two separate countries are moving against each other towards separate realities, having catastrophic implications for news and data.


    Sources used:


    Bauman, Z. (2000) “Modernity and the Holocaust”, Cambridge, Polity.


    Perez, C.C. (2019) “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men”, London, Vintage.


    Saunders, G. (2016) “Who Are All These Trump Supporters?” Available at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/11/george-saunders-goes-to-trump-rallies accessed on 25/08/20202