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Why is diversity in science important? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Dr. Andrew Schwartz, Lead Scientist at UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Laboratory, on Quora:

Less than 30% of the world’s scientific researchers are women [1], a striking number when compared to the fact that women, of course, make up ~50% of the global population. Until recently, the number of women in scientific research was substantially less than that. So, why does that matter? What does adding women to scientific research actually accomplish?

Imagine it’s the 1940s and that I’m getting ready to embark on research into a problem that effects nearly 4 billion people worldwide with the potential to help every one of those people. I assemble my team, gather the funding for the project, and get ready to embark on studying environmental factors that influence menstrual cramps. Based on demographics of the time, most, if not all, of my colleagues on the project are men that have no idea what it’s like to actually experience this phenomenon. We don’t have a clue about how much these cramps vary in pain, what we do to relieve them, or what seemingly makes them worse. So, we do what scientists do when they don’t have first-hand knowledge of a topic, we ask women about what they experience and this yields some good results that we publish. In fact, the results are so good that we are able to help relieve menstrual pain in many women. However, it can be incredibly hard to substitute questionnaires and interviews for first-hand experience. In fact, a lot of my (and others’) research projects are created based on our own self experience, so my consortium of men working on a problem fundamentally related to women may be helpful, but it’s likely not as helpful or successful as if women were included as investigators on the project.

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Now, clearly the example above relates primarily to sex because it’s an easy example, but the same need for increased diversity exists for a broad range of people with all sorts of characteristics. No two people are the same and, while the scientific process is used for the basis of science, this means that no two people will have the same perspective on a research problem. Increasing diversity in science by incorporating people of all genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, faiths, and sexual orientations will only serve to broaden our perspectives on research questions and produce better results.

Further, it can be incredibly intimidating to try to assimilate into a group or culture that isn’t diverse when you are dissimilar to everyone else in one way or another. So, diversity in science is also important to give young people interested in science the role-models that they can identify with to make it less intimidating. Having people that understand who you are and your trials in life is important to everyone and, through increasing diversity, support for everyone that needs it can be made available.

Only through incorporating diversity in science can we begin to paint a comprehensive picture of our world and our existence within it.

Footnotes

[1] Women in Science

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

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