Feminist Values, Commercial Values, and the Bias Paradox in Biomedical Research

  • Kristen IntemannEmail author
  • Inmaculada de Melo-Martín
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science book series (BSPS, volume 317)


Growing concerns about the commercialization of biomedical research and its potential to lead to biased inquiry has sparked calls for a renewed commitment to impartiality. Feminists, however, have roundly rejected the idea that objectivity requires scientists to be value-neutral or disinterested. Indeed, some feminists have argued that concerns about profit-driven would be best addressed by incorporating feminist values into scientific practices. This is thought to present feminists with a paradox: If commercial interests are problematic in research because they are partial to non-epistemic interests, then it would seem that feminist values would also be problematic on similar grounds. Here we argue that this apparent tension trades on an equivocation about the sense in which commercial values are problematically partial. We show not only that the bias paradox can be resolved by feminist theorists, but that feminist values can play important roles in addressing concerns related to bias in profit-driven research.


Objectivity Bias paradox Feminist values Biomedical research Commercialized science 


  1. Adam, M. (2008). Promoting disinterestedness or making use of bias? In M. Carrier, D. Howard, & J. Kourany (Eds.), The challenge of the social and the pressure of practice (pp. 235–254). Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, E. (2004). Uses of value judgments in science: A general argument, with lessons from a case study of feminist research on divorce. Hypatia, 19(1), 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Angell, M. (2004). The truth about the drug companies: How they deceive us and what to do about it. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  4. Antony, L. (1993). Quine as feminist: The radical import of naturalized epistemology. In L. Antony & C. Witt (Eds.), A mind of one’s own (pp. 110–153). Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  5. Borgerson, K. (2011). Amending and defending critical contextual empiricism. European Journal for Philosophy of Science, 1(3), 435–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bourgeois, F. T., Murthy, S., & Mandl, K. D. (2010). Outcome reporting among drug trials registered in Annals of Internal Medicine, 153(3), 158–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brody, H. (2007). Hooked: Ethics, the medical profession, and the pharmaceutical industry. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  8. Cain, D. M., & Detsky, A. S. (2008). Everyone’s a little bit biased (even physicians). Jama-Journal of the American Medical Association, 299(24), 2893–2895.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cartwright, N. (2006). Well-ordered science: Evidence for use. Philosophy of Science, 73(5), 981–990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Code, L. (1991). What can she know? Feminist theory and the construction of knowledge. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Colagiuri, R., Colagiuri, S., Yach, D., & Pramming, S. (2006). The answer to diabetes prevention: Science, surgery, service delivery, or social policy? American Journal of Public Health, 96(9), 1562–1569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crasnow, S. (2006). Feminist anthropology and sociology: Issues for social science. In S. Turner & M. Risjord (Eds.), Handbook of the philosophy of science (Vol. 15, pp. 827–860)., Philosophy of anthropology and sociology Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  13. Currat, L., de Francisco, A., Al-Tuwaijri, S., Ghaffar, A., & Jupp, S. (2004). 10/90 report on health research 2003–2004. Geneva: Global Forum for Health Research.Google Scholar
  14. Daniels, N. (2008). Just health: Meeting health needs fairly. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. de Melo-Martin, I., & Intemann, K. (2011). Feminist resources for biomedical research: Lessons from the HPV vaccines. Hypatia, 26(1), 79–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. De Winter, J. (2012). How to make the research agenda in the health sciences less distorted. Theoria, 27, 75–93.Google Scholar
  17. Douglas, H. E. (2009). Science, policy, and the value-free ideal. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  18. Dupré, J. (2001). Human nature and the limits of science. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fausto-Sterling, A. (1992). Myths of gender: Biological theories about women and men (2nd ed.). New York, NY: BasicBooks.Google Scholar
  20. Goldenberg, M. (2013). How can feminist theories of evidence assist clinical reasoning and decision-making? Social Epistemology: A Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Policy. doi: 10.1080/02691728.2013.794871
  21. Gross, B. (1994). What could a feminist science be? Monist, 77(4), 434–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Haack, S. (1998). Manifesto of a passionate moderate: Unfashionable essays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  23. Harding, S. G. (2004). A socially relevant philosophy of science? Resources from Standpoint Theory’s Controversiality. Hypatia, 19(1), 25–47.Google Scholar
  24. Harding, S. G. (1986). The science question in feminism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Harding, S. G. (2008). Sciences from below: Feminisms, postcolonialities, and modernities. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hundleby, C. (1997). Where standpoint stands now. Women & Politics, 18(3), 25–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Intemann, K. (2010). Sciences from below: Feminisms, postcolonialities, and modernities. Hypatia, 25(2), 464–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Intemann, K., & de Melo-Martin, I. (2010). Social values and scientific evidence: The case of the hpv vaccines. Biology and Philosophy, 25(2), 203–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Intemann, K., & de Melo-Martin, I. (2014). Addressing problems in profit-driven research: How can feminist conceptions of objectivity help? European Journal For Philosophy of Science, 4(2), 135–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. James, M. J., Cook-Johnson, R. J., & Cleland, L. G. (2007). Selective COX-2 inhibitors, eicosanoid synthesis and clinical outcomes: A case study of system failure. Lipids, 42(9), 779–785.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jørgensen, A. W., Hilden, J., & Gøtzsche, P. C. (2006). Cochrane reviews compared with industry supported meta-analyses and other meta-analyses of the same drugs: Systematic review. BMJ, 333(7572), 782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Katz, D., Caplan, A. L., & Merz, J. F. (2003). All gifts large and small—toward an understanding of the ethics of pharmaceutical industry gift-giving. American Journal of Bioethics, 3(3), 39–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Keller, E. F. (1985). Reflections on gender and science. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Khan, S. N., Mermer, M. J., Myers, E., & Sandhu, H. S. (2008). The roles of funding source, clinical trial outcome, and quality of reporting in orthopedic surgery literature. American Journal of Orthopedics, 37(12), E205–E212. discussion E212.Google Scholar
  35. Kilama, W. L. (2009). The 10/90 gap in sub-saharan Africa: Resolving inequities in health research. Acta Tropica, 112(Suppl. 1), S8–S15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kitcher, P. (2011). Science in a democratic society. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  37. Kourany, J. A. (2003). A philosophy of science for the twenty-first century. Philosophy of Science, 70(1), 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kourany, J. A. (2010). Philosophy of science after feminism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Krimsky, S. (2003). Science in the private interest: Has the lure of profits corrupted biomedical research?. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  40. Longino, H. E. (1990). Science as social knowledge: Values and objectivity in scientific inquiry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Longino, H. E. (2002). The fate of knowledge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Lundh, A., Sismondo, S., Lexchin, J., Busuioc, O. A., & Bero, L. (2012). Industry sponsorship and research outcome. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 12, MR000033.Google Scholar
  43. Magnusson, R. S. (2009). Rethinking global health challenges: Towards a “global compact” for reducing the burden of chronic disease. Public Health, 123(3), 265–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McGarity, T. O., & Wagner, W. (2008). Bending science: How special interests corrupt public health research. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Michaels, D. (2008). Doubt is their product: How industry’s assault on science threatens your health. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Nelson, L. H. (1990). Who knows: From Quine to a feminist empiricism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Nkansah, N., Nguyen, T., Iraninezhad, H., & Bero, L. (2009). Randomized trials assessing calcium supplementation in healthy children: Relationship between industry sponsorship and study outcomes. Public Health Nutrition, 12(10), 1931–1937.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pogge, T. W. M. (2009). The health impact fund and its justification by appeal to human rights. Journal of Social Philosophy, 40(4), 542–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pogge, T. W. M. (2002). World poverty and human rights: Cosmopolitan responsibilities and reforms. Cambridge, MA: Polity.Google Scholar
  50. Reiss, J., & Kitcher, P. (2009). Biomedical research, neglected diseases, and well-ordered science. Theoria, 24, 263–282.Google Scholar
  51. Resnik, D. B. (2007). The price of truth: How money affects the norms of science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sismondo, S. (2008). Pharmaceutical company funding and its consequences: A qualitative systematic review. Contemporary Clinical Trials, 29(2), 109–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Solomon, M. (2001). Social empiricism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  54. Solomon, M. (2012). The web of valief. An assessment of feminist radical empiricism. In S. L. Crasnow & A. M. Superson (Eds.), Out from the shadows: Analytical feminist contributions to traditional philosophy (pp. 435–450). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Stevens, P. (2008). Diseases of poverty and the 10/90 gap. In P. Stevens (Ed.), Fighting the diseases of poverty (pp. 126–140). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.Google Scholar
  56. Sun, X., Briel, M., Busse, J. W., You, J. J., Akl, E. A., Mejza, F., et al. (2011). The influence of study characteristics on reporting of subgroup analyses in randomised controlled trials: Systematic review. BMJ, 342, d1569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tricco, A. C., Tetzlaff, J., Pham, B., Brehaut, J., & Moher, D. (2009). Non-cochrane vs. Cochrane reviews were twice as likely to have positive conclusion statements: Cross-sectional study. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 62(4), 380–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Vidyasagar, D. (2006). Global notes: The 10/90 gap disparities in global health research. Journal of Perinatology, 26(1), 55–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. WHO. (2008). The global burden of disease: 2004 update. Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  60. Woodsong, C., MacQueen, K., Amico, K. R., Friedland, B., Gafos, M., Mansoor, L., et al. (2013). Microbicide clinical trial adherence: Insights for introduction. Journal of the International AIDS Society, 16, 18505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wylie, A., & Nelson, L. H. (2007). Coming to terms with the values of science: Insights from feminist science studies scholarship. In H. Kincaid, J. Dupre, & A. Wylie (Eds.), Value-free science? Ideals and illusions (pp. 58–86). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Yach, D., Hawkes, C., Gould, C. L., & Hofman, K. J. (2004). The global burden of chronic diseases: Overcoming impediments to prevention and control. JAMA, 291(21), 2616–2622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Zycher, B., DiMasi, J., & Milne, C. (2010). Private sector contributions to pharmaceutical science: Thirty-five summary case histories. American Journal of Therapeutics, 17(1), 101–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Montana State UniversityBozemanUSA
  2. 2.Weill Cornell Medical CollegeCornell UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations