Gender Science and Misinformation

I was recently directed to a column in Blekinge Läns Tidning (BLT), October 26, which argues that the research in Gender Science should be discontinued.

The column was caused by an email from 26 Gender Science researchers to the Vice-Chancellors at Sweden’s universities, including the undersigned, where they expressed concerns for the future of their research area. The column in BLT is one of several critical exposures that have been published in various fora, and that together lends support to the researcher’s concerns. Unfortunately, the column also contains a serious incorrectness, which must be characterized as misinformation. It is hard to believe that this is done on purpose, but shows how we all risk spreading false facts, and underlines the importance that we take responsibility. It is stated that all governmental funding to Gender Research has been halted in Norway. Through the internet, it is easy to see that Norway is as rich as Sweden in Gender Science, with several research groups, centers, networks and a national research school. Of course, all of this depends on governmental financing. So then, what is behind the statement? Well, in 2011 a special initiative on Gender Science from the Research Council of Norway was terminated. The initiative had then reached its purpose – to build a strong research in the area that could compete with other research topics for grants from the council. Thus, rather the opposite of what was proposed already in a column in Svenska Dagbladet in 2011, i.e. that all funding from the council to Gender Science had been ceased and that the area was now closed.

In the open project database from the council it is easy to find several granted proposals with gender research. In seven years, the misinformation has been accelerated to a statement that all governmental support for the area is withdrawn. It is nowadays not uncommon that facts are fabricated or twisted and used for own political purposes. Due to the potential viral spreading of such “news”, it is in the long run a threat to democracy.

So, is then all research in Gender Science serious and of high quality? Certainly not, and the same can be assumed for other research areas, and in particular the young such. Thus, a fake article was published in the journal Cogent Social Sciences in 2017. The viral detector of the newspaper Metro gives a balanced view on the situation.

Serious researchers in Gender Science can hardly be blamed for such a blunder. In fact, there is a long “tradition” of fake articles in several research areas. A famous example is three students from the top university Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who in 2005 wrote a computer program that could generate random articles in Computer Science.

Nobody would even consider thinking that Computer Science is not a relevant research area because such fake articles managed to make their way into even serious publications. Perhaps the political explosiveness is not the same?

It is my strong opinion that high quality research in Gender Science is needed to increase the understanding about hidden power structures in the society and, not the least, the academy. Improved gender equality is a question of democracy, and in its absence, the development of important areas like sustainable digitalization of industry and society can be hampered or distorted. It goes without saying that the research must be subject to the same quality control that is done in all areas.

1 November 2018