In a special report on sex and gender in the September 2017 issue of Scientific American, Stanford University professor of medicine Marcia L. Stefanick wrote that “medical researchers and physicians have a lot of untangling to do before they can offer better health care to women.” The tangle she was referring to? The woeful lack of data on how women experience diseases, how they respond to medications and the widespread bias in the medical field when diagnosing women. Change in a positive direction over the past several decades has been slow but steady, leading to more women in clinical trials and new rules that require scientists to justify their choices in the sex of their experimental animals. And these improvements have been leading to some fascinating new information about how the sexes are wired. For example, as Amber Dance writes in “The Pain Gap,” the latest findings suggest that genetics, hormone levels and anatomical development may all be at work in how individuals across the sexes experience pain. Such discoveries illuminate beyond women’s experience, too. “A deeper understanding of sex differences will improve health directives for men,” Stefanick writes. It’s a win-win.
Elsewhere in this issue, social media is having a dramatic impact on how clinical trials are recruiting and are being run—patients and their families are having more of a say than ever (see “A Question of Control”). And a theoretical physicist and microbiologist have teamed up to make the case that those who forgo vaccinations should be barred from public or private schools, workplaces or other institutions in the U.S. (see “Opting Out of Vaccines Should Opt You Out of American Society”). After all, your vaccination protects not only you from deadly disease but all those around you. Sounds like another win-win.