New UMBC research is helping dismantle gender and publication biases in science.
A team of researchers working across disciplines has developed a new statistical technique to understand similarity, rather than difference, in the natural world. With this new technique, they’ve determined that among Eastern Bluebirds the structure of songs female birds sing is statistically indistinguishable from songs males sing.
Awareness of female birdsong is growing worldwide, thanks in part to a breakthrough paper by Karan Odom, Ph.D. ’16, biological sciences, but it’s still understood as a trait found primarily in tropical birds. Evangeline Rose, a current Ph.D. student in the same lab and first author on a new paper in Animal Behavior, wanted to look at song in a temperate species.
During Rose’s fieldwork, “I was finding that the females were singing, to me, what sounded just like male songs,” she says. “So we started thinking about equality, and equivalence, and how to test for it.” On the advice of her advisor, Kevin Omland, professor of biological sciences, she reached out to Thomas Mathew, professor of statistics, who has expertise in statistical equivalence.
Challenging a paradigm
Working together, the team modified a statistical method used in generic drug testing to meet their needs for ecology and animal behavior studies. The existing test helps determine whether generic and brand name drugs are “statistically equivalent,” meaning they are similar enough to be prescribed safely for the same purpose. The new modification will allow scientists in other fields to test for equivalence. Before, researchers could only report they did not find a significant difference—a very different statement than saying two things are conclusively equivalent.
“We’re really hoping this new method is going to address some issues with what kinds of data get published,” Rose says. “The most important thing about being a good scientist is to be unbiased. And the whole tradition of testing for difference really leads to incredible biases in scientists,” Omland says. He adds, “There’s a whole realm of things in nature that we find interesting and important because of their similarity.”
For example, in addition to similarities in songs between the sexes in birds, researchers could use the new test to ask if two species use the same type of habitat, respond the same way to predators, or consume the same food sources. Answers to those questions could fill long-standing knowledge gaps, or even inform conservation efforts.
“This test is really broadly applicable,” says Rose, “and we’re hoping to introduce it more to the ecology and evolution field.”
A new approach
One advantage of the new method is it accounts for unequal sample sizes. In a medical study, researchers can carefully control the size of treatment and control groups. In other fields, from ecology, to engineering, to agriculture, that’s often not possible. The new test also allows researchers to determine the equivalence of several traits simultaneously, Mathew explains. For example, in this study, the authors found that the male and female birds’ songs were statistically equivalent across five different characteristics, such as duration of each song and the range of pitches the birds produced.
Rather than testing whether two things are exactly equal, the team was looking for a way to determine if two things were “close enough,” given a defined allowable margin of difference. Because of that added layer, “There are additional challenges here,” Mathew says.
“Even though this methodology is out there, it hasn’t been applied—even in statistics—with this kind of data. That’s why I was very excited when they brought this project to me,” Mathew says. Rose adds, “It ended up being a really great partnership to look at these questions that hadn’t been asked before for female song, and we also ended up modifying this test in a really cool, new way.”
As research on similarities grows, there is also a growing drive to remove the bias against publishing studies that do not find a significant difference, often termed a “negative result.” This paper “is part of an amazing drumbeat that’s building up in the scientific community,” Omland says. “There’s a broader problem with the scientific method that’s being increasingly acknowledged, and the test we’ve developed can at least play a small role, and I hope a big role, in addressing it.”
Rose, who plans to next investigate the function of female bluebird songs, says she will carry these new techniques with her as she moves through her research career. “I think in the future, I’ll be thinking about how equivalence can change the questions we’re asking, and I’ll always keep in mind that we have extra tools in the toolkit.”
The Latest on: Biases in science
via Google News
The Latest on: Biases in science
- Applying Racial Bias During Jury Selection is an American Tradition on December 16, 2018 at 6:24 am
(YouTube) The only cure for replacing the veiled racism associated with “colorblind” [juror selection] practices is to remove the blinders, said Dr. Lorenzo Morris, a professor of Political Science at ... […]
- New Harvard Admissions Data May Help School Fight Bias Lawsuit on December 14, 2018 at 11:10 am
For computer science it’s 43 percent, up from 29 percent. The odds of admission were long for everybody, with 6,958 applicants vying for 935 seats. That 13.4 percent acceptance rate was the lowest sin... […]
- Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue Event at Syracuse University Cancelled Amid Bias Concerns, Student Says on December 14, 2018 at 10:55 am
Elman — an associate professor of political science at Syracuse — told the The Algemeiner in a statement that she was “disheartened to learn that a group of disgruntled students succeeded in derailing ... […]
- Mobile payment behaviors, biases examined in report on December 14, 2018 at 8:25 am
Simon-Kucher & Partners, a marketing consulting firm, has released "How Behavioral Science Can Unleash Digital Payments Adoption." According to a press release, the report examines behavioral and psyc... […]
- Here are the top 10 reasons I don't believe in God on December 14, 2018 at 5:45 am
And I want to repeat an important point about the supposed anti-religion bias in science. In the early days of science and the scientific method, most scientists did believe in God, and the soul, and ... […]
- IBM rolls out new platform to address bias in AI decision making on December 14, 2018 at 2:12 am
Bias can be introduced in training data as well as machine learning logic. Teasing out such aberrations can be an arduous data science exercise. In an interview with SiliconANGLE Thursday ... […]
- A.I. 'bias' could create disastrous results, experts are working out how to fight it on December 13, 2018 at 9:49 pm
Load Error Some science fiction has predicted that artificial intelligence ... prejudice — rely on faulty algorithms or insufficient data to develop unfair biases against certain people. Recent cases ... […]
- The science of seeing art and color on December 13, 2018 at 11:47 am
Today, research such as that conducted at the University of Rochester’s Center for Visual Science, founded in 1963 ... memory, experience, and biases. The brain’s job is to integrate sensory informati... […]
- Gender bias claims roil AI research community on December 13, 2018 at 12:40 am
It urged participants to respect it and get back to focusing “on science and ideas ... care — and more panels devoted to addressing bias and inclusion — both in the industry and the ... […]
via Bing News