The Finkbeiner test is a checklist proposed to help journalists avoid gender bias in media articles about women in science.
The Finkbeiner test is a checklist proposed by journalist Christie Aschwanden to help journalists avoid gender bias in media articles about women in science. To pass the test, an article about a female scientist must not mention:
- That she is a woman
- Her husband's job
- Her childcare arrangements
- How she nurtures her underlings
- How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
- How she is a role model for other women
- How she's the "first woman to..."
Aschwanden formulated the test in an article in Double X Science, an online science magazine for women, on 5 March 2013. She did so in response to what she considered was a type of media coverage of women scientists that:
treats its subject's sex as her most defining detail. She's not just a great scientist, she's a woman! And if she's also a wife and a mother, those roles get emphasized too.
Aschwanden created the test in the spirit of the Bechdel test, which is used to indicate gender bias in fiction. She named the test after fellow journalist Ann Finkbeiner, who had written a story for the science blog The Last Word on Nothing about her decision not to write about the subject of her latest article, an astronomer, "as a woman".
The test was mentioned in the media criticism of the New York Times's obituary of rocket scientist Yvonne Brill. That obituary, published on 30 March 2013, by Douglas Martin, began with the words: "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children". A few hours after publication the New York Times revised the obituary to address some of the criticisms; the revised version begins "She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job..."
Another New York Times article, on Jennifer Doudna, published on 11 May 2015, drew similar criticism with reference to the Finkbeiner test. An article in The Globe and Mail on astrophysicist Victoria Kaspi, published on 16 February 2016, drew the same criticism, as did David Quammen's book A Tangled Tree, for giving women scientists, especially Lynn Margulis, short shrift.
Susan Gelman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan, applauded the move to report on female scientists without emphasising their gender, but questions whether the Finkbeiner test should seek to eliminate all references to personal life, suggesting that the move should be towards asking male scientists about personal issues too. This view is shared by other writers. In addition, Vasudevan Mukunth points out in The Wire, countries in which women are drastically under-represented in science might want to bend the test's rules in hopes of highlighting any systemic barriers: "The test's usefulness rests on the myth of a level playing field – there is none in India."
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