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New Glacier Research – A Waste Of Public Money?


Studying glacier formation is of scientific importance. It can predict movements, tell us about the formation of the planet, and be used as a predictor for the future effects of climate change, such as assessing impacts on water resources. However, one particular aspect of glacier research, it seems has wasted considerable funds of public money.

The aspect is a University of Oregon led strand of research into whether the study of glaciers has been sexist for many years (having, apparently, been dominated by male researchers) and whether this ‘gender biased’ epistemological stand-point has led to a male interpretation of glacier formations themselves.

This is the somewhat bizarre (and confusingly expressed) context of a recent research paper. The paper, published in the long-standing journal Progress in Human Geography, states in its abstract:

“Merging feminist postcolonial science studies and feminist political ecology, the feminist glaciology framework generates robust analysis of gender, power, and epistemologies in dynamic social-ecological systems, thereby leading to more just and equitable science and human-ice interactions.”

The research paper, by lead author Mark Carey, is titled “Glaciers, gender, and science A feminist glaciology framework for global environmental change research.”

According to the Daily Caller, the research was part-funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation to the sum of $709,125.

The main critique within the paper is that:

  1. Most glacier research has been conducted by men. Yet this would apply to any scientific field pre-dating the 1970s (since then equality of access has become much better.) However, does this, in itself, mean previous research is incorrect?
  2. The interpretation of glacier data has fallen within “masculinist discourses.” If this was a discussion about the meaning of, say, the works of Shakespeare then viewing the work from multiple discourses is part and parcel of English literature. But rock formations?
  3. The role of women in science and technology has been overlooked. This may well be so in many fields. Take Rosalind Franklin’s treatment by Francis Crick and James Watson, for example. However, bringing any person neglected in the field of glacier research into the public eye could be adequately covered buy a book chapter, rather than a publically funded science paper.
  4. The paper discusses past perceptions of civilizations and how they have affected the way geography and geology is captured and visualized. There is considerable support for this, in terms of the way relative sizes of countries and structures were put in proportion of each other. Whether this was gender based, however, can be contested. Theories of imperialism have stronger explanatory power.
  5. Women and ethnic minorities “are more vulnerable to glacier changes and hazards than are men.” The evidence of this seemingly inflated statement is not provided in the paper.
  6. Climate change is not being taken seriously, because women are excluded. This is a matter of opinion. Others would point to the role of corporations with vested interests and governments not wishing to direct resources into alternative energy research.

It would seem, on the surface, that the paper, largely because of its funding (which could have been diverted to research of greater social value), is an example of inappropriately funded science. Indeed, many credible scientists thought the paper to be an attempt at satire. It seems, however, the intent was quite serious.

For a more serious take on the leading scientific subjects of today, refer to The Latest News’ science pages.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.