Feminist Resources for Biomedical Research: Lessons from the HPV Vaccines





Several feminist philosophers of science have argued that social and political values are compatible with, and may even enhance, scientific objectivity. A variety of normative recommendations have emerged regarding how to identify, manage, and critically evaluate social values in science. In particular, several feminist theorists have argued that scientific communities ought to: 1) include researchers with diverse experiences, interests, and values, with equal opportunity and authority to scrutinize research; 2) investigate or “study up” scientific phenomena from the perspectives, interests, and conditions of marginalized stakeholders potentially affected by the research; and 3) make gender, ethnicity, class, and geographical location “visible,” or use them as categories of analysis when appropriate. Yet, more work is needed to determine what exactly these recommendations would require, and the benefits they would yield, in specific research contexts.

Using the recent development of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, we examine how these three feminist recommendations would have applied. We argue that these principles would have yielded several epistemic and social benefits in the HPV case, as well as in biomedical research more generally. That is, biomedical research guided by these principles would not only be epistemically superior, but also more socially responsible.