Elder Woman Wearing Mask

Who’s At The Greatest Risk Of Experiencing ‘Long Covid’?

A recent study linked age and number of Covid-19 symptoms in a positive individual to longer-lasting health problems brought on by the virus. What they found specifically is that women aged 50-60 are at the greatest risk of developing “long Covid,” which is when positive Covid patients experience ongoing symptoms for weeks, or months, after they’ve already beat the virus and are considered to be negative. 

Dr Claire Steves and Professor Tim Spector at King’s College London led the study which analyzed data from 4,182 Covid Symptom Study App users who had been consistently logging their health status after testing positive for the virus. 

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In general, based on the App data, women were twice as likely to suffer from Covid-19 symptoms that lasted longer than a month when compared to men in the same age bracket, however, after the age of 60 everyone’s risk level is relatively the same; under the assumption that they don’t have any other underlying health conditions. 

Increased age was a general association that came along with the heightened risk levels for long Covid. 22% of people aged over 70 in the study reported suffering from symptoms for four or more weeks after their initial diagnosis. For comparison only 10% of individuals aged between 18 and 30-years-old reported the same experience. 

Gender differences only appeared for individuals aged between 50 and 60-years-old, where the data suggested a women’s risk was nearly double that of a man in the same age range. Professor Spector claims these results aren’t entirely surprising, as the same trend exists for autoimmune diseases in general in relation to how they impact men versus women of that age. 

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“Things like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are two to three times more common in women until just before menopause, and then it becomes more similar. My guess is that gender differences in the way the immune system responds to coronavirus may account for this difference in risk.”

The study has also not been peer reviewed yet but it is available for viewing in preprint. The results also showed that individuals who experience five or more Covid-19 symptoms within their first week of developing the virus are at a heightened risk for experiencing long Covid symptoms as well. 

 “There’s certainly a group of long Covid sufferers that have this multi-system immune–like disease, where they get gastrointestinal problems, skin rashes, nerve problems and brain fog – so the whole body is involved rather than just one bit,” claimed Spector, who went on to explain that the immune system is likely working differently in individuals who experience these multiple body system symptoms. Those individual’s immune systems have to work a lot harder and for a lot longer to get the entire body back on track when compared to patients who contract the virus but only experience minimal to no symptoms. 

The study also suggested that individuals who have preexisting health conditions such as being medically overweight or having asthma and other respiratory diseases could increase ones risk to long Covid.

Gender Inequality

Report Suggests Gender Equality Still a Century Away

While the push for women’s equality has made substantial progress over the last several years, a new report released by the World Economic Forum suggests that civilization is still a long way away from ensuring equal treatment of the sexes. Entitled the “Global Gap Gender Report 2020,” the report analyzes 153 countries and ranks them according to how successfully they enable gender parity. While the report found many areas in which societies have made progress, such as ensuring that girls have access to educational resources in developing countries, it also remarks that the pace of progress has been slow, as only a handful of countries in the world were determined to even approach reaching full gender equality. The report predicts the milestone of achieving global gender parity to be 99 years in the future, with the areas of Economic Participation and Political Empowerment being where the gender gap will likely take the longest to close.

The countries ranked as the most gender-equal include Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, as the Nordic countries have some of the most progressive gender policies in the world. Finland, for instance, recently elected the world’s youngest female leader, Prime Minister Sanna Marin, and their Parliament contains an almost equal number of men and women. Finland and other Nordic countries also have policies like several months of paid parental leave, sophisticated sex education programs, and widespread access to abortion and birth control, which help to reduce the social gender gap in these countries. The World Economic Forum’s report focused on four main themes: economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment; and the Nordic countries were found to perform among the best in these areas.

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On the other end of the list, Middle-Eastern countries like Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen were ranked lowest. In these countries, according to the report, women’s rights are severely limited, particularly in the areas of “divorce, inheritance, asset ownership, access to justice and freedom of movement.” In some of these countries, women are almost entirely absent from political life, and the rates of literacy are much lower for women than for men as a result of unequal access to education. And when it comes to employment, women in these countries are routinely discriminated against, resulting in a low level of female involvement in the workforce.

Though different parts of the world are making progress in closing the gender gap at vastly different rates, the overall social gap between the genders is gradually narrowing, albeit very slowly. The report found that the world has almost achieved 100% gender parity in the categories of Health and Survival and Educational Attainment, but has only achieved 58% parity in Economic Participation and Opportunity and 25% parity in Political Empowerment, leaving the Global Gender Gap Index at a combined percentage of 69% of full parity between the sexes. The report stresses the urgency of increasing the pace of progress towards gender equality, saying, “without the equal inclusion of half the world’s talent, we will not be able to deliver on the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution of society [or] grow our economies for greater shared prosperity… at the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept.”

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Even developed, industrialized countries like Japan display shocking deficiencies in the area of gender equality. Women in Japan, for instance, perform four times the amount of unpaid labor as men do, and despite government initiatives to expand female participation in the workplace, women often have difficulty advancing into senior work positions. There’s no question that the project of achieving gender equality is a difficult and complicated one, as gender issues stem from social, economic, and political factors, but countries like Finland show that with enough effort these barriers can in large part be overcome.


Merriam-Webster Names Non-Binary Pronoun “They” As The Word Of The Year

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary made headlines recently when they added the non-binary pronoun “they” to their dictionary. Now, they’re back on the trending list and this time it’s for their recognition of the pronoun as their word of the year. The decision became quite clear when Merriam-Webster announced that searches for the term have risen 313% within the last year! The data alone was enough of a determining factor for Merriam-Webster to give it the title of word of the year, as every year they base the decision off of search data for the most part. 

“Pronouns are among the language’s most commonly used words, and like other common words (think go, do, and have) they tend to be mostly ignored by dictionary users. But over the past year or so, as people have increasingly encountered the non-binary use, we’ve seen searches for ‘they’ grow dramatically,” said Emily Brewster, senior editor at Merriam-Webster, said in a statement.

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Merriam-Webster representatives also stated the major moments within the past year that led to an increase in search traffic for the term. These moments included when non-binary model Oslo Grace made their Paris Fashion Week debut back in January, and when US congresswoman Pramila Jayapal made a statement back in April stating that her child is non binary.

In terms of pop culture, searches for the pronoun also increased during the entire month of June, most likely due to Pride Month and the increase in education over LGBTQIA+ individuals during the month. Additionally British pop/soul singer Sam Smith came out as non-binary this past September with a minimalist Instagram post where they told their massive 14+ million followers their pronouns were ‘they/them.’

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“They” has obviously always been in the dictionary, as it’s a relatively standard pronoun in the English language. However, it’s always been defined as a pronoun referring to two or more individuals. It wasn’t until this year that Merriam-Webster, among other dictionaries, recognized the word as a singular pronoun referring to an individual whose gender identity is non-binary to the conventional “he/him/she/hers” standard in our society. 

“The spike in searches for the word was so significant and sustained that it stood apart from other popular entries. People were clearly encountering this new use and turning to the dictionary for clarity and for usage guidance,” Brewster said.

Merriam-Webster originally added the singular pronoun to its dictionary back in September, leading many to credit Sam Smith’s coming out to the addition. While their may not be a clean-cut direct correlation between the two, Smith is definitely one of the most notable public figures in pop culture today that is out as non-binary. Their coming out lead to a huge discussion across the media about non-binary pronouns and what being non-binary means in general. Smith definitely sparked a massive discussion that was long overdue amongst the LGBT+ rights conversation. 

When we, as a society, validate the thousands of ways people identify, we create spaces for equality and understanding. Merriam-Webster added this singular pronoun to their dictionary as a means of facilitating that discussion and giving individuals who may not fully understand what it is to be non-binary, an opportunity to learn and grow.

Doctor with Patient

Researchers Argue Sex and Gender Analysis Improves Science

It has long been understood in scientific circles that unconscious biases, particularly those relating to sex and gender, can have a negative impact on the objectivity of scientific findings. While the goal of science is to discover the truth in as objective a manner as possible, scientists are prone to the same unintentional, biased assumptions as anyone else, and the quality of scientific work can be affected. For instance, the appropriate dosage for a medicine may be devised with the assumption that the patient is male, leading to suboptimal dosage recommendations for women. As another example, safety equipment too can be designed with the physical concerns of men in mind, negatively affecting women who use the equipment. And as machine learning technologies advance, engineers are realizing that machine learning programs are capable of picking up on human beings’ unconscious biases and replicating them, perpetuating the problem.

In light of these realizations, much conversation has taken place regarding how best to correct for sex and gender bias in science. This concept is explored in an article posted in Nature entitled “Sex and gender analysis improves science and engineering.” The article’s authors argue that taking sex and gender into consideration while conducting science not only benefits less-advantaged individuals by recognizing the institutional challenges they face, but also improves the quality of science itself, as unconscious biases are identified and corrected. This approach, the authors claim, benefits multiple scientific fields, including medicine, artificial intelligence, and even climatology. 

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While many consider the terms synonyms, the researchers explain the difference between sex and gender, defining the former as including mainly biological attributes, whereas they define the latter as “psychological, social and cultural factors that shape attitudes, behaviours, stereotypes, technologies, and knowledge.” This distinction is important because sex and gender interact in complex ways; for instance, there exist physiological differences relating to the experience of pain between the sexes, and gender impacts how patients communicate pain with doctors and researchers. The researchers point out several improvements which have been made in this area over the past several decades; for instance, crash test dummies were originally based on a male physique, but now represent more diverse body shapes, allowing engineers to design vehicles that are safe for a larger number of people. However, they also point out areas for future improvement. 

As advanced technology continues to influence society, ensuring that it doesn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes takes on additional importance.

In their paper, the scientists focus on the surprising and complicated ways sex and gender manifest across a variety of disciplines, with the most focus placed on marine science, biomedicine, robotics, and artificial intelligence. The authors discuss how sex impacts science even in non-humans, as male and female marine life react differently to the effects of changing ocean temperatures, an observation which has generated insights about more accurately modelling the effects of climate change. In human beings, sex differences account for disparities in responses to various medicines, such as vasopressin and cancer immunotherapy, for biological reasons including differences in amounts of testosterone and estrogen and overall body composition.

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Perhaps more surprisingly, artificial intelligence is a field in which unconscious biases can make their way into technologies, unintentionally perpetuating cultural biases and stereotypes. For instance, advertising algorithms are more likely to automatically serve ads for high-paying jobs to men than to women, and automatic image captioning algorithms tend to misidentify pictures of men in kitchens as women. As advanced technology continues to influence society, ensuring that artificial intelligence doesn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes takes on additional importance.

The authors conclude by proposing solutions to many of the problems with sex and gender biases in science they identify. One suggestion is to foster greater interactions between the scientific community and the humanities, including social scientists. Allowing for interdepartmental conversations in this way helps scientists to learn about how biases emerge and affect human reasoning, and can incorporate this knowledge into their work. Additionally, the researchers advocate for greater transparency in scientists’ reporting by including variables relating to sex and gender in their data analyses.