The Wellcome Book Prize celebrating fiction and non-fiction with a medical theme was “paused” this year and Rebecca has organised an alternative blog tour and public vote of books that would have been eligible. Rebecca, Laura, Paul, Annabel and I have selected a shortlist and you can vote for your favourite at this Twitter poll (see both tweets in the thread for all six books) which is open for a few more hours today. The six books we have chosen are:
Exhalation by Ted Chiang – a collection of sci-fi short stories about artificial intelligence and what it means to be human
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez – a non-fiction book exposing gender bias in the modern world
Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson – an essay collection about health, motherhood and grief
The Nocturnal Brain by Guy Leschziner – a non-fiction book about the neuroscience of sleep
The Remarkable Life of the Skin by Monty Lyman – a non-fiction-book about the history and science of skin
War Doctor by David Nott – a memoir by a trauma surgeon who has worked on the frontline of war zones and natural disasters
The only book from the shortlist I have read so far is ‘Invisible Women’ by Caroline Criado Perez in which its main subject is concisely outlined in its subtitle ‘Exposing Data Bias In A World Designed For Men’. The case studies cover all aspects of modern life where being male is still accepted as the default position, thereby systematically ignoring 50% of the population. Some are about more minor inconveniences such as supermarket shelves being too high, but it is the examples outlining the health consequences for women which are the most horrifying. Crash test dummies are based on the height and weight of the average man which leaves women 47% more likely to be injured in car accidents. Heart attack symptoms in women are more likely to be misdiagnosed as something less serious. The vast majority of people who participate in drug trials are men which means the negative side effects and hormonal changes experienced by women are not researched or investigated properly.
This is an outstanding piece of research – extremely thorough and eminently readable. The message is clear: data needs to be disaggregated to show the different impact of design on men and women, whether it’s in urban planning, tech design or medical research. The examples Criado Perez cites are based on research from across the world, not just Western countries, and she acknowledges how race, disability and other factors impact the evidence. Although the case studies presented here may induce rage, it is heartening to see that ‘Invisible Women’ has already reached a wide audience and its influence could potentially bring real, positive change. I think ‘Invisible Women’ would have been a likely contender for the official Wellcome Book Prize had it been held this year, and I’m pleased to see it on our unofficial shortlist instead.
Have you read any of the books on our shortlist?