FIU’s groundbreaking research sparks a conversation about sex and gender

Photo via FIU Flickr

Paloma Pimentel | Contributing Writer

A lab in FIU’s Global Forensic and Justice Center released the first research of its kind that allowed scientists to determine a person’s sex through their hand odor. 

This method, which uses a human-supervised machine that measures the odor print of a self-identified individual, gives a 96% accuracy rate on their sex identification

However, this may be just the first round of research that opens the door to more in-depth investigations of what constitutes sex and beginning a dialogue about sex and gender classifications and how they affect individuals and societies. 

The study used 60 participants who identified as either male or female and whose hand odor imprint was captured using gauze and measured through a machine that determines sex based on chemical composition.

In an interview with PantherNOW, Dr. Kenneth G. Furton, director of FIU’s Global Forensic and Justice Center, explained how the research study was initially developed to identify an individual’s race, age, and sex through their hand odor, which he did not expect such a high accuracy rate for sex alone. 

Given the outcomes, Furton shared how the next step in the research study would be to identify why there was such a high accuracy rate in sex determination. He added that studying whether forensic assisting dogs can differentiate between male and female scents is a first step in understanding the outcomes of his research. 

The other step would be to conduct another study with a larger sample size that includes the data of their DNA, blood sampling, and investigating whether test subjects undertook any form of gender-affirming or transitioning therapy to improve their method by introducing more inclusive data for more precise measurements.

“This technique could be used in conjunction with detection canines and can be one more tool for investigators to bring justice to victims of crime,” the leading researcher of this study, Chantrell Frazier, stated in an FIU News article. 

However, despite the accurate data that was collected, FIU adjunct professor of religion and human sexuality, Stephanie Londono, shared in an interview with PantherNOW how the research could advance and benefit forensic institutions by examining and defining the language and keywords used, such as sex and gender. 

Londono explains how the narrative that scientists present to the public about their research reveals an implicit bias in favor of gender binary classifications. 

“One of the words they choose to use is gender, which is problematic,” says Londono, 

“The word gender is still debated and is open-ended, I insist that we should have a more rigorous conversation about what it means to be in a body that we sexualize through concepts such as gender, sex, and race.” 

Londono continues by saying that the language used in the research doesn’t take into account the ethics needed when dealing with matters about sexuality, a massive taboo topic, by not clearly defining the terms sex and gender. 

When it comes to advancements in technology and science, she comments that they should be paired with conversations about whether the methods used are ethical. 

When this isn’t the case, she says, “it is problematic because technology is outpacing conversations and dialogue regarding the human condition, which is sex and gender in this case, ethics should be ahead of technological advancements, especially if they deal with humans and their bodies.”

Londono puts into perspective the meaning of sex and gender in our society by explaining that sex is defined by physical markers such as genitalia, and gender is the social role and social conditioning that an individual follows based on their sex.

Western culture has adopted a binary fixed concept of sex, she says, and has used scientific technology to obscure any in-betweenness, naturalizing a reality of heterosexism. 

“If we neglect the fact that we are inherently diverse not just in human shape but in the way we interpret our bodies and construct our identities, we are restricting our humanity and leaving entire populations in a dehumanized state,” she says.

In order to advance a humane society, she adds, it is necessary to equip scientific advancements and knowledge with dialogues that educate on the ethics of the methods used and the semantic meaning behind the used terminology.

“Humans are a work in progress, and so is scientific knowledge.”

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