How to Be a Racist in Health Research

There's a trend in health research organizations to uncover subtle and unconscious racism.  Their zealotry makes me wonder: who are the real racialists?

The American Public Health Association (APHA) sometimes seems more like a Chicago-based community organization than a science-based health association.  They hosted a series of webinars on "The Impact of Racism on the Health and Well-Being of the Nation."  Their webinar web page states, "The recent events in Charleston, South Carolina, Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri, remind us that stigma, inequalities and civil rights injustices remain in our society today."

That's quite an inflammatory statement for a health organization, and it betrays their unhealthy racialism.

  • The horrific mass shooting in Charleston was an evil deed perpetrated by a lunatic on the frailest fringes of society.  It's lamentable they'd tie that tragedy to allegations of institutionalized racism that cause health care inequalities.  The way Charleston residents came together was heartwarming, even inspirational.
  • As for Baltimore, well, more public money goes to Baltimore City Schools (education being the best predictor of health care outcomes) than Fairfax County School District, one of the best in the country
  • As for Ferguson, I wonder if the APHA still believes in the insidious "hands up, don't shoot" myth.  Regardless, why invoke that in your opening paragraph on your web page when evidence suggests that more whites are killed by the police when adjusted for the racial breakdown in violent crime?

What is unnerving is their focus on unconscious – unconscious – bias in health care, rather than the pervasive social determinants of health that adversely affect low-income families. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasize that education is the main determinant of health.  Nobel Prize-winner in economics Angus Deaton recently confirmed this by demonstrating that mortality rates for less educated middle-aged whites are higher than for those with more education.  Noteworthy is that mortality and morbidity rates are increasing at much faster rates than for minorities.

Disparate impact is often used to demonstrate unintentional racism.  However, the causes of the education "achievement gap" disproportionately affect low-income families:

  • Poor schools (perpetuated by liberals beholden to powerful unions who spurn school choice and efforts to hold teachers accountable.  When performance is measured, it generally improves.)
  • Unstable families
  • Bad neighborhoods (gangs and peer pressure disparage those who'd pick up a library card as "acting white")
  • Drugs (ravage imagination and motivation irrespective of skin tone)

Even the National Institute of Health (NIH) has hopped on this racialist bandwagon.  Probing racial disparity in research grant awards, the NIH endeavors to "address whether grant reviewers are thinking about an applicant's race at all, even unconsciously."  So if they can't find obvious examples of racism, they'll intrude into the nether regions of our innermost sanctums of thought, potentially twisting vague contemplations to suit their racialist agenda.  

Actually, their figures show that under-represented minorities have been awarded NIH grants at 78-90% the rate of white and mixed-race applicants every year from 1985 to 2013.  Is that worth the $500 million they are directing toward attracting minority researchers?  Given the natural proclivity for everyone, including minorities, to harbor some bias, one interpretation is that the so-called privileged have been rather magnanimous in reaching out.   

The NIH is reaching far out, having recently created a position for a chief officer for scientific workforce diversity.  The incumbent feels compelled to get evidence of racial bias, saying, "We can move forward with a premise that the diversity of scientists themselves is important. But it behooves us as scientists to get the evidence that the diversity of scientists makes a difference to the output."  I have a suspicion she will dig deep. 

The racialist bandwagon is heavily laden with confirmation bias.  Even the magazine Nature's exposé of racial disparity in research grant awards is pregnant with presumptions. Erika Hayden, the author of "Racial bias continues to haunt NIH grants," invokes Reynard Kington, former deputy director of the NIH, to bolster her point: "He and others point to evidence that funding can be influenced by personal bias."  Yet Mr. Kington himself, in the article's comments section, said, "This article may leave the incorrect impression that I said there was personal bias in the review process of research grant applications submitted by minority scientists. While I acknowledged that some bias in review was possible, I also said I do not believe that it will prove to be a major factor." 

I'm not surprised that Hayden passed the editors' vetting process, since their bias is blatant.  They editorialized that the disparities the NIH reported "… ultimately harm society and patients who would otherwise benefit from these scientists' ideas."  They must not be reading their own magazine, for even the NIH's chief diversity officer, in the same issue, says, "Although diversity benefits businesses and individual scientific investigators, it has not been shown to broaden the scope of research."

Kington also says that bias can work in more complex ways than along strict racial lines – for instance, favoring native-born over foreign-born grant applicants.  Indeed, blatant bias should absolutely be eliminated, but if subtle bias lingers in our subconscious dwellings, I'd rather it favor native-born rather than foreign-born grant applicants who may be recent immigrants.  If – and only if – all else is equal, give them a break.  They've probably been paying taxes that fund NIH grants longer.

Racial groupthink has infiltrated safety and health research organizations, distracting attention from the persistent social determinants of health.  In an unhealthy effort of Orwellian proportions, racialist health researchers will invade the recesses of our subconscious minds for evidence of subtle bias.  Once they've manufactured disparate impact, they're primed for another guilt-ridden splurge of dollars to further their racialist "outreach."

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