Rejection was common for medical sociologist Thomas LaVeist when attempting to publish his research on the effects of racism on black health. “Now,” said the 60-year-old dean of Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, “I have these same journals asking me to write articles for them.”
LaVeist’s experience illustrates the transformation of medical research. While few would dispute that black Americans are more prone to chronic health problems and have shorter lifespans than whites, the medical community has generally sought answers in biology, genetics, and lifestyle. Research, like LaVeist’s, which focused on racism was frowned upon as an amateur detour from serious intellectual inquiry.
In recent years, and especially since the Black Lives Matter protests erupted last year, systemic racism has grown from marginal theory to canonical truth. Medical researchers offer a radical socio-political explanation for racial disparities in health by citing the hundreds of peer-reviewed articles authored by LaVeist and a host of others, thus giving the study of systemic racism the imprimatur of scientific authority.
This year, the National Institutes of Health apologized to all who suffered from structural racism in biomedical research. The NIH is spending $ 90 million studying health disparities and structural racism, engaging in over 60 diversity and inclusion initiatives and committing to “every tool at our disposal. to address the chronic problem of structural racism ”.
Deemed to be unquestionable, systemic racism provides the political rationale for “dismantling” – in the words of an authority no less important than the NIH – the institutions and cultural norms which advocates of the framework maintain are maintained to defend white supremacy. .
The consequences of ignoring this new primary guideline for race-based research were made clear this year when the two senior editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association were forced to resign after the organization broadcast a podcast that questioned whether systemic racism was the reason for racial disparities in health.
“This is the first time that the NIH has launched a call for research on structural racism. This is the first time that JAMA has fired an editor who said something bad about racism, ”said Shervin Assari, associate professor of family medicine and urban public health at Charles University of Medicine and Science. R. Drew of Los Angeles, one of the Four Historic Blacks. Medical schools in the United States Assari has authored over 350 articles on race, social determinants and health equity
To institutionalize its new policy, JAMA is revising its peer review standards and diversifying its ranks to advance equity in health care, a term that refers to reducing or even eliminating disparities. racial health in chronic disease and life expectancy. Similar measures are being adopted across the medical profession. A leading editorial in the August special issue of JAMA devoted to racial disparities in health called systemic racism an indisputable scientific fact and said all medical journals are morally obligated to document it in their research.
Racial disparities in health underlie the four-year gap between the life expectancy of blacks and whites in the United States. Factors that contribute to this disparity include chronic illness, unintentional injury, suicide, and homicide, which are the leading killers of black men aged 44 and under. Researchers engaged in explaining systemic racism attribute disproportionately high crime rates in poor black neighborhoods to discrimination, substandard schools, and other manifestations of systemic racism.
The rapid turn of events blinded traditional doctors.
“The spectacle of the gatekeepers of medical publications announcing a policy plan for medical writers to follow – or else – is quite mind-blowing,” said by email Thomas Huddle, who retired this year as a professor at the Faculty of Health. medicine from the University of Alabama-Birmingham. “The medical guards are in the throes of a moral panic. “
Some find the systemic explanation to be a leftist controversy, while others doubt that it explains everything it claims to explain. These skeptics worry about the professional implications of public dissent from the New Orthodoxy – but it’s also possible that blaming an entire national culture for racial disparities could prompt independent scholars and conservative think tanks to produce opposing research that explores black-on-black murder, racial disparities in IQ tests and other taboo topics.
The transformation sweeping the health care profession does not happen in a vacuum. It reflects social justice movements determined to speak out against the structural racism that is said to be pervasive in education, criminal justice, the arts, the exact sciences, and other areas of American society. Activists in these fields, as well as those in medicine, speak of dismantling white supremacy and other “structures” that cause power imbalances between races and sexes and harm non-white groups.
Skeptical doctors say that medical journal editors are essentially replacing the scientific method with political ideology, namely critical race theory, and leaving little room for alternative explanations, such as personal agency or cultural differences.
“There is an awful lot of group thinking,” said Stanley Goldfarb, a former dean of curriculum who taught kidney disease at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine before retiring this summer. “If you don’t agree with all of this, you are a bad person.”
This article has been adapted from a RealClearInvestigations article published on November 11.