CNN article on race and equations used for health

I thought this was a very interesting article. It made me reflect on what I read from David Reich about genetic differences and ancestry. But it seems going about using that information in the wrong way can be very problematic. And then social experience averages are a very concerning issue - I’ve seen online chatter about schools dropping accelerated programs altogether because there wasn’t equal representation. I was curious to learn more and wondered if anyone had experience with the topics in the article.

The biggest problem with using race in medicine? Race isn’t a biological category. It’s a social one.

“It’s based on this idea that human beings are naturally divided into these big groups called races,” says Dorothy Roberts, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, who has made challenging race correction in medicine her life’s work. “But that’s not what race is. Race is a completely invented social category. The very idea that human beings are divided into races is a made-up idea.”

Ancestry is biological. Where we come from — or more accurately, who we come from — impacts our DNA. But a patient’s skin color isn’t always an accurate reflection of their ancestry.

The NFL case, Possin wrote in JAMA, has “exposed a major weakness in the field of neuropsychology: the use of race-adjusted norms as a crude proxy for lifelong social experience.”

This happens in nearly every field of medicine. Race is not only used as a poor substitute for genetics and ancestry, it’s used as a substitute for access to health care, or lifestyle factors like diet and exercise, socioeconomic status and education. It’s no secret that racial disparities exist in all of these. But there’s a danger in using race to talk about them, Yale historian Carolyn Roberts says.


I see this frequently in my work. Even in situations where all patient should be receiving the current standard of care - and race shouldn’t matter - it does. Some hospitals lag behind others and the racial mix of their patients is a strong predictor.

I couldn’t find the study I worked on, but this one is similar.

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This looks like systemic racism, but what surprised me in the article was the possible justification of health equations that were unclear on whether ancestry or systemic racism was the cause of differences. Definitely all things we should be aware of as a society. I hope that in the future we stop the race questions and ask about ancestry instead. But it is horrible that anyone should be concerned that they’re not getting the best care because of how they look.

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