What Doctors Should Ignore

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, United States on 2018-02-14 04:27Z by Steven

What Doctors Should Ignore

The New York Times
2017-12-08

Moises Velasquez-Manoff


Joan Wong

Science has revealed how arbitrary racial categories are. Perhaps medicine will abandon them, too.

Sickle cell anemia was first described in 1910 and was quickly labeled a “black” disease. At a time when many people were preoccupied with an imagined racial hierarchy, with whites on top, the disease was cited as evidence that people of African descent were inferior. But what of white people who presented with sickle cell anemia?

Doctors twisted themselves into knots trying to explain those cases away. White sickle cell patients must have mixed backgrounds, they contended — a black forebear they didn’t know about perhaps, or one they didn’t want to mention. Or maybe white patients’ symptoms didn’t stem from sickle cell anemia at all, but some other affliction. The bottom line was, the disease was “black,” so by definition white people couldn’t get it.

Today, scientists understand the sickle cell trait as an adaptation to malaria, not evidence of inferiority. One copy of the sickle cell trait protects against malaria. Having two can cause severe anemia and even death. Scientists also know that the trait is common outside Africa across the “malaria belt” — the Arabian Peninsula, India and parts of the Mediterranean Basin. And people historically considered white can, in fact, carry it. In the Greek town of Orchomenos, for example, the gene is more prevalent than it is among African-Americans.

We know all this, and yet the racialization of the disease, the idea that it occurs only in people of sub-Saharan African descent, persists. “When I talk to medical students, I get this all the time — ‘Sickle cell is a black trait,’ ” Michael Yudell, chairman of the department of community health and prevention at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, told me.

That’s worrisome for many reasons, he says, chief among them that it may result in subpar medical care for some patients. Case in point: California’s universal blood disorder screening program has identified thousands of nonblack children with the sickle cell trait and scores with the disease — patients who, had doctors stuck to received “wisdom,” might have been missed.

Professor Yudell belongs to a growing chorus of scholars and researchers who argue that in science at least, we need to push past the race concept and, where possible, scrap it entirely. Professor Yudell and others contend that instead of talking about race, we should talk about ancestry (which, unlike “race,” refers to one’s genetic heritage, not innate qualities); or the specific gene variants that, like the sickle cell trait, affect disease risk; or environmental factors like poverty or diet that affect some groups more than others…

Read the entire article here.

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Biracial and Jewish

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Identity Development/Psychology, Judaism, Letters, Media Archive, Religion, Social Science, United States on 2017-03-22 14:38Z by Steven

Biracial and Jewish

The New York Times
2017-03-20

Helen Kiyong Kim, Associate Professor of Sociology
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington

Noah Samuel Leavitt, Associate Dean of Students
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington

To the Editor:

Re “What Biracial People Know” (Sunday Review, March 5):

Moises Velasquez-Manoff makes a number of vital points about the creative ways that biracial people navigate the world.

During 2011-14, we interviewed 39 young men and women who were the offspring of Jewish and Asian parents. Supporting Mr. Velasquez-

Manoff’s point that biracialism breaks down tribalism — and perhaps extending his assertions — our research found that these young people strongly identified both as multiracial as well as Jewish in a surprisingly traditional religious sense…

Read the entire letter here.

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What Biracial People Know

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Justice on 2017-03-05 23:12Z by Steven

What Biracial People Know

Sunday Review
The New York Times
2017-03-04

Moises Velasquez-Manoff


Lynnie Z.

After the nation’s first black president, we now have a white president with the whitest and malest cabinet since Ronald Reagan’s. His administration immediately made it a priority to deport undocumented immigrants and to deny people from certain Muslim-majority nations entry into the United States, decisions that caused tremendous blowback.

What President Trump doesn’t seem to have considered is that diversity doesn’t just sound nice, it has tangible value. Social scientists find that homogeneous groups like his cabinet can be less creative and insightful than diverse ones. They are more prone to groupthink and less likely to question faulty assumptions.

What’s true of groups is also true for individuals. A small but growing body of research suggests that multiracial people are more open-minded and creative. Here, it’s worth remembering that Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, wasn’t only the nation’s first black president, he was also its first biracial president. His multitudinous self was, I like to think, part of what made him great — part of what inspired him when he proclaimed that there wasn’t a red or blue America, but a United States of America.

As a multiethnic person myself — the son of a Jewish dad of Eastern European descent and a Puerto Rican mom — I can attest that being mixed makes it harder to fall back on the tribal identities that have guided so much of human history, and that are now resurgent. Your background pushes you to construct a worldview that transcends the tribal…

…Consider this: By 3 months of age, biracial infants recognize faces more quickly than their monoracial peers, suggesting that their facial perception abilities are more developed. Kristin Pauker, a psychologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and one of the researchers who performed this study, likens this flexibility to bilingualism…

Early on, infants who hear only Japanese, say, will lose the ability to distinguish L’s from R’s. But if they also hear English, they’ll continue to hear the sounds as separate. So it is with recognizing faces, Dr. Pauker says. Kids naturally learn to recognize kin from non-kin, in-group from out-group. But because they’re exposed to more human variation, the in-group for multiracial children seems to be larger.

This may pay off in important ways later. In a 2015 study, Sarah Gaither, an assistant professor at Duke, found that when she reminded multiracial participants of their mixed heritage, they scored higher in a series of word association games and other tests that measure creative problem solving. When she reminded monoracial people about their heritage, however, their performance didn’t improve. Somehow, having multiple selves enhanced mental flexibility…

Read the entire article here.

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Can a Dress Shirt Be Racist?

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Media Archive on 2016-04-01 18:33Z by Steven

Can a Dress Shirt Be Racist?

Backchannel
2016-03-31

Moises Velasquez-Manoff


Illustration by Michael Marsicano

A startup finds that asking for certain data improves the fit of its clothes — and lands the company in a cultural minefield

In 2008, an entrepreneur named Seph Skerritt was frustrated with the way he shopped for clothes. Then a student at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, he chafed at the time wasted while trying on garments in stores. Often, he thought, you settled on an ill-fitting item just to get the drudgery over with.

While on an internship in Asia, Skerritt had encountered the effortless magic of having a tailor custom-fit your shirt. Why not improve on that concept, he wondered, with an online service that fitted your shirts by asking you questions, and then mailed you the garments?

He christened his company Proper Cloth. Naysayers told him that when customers input their measurements, they often made mistakes — the idea wouldn’t scale. But Skerritt thought that guessing, even if one’s guesses were occasionally off, was still preferable to the chaos and disappointment experienced in a physical store.

So he set about developing an algorithm that could customize your shirt without needing a tape measure. As a check against errors in customers’ reported measurements, he thought up a list of basic questions — height, weight, and so on — that could serve as indicators of shirt size. Then, using these questions, he made shirts for 30 guys who worked at the New York City tech incubator hosting his startup, called Dogpatch Labs.

When the volunteers tried on their shirts, Skerritt quickly saw what worked and what didn’t. Asking about waist size was insufficient, for example, because it gave no indication of the size of one’s midsection. So Skerritt added a question about how far one’s belly protruded. Other questions were too confusing, like one about how T-shirts fit around your chest and shoulders. Those queries were omitted.

He noticed an odd pattern. In that first batch of 30, the shirts fit best on testers who were Caucasians. They seemed to fit worse, in a predictable way, on people who weren’t Caucasian. All subjects of one ancestry — Asian, say — seemed to require the same general alterations. Skerritt noted the anomaly and added a question on what he called “ethnicity”: Asian, Black, Caucasian, Hispanic, or “I’m not sure.” The question, Skerritt says, has proven invaluable to sizing his customers’ shirts.

There’s no denying the satisfaction of a smartly tailored shirt. But with this one question, the once mundane world of dress shirts is now dabbling in a kind of racial profiling. Are we ready to dredge up centuries of racial strife, simply for a perfect fit?…

Read the entire article here.

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Status and Stress

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-08-02 03:00Z by Steven

Status and Stress

The New York Times
2013-07-27

Moises Velasquez-Manoff

Although professionals may bemoan their long work hours and high-pressure careers, really, there’s stress, and then there’s Stress with a capital “S.” The former can be considered a manageable if unpleasant part of life; in the right amount, it may even strengthen one’s mettle. The latter kills.

What’s the difference? Scientists have settled on an oddly subjective explanation: the more helpless one feels when facing a given stressor, they argue, the more toxic that stressor’s effects.

That sense of control tends to decline as one descends the socioeconomic ladder, with potentially grave consequences. Those on the bottom are more than three times as likely to die prematurely as those at the top. They’re also more likely to suffer from depression, heart disease and diabetes. Perhaps most devastating, the stress of poverty early in life can have consequences that last into adulthood.

Even those who later ascend economically may show persistent effects of early-life hardship. Scientists find them more prone to illness than those who were never poor. Becoming more affluent may lower the risk of disease by lessening the sense of helplessness and allowing greater access to healthful resources like exercise, more nutritious foods and greater social support; people are not absolutely condemned by their upbringing. But the effects of early-life stress also seem to linger, unfavorably molding our nervous systems and possibly even accelerating the rate at which we age…

…“Early-life stress and the scar tissue that it leaves, with every passing bit of aging, gets harder and harder to reverse,” says Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist at Stanford. “You’re never out of luck in terms of interventions, but the longer you wait, the more work you’ve got on your hands.”

This research has cast new light on racial differences in longevity. In the United States, whites live longer on average by about five years than African-Americans. But a 2012 study by a Princeton researcher calculated that socioeconomic and demographic factors, not genetics, accounted for 70 to 80 percent of that difference. The single greatest contributor was income, which explained more than half the disparity. Other studies, meanwhile, suggest that the subjective experience of racism by African-Americans — a major stressor — appears to have effects on health. Reports of discrimination correlate with visceral fat accumulation in women, which increases the risk of metabolic syndrome (and thus the risk of heart disease and diabetes). In men, they correlate with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Race aside, Bruce McEwen, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University in New York, describes these relationships as one way that “poverty gets under the skin.” He and others talk about the “biological embedding” of social status. Your parents’ social standing and your stress level during early life change how your brain and body work, affecting your vulnerability to degenerative disease decades later. They may even alter your vulnerability to infection. In one study, scientists at Carnegie Mellon exposed volunteers to a common cold virus. Those who’d grown up poorer (measured by parental homeownership) not only resisted the virus less effectively, but also suffered more severe cold symptoms…

Read the entire article here.

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