Racism in Science?

We at Vital are excited to announce a new series, beginning soon, on Racism in Science.

It might surprise a great many people to learn what social scientists have long maintained, that race has little if any biological basis. If, as Kittles and Benn-Torres explain race has “no clear biological definition yet strong social and cultural meanings,” what does it mean today to study race in science, medicine, and health? Continue reading →

“Haiti is Not a Theater of Suffering”: An Interview with Jonathan M. Katz

When it comes to international aid, attempts to improve public health, assist in development, and respond to natural disasters can be thwarted by political strife and global economic inequality that stretch far beyond the control of the individuals whose lives are at stake. In this context, expertise in the culture, history, and language of a country, in addition to scientific and medical knowledge, can go a long way toward improving the potential success of public health policies and interventions.

The cholera epidemic that spread in Haiti nine months after the 2010 earthquake, for example, was started by U.N. peacekeeping forces, but only six years after its initial outbreak did the U.N. admit it played a role in the affair. In an effort to understand how deeply-rooted assumptions about a culture can have significant impact on public health policy, Lesley S. Curtis, Vital’s Editor-in-Chief and scholar of Haitian Studies, interviewed Jonathan M. Katz, the journalist whose investigation first revealed the U.N.’s responsibility for the epidemic and the author of The Big Truck that Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. Continue reading →

Peer Review isn’t the TSA: Let’s Humanize It in the Name of Science

Public deification of some infallible abstraction called “science” does a disservice to real science.

What’s needed is not only more and better scientific studies, but also a renewed understanding of how knowledge is built.

From the headlines proclaiming a state of “crisis” in both social science research and scientific peer review, it might well seem that the lyrics from a Weird Al song have come to pass: “All you need to understand is everything you know is wrong!” Or, as the inimitable Mike Pesca put it on his podcast The Gist, “An interesting new study reveals that most studies aren’t interesting, or new, or particularly revealing.” Continue reading →

The Fault in Our Stats

Noting the Social Aspects of Racial Identity in Genetic Research is Vital to Improving Healthcare

In a recent New York Times article, “Tales of African-American Identity Found in DNA,” Carl Zimmer explains that new genetic research on individuals identifying as African American confirms historical accounts and provides new details about a past that was often not recorded. It’s exciting to see that scientists are following a larger trend that can be observed in any number of fields (from genetics to history to literature), which involves an epidemiological correction, a shifting of the predominant focus of study away from males of European descent as if they were representative of the whole species. Continue reading →