The indeterminacy of genes: The dilemma of difference in medicine and health care

Social Theory and Health 1 (15):1-24 (2017)
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How can researchers use race, as they do now, to conduct health-care studies when its very definition is in question? The belief that race is a social construct without “biological authenticity” though widely shared across disciplines in social science is not subscribed to by traditional science. Yet with an interdisciplinary approach, the two horns of the social construct/genetics dilemma of race are not mutually exclusive. We can use traditional science to provide a rigorous framework and use a social-science approach so that “invisible” factors are used to adjust the design of studies on an as-needed basis. One approach is to first observe health-care outcomes and then categorize the outcomes, thus removing genetic differences as racial proxies from the design of the study. From the outcomes, we can then determine if there is a pattern of conceivable racial categories. If needed, we can apply dynamic notions of race to acknowledge bias without prejudice. We can use them constructively to improve outcomes and reduce racial disparities. Another approach is nearly identical but considers race not at all: While analyzing outcomes, we can determine if there are biological differences significant enough to identify classifications of humans. That is, we look for genetic patterns in the outcomes and classify only those patterns. There is no attempt to link those patterns to race.

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Jamie P. Ross
Portland State University


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