The Past in the Present

The following examples are from the past few years. To be clear, scientists condoning forced sterilization are not in line with current scientific consensus in value or practice. Nonetheless, enough medical professionals participate that these situations persist [1]:

A proposed class-action lawsuit alleging the coerced sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada is turning up reports from more than 100 women who say it happened to them… despite the repeal of sterilization legislation, sterilization without informed consent has been performed as recently as [December] 2018 in Saskatchewan [Canada].’ [2]

At the time of this writing, there is an ongoing investigation into Dr Mahendra Amin’s role in large number of sterilizations performed on women held within USA’s immigration detainee centers (ICE). The Irwin County facility in Georgia, where Amin was working, has since been closed in 2020. [3][4][5]

Again, while this situation is not in line with modern science values, it is in line with science practice of the past 100 years or so. Such rare reports in modern days should alert both scientists and non-scientists alike to the fact that some past, condemn-able practices are still alive enough within science culture to rise up from time to time.

When one looks at the topic of eugenics in a modern context, many troubling situations surface. A recent Smithsonian article articulates,

While few people study or advocate for eugenics today, some scientists in the rapidly advancing field of genetics held onto related ideologies… They simply used different terms… referring to “populations” and “human variation” rather than “races” and “racial differences.” Geneticist James Watson, for instance, a co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix structure, has frequently been the subject of withering criticism for voicing racist beliefs, including … that Indians are servile and that Chinese people have somehow become genetically conformist.’ [6]

Many scientists engage in conversations about what to do in relation to the ways that they perceive racism and science practice to overlap in the present day, in relation to genetics and more. [7][8][9]

When looking at contemporary research with imprisoned people one can also find some terrible situations. One story that emerged in 2019 points to an example which involved naltrexone implant testing in a Lousisana, U.S. prison.

Dr Leo Beletsky notes, ‘given that people of color are overrepresented in [the USA prison] system, it also intersects with the very sordid history of [racism]’. Speaking about incarcerated people, Dr Joshua Lee notes, ‘Pharma-criminal justice collaborations have high potential—to say the least—to exploit vulnerable patients.’ [10][11]

I highlight these rare yet troubling examples because I see them as imperative in learning to identify reliable science research. Holding an honorific title such as Doctor or PhD is not enough to ensure that proper science methods are applied. One has to remember to look at the context, the details, and the consensus surrounding a given situation. As well, even within broad consensus process, particular ethics, values, and biases persist.

My hope is that these stories help you understand the importance of remaining attentive to the context – social biases, norms, values and so forth – embedded in the science research you find.

sources

  1. A career in science? (n.d.). Retrieved January 25, 2021, from https://www.truthaboutnursing.org/faq/science.html#gsc.tab=0
    Medical staff nurses, Mds and so forth are often thought of in a different category than scientists. I do understand them to be scientists within the medical branch of science. Further reading here: https://www.truthaboutnursing.org/faq/science.html#gsc.tab=0
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  3. University Outreach and Engagement – Communication and Information Technology. (n.d.). Julian Samora Research Institute. Medical Abuse in ICE Detention Center Recalls U.S. Legacy of Forced Sterilizations – Julian Samora Research Institute – Michigan State University. Retrieved December 25, 2021, from https://jsri.msu.edu/publications/nexo/vol/no-2-spring-2021/medical-abuse-in-ice-detention-center-recalls-u-s-legacy-of-forced-sterilization
  4. Los Angeles Times. (2021, May 20). Ice to close Georgia Detention Center where immigrant women alleged medical abuse. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 25, 2021, from https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021-05-20/ice-irwin-detention-center-georgia-immigrant-women-alleged-abuse
  5. The American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) from the American Public Health Association (APHA) publications. American Journal of Public Health. (n.d.). Retrieved December 25, 2021, from https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2021.306186
  6. Magazine, S. (2019, May 20). The disturbing resilience of scientific racism. Smithsonian.com. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/disturbing-resilience-scientific-racism-180972243/
  7. Nelson, R. (2019, June 25). Racism in science: The taint that lingers. Nature News. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01968-z
  8. Horgan, J. (2019, October 17). How can we curb the spread of scientific racism? Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/how-can-we-curb-the-spread-of-scientific-racism/
  9. Vs, S. (2019, October 15). Race: Can we see it in our DNA?: Science vs. Gimlet. Retrieved December 2, 2020, from https://gimletmedia.com/shows/science-vs/6nhgxk
  10. The ethical quagmire of conducting drug trials with incarcerated people. Filter. (2019, December 5). Retrieved October 25, 2020, from https://filtermag.org/drug-trials-prisoners/
  11. 20, E. S. N., Silverman, E., Columnist, A. the A. R. E. S. P., & Columnist, E. S. P. (2019, November 20). FDA is urged to probe a Louisiana program for ‘illegally’ testing an addiction treatment on inmates. STAT. Retrieved October 25, 2020, from https://www.statnews.com/pharmalot/2019/11/20/fda-louisiana-inmates-naltrexone-clinical-trials/
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