Many African Americans have white blood cell counts below the normal range of people of European descent. Many African Americans are more susceptible to inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s. Racial and Ethnic Differences in Mortality at Older Ages by Irma T. Elo and Samuel H. Preston shows that, ‘Black death rates consistently exceed white death rates’ up to the age of 70.
These, and many other comparisons of the imbalance between races are facts. They are backed by large scale epidemiological studies, and census information going back nearly a century. I’ll tell you why I have become more aware of this in a moment, but first I’d like to look at the question: Is Big Science therefore racist?
Personally I don’t like the terms ‘black’ or ‘white’ to describe people. It’s a lazy shorthand, but as we all know how it is used, here’s a challenge: Name ten white scientists, and ten black scientists.
The chances are you could quite easily fill the list for the white cohort (was Einstein the first to spring to mind?) But how did you do with their black colleagues? Maybe you hit upon Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and popularizer of cosmology. Perhaps you thought of the NASA ‘computer’, Katherine Johnson, celebrated in the movie Hidden Figures. But after those two, you may have been left wondering, who else?
In fact there are many famous black scientists to choose from, thankfully now more than ever. But I’m not talking about whether individuals have seen racial bias over the years - it’s absolutely clear that they did - as Katherine Johnson’s story makes clear.
But to return to the problems affecting the health of different races: Why hasn’t Big Science found solutions for such problems more quickly? Is it because, up to now, science has not considered that these are problems worth bothering about?
I’m not suggesting that scientists are individually racist, but that the whole structure of what is looked into by science, and how it is conducted may be biased to the ‘white experience.’ The idea of Eugenics was proposed and spread by the half-cousin of Charles Darwin, Francis Galton, who among other beliefs thought that measurement of the skulls of different races could indicate intelligence. Today his theories thrive only in extremist organizations, and yet to a large extent they still underpin political, social and scientific thinking. A school massacre in the USA is a tragedy, a famine in Somalia is ‘to be expected’. The subtext is that it’s a racial thing. Just as early deaths of African Americans are considered ‘par for the course’. Why?
In these troubled times, one thing that I do hope for is a levelling of the differences between how people of all races and cultures are treated. I say this with empathy, but of course I have no experience of being marginalized. I am a comfortably-off white Caucasian male who has never had to struggle against police harassment, lack of opportunities, or the idea that science may see some people as more important than others.
But now I’ll make the huge jump from global politics and racial injustice… to Laser Hair Removal.
This year I have started a new business, as North American distributor of a LHR product called Elysion-Pro. It’s not like any other competitor products, but then I guess I would say that, wouldn’t I! Here’s the big difference: Traditional – and now obsolete – LHR devices always carried the provision, ‘Not effective for skin types V and VI’. Did you know that everyone in the human family can be classified as having one of six definable skin types? The evaluation method is called The Fitzpatrick Scale and has been in use by dermatologists and doctors since the mid-1970s. It’s a scientific way of assessing how skin will burn, and tan. The significance for LHR is that most devices on the market have until now been unsuitable for people of Type V and VI skin types, or phototypes as they are correctly called. And guess who those two categories of disadvantaged, left-behind phototypes belong to: Yep, all of the darker-skinned people of our planet. Even in the science of LHR, it seemed that a huge number of people have been simply ‘not worth bothering about.’
Well, I’m glad to tell you that Elysion-Pro is ‘color blind’ and can be used to treat anyone, anywhere, from any racial group. I know we won’t win the Nobel Peace Prize for this, and even though the unsuitability of other systems was never a deliberate bias, it is certainly a comfort to me that we have an ethically-sound product, available to everyone, without discrimination.
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