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Jewish World Review July 11, 2001 / 20 Tamuz 5761

Evan Gahr

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Consumer Reports

The Body Politic -- WEST UNIVERSITY professor Elizabeth Barnett whines like a garden variety sociologist. But her diagnosis of our sick society commands nationwide attention.

Barnett last month apparently convinced many journalists that coronary artery disease discriminates against minorities. On June 21 in a front page story, USA Today essentially regurgitated her new report, "Men and Heart Disease: an Atlas of Racial and Ethnic Disparities Among Men with Heart Disease." According to USA Today, Barnett's study, produced in collaboration with the federal Centers for Disease Control, "confirms that a man's risk of dying from the disease depends in large part on his race and where he lives." (Emphasis added.)

Hey, if you have chest pains, forget the ambulance. Just hop on the first flight to a state with low mortality rates.

But don't laugh this off as more blather from bleeding heart liberals. The federal government has lately encouraged folks like Barnett to deem medical problems social problems. And people say the right has politicized science? Since the debate over stem cell research is likely to elicit crocodile tears from liberals about the ultra-right's chokehold on scientific progress, Barnett's report is an ideal starting place for considering which side is politicizing science.

Is location and race destiny? Is coronary heart disease more lethal in Texas than Hawaii? Do your heart valves clog up from Big Macs faster in Alabama than Colorado? Yes, death rates were highest for men in the rural South, and lowest for those in Hawaii, Utah, and Colorado, according to USA Today. But might other factors -- such as a weakness for Big Macs -- largely explain the disparity? Barnett, director of the Office for Social Environment and Health Research at WVU, insisted to USA Today that "defects in our society" best explain the racial and ethnic disparities. "We've gone through a period of increasing economic inequality, which may be reflected in these [different] rates. The people who are the most disenfranchised bear the largest burden of disease."

In current thinking, if you're not part of the taxpayer-funded solution you're part of the problem. It's not just the CDC which obsesses over society. If you want government money victimology helps bring home the bacon. The National Institutes for Health, for example, openly boasts about its research quotas. Last year, Vivian Pinn, director of the Office of Research on Women's Health at the NIH, bragged that "every grant application is reviewed for scientific merit and compliance with inclusion guidelines, including the need for analysis of sex and gender differences in health outcomes."

What about race? Last November, Bill Clinton signed legislation to establish the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the NIH. The title says it all: With a budget of $50 million for fiscal 2001, the new office handles research on mental and physical health disparities among minorities which could be a consequence of "socioeconomic status" and other external factors. The Center is especially keen on "researchers who are members of health disparity populations."

Ah, yes, disparities. The Center for Equal Opportunity last month released a study on disparities less palatable to liberal tastes. The report documented some extraordinary differences between medical school admissions policies for whites and minorities, as well as in MCAT results and GPAs used to admit various minorities and whites to medical school. For example, the median MCAT total for blacks admitted to the Michigan State College of Medicine in 1999 was "nine points lower than the median score for Asians and seven points lower than the median score for whites."

But Michigan State University medical school dean Glenn Davis told a wire service reporter: "We don't discriminate, even if the center's numbers are correct." The numbers, incidentally, were provided by MSU. In 1999, the report found, the chances of a black applicant being admitted over a white applicant with the same grades and MCAT scores was 14-1. In 1997, the comparable spread at the University of Washington School of Medicine was 30-1.

There you have it: When numbers indicate different admission rates the liberal establishment explains them away. But if you endeavor to prove that coronary artery valve disease is some tool of racism, the government happily funds you.

JWR contributor Evan Gahr is an adjunct scholar at the Center for Equal Opportunity. The views expressed here are solely his own. To comment click here.


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© 2001, Evan Gahr