Paul R. Lehman, Research using race as focus is faulty

March 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Posted in Bigotry in America, Ethnicity in America, Media and Race, Race in America | 1 Comment
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A news article, “Blacks Less Likely to Lose Hearing,” from WWW.NEWSWISW.COM, recently caught my attention because of the headline. The article stated that “Nearly two-thirds of adults 70 and older suffer from hearing loss, but blacks are less likely to be affected, say researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine and the National Institute on Aging.” This report and others like it always create questions for me because of what the reports do not say.

My initial questions are who are the blacks, how do you define blacks, and what other participants did the study include. The reference to blacks generally allude to African Americans, but the study does not say African Americans, so, does that mean that blacks include all people of dark complexions? Some people who identify themselves as African American are mixed ethnic; that is, their ancestry includes individuals from ethnic groups other than African American. How are they to be classified? Because the definition of blacks is not stated, the information may not benefit anyone.

The article continues by stating that “The team analyzed data gathered in 2005 and 2006 from 717 volunteers who were at least 70 years old. About 63 percent had hearing loss ranging from mild to severe. Older men were likely to have hearing impairments. Blacks were a third likely to develop hearing loss as whites, the team found.” Again, we are in a quandary about who the study is talking about when it refers to whites. Many people from a variety of ethnicities and cultures are considered to be white. The study did not define whites. In addition, the study seems to focus on only two groups of people, one black and one white to collect data. With all the ethnic variables existing within each group as far as ancestry is concerned, how can the data be accurately analyzed? 

The final paragraph of the article raises some questions more serious than the earlier ones. The paragraph states that “Dr. Frank Lin, who led the study, said it is unclear why blacks seem to be protected from hearing deficits, but it could be that skin pigment absorbs free radicals, protecting the inner ear.”Although the news is good for those people the study calls blacks, a subtle implication for some biological difference is suggested in reference to skin color. If, indeed, the skin pigmentation is an element that helps to protect blacks, then would it not be correct to include all people with dark complexions?

One might ask if the study was focused one race—the study identifies only blacks and whites. We are left to assume that these two groups represent races.  If that is the case, then the data is bogus because race is not defined in the study. Also, why would scientist today, use inaccurate and vague terms such as blacks and white to collect data from subjects when neither term can be scientifically defined? No mention is made of people who represent different ethnic groups or a mixture of black and white. If both blacks and whites are from the same human family of Homo sapiens, then the data is useless.

Maybe the study meant to focus on blacks as African Americans and whites as European Americans. If that was the case, then each group should have been defined. But, how does one define African Americans and European Americans since each group come from the same race of Homo sapiens, but from a variety of ethnic groups? The skin complexion in both groups covers a ranch that defies a color distinction, that is, some African Americans are fair skinned enough to be called white, while some European Americans have complexions dark enough to be considered African American. Nowhere in the study is a distinction made to underscore the references to blacks and whites as other than blacks and whites, whatever that is supposed to mean.

Maybe the focus of the study was on people with black and white skin complexions. That focus would explain the reference to skin pigmentation and the difference it possible causes in people of black and white complexions. If that was the focus, then the information derived from the study might benefit a variety of people, not just those who are black and white. One might assume that people of other ethnic groups do not experience hearing loss or related problems since none were mentioned. Since the subjects of the study are so vaguely defined what is the benefit of the data?

As we can clearly see from this brief analysis of this article and the study it reported, the use of the terms black and white are not productive. As a matter of fact, they are really counterproductive terms since they represent many ethnic variables. The problems associated with this study could have easily been prevented if the researchers had defined their subjects with reference to the ethnicity rather than a so-called race. Of all the professional people conducting studies, one would like to think that scientist would be concerned about the accuracy of the information since the data derived from such studies generally has some impact on the lives of many people.

The primary purpose of these comments is to point out again the need for society to move away from the terms race, black and white because they do not lend themselves to any specificity regarding human beings. DNA studies have shown that two people who look totally different with respect to complexion, size, gender, age, and ethnicity can be more alike than someone who looks almost like them. That tells us that we need to continue to educate ourselves about who we are as human being, not races, and benefit from that education. Strange it is how we as a society look to science and technology for help in improving our lives, and we generally welcome that help. However, when science and technology tells us that we, the human race, are more alike than penguins, we simply ignore it and change the subject.


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  1. If you take the “one drop rule” into account, “black” could mean anything! Were any Africans included in the research, I wonder? After all, perhaps it isn’t a case of (the researcher’s very odd) categorisation of black and white, but perhaps the genetic combination present in many classed as black by the American system. What I mean is, one allele from one gene pool in comkbination with an allele from another gene pool could result in less hearing loss, while both gene pools alone could suffer the same degree of hearing loss.

    In relation to others of dark complexion, what about Indians (from India). Many are much “blacker” that most Africans, let alone African Americans (who, yes, as you say are every shade of the spectrum).

    I agree. All very suspect. Does this mean I can be assured my husband is not likely to be able to use hearing loss as an excuse for not listening to me? The mind boggles.

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