HelloLovell Jones wrote in today’s Austin American Statesman about how cultural differences influence what medical researchers study. He tells how he came to UT’s MD Anderson Cancer Center in 1980 to study breast cancer and how he was especially concerned about the high rate of breast cancer in African-American women. Now retired, and after a lifetime of study and advocacy in this area, he reports that given all the advances in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer, the mortality rate “in African-American women in Texas remains almost four times that of white females.”

Jones further points out as an example, that with his retirement there remains “no African-American full-professor in the basic or behavioral sciences” at MD Anderson.

He attributes the lack of progress in cancer care for African-American women (the first fact) to this second fact. If there in no one in senior leadership positions who understands the needs of a particular group then that group suffers from “benign neglect, institutional discrimination and internal politics… [leaving us] with a system that has been unresponsive to both research and health-care needs.”

This is an most interesting observation. Over the last few decades, all of American society appears to have become more sensitive and attuned to the special needs of the many, many sub-groups that exist. It would seem however that regardless of our sensitivities we tend to disregard groups that are not like ourselves. Thus, if no (choose your group) people are involved in the leadership then the needs of the (that group) people may get overlooked.

Might this apply to the elderly too. So maybe, suppose we have a thirty-something with a Ph.D. in Gerontology, with a useful set of specialized skills, but he/she is not a group member (not old), therefore, however hard he/she tries, the needs of the elderly will remain an abstraction and essential needs may not be served. Do you think this might be true?

What implications does this bring up?


Jones, L. Factor our cultural differences into scientific health discovery. Austin American Statesman, February 28, 2014, section A, page 11.

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