Equity is Not Science

Suppose I were to tell you that in a North Carolina county, neighborhoods with a “lower percentage of White individuals … lower economic and racial spatial advantage, and higher area deprivation” and “higher reported violent crimes, evictions, poverty, unemployment, uninsurance, and child care center density, as well as lower election participation, income, and education,” are areas that also had a higher incidence of three chronic diseases. What would you conclude?

Would you, for example, infer that the low availability of childcare was a cause of disease? Or would you perhaps draw the opposite conclusion that the incidence of disease reduces the demand for childcare—or are the two correlated but unrelated?[1] How about election participation? Would you think that perhaps sick people are less likely to vote, or would you think that a disinclination to vote predisposes people to disease? And how about low income and education? Do they produce ill-health or are they a product of ill-health? What about violent crime? Is it a cause of ill-health? Is it caused by ill-health or is it perhaps caused by something else? And would you wonder just what is meant by “racially and spatially disadvantaged”—and why three diseases and not one?

Let me simplify it for you.

Just put all these disease disparities into a basket labeled structural racism. Then, hey presto! The conclusion is obvious: structural racism causes—or “is associated with”—disease.

No need to look at individual differences, individual biology, individual habits, indeed anything individual at all. An individual in this scenario has the free will and agency of a billiard ball. Structural racism rules.

All nonsense, of course, but unfortunately, this article is not a parody. Nineteen investigators—well supported by the ill-begotten National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHHD)—specializing in something called health equity research, have just run some Bayesian models reported results that are “significant,” and then added a “racism” label to the mix.[2] The work does nothing whatsoever to uncover the causes of disease.

The idea of health equity is endorsed by all U.S. government health agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization.

It exists because it raises a political flag that might as well say “disparities demand recompense.” But it is not science, which is what the NIH and CDC are supposed to be about. Indeed, this study, and the NIMHHD that funded it, is the very opposite.

Science is supposed to make things clearer and help us understand causes. This study—and many, many others like it—obscures rather than clarifies. It finds correlations, lumps them together, and invents an alarming label that diverts attention away from the real causes of disease.

It is political, not scientific.

Unfortunately, this “antiracist” nonsense is a now called “medical science,” even in Durham, NC, the one-time “City of Medicine.”

[1] A correlation can reflect causes in both directions or in neither: if A is correlated with B that could mean that A causes B, B causes A, or both are caused by C. The article I am discussing never attempts this level of analysis.

[2] Established by the passage of the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act of 2000.

Photo by Jared Gould — Adobe — Text to Image


  • John Staddon

    John Staddon is James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Professor of Biology emeritus at Duke University. His most recent books are The New Behaviorism: Foundations of Behavioral Science, 3rd edition (Psychology Press, 2021) and Science in an Age of Unreason (Regnery, 2022).

5 thoughts on “Equity is Not Science

  1. “How about election participation? Would you think that perhaps sick people are less likely to vote, or would you think that a disinclination to vote predisposes people to disease?”

    There are two additional wild cards here. First, voting districts are assigned on the basis of population (number of actual persons living there) and not the number of people living there who are eligible to vote.

    Hence, keeping the numbers simple, if you have 1000 people in the district, but 500 of them are illegal aliens who can’t vote — hopefully, they won’t.

    So you only have 500 potential voters, and if all of them are registered to vote (which will never happen) and you have a 50% turnout (which is very high) you still only have 250 voters — or 25% of the district. And it’s even lower in normal elections where you get an 11% -17% turnout.

    Because they can’t vote, Illegal Aliens decrease voter participation rates in the districts in which they reside. And where do Illegal Aliens tend to reside????

    The second aspect of this is the Voting Rights Act and for an excellent review of that, I’d recommend Abby Thernstrom’s Voting Rights and Wrongs.

    One of the things the voting rights act mandates are so-called “minority majority” districts, districts jerrymandered so as to ensure that a minority candidate can win them. Doing such eliminates all competition in the district and hence any incentive to vote as the race is already predetermined. (My favorite example of a majority/minority district ran a few hundred miles down the *median* of a Texas Interstate Highway — like there are lots of people residing there, or do rabbits & woodchucks get to vote in Texas?)

    Combine these two Federal policies and a smaller-than-anticipated percentage of the 1000 persons votes, and it has nothing to do with disease or sickness, as much as other Federal bureaucrats would like you to think so. This is why qualitative research — genuine qualitative research and not just the blind recitation of diversity mantras — is so desperately needed.

    And as I’ve long said, the only reason why drive-by-shooting are more lethal in urban areas is that mature trees stop bullets. In a rural area — which often is equally violent — the stray rounds are stopped by trees before having an opportunity to enter neighboring houses and striking innocent victims. OTOH, trauma centers safe lives, particularly with GSWs and the closer you are to one, the more likely you will live.

    All of this, of course, badly messes up the meanings of quantitative statistics.

  2. Ironically, in a “woke” world that dismisses fact-based conclusions as being merely “social contructs,” structural racism is also a social construct. Modern gender theory is as well. Perhaps someday our “woke warriers” will have dismised themselves from any serious consideration in public policy debates. That time can’t come soon enough.

  3. One other thing — not mentioned about the neighborhood described is fatherhood. What percentage of the children have their father living with them under the same roof.

    One other thing: Black illegitimacy is now something like 76% and that doesn’t include children such as Barack Obama whose father walked out when he was an infant. Let’s look at the *median* (not mean) tenure of the live-in boyfriend in these homes and what that turnover does to the children (of any race).

    Let’s look at these two objective facts — both independent of race — and see what we wind up with in terms of public health. We already know that getting married before having children is the one best way to avoid poverty — but we can’t say that….

  4. The reason behind all of this utterly loathsome nonsense is the federal government. The feds jumped on the bandwagon of CRT, DEI and fighting White rage some time ago. Want funding? Then your proposal must address some aspect of fighting systemic racism, or participation of under-represented minorities, or whatever.

    Anyone who doubts that just has to check the latest proposal guidelines from the National Science Foundation (NSF). In particular, look at the “broader impacts” statement required on all NSF proposals. In there you will find that woke word INCLUSION. Better tell us how your proposed research will be inclusive or no funding for you.

    I have promoted the idea of completely defunding the NSF for years. They have a habit of funding worthless stuff nobody really cares about (e.g., shrimp running on treadmills.). But I recently have added the CDC to that list. The CDC actions during the entire recent pandemic were, at best, contemptible and shockingly incompetent. What scientific organization lets a teachers union influence policy? But they too fund garbage. For example, The Daily Mail reports the CDC gave $540,000 of taxpayer money to a “ ‘Transgender Equity Consulting’ firm founded by [an] Argentinian former sex worker who proudly states she lived in the US ‘undocumented’ for ten years“. This is not science. But it sure checks off the box for equity.

    The truth is equity is a meaningless term when it comes to science, math or engineering. There is no such thing as an hispanic female perspective on solving partial differential equations. You grew up in an inner city environment? Well that doesn’t give you special insight into stabilizing non-linear control systems. Your “life experience” brings nothing to the table.

    But then again, DEI and CRT have nothing to do with equity. They have to do with power. And the DEI/CRT hustlers are going to ride that horse for all it’s worth. They have no talents to do anything else.

  5. 30 years ago, then UMass Amherst Chancellor David Scott developed a theory of diversity that was largely based on the concept that the atmosphere is an expanding but hollow sphere where the gravity of various galaxies (etc) hold the sphere together. Or something.

    Hence there was the White Male version of Chemistry, the female version of Chemistry, the lesbian version of Chemistry, the African version of Chemistry, etc. These were all equally different, but interconnected and hence equally important.

    To which I responded the following: If I go out into the dooryard here and drop a lit match into a tin can of gasoline, exactly will what happens next be different from when an African Lesbian on the African Savannah does the same thing?

    Yes, she’ll be at least a 1000 feet higher than I (less oxygen, more smoke) and her gasoline won’t be 10% ethanol (even less oxygen — I think) but the rapid oxygenation of volatile hydrocarbons is a consistent truth regardless of who ignites them.

    She may view what happened differently — not all societies view smoke as bad — and she’ll likely express herself in a different language, but her chemistry is not different from mine — it’s a smoky fire that is limited by the availability of oxygen.

    Chancellor Scott never had an answer for this one….

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