Medical Research Intensifies the Debate Over Race and Genetics

Geneticists have shown that there is very little difference in the biological composition of people with a white skin compared to those with a darker pigment. Nevertheless, some research suggests that even minor differences can have significant consequences.

For example, last summer the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug BiDil. The so-called "black heart drug" was shown to dramatically reduce hospitalization and death rates for black patients with heart disease but did little to improve similar cardiac conditions in whites. The decision to approve the drug raised controversial issues because the effects of the drug were seen to support the racist thesis that blacks and whites are genetically different. This is an extremely sensitive issue in academic research. Some scholars believe that pursuing such avenues of research gives credence to the theories of the academic racists who claim blacks are inherently less intelligent than whites.

The debate is surely going to intensify because of a study published in last week's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of Hawaii, examined smoking behavior and disease rates of more than 180,000 people. More than one half of the subjects were members of minority groups.

The study found that blacks who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day are significantly more likely to develop lung cancer than whites who smoke at similar levels. Whites who smoked a pack a day were up to 55 percent less likely to develop lung cancer than blacks who smoked a pack a day.

While the study did not attempt to explain the differences between the races, an editorial which ran in the same issue of the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that the results from the USC and University of Hawaii study were due to genetic factors. The editorial cites another study which showed that black smokers tend to absorb more nicotine and tobacco carcinogens than white smokers.

Copyright © 2006. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. All rights reserved.