Category Archives: Public Health

Scientific racism?

At one of the many journal clubs I regularly attend, the article we were discussing included Race in the demographics. I’ve been mulling over Race in medical articles for some time now and my belief, informed by my cultural values, indicates to me that this is ingrained racism. I asked members of the journal club what they thought and whether they thought it a useful metric to count. The responses were mostly around the article being from the US and that it reflects how most of the US population think of themselves (there was some awkwardness there).  Earlier in the week, I emailed a well respected epidemiologist and asked him what he thought, and he said that it is almost impossible to separate socio-economic and genetic factors . Race is a sociocultural concept that is used to classify humans by skin colour. It has been used to justify superiority of one group over another group. Ethnicity is expressing belongingness to a social group with similar cultural or national traditions. An ancestral group is the genetic link from an ancestor to descendants. Socio-economic groupings uses a persons position in society and is mainly based on occupation, industry or other professional activity. So what is a useful metric in medical research? Socio-economic grouping can indicate what food, health care, housing, education and other services a person has access to. Ancestral group can indicate who will suffer disease or other negative health outcomes due to genetic susceptibility. Race – what does that indicate? I suspect the use of race is a result of social conditioning and not intentional racism. It’s a curly question.


Templeton AR. Biological races in humans. Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2013 Sep;44(3):262-71. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2013.04.010. Epub 2013 May 16.

Fujimura JH and Rajagopalan R. Different differences: The use of ‘genetic ancestry’ versus race in biomedical human genetic research. Soc Stud Sci. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2012 Feb 1.

Ousley S, Jantz R, Freid D. Understanding race and human variation: why forensic anthropologists are good at identifying race. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2009 May;139(1):68-76. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21006.


Carbon neutral library conferences?

CarbonNeutralAs countries talk about climate change and ways of addressing accelerating climate instability in Paris this fortnight, it is appropriate and not only that, necessary as well, to discuss the environmental impact and sustainability of local and international library conferences. While it is very nice to travel to events (and I’ve done this numerous times, including two international trips year), it is too costly environmentally. I’ve been thinking about my travel and – well, I have to step up.

It is time now to figure out a way to have carbon neutral conferences. David Suzuki has put together a list of steps to take to ensure large events are low-carbon or carbon neutral. Some library conferences are including live-streaming and recording events so people can view later. Some library conferences include a virtual attendance registration package that allows you to attend remotely. But individuals can take steps too. Is it really necessary to attend the event, especially if it involves a long-haul flight? If it is, and it would be if you are presenting or facilitating, wouldn’t it be great if your registration included a carbon offset (compulsory!) donation that would be calculated according to how far you had to travel to attend? One conference I attended in Bilbao in Spain was held in a carbon-neutral conference centre. I was very impressed – recycling boxes everywhere, energy efficient lighting and air conditioning …

One of the joys of conference attending is the exhibition hall and the swag of bumpf to be had. This should be questionable. Wouldn’t it be better to put conference programs and promotional flyers on a carbon-neutral usb (yes, these exist)? Wouldn’t it be great if suppliers and vendors were low-carbon or carbon neutral? That would almost make conference swag guilt free!

I know that conferences are major revenue generating events for library associations, but more effort needs to be taken. This is especially important for health libraries seeing that climate change is a major health threat.

Homeopathy is bunkum

Homeopathy is bunkum. That’s the conclusion that the final NHMRC report into the evidence base of homeopathy has reached. They didn’t quite say bunkum though. What they did say was: “Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective”. You can read the full statement by clicking here. Nicely worded, to the point and very polite.

SBS featured a news segment about the  findings on Wednesday evening and the first person to be interviewed about it was a homeopath. The homeopath disagreed of course, and the Australian Homoeopathic Association is going to publish an official response soon. If they are serious about criticising the report, what they should do is include a critical appraisal of the report. It is no good to just say ‘oh, they didn’t look at all the evidence’ (btw, the AHA submitted papers to the NHMRC as part of the public submission process and these papers were critically appraised using SIGN methodology). You have to do more work than that. Your response is also more likely to be respected if you do. There was a piece in the  Guardian mid-week about the report ( Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition, Australian report finds) and the comments from readers are interesting (and funny) to read.  Some of the comments are revealing. Some object to the reductionist approach taken by the evidence appraisal method and some highly regard first hand and anecdotal evidence, rejecting the paternalistic tone that the NHMRC has. There are quite a few people skeptical about how independent the NHMRC is (btw, the evidence review was undertaken by a third party).

The NHMRC is not in the business of telling consumers what health products they should or should not purchase. What they are doing is in the interest of the consumer – do these health products act in the way they are advertised? The final report indicates that they don’t. It is fine to use homeopathic remedies as a placebo – if it makes you feel good, then do so. Just tell your medical practitioner everything you are taking or doing.