Open Thread: Science, Conclusions, and Assumptions

by Latoya Peterson

Reader Carleandria just sent us a write-up of a new study that proposes racism is related to the way our brains are wired. The Daily Mail article states:

A study found that when we watch someone from our own race do something our brain simulates the action mentally as a form of empathy, known as ‘mirroring’.

But when we see someone of a different race do the same thing we make much less effort to empathise.

Okay, I could have bought that. But then I noticed this small inclusion near the end of the article:

All the viewers were white but the researchers believe the results would still have been similar with any other group.

Oh? Readers, I am not a scientist, nor a researcher, so I am loathe to comment on the technical side of the study. However, I will say this: one of the most common requests for content on Racialicious tends to come from people who work in public health. One issue in particular they have asked me to spotlight is the issue of clinical trials. For many years, the assumption was that the effects of medical conditions and medicine side effects would be similar on everyone, even though the only people involved in clinical trials were white males. Through later research, it was discovered that women did respond differently than men in some areas (like the experience of a heart attack or stroke) and that the effects of medications changed. This is also an ongoing issue, as women and nonwhites are still underrepresented in clinical studies.

What do you all think about (1) the study itself, (2) how we discuss scientific research in general conversations, and (3) how we use assumptions like “this will hold true across groups” when said groups were not included in the study?

(Image Credit: 123dan321)