The Pediatric Forum |

Race and Ethnicity in Biomedical and Health Services Research

M. Barton Laws, PhD
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001;155(8):972-973. doi:10.1001/archpedi.155.8.972.
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The editorial in the February 2001 issue of the ARCHIVES regarding the terms race and ethnicity is welcome.1 It is indeed past time for the medical and scientific communities to lose the habit of uncritically using racial categories, which have no basis in biology. I propose a different emphasis, however. Race and ethnicity demand more, not less, attention in health services and public health research.

True, ethnicity has multiple dimensions, some of which the editorial touches on—shared language, shared sociocultural beliefs, and group identity—and ethnic labelers, like biological taxonomists, can be lumpers or splitters. Yet, although an individual's ethnic identity may be complex, fluid, or ambiguous, ethnicity is a phenomenon social scientists can define and measure. While the editorialists view medicine and patient care as resting on "underlying biological science,"1 I find this formulation incomplete. Physicians care for people who are social as well as biological beings.


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