Plan for the Day
The activities for today will inspire future Final Exam questions. I want to point you to a controversial, but extremely important concern when using statistics to determine policy. Remember, I’m not debunking statistics as a field. Instead, I want you to consider this from a humanities point of view that questions absolute empiricism as the only approach to knowledge creation. This is an attempt to foster more scrutiny and critical thinking of the “facts” and “figures” experts provide.
- “Height of Inequality” Illustration
- Scrutinizing Medical Surveillance
Facts, Figures, and the Fine Print
- Height of Inequality
- This is a rather interesting representation of wealth based on percentile (not percentage) of the population.
- The size of the figure represents the amount of wealth an individual in a particular percentile has.
- When you get to the far right of the chart (99.995th percentile), the figure is represented as being 933 feet tall. Of course, all you see is the figure’s shoe.
- What message is this chart conveying about those who’ve accumulated an enormous amount of wealth?
The next discussion is about several charts and graphs related to HIV/AIDS infection among African Americans. The first link below goes to a webpage with bright graphics and facts and figures clearly and effectively placed on the page–good design overall. The second link goes to the full report and opens on page 11, which is the “Technical Notes” section that discusses limitations to data collection.
- HIV/AIDS among African Americans
- I have been doing this lesson on this and other Surveillance reports, and the CDC finally put the disclaimer you’ll see immediately after the pandemic statement: “Racism, HIV stigma, homophobia, poverty, and barriers to health care continue to drive these disparities” (para. 2).
- I’d like to think I had something to do about it, but it’s probably just the slow, methodical turn towards equality, equity, and fairness. But what do you think?
- Don’t miss the “Technical Notes” section (p. 11) of the 2018 Surveillance report
- I’ll give you a hint: Read the 2nd paragraph that starts out “Please use caution when interpreting data on diagnoses of HIV infection. HIV surveillance reports may not be representative of all persons with HIV because not all infected persons have been (1) tested or (2) tested at a time when the infection could be detected and diagnosed.” (p. 11). The link should jump right to page 11.
- This discussion would be better if we were face to face, but I’m going to present some further critical analysis of this report. Again, the CDC didn’t put up the disclaimer until maybe a year ago, but they’ve been doing these reports for well over a decade.
- First, I’m not suggestion that anyone is manipulating data or flat out lying about disease transmission; however, we can’t ignore the word “surveillance” in the title without considering health departments’ desire to keep track of infections.
- Second, the CDC derives these statistics from states reporting infections, so the CDC relies on the accuracy of over 50 different entities (don’t forget Washington, D.C. and US Territories) reporting the results from all the different health departments with a state of territory. It’s unlikely there is anything like uniform reporting.
- Even a cursory look at the news will show you that African Americans are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and a host of other ailments. Much of the health disparities may be linked to socioeconomic status, and, if African Americans are disproportionately affected by poverty, and, if we can assume health care is lacking in poorer communities, health care disparities become obvious.
- One theory (that hasn’t been verified because I’m not an epidemiologist) I have based on a critical thinking thought experiment is that it’s possible African Americans are under more surveillance for infections than other groups.
- Health clinics in economically depressed areas might be more likely to report all cases of infection to the CDC because they’re mandated to in order to comply with community health rules. On the other hand, people in more affluent areas with private doctors screening them might be less likely to report all cases.
- The parallel here is, I hope, obvious during this tumultuous time and protests against police brutality. One thing you might have heard is that predominantly African American communities are “policed” more; they have more police surveillance and, thus, more attention leads to more arrests.
- Looking at the CDC numbers in regard to the amount of surveillance is important, so we aren’t pathologizing a group because of deep-seated prejudice conditioned by systemic racism.
But don’t just take my word for it–do some research. Again, read the fine print. On that same CDC Surveillance report’s “Technical Notes” they state, “testing patterns are influenced by many factors, including the extent to which testing is routinely offered to specific groups and the availability of, and access to, medical care and testing services” (p. 11; emphasis added). In order to think critically, you have to not just read the headlines and captions; instead, you have to understand how the data were compiled.
Keep Up with the Syllabus
Read Ch. 11 in Tebeaux and Dragga for next week. That’s our last assigned reading. Your Ethical Dilemma Assignments are now due Friday, 4/21, 11:00pm on Canvas. Also, next Wednesday, 4/26, your Proposal, Visual, and Annotated Bibliography is due. We are almost through with this semester, so keep up the good work!