Reproductive injustice: racism, pregnancy and premature birth Through New York (NY): NYU Press, 2019 272 pages, $ 30.00
Reproductive injustice is an award-winning study using ethnography and historical research to frame the experience of pregnancy, preterm birth, and having a child in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as part of the experience of the medical racism experienced by black American women, a continuation of “the afterlife of slavery”. Its author, Dána-Ain Davis, is the director of the Center for the Study of Women and Society at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. In the world of health policy, we could say that Davis controlled the problems of poverty and class by focusing the ethnographic portion of the study on black women who are professional graduates.
The book consists of six chapters divided into two parts. The first three chapters focus on the individual stories of Davis ‘informants’ pregnancies, births, and NICU experiences, sketched in historical context. The last three chapters deal with the increasingly medicalized and industrialized profession of childbirth. The technologies used in childbirth often make it difficult to actually listen to black women and offer the types of low-tech supports that could effectively reduce their high rates of preterm birth (the highest of all racial and ethnic groups in Africa). United States) and maternal mortality (also highest among racial and ethnic groups in the United States). Davis argues that community support, doulas, and midwives are effective in reducing premature births and mortality.
The book, however, is written for other academics and people engaged in studies of race or women’s health, rather than a general audience. Phrases like “liberal instantiating the state’s approach to making life easier” make it hard to see how even a benevolent lawmaker or hospital administrator could stay engaged with the book. The text also interprets the vast majority of its respondents’ interactions with indifferent nurses, doctors and social workers through the prism of racism, although other readers may consider different interpretations of their behavior.
–Sarah B. Dine, Associate Editor
Viral BS: medical myths and why we fall in love with them Through Baltimore (MD): Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021 272 pages, $ 24.95
According to Seema Yasmin in Viral BS: Medical Myths and Why We Fall In Love With Them. The facts do not deconstruct the framework around which disinformation is built, she argues – they do not explain why certain groups are the targets of false medical information or address the historical discrimination in health research from which the conspiracy can develop. The facts don’t disentangle the bigger story.
In Viral BSYasmin argues that modern medical conspiracies are spread because these are stories that stick in people’s minds and offer answers, even if they are sometimes fantastic, that sometimes medical research cannot. As Yasmin explains, believing in conspiracies is consistent with human behavior: our fears are often illogical, but they are more exciting than the truth. For example, we routinely worry about rare exotic infections more than the flu, even though the flu reliably kills 40,000 to 60,000 Americans each year.
Yasmin discusses and debunks a different medical myth in each chapter, from “Should You Eat Your Baby’s Placenta?” To “Do Bad Teeth Cause Heart Disease?” As a health journalist, epidemiologist and physician, Yasmin is in a good position to write this book and incorporates his personal experiences throughout. She translates complex research and a complicated story into short stories that refute common plots. Yasmin thinks broadly in terms of health, covering topics such as gun violence, fracking, and genetically modified organisms.
As Yasmin debunks myths, common threads emerge. The chapter “Do vaccines cause autism?” contains several: a single demystified study with a principal investigator who could financially benefit from false results; disinformation campaigns specifically targeting vulnerable groups with valid mistrust of medicine attributable to past and current discrimination; celebrities, influencers and a small percentage of medical staff who approve of the myth; and most powerful, a simple answer to the question “Why did this happen to my child?” It creates a cause around which many people find purpose and community.
Yasmin’s efforts to keep Viral BS digestible for everyday readers and tackles a wide range of issues leaves the chapters thin. Readers may end up with more questions than answers about why certain populations face more disease and why they are likely to fall into certain conspiracies. The book also relies on its audience to transfer the exact information they have read to the world; it does not itself offer strategies to combat disinformation or restore public confidence in biomedicine.
However, Viral BS is a great starting point for readers who want to learn more about medical conspiracies and counter them in their own communities. Yasmin constantly reminds us that in order to fight disinformation, we need to go beyond refuting falsehoods with facts and instead focus on the person – the storyteller – who is trying to make sense of their world.
–Sarah Kolk, Health Affairs Coordinator