Cosmetic surgery and ethnicity

The Atlantic has featured a couple of good articles about this topic recently,  so I put together a roundup of related pieces:

The K-Pop Plastic Surgery Obsession from The Atlantic (24 May 2013).  This thorough article includes some quotes from anthropologist Eugenia Kaw and a reference to her work Medicalization of Racial Features: Asian American Woman and Cosmetic Surgery.  From the article: “Dr. Kang’s philosophy is about helping nature along. ‘I always try to copy the natural look, give face the ideal shape it should have been born with,’ he said.”

SBS Dateline (Australia) had a segment on the K-pop cosmetic surgery phenomenon a couple of months ago:

This Reddit thread about the 2013 Miss Korea contestants is interesting as some comments come from people living in Korea, trying to give a perspective from inside the culture.  They also reference this story from China in which a man sued his beautiful wife for marrying him under false pretenses, after she gave birth to a less-than-lovely child and then revealed she had had about $100K worth of surgery before meeting him (sounds like an urban legend to me).

Looking beyond Korea, in 2011 the New York Times published the article Ethnic Differences Emerge in Plastic Surgery. It’s not an academic or researched article;  it basically groups together a bunch of generalizations by surgeons about immigrant surgery preferences.

The Atlantic went back to the cosmetic surgery topic for today’s article Bringing Beverly Hills Cosmetic Surgery to the Middle East.

And to return to my home country, I offer you this Gawker post from 2011: A Guide to the Fake Faces of Real Housewives.  Perhaps there’s something to be said about trying to look like those seen as successful  trendy role models among those of your subculture — whether they be pop stars, actors, or trophy wives — and the dominant story isn’t that people are trying to look Caucasian, at least not anymore.

Roundup on race and IQ

Jason Richwine’s 2009 Harvard dissertation IQ and Immigration Policy has been all over the news for the past few days, after the circulation of a controversial Heritage Foundation report on immigration with which he was involved.  A lot of thoughtful people have written on the topic and provided a better analysis than I can in a short blog post. So instead, I’ve collected a reference list of a dozen links for anyone who wants to read more. I’m trying to focus on articles that discuss the science and philosophy of the issue, not politics or whether his dissertation was properly reviewed.

  • Heritage study co-author opposed letting in immigrants with low IQs from The Washington Post. This article seems to have been the spark that lit the fire of this controversy.  “Toward the end of the thesis, Richwine writes that though he believes racial differences in IQ to be real and persistent, one need not agree with that to accept his case for basing immigration on IQ. Rather than excluding what he judges to be low-IQ races, we can just test each individual’s IQ and exclude those with low scores.”
  • What We Mean When We Say ‘Race Is a Social Construct’ from The Atlantic. “When the liberal says ‘race is a social construct,’ he is not being a soft-headed dolt; he is speaking an historical truth.”
  • Why People Keep Misunderstanding the ‘Connection’ Between Race and IQ also from The Atlantic. “Among rich kids, good opportunities for developing the relevant cognitive skills are plentiful, so IQ differences are driven primarily by genetic factors. For less advantaged kids, though, test scores say more about the environmental deficits they face than they do about native ability.”
  • Two from the American Anthropological Association: RACE – Are We So Different? and the 1998 AAA Statement on “Race”  “At the end of the 20th century, we now understand that human cultural behavior is learned, conditioned into infants beginning at birth, and always subject to modification. No human is born with a built-in culture or language. Our temperaments, dispositions, and personalities, regardless of genetic propensities, are developed within sets of meanings and values that we call ‘culture.'”
  • Race And IQ. Again. on Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish. “But please don’t say truly stupid things like race has no biological element to it or that there is no data on racial differences in IQ (even though those differences are mild compared with overwhelming similarity). Denying empirical reality is not a good thing in any circumstance.”
  • Six Reasons Why Race-and-IQ Scholarship is an Intellectual Dead End from studentactivism.net, largely a response to Sullivan [via @savageminds] “Let’s say it were discovered that one American racial group was, once all the effects of nutrition, healthcare, education, income, parenting, and every other environmental factor were controlled for, on average innately slightly less intelligent than another. Would that finding justify discriminating against the less intelligent group in employment, education, or any other realm of endeavor?”
  • Should Research on Race and IQ be Banned? from the Scientific American Cross-Check blog.  “Irony Alert: It just occurred to me that two recent films, The Great Gatsby and Django Unchained, feature villains who spout pseudo-scientific theories of white superiority. The films imply that these theories are ludicrous relics of our racist past and that no modern person could possibly believe them. If only.”
  • The IQ Test from Slate. “’I have never worked on anything even remotely related to IQ, so don’t really know what to think about the relation between IQ, immigration, etc,’ Borjas told me in an email. ‘In fact, as I know I told Jason early on since I’ve long believed this, I don’t find the IQ academic work all that interesting. Economic outcomes and IQ are only weakly related, and IQ only measures one kind of ability.'”
  • Flynn, Ceci, and Turkheimer on Race and Intelligence: Opening Moves from Cato Unbound (2007). Don’t miss the links to response essays at the bottom of this article. “Take, for example, health care. Patients differ enormously in intelligence level, and these differences have life and death consequences for them. Individuals of lower health literacy, or IQ, are less likely to seek preventive care even when it is free, use curative care effectively when they get it, understand and adhere to treatment regimens, or avoid health-damaging behavior.”
  • A Talk with Jason Richwine from The (Washington) Examiner.  (speaking about making an even more controversial statement in a 2008 panel) “What I emphasized was that ethnic group differences in IQ are scientifically uncontroversial. That being said, there is a nuance that goes along with that: the extent to which IQ scores actually reflect intelligence, the fact that it reflects averages and there is a lot of overlap in any population, and that IQ scores say absolutely nothing about the causes of the differences — environmental, genetic, or some combination of those things.”
  • And finally, a 2009 Guardian review of Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man. “This book should make any sensible person wary of attaching too much value to IQ tests (there’s some glorious stuff on the quixotic allotment of IQ ratings) and should make anybody very suspicious of statements about ‘group IQ’ or the presumption that some races are innately more clever than others.”

Who owns HeLa?

We have mentioned Henrietta Lacks a few times in class, the individual whose cells have done more than anyone else’s in the advancement of modern medicine.  The HeLa cell line, the first “immortal” cell line ever developed, has been used to develop the world’s most important vaccines and cancer medications, as well as spurring advances in gene mapping, cloning and IVF.  But all of this was done without her or her family’s consent, and her family was unaware of the cell line until 20 years after Lacks’s death.  Now HeLa has been sequenced, and her genetic information published- once again, without her family’s permission.  This is legal, but is it ethical?

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Rebecca Skloot, whose book brought the story of Henrietta Lacks to popular attention a few years ago, has written a nice editorial about just how problematic the publication of HeLa is, and how poorly the law has kept up with the implications of advancements in genomic technology.  If HeLa shows a predisposition toward Alzheimer’s, for example, this may have repercussions for the life insurance her descendants can get.

Haiti, Fukushima, Chernobyl: What do we learn from disasters?

It is now two years since the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent triple meltdown at the nuclear plant in Fukushima.  Sarah Phillips, an anthropologist who has spent most of her professional life studying Chernobyl and the Ukraine, has a very thoughtful piece on how similar the two nuclear disasters turn out to be.  It’s a long article, so here’s the tl;dr:

Pripyat

“Fukushima is Chernobyl. Independent of the system (Japanese, Soviet), nuclear technology requires disregard for the public, misleading statements, and obfuscation in multiple domains (medicine, science and technology, governance). As anthropologist Hugh Gusterson notes, “The disaster at Fukushima has generated cracks in what we might call the ‘social containment vessels’ around nuclear energy—the heavily scientized discourses and assumptions that assure us nuclear reactors are safe neighbors.” Comparing the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima shows that “peaceful” nuclear technology is anything but.”

Fukushima

This week, in Maternowska’s Reproducing Inequities, we have also been reading about Haiti and the spectacular failures of development organizations to effect significant or lasting change for poor Haitian women.  It has now been more than three years since Haiti’s massive 2010 earthquake, and life for many Haitians is not better.  The cholera epidemic that began in the country in October 2010 continues to claim Haitian lives.  The same patterns Maternowska identifies for Haiti’s reproductive health and family planning policy have played out in the wake of Haiti’s natural and unnatural disasters: a lot of money spent very unwisely, and then a discourse that blames Haitians and “culture” for the lack of results.  We are left with the sense that Haiti, like other regions of extreme poverty, is hopelessly undevelopable, and so funding is limited to basic humanitarian interventions addressing immediate needs, rather than addressing the underlying structural factors that relegate Haiti to perpetual vulnerability to the next disaster.

haiti_011113_rebuild_dg_06_14744017

Paul Farmer and Catherine Maternowska both identify this sense of hopelessness for what it is: a disavowal, a racist cop-out, and a justification for continuing the same development strategies that fail to address the actual long-term needs of poor people, despite overwhelming evidence of their inadequacy.  The real tragedy that emerges from reading Maternowska, or following Farmer’s tremendous success in the country with his clinic and with Partners in Health, is the recognition that developing Haiti and alleviating poverty is not actually that difficult.

Mash Season 9 Episode 16: The Red/White Blues

http://gorillavid.in/blidnlmigqg8

Alternate, in case that link has issues: http://www.1channel.ch/external.php?title=MASH&url=aHR0cDovL2dvcmlsbGF2aWQuY29tL2NuYS9kY3B1eHhyc2k4OXQ=&domain=Z29yaWxsYXZpZC5jb20=&loggedin=0

(Both are gorilla but 2 separate uploads)

Start at 7:11 to play; if you have time, watch until the end as a health note finishes the episode. (Each episode is only about 23-25 minutes long) In this episode Springtime has come in Korea which means malaria. Unfortunately not everyone can take the medicine…for reasons you’ll have to see.

Still slightly confused about the outcome of the video? A medication that reacts poorly to people and communities of African and Mediterranean decent? Primaquine was created in 1946, it was tested during WWII on volunteers, soldiers, and prisoners of war. It was seen early on that those who were African-American had a hemolytic reaction to the medication, (though it was also noted there there were a few cases of Caucasion reactions also). After that doctors were given the warning not to use Primaquine or only in sparing amounts in those of African decent. It became a ‘race warning’, later by the time of the Korean war those who had Mediterranean background were included and recently those in the Middle East (Iraq and Iran) have been added to the list…. But is it a race issue? In fact it is not, what the Primaquine is reacting to is an allele called Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase. Those with the allele have a hemolytic reaction when they use Primaquine. To make it very clear…. EVERYONE has the ability to have this allele. So why does it appear to create a race affect visually in those that have a shared community background for lineage or decent? Those who read my previous post may know where this is going…. that’s right! Cross-Protection! James V. Neel explains it in his article Are Genetic Factors Involved in Racial and Ethnic Differences in Late-Life Health?

‘The sickling alleles and the G-6-PD deficiency alleles are representatives of balanced polymorphisms. Homozygosity for the hemoglobin S allele is usually inconsistent with reproduction because the homozygotes usually die in childhood. Homozygosity for a G-6-PD deficiency allele (or hemizygosity in the case of a male) by no means confers the handicap of sickle cell anemia but must still be regarded as impairing the fitness of the homozygote. But in both cases, the alleles have a positive side, conferring resistance to malaria, and the frequency of the allele in a population is determined by a balance between positive and negative selective forces.’

Translation? Environment, environment, environment! This allele provides a protection against Malaria. So those in a community that have the allele and Malaria in their environment will see an upsurge of the allele in procreated generations because those without the allele may not to survive as well without the added protection. Non-alleles will be less likely to procreate a new generation when dead from the extra benefit of protection.  When more members of a community, line of decent, or group heritage have an allele it can make it appear that their ‘race’ may be more or less susceptible then others to things, when in fact this is a result of environment messing with allele spikes. Nor does it matter that the allele itself may be what causes a separate disease or condition. Its protection might be an unintentional side effect of the primary disease or condition or a protection mechanism against other diseases wiping out the primary disease or condition. So the appearance that Primaquine is not advised in certain ‘races’ is deceptive. The health label has since been changed to read that it is not advised in those with the Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase allele else wise hemolytic shock may occur or those with similar conditions. For a long time though it was treated as a race issue from the naked eye when in truth the culprit was microscopic…. but universal.

Additional Readings…

BiDil and racialized medicine

Remember that fascinating piece we read by Jonathan Kahn last semester about the story of BiDil, the first drug with a race-specific indication on its label?  Kahn has a new book out about Bidil and it looks great- amazing sleuthing to uncover the commercial interests and legal manipulation that “produce” race as a viable marketing niche even when our current genomic understanding makes the category absurd.

Micah posted this in March, with the comment, “Do hair relaxers cause uterine fibroids in African-American women? Sounds like ice cream and murder to me.”

This author agrees: Chemical relaxers linked to high uterine fibroid risk in African-American women? I doubt it.