April 22, 2014

I just wrote this as a status update and I thought…I should put this somewhere.  My project is not comparative, but I just can’t ignore how Brazilians find utility in the description of the slave trade when talking about sickle cell.

It will forever be interesting to me that even in the most clinical of Brazilian papers characterizing the molecular structure of hemoglobin, you’ll find a sentence like: “Some 2.5-40 million slaves were brought to Brazil from Africa through the slave trade and were distributed in nearly all regions of the country.”
A US (scientific) author just never goes there!
I did a search on the words “slave” and “sickle” in PubMed and samples from Mexico, Lebanon, Tunisia, Iran, and Trinidad come up. I can’t find one American – and Brazil samples (specifically from the NE) are in relative abundance. ‪#‎scienceingeopoliticalhistoricalcontext‬ ‪#‎ishouldwriteablogaboutthis‬ ‪#‎mydissertationwillthankmelater‬

I touched on it some in my dissertation proposal and have plans on expanding the thought for the real deal:

Brazilian author Lervolino (2011) states:
“Originally from Africa and brought to the Americas by the forced immigration of slaves, it is more frequent where the proportion of African descendants is greater (the northeastern region and the States of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais). In these regions, we observe new cases of sickle cell disease in every 1000 births and sickle cell trait carriers in every 27 births. It is estimated that approximately 2500 children are born every year with sickle cell disease in Brazil (49).”
Consider a similar description of SCD for the United States by American author Hassell (2010):
“The number of individuals with sickle cell disease (SCD) in the U.S. is unknown. Thirty years ago, the U.S. sickle cell anemia population was estimated to be 32,000–50,000, based on reported gene frequencies derived from testing of African-American neonates. Subsequent population estimates of over 50,000–80,000 for both SCD and sickle cell anemia (a common form of SCD) are noted in a variety of publications, usually without a specific reference. Specific methods used to obtain these figures are not provided but are usually discussed in the context of the frequency of sickle cell anemia in the U.S. African-American population as determined by newborn screening data (S512).”
Though both authors accurately describe what the estimated prevalence is for their respective countries, there is a difference in how the populations are mentioned. Scientists’ training and views are shaped in particular ways based on a number of variables, including national identity. In studying how illness is socially constructed: “we explore the effects of class, race, gender, language, technology, culture, the political economy, and institutional and professional structures and norms in shaping the knowledge base which produces our assumptions about the prevalence, incidence, treatment and meaning of disease, (34)” (Brown, 1995). As Fullwiley explains in The Biologistical Construction of Race: ‘Admixture’ Technology and the New Genetic Medicine, the interpretation of technologies (as well as the description of associated prevalence rates derived from said technologies) can never be separated from the epistemology of their creators (Fullwiley, 2000).