Thursday 5 September 2013

Is blood a social construct? A Challenge


Last year, like any good citizen past middle age conforming to public health requirements, I had a blood test, which gave me the welcome news that, having peered into this very personal essential fluid, it was judged unlikely that I was developing bowel cancer or prostate cancer. Of course, I know that no test has perfect sensitivity, but it was reassuring news.

Included in the long list of results was the following:

GFR….. if patient of black African descent eGFR must be corrected (multiply by 1.2)

This caused me no particular surprise. I had been seeing these correction factors in patients’ notes for some years. Epidermal growth factor is not something I deal with as a psychologist because, yes, I don’t like the sight of blood. Here are the NICE guidelines if you are interested in it.

However, I recollected this fact a few days ago when I came across the following tweet from a UK Professor: “Race= biologically meaningless term”. I queried this, and a long exchange of tweets ensued, and is continuing.

It leaves me with a paradox: both I and the NHS accept the description “black African descent”. We know that it means people most of whom, or virtually all of whom have come from the African continent for generations, and are black Africans. It cuts out the Afrikaans, the Indians, and other racial groups that migrated to Africa in recent generations. However, in so far as I understand what is being denied by the professor’s phrase “Race= biologically meaningless term” it seems to cut out the use of this correction factor, on the grounds that drawing a distinction Africans and non-Africans is “biologically meaningless”.

So, here is my challenge: a good bottle of fine French wine to anyone who can show me and the NHS, using good quality genomic data, that it is wrong to draw any distinction between Africans and non-Africans in analysing blood.


  1. You don't understand, Thompson - the key here is a Copenhagen Interpretation. For the purposes of political preening, race is a social construct. For the purposes of medicine it's a genetic construct. Complimentarity, see? Give me strength, did Bohr live in vain?

  2. Yes, it's really quite beastly of you to go around collapsing the social eigenfunction in this way.

    Best to leave the world as a superposition of possibilities. How? Simple: stop making observations.

  3. Heisenberg was probably an unsettling influence, but the Copenhagen Interpretation seems to have obfuscatory merit.

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  5. “Race= biologically meaningless term” is basically a political-religious slogan that signifies allegiance to a certain way of thinking and/or group. That it is stupid bullshit as far as facts and logic go is meaningless for that use, or maybe even beneficial as an "honest signal" - spouting bullshit can after all cause personal hardship, which in turn makes the bullshit-spouter appear tough, or evolutionarily "fit", if he can get away with it.