J Med Ethics 33:177-180 doi:10.1136/jme.2006.016329
  • Research ethics

Rasing the ivory tower: the production of knowledge and distrust of medicine among African Americans

  1. J Wasserman1,
  2. M A Flannery2,
  3. J M Clair1
  1. 1Department of Sociology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama, USA
  2. 2Lister Hill Library, Historical Collections, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 J Wasserman
 Department of Sociology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1212 University Boulevard, 237 Ullman Building, Birmingham,AL 35294-3350, USA; jasonw{at}
  • Received 16 February 2006
  • Accepted 18 April 2006
  • Revised 11 April 2006


African American distrust of medicine has consequences for treatment seeking and healthcare behaviour. Much work has been done to examine acute events (eg, Tuskegee Syphilis Study) that have contributed to this phenomenon and a sophisticated bioethics discipline keeps watch on current practices by medicine. But physicians and clinicians are not the only actors in the medical arena, particularly when it comes to health beliefs and distrust of medicine. The purpose of this paper is to call attention not just to ethical shortcomings of the past, but to the structural contexts of those events and the contributions and responsibilities of popular media and academic disciplines in the production of (often mythic) knowledge. We argue that ignoring context and producing inaccurate work has real impacts on health and healthcare, particularly for African Americans, and thus engenders ethical obligations incumbent on disciplines traditionally recognised as purely academic.


  • Competing interests: None.