Tempering Anxieties in Recruitmentology

Investigating what he dubs “recruitmentology”, Steven Epstein’s article “The Rise of Recruitmentology” warns against the potential dangers of selectively recruiting ethnic minorities, women, and children. Researchers encourage the recruitment of these groups because they have been historically underrepresented in clinical trials. One of the key factors motivating the shift in recruitment practices is recognition of the heterogeneous character of the potential patient population. It is known that different ethnic/national groups and genders react to various kinds of treatments and diseases differently. Some ethnic groups tend to be especially prone to certain diseases, or especially prone to certain negative side effects of various drugs/treatments.

Yet there exists distrust among certain ethnic minorities. The collective memory of the Tuskegee study conducted in the antebellum south still exists among African-Americans, especially in the Deep South where the study was conducted. In short, the Tuskegee study was an observational study on the development of the syphilis virus. Disenfranchised African-American people were told that they were being “treated” for the diseases, when in reality, researchers were primarily concerned with tracking the development of the disease, rather than finding a cure.

Tuskegee is cited as one of the reasons for African American people from resisting recruitment strategies, and something that recruitmentologists must overcome. But the motives of current researchers are far less sinister than those of the Tuskegee researchers. In the closing sentences of his article, Epstein acknowledges the potential benefits of recruiting specific group, but the overly pessimistic tone of the article tends to downplay potential benefits. There are virtues to selecting minority groups specifically for studies because they may react differently to treatments, drugs, or even specific diseases. While Epstein’s warnings should not be dismissed outright, they should also be slightly tempered, and greater attention should be paid to the effects of biological-makeup on treatments and drugs.

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