Pew Survey Finds Black People Mostly Trusting Of Medical Science, But Wary Of Misconduct

Past injustices, including the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, continue to fuel mistrust.

Black people have a largely positive view of medical researchers but have concerns about potential misconduct, a Pew Research Center survey published April 7 found. The mistrust has deep roots in past injustices, especially the federal government’s Tuskegee Syphilis Study on Black men.

In the new study, 55 percent of Black adults describe misconduct by medical research scientists as a moderate or very big problem, a rate that is much higher than the overall U.S. adult population.

At the same time, most Black adults have either a great deal (28 percent) or a fair amount (50 percent) of confidence in medical scientists to act in the public’s best interests.

“The legacy of egregious medical misconduct in the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, commonly known as the Tuskegee syphilis study, continues to resonate widely among Black Americans,” the report stated.

In the government’s study, which began in the 1930s and continued for four decades, researchers withheld treatment from Black men, leading to preventable deaths and a worsening of symptoms among those study participants.

About 60 percent of the Black people surveyed believe that serious cases of misconduct in medical research are just as likely today as they have been in the past.

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The survey also asked about the importance of representations of Black people in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. A 54 percent majority of the Black adults surveyed said more Black young people would likely pursue college training in a STEM-related field if they saw more Black high achievers in those careers.

A relatively few of those surveyed said Blacks have attained the highest levels as scientists (36 percent) and engineers (43 percent), compared to the highest levels as athletes (84 percent) and music (80 percent).

At the same time, relatively few of them perceived the science (20 percent) and engineering (23 percent) fields as very welcoming to Black people seeking jobs.

The survey was conducted from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12, 2021, and included 3,546 Black adults.

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