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With George Floyd, a Raging Debate Over Bias in the Science of Death

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With George Floyd, a Raging Debate Over Bias in the Science of Death

She agreed to come back and was hopeful that things had changed, especially after she was asked to chair a new diversity committee.

Because of that, she said, she did not anticipate any controversy when she signed on to the study on bias among forensic pathologists, led by Itiel Dror, a cognitive neuroscientist who specializes in expert error and bias. The authors examined 10 years of children’s death certificates in Nevada and found that the deaths of Black children were a little more likely to be classified as homicides, rather than accidents, compared with deaths of white children.

They also sent a death scenario to forensic pathologists, and found that those who responded were more likely to rule it a homicide when the child in the scenario was Black and cared for by the mother’s boyfriend than when the child was white and cared for by a grandmother.

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The authors said the study was merely a starting point for research and suggested that forensic pathologists further explore how and when contextual information should be used, and be transparent when using it.

Four of the study’s authors were forensic pathologists, including Dr. Carter.

In February, Dr. Peterson, the potential defense witness in Mr. Floyd’s case, filed an ethics complaint against all four, accusing them of “conduct averse to the best interests and purposes” of the profession.

“By basically accusing every member of ‘unconscious’ racism, a charge impossible to either prove or refute, members will henceforth need to confront this bogus issue whenever testifying in court,” he wrote in the complaint, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

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Dr. Peterson did not respond to a message left with his office, where a spokeswoman said he was on vacation. Ethics complaints are supposed to be confidential, and the accused doctors declined to discuss it or did not respond to a request for comment.

The vitriolic response to the study surprised Dr. Carter.

“I was kind of blown away by what appears to be very irate reaction,” she said. “And I’m not sure if everyone has truly read the article for what it is. It’s an article that suggests, let’s be aware of this, let’s be proactive in this. I don’t think anybody, any physician of color, would say, ‘Gee, this is earthshaking news.’”

Shaila Dewan
This article originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

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With George Floyd, a Raging Debate Over Bias in the Science of Death
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