Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Ethnic Diversity, Psychosis and Cancer

diversity

There is a never-ending storm of dogmatic crackpots abusing the scientific literature for their own misguided ideological goals. The only thing thoughtful and rational skeptics can do is to provide some safe haven where science and facts triumphs over misrepresentation.

In this post, the focus will be on a Swedish anti-immigration website called Fria Tider (Free Times). I will not link to that website out of principle, but you can perform a Google search on the article titles and use Google translate if you want to read it in full. It is paleoconservative and their mission statement is to put a right-wing bias on all the allegedly left-wing biased news presented by the mainstream media. This is a clear example of the so called “hostile media effect”, where people with a strong bias on a certain issue feel that the media is itself biased against them.

Most of the stuff published at Fria Tider is exceptionally bad. It filled with obviously biased reporting, invalid generalizations and conspiracy theories. However, in the last few days, two astonishingly vacuous articles have been published on the website. They each attempt to summarize a scientific article published in the peer-review literature in order to prop up their anti-immigrant position. They believe the studies show specific negative consequences of ethnic diversity. They could not be more wrong. In fact, the studies show no such thing. In the end, this serves as two additional examples of pseudoscientific cranks abusing science.

Ethnic diversity and psychosis

In the post called “Mångkultur gör oss galna” (Multiculturalism makes use crazy), the author makes the startling claim that a study recently published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (Das-Munshi et. al. 2012) show that living in an ethnically diverse society is bad for your mental health and that it increases the risk of psychosis.

Is this true? Let’s good back to the original study and check. As it turns out, the study shows no such thing. What the study shows is that individuals in an ethnic minority has a higher risk for psychosis as their minority decrease. For the group “White British” the differences were unlikely to be of clinical relevance. The observed increase in psychosis may be attributed to a decrease in social support and an increase in vulnerability. The authors conclude:

First, in keeping with earlier work on this data-set, for some groups in this study, living in areas of lower own-group density was associated with an increase in the reporting of racism, discrimination and poorer social support. Our findings also suggested that for some groups, chronic strains and difficulties were increased among people living in areas of lower own-group density. Given the associations of these variables with the reporting of psychotic-like experiences, one potential interpretation might be that living in areas of lower own-group density may lead to adverse effects on mental health, as minority ethnic residents in such areas may be exposed to more discrimination, poorer social support and greater chronic strains. This is in keeping with earlier qualitative work that suggested that ethnically dense areas may function as a ‘psychic shelter’ for minority ethnic residents

So to sum up: if you are part of an ethnic minority and your minority decreases, you are exposed to more racism, have less social support and experience more chronic strain. This is the mechanism by which risk of psychosis increases. It has not at all a direct effect of ethnic diversity.

So it is clear that Fria Tider misrepresented the study they cite. It does not show that they think it does. Far from it. It shows that social support is a buffer against psychosis for ethnic minorities and that racism and chronic strain are risk factors for psychosis. These risk factors change when the population structure changes.

Ethnic diversity and cancer

In the second article, “Mångkultur är cancerframkallande” (Multiculturalism is carcinogenic), the author makes the claim that a study (Alvarez, 2012) published in American Journal of Public Health shows that living in an ethnically diverse society substantially increase the risk of cancer. Is this an accurate description of the paper?

Unsurprisingly, no.

Although I have yet been unable to locate the full text article, an overview at the website for the Mailman School of Public Health at Colombia University is available (Paul, 2012). Here is how it describes the study in question:

An African-American or Mexican-American senior living in a community where many neighbors share their background is less likely to have cancer or heart disease than their counterpart in a more mixed neighborhood.

Again, the study looks at the health of minorities and in this case it is the health status of seniors in African-American or Mexican-American minorities. It shows that seniors that live in neighborhoods with many people with the same background has a lower risk of, for instance, cancer. The proposed mechanism is as follows:

Cultural factors could help to explain the phenomenon. “Communities with high ethnic density may be more likely to share values like respect for elders and have close-knit family structures,” says Dr. Levy. Earlier studies showed high levels of social support within communities of Hispanic immigrants. “These networks may facilitate better health behaviors and, in turn, better health outcomes,” adds Alvarez. “For example, information about free health clinics may be more freely exchanged in these communities.”

In other words, if you are a minority senior in a community with a higher proportion of individuals that share your background, you will have a higher level of social support that help promote a healthy life and the spread of health care related information, about such things as as free clinics.

This has nothing to do with ethnic diversity itself somehow causing cancer.

Conclusion

In conclusion, these anti-immigration paleoconservatives at Fria Tider severely misreads and abuse the scientific literature they try to talk about. I doubt they even cared enough about accuracy in reporting to actually read the articles themselves. I even doubt they read the abstracts.

Ethnic diversity does not cause psychosis. It is the reduced social support, increased racism and more chronic strain that increases the risk for psychosis among shrinking minorities.

Ethnic diversity does not cause cancer. Minority senior in communities with a higher proportion of individuals with shared background, promote a healthy life and the spread of health care related information.

This has nothing to do with alleged harmfulness of ethnic diversity. The people making these assertions are just plain wrong.

References and further reading

Alvarez, Kimberly J., & Levy, Becca R. (2012). Health Advantages of Ethnic Density for African American and Mexican American Elderly Individuals. American Journal of Public Health, 102(12), 2240-2242. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.300787

Das-Munshi, Jayati, Bécares, Laia, Boydell, Jane E., Dewey, Michael E., Morgan, Craig, Stansfeld, Stephen A., & Prince, Martin J. (2012). Ethnic density as a buffer for psychotic experiences: findings from a national survey (EMPIRIC). The British Journal of Psychiatry, 201(4), 282-290. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.111.102376

Paul, T. S. (2012). Living in an Ethnically Homogenous Neighborhood Boosts Health of U.S. Minority Seniors. Mailman School of Public Health at Colombia University. Accessed: 2012-11-14.

6 responses to “Ethnic Diversity, Psychosis and Cancer

  1. John November 15, 2012 at 15:04

    hi, how do I “unjoin” your blog? My e mail keeps giving me update about your stupid blog that I don’t really care about. Thanks.

  2. NeuraltNätverk November 25, 2012 at 04:13

    It could be that a monoculture makes one less susceptible to psychosis overall but leads to a sort of “brittleness”. An example is the so-called “Paris syndrome” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_syndrome), which strikes the strongly monocultural Japanese especially often.

    The largest minorities in the UK besides non-British whites, at least according to the UK Census of 2001, are South Asians. Despite a shared official language, there are quite a few cultural differences and as mentioned there is at, least regionally, more conformity and collectivism in South Asia.

    I suspect that being extracted from an environment where one has a “right” religion, a “right” social order, “right” manners, etc. and plonked somewhere else quite different will tend to screw with your head!

    Here I’m just speculating but I think it could be a research lead.

  3. NeuraltNätverk November 25, 2012 at 04:13

    urgh

    comma should come before the at in “at least regionally”

  4. Pingback: The Anechoic Chamber of Greta Christina | Debunking Denialism

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