Tag Archives: spirometer

Racism in medicine: The case of spirometry

Credit: Glenda Powers

Credit: Glenda Powers

If it is possible for a piece of medical equipment to be racist, the spirometer may hold that questionable distinction.

That is the suggestion of Dr. Lundy Braun (PhD), professor of Africana Studies and pathology and laboratory medicine at Brown University. She explores the history of the spirometer, its racist uses and continuing “race correction” in Breathing Race into the Machine: The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics.

In a recent interview in The Atlantic, Dr. Braun noted that spirometry was used in the 1860s to show that black slaves in the U.S. had lower lung capacity than whites. The first large study purportedly showing racial differences was conducted in Union soldiers, directed by Benjamin Apthorp Gould, and published in 1869.

“Lung capacity difference was a deeply entrenched idea by the late 19th century,” she said. Continue reading →

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