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Research on largest killer of black Americans underfunded, IU professor finds



Despite walls put up around her by federal blocks to gun-related homicide research, IU researcher and assistant professor Molly Rosenberg recently began looking into that very subject.

According to the Pew Research center in 2010, the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people was 1.4 within the white community and 15.3 within the black community in the United States.

Rosenberg said some of this disparity is caused by barriers to funding firearm-related research in the U.S. This contributes heavily to the lack of research because firearms are a leadingfactor in homicides.

The Dickey Amendment, passed in 1996, restricted the Center for Disease Control and Prevention from using federal funds to advocate or promote gun control. This amendment was pushed through Congress by pro-gun rights organizations, which thought the CDC had been conducting biased research.

“There isn’t an official ban, but in practice there is,” Rosenberg said of the restrictions. “Very little is getting funded.”

Rosenberg conducted her study with the help of Shabbar Ranapurwala from the University of North Carolina's School of Public Health, IU doctoral student Ashley Townes and Angela Bengston of Brown University's School of Public Health. 

The team’s research has been facing some backlash from people who say they wasted money on the analysis.

“The whole point of the study was to highlight the fact that there is no funding for this type of research,” Rosenberg said in response to this reaction. “This was a hundred-percent unfunded study that we did on our own time using publicly available information.”

The team relied primarily on publicly available data sets from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health to facilitate their study.

Rosenberg said the issue of how little homicide research is being done is cyclical. There are few professionals trained in that kind of research, so there are few mentors to train the next wave of public health researchers on homicides.

A main finding of her work, she said, was startling. Homicide was the number one cause of potential years of life lost (PYLL) in black Americans in 2015. 

PYLL is a metric that takes into account both the number of lives lost and the age at which individuals die to weight younger deaths more heavily. The younger someone dies, the more years they could have potentially lived.

“If a large amount of young people are dying in certain communities, that leaves a gap in those communities that can lead to community-level poverty and heighten those disparities that are already existing,” Rosenberg said.

Though they make up 12.8 percent of the American population, black people accounted for 54.6 percent of gun homicide victims in 2010, according to the Pew Research center.

Another conclusion of the study was that public health research funding for the top killers of white Americans — like cancer and heart disease — is high. The same is not true for homicide.

“We’re falling short on researching the things that impact black Americans’ lives the most,” Rosenberg said.

Though she does not claim to know whether these funding decisions for homicide are related to race, Rosenberg said the fact that race is objectively linked to the conclusions of the study points to a systematic disparity.

The study, “Do black lives matter in public health research and training?” exists at the intersection of two of the most hot-button issues of 2017: gun control and race relations. 

Her conclusions have already stirred the public health community, and she said she hopes they will redirect the focus of public health funding in the U.S.

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