Walter E. Williams

Harvard Professor Henry Gates' arrest has given new life to the issue of racial profiling. We can think of profiling in general as a practice where people use an observable or known physical attribute as a proxy or estimator of some other unobservable or unknown attribute. Race or sex profiling is simply the use of race or sex as that estimator. Profiling represents mankind's attempt to cope with information cost. God would not have to profile since God is all knowing.

People differ by race and sex. Let's look at a few profiling examples to see which ones you'd like outlawed. According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of men getting breast cancer is about 1/10th of 1 percent, or 1 in 1,000; and 440 men will die of breast cancer this year. For women, the risk of developing breast cancer is about 12 percent, or 1 in 8, and 40,610 will die from it this year. Should doctors and medical insurance companies be prosecuted for the discriminatory practice of routine breast cancer screening for women but not for men?

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Some racial and ethnic groups have higher incidence and mortality from various diseases than the national average. The rates of death from cardiovascular diseases are about 30 percent higher among black adults than among white adults. Cervical cancer rates are five times higher among Vietnamese women in the U.S. than among white women. Pima Indians of Arizona have the highest known diabetes rates in the world. Prostate cancer is nearly twice as common among black men as white men.

Knowing patient race or ethnicity, what might be considered as racial profiling, can assist medical providers in the delivery of more effective medical services.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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