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Research Roundup: Factors contributing to racism, COVID-19 self-testing kits, preterm births

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Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of June 7-13.

Seven factors contribute to racism in the U.S.

A pair of psychologists have identified seven factors contributing to racism in the United States, based on prior published research, a preprint study released on June 1 found. The findings will be published in the upcoming issue of “American Psychologist.”

“People often define racism as disliking or mistreating others on the basis of race. That definition is wrong,” psychology assistant professor Steven Roberts told Stanford News. “Racism is a system of advantage based on race. It is a hierarchy. It is a pandemic. Racism is so deeply embedded within U.S. minds and U.S. society that it is virtually impossible to escape.”

The first three factors include categories, factions and segregation. Categories organize people into groups, while factions create group loyalty and intergroup competition and segregation reinforces racist beliefs and perceptions. The findings suggest that the U.S. systematically creates racial categories, puts people in these categories and then segregates them based on the categories. 

The last four factors include hierarchy, power, media and passivism. The researchers argue that the U.S. empowers certain groups over others, promotes differences in biased media, and allows disparities and media bias to persist in society. 

“Many people, especially White people, underestimate the depths of racism,” Michael Rizzo, a postdoctoral research fellow at New York University, told Stanford News. “A lot of attention is rightfully put on the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and far too many others. But people need to understand that those horrific events are a consequence of a larger system. We want readers to walk away with a better understanding of how that system works.”

COVID-19 self-swabbing tests deemed safe and accurate

Allowing people to self-swab their nasal cavities to test for COVID-19 is as accurate and safe as a health professional collecting the same sample, a study published on June 12 in “Journal of the American Medical Association” found.

“There is an urgent need to increase our testing capacity to slow the overall spread of the virus,” Yvonne Maldonado M.D. ’81, a pediatric infectious disease and health research and policy professor, told Stanford Medicine News. “A sample collection procedure that can safely and easily be performed by the patient in their own car or at home could reduce the exposure of health care workers and also allow many more people to submit samples for testing.”

The team was also interested in understanding the time it takes for an infected person to test positive after they first started experiencing symptoms. In the study of 30 participants, 23 people first reported symptoms between 4 and 37 days prior to drive-by testing. The other seven participants were unsure when they first experienced symptoms.

“It is critical for us to understand how long an infected person may remain infectious and what the pattern of transmission might be within their household,” Maldonado told Stanford Medicine News. “This information would help public health workers craft guidelines as to how long a person with COVID-19 should remain quarantined and when it is likely to be safe to interact again with family members and co-workers.”

“Understanding the timeline of viral shedding will be particularly important for previously infected health care workers who are needed to care for other COVID-19 patients,” she added.

Risks increasing the likelihood of preterm births

Living near oil and gas wells may increase the risk of preterm birth, a study published on June 5 in “Environmental Epidemiology” found.

“There’s some evidence that environmental exposures increase risk of preterm birth, but this particular exposure — oil and gas — has received very little attention in California, despite having millions of people living in close proximity to wells,” fourth-year environment and resources Ph.D. candidate David Gonzalez told Stanford News. “We’re getting a sense that this does potentially have an adverse effect on health outcomes of pregnancy.”

The study evaluated 225,000 births from mothers who lived in the San Joaquin Valley from 1998 to 2011. The findings suggest that mothers who lived roughly six miles from oil and gas wells in the first and second trimesters were 8 to 14 percent more likely to have a spontaneous preterm birth.

“California is considering regulating how close to sensitive sites like schools these wells should be allowed to operate. I think this paper is strong evidence that we need to think carefully about that decision,” earth system science associate professor Marshall Burke B.A. ’03 told Stanford News. “A key next step, I think, is finding out explicitly how close you need to be to a well for it to cause harm.”

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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