Columns Everyday Lies

Lies of the British Medical Journal

The thirst for power that hides behind diversity

This article is taken from the October issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.

One of the best ways to tell a lie is to embed it in the midst of high-sounding verbiage. This is so common a method that one is sometimes unsure whether a lie is being told or an untruth merely enunciated.

In a recent edition of the British Medical Journal I read the following:

The proportion of UK medical students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds is half that among students overall. This matters. Not only because we want a profession that properly reflects the population it serves, but because we want the most able students whatever circumstances they come from.

I overlook for the moment the question of who exactly the “we” of the above passage are. (It means, of course, “we, the enlightened persons of goodwill”.) But what is clear is that we cannot possibly want the profession demographically to represent the population it serves, for example in Intelligence Quotient. About 70 per cent of the population has an IQ between 85 and 115, and no one (in the sense of no patient) wants a doctor with an IQ of less than 115.

There are other characteristics of the population that we do not necessarily want to be reflected in the medical profession, for example the third of the adult male population that has a criminal record. But perhaps the most obvious contradiction is that between the desire for demographic representation and that for the most able students, who almost certainly are not equally distributed in all demographic groups.

Of course, the weasel word “properly” has been placed before “reflected” in the passage I have quoted above. But what is proper is not a natural, easily measurable quality, such as height; someone — presumably the “we” of “we want” — must decide what is proper. But quis custodiet ipsos custodes? The unacknowledged thirst for power hides everywhere.

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