In (Indignant) Defense of House

Sally Satel and Jonathan Klick have a pretty good article at NRO on allegations of racial bias in medical care. Unfortunately, they lead it off with an example from House, and they get it all wrong.

Here's their excerpt:

Dr. Foreman to African American patient: Your blood pressure's a little high. I have something new that should help you out. Combines a nitrate with a blood pressure pill. It's targeted to African-Americans.

Patient: Targeted?

Foreman: Yeah, well, see we tend to have nitric oxide deficiencies. The studies show this drug counteracts that problem. It's the first drug to—

Patient: Ah…I've had white people lying to me for 60 years.

The patient rejects that drug, returns the next day, and finally leaves satisfied when another doctor tells him, "I'll give you the same medicine we give Republicans."

Then Satel and Klick comment:

This exchange between a black doctor and his black patient took place on House, Fox's medical drama. The idea that a physician (black or white) will give his white patients better care than his black patients has, alas, found its way into mainstream, primetime television.

I read this, and I say: whoa, hang on a cotton-pickin' minute. (And I'm not trying to imply anything racial by using the term "cotton-pickin'", I was just influenced at a young age by Tennessee Ernie Ford and Foghorn Leghorn.)

How many ways did Satel and Klick get this wrong?

  • The only one claiming that blacks are getting inferior medical care in this episode is the patient; he has no evidence for this save his own racial obsession.

  • It's not just "another doctor" saying "I'll give you the same medicine we give Republicans.": it's Dr. House his own self.

  • He says this only after the patient says that he didn't get the medicine that Dr. Foreman prescribed. (Says the patient: "I didn't fill that Oreo's prescription.")

  • He also only says this after the patient refuses to accept a prescription for the "racist drug" from House as well.

  • But it later turns out that House lied to the patient about prescribing the "Republican" drug; he reveals to Foreman "I told him it was the white stuff. I gave him the black stuff."

  • Foreman gets upset by this. I still can't figure out why.

So, rather than reinforce the idea that black people get inferior medical care, this episode of House debunks it. The black patient gets the appropriate medicine despite his own misperceptions; both House and Foreman do their best to make that happen. (And the only reason House succeeds where Foreman fails is because House has no compunctions about lying to the patient.)

I realize that it's tough to set a strong opening hook on a magazine article. But House, as near as I can tell, diligently avoids PCness and political tendentia; it's one of the reasons I'm a devoted viewer. So I'm disappointed (and indignant!) that Satel and Klick misrepresent a fine TV show.

(A very dedicated fan has the transcript of the episode here, probably in violation of 19 different copyright laws. More power to him or her.)

Last Modified 2022-10-06 9:53 AM EDT

Quick Headline Quiz

The Federal Reserve reported today:

  • The median US family income (before-tax, inflation-adjusted) rose 1.6 percent between 2001 and 2004.

  • The mean family income in the US fell 2.3 percent between 2001 and 2004.

Quiz: which headline appears on the story written by Martin Crutsinger, AP Economics Writer?

  1. "Median American Family Income Increases"

  2. "Average American Family Income Declines"

Answer here. Try to contain your surprise.

Last Modified 2006-03-02 3:54 PM EDT

A Cure for the Blues

Unhappy? Depressed? Morose? Don't take those false drugs, suggests George Will; just become a conservative:

A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that conservatives are happier than liberals -- in all income groups. While 34 percent of all Americans call themselves ``very happy,'' only 28 percent of liberal Democrats (and 31 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats) do, compared to 47 percent of conservative Republicans. This finding is niftily self-reinforcing: It depresses liberals.

My friend George attributes this to conservatives being "more pessimistic" than liberals: they have fewer false hopes to be dashed. I'd say instead that it's not an optimism/pessimism thing but (to flog a meme I've mentioned a time or two in the past) an different-vision thing. Specifically: the difference between "constrained" and "unconstrained" visions of reality. (Also dubbed "tragic" and "utopian" visions.)

People should buy and read A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell. I'll plagiarize quote a perceptive Amazon reviewer, Marc Cenedella:

The Tragic (constrained) vision of human nature views man as possessing foibles, incentives, and the desire to act in his own self-interest. The Tragic "sees the evils of the world as deriving from the limited and unhappy choices available, given the inherent moral and intellectual limitations of human beings." …

The Utopian (unconstrained) vision holds that man has not yet achieved his full moral potential, and that that potential is essentially perfectible. It is "foolish and immoral choices explain the evils of the world - and that wiser or more moral and humane social policies are the solution." …

Seen that way, it's little wonder that those of the Utopian/Unconstrained camp tend to be on the unhappy side: they know that the failures of the world around them are caused by stupidity and malice; they are, in addition, constantly frustrated by reality in bringing their own plans to fruition.

Bottom line: read Sowell, you'll be happier for it.

Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:36 PM EDT