Home Society & Culture “Woke” Terms Are Increasingly Prevalent in Health Research, Finds New Study

“Woke” Terms Are Increasingly Prevalent in Health Research, Finds New Study

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A recent study conducted by James L. Nuzzo, PhD from Edith Cowan University has documented a significant rise in the use of woke terminology within health research.

The findings, published in Psychreg Journal of Psychology, aimed to quantify the use of terms associated with social justice and related concepts in biomedical research articles indexed in PubMed. This phenomenon, often referred to as woke medicine, highlights the increasing integration of social justice language and concepts in health research over the past 15 years.

Nuzzo’s study utilised a comprehensive text analysis of PubMed, focusing on titles and abstracts of biomedical research articles. A total of 156 woke terms, representing various concepts such as equity, social justice, and names of relevant figures (such as Foucault, George Floyd), were systematically searched. These terms were selected based on the author’s expertise in related topics and resources like the New Discourses website, which indexes concepts considered woke. The search was restricted to articles published between 1st January 1900, and 31st December 2022.

“The study’s motivation,” Nuzzo explained, “stemmed from noticing increased numbers of highly political articles published in biomedical and public health journals. Often, these articles appeared to be of low scientific quality. Reading them, one got the impression that they were biased from the start, with researchers going through a deductive act, starting with their conclusion and then making data or analysis fit the story they wanted to tell.” He added: “I had not seen anyone attempt to quantify how many woke or woke-related articles have been published in biomedical and public health journals.”

The use of asterisk (*) wildcard operators allowed for the inclusion of various forms of each term, such as singular, plural, and other derivatives. For instance, “racial bias” would capture “racial bias” as well as “racial biases”. This meticulous approach ensured a broad capture of relevant terms across the decades.

The results of the study revealed a substantial increase in the use of woke terminology, particularly over the last 15 years. The total number of articles containing woke terms in their titles or abstracts rose to 432,196 by 2022, with a notable peak of 85,967 articles in that year alone. The most frequently used terms included “disparit*” (94,667 articles), “equalit*/inequalit*” (53,672), and “climate change” (50,822). Other prominent terms were “equit*/inequit*” (47,705), “underserv*” (14,062), “social determinant*” (13,103), and “marginaliz*” (11,457).

“The main finding was that use of woke nomenclature in research articles has increased exponentially over the past 15 years. Phrases like ‘health equity’ and ‘social justice’ were used by authors thousands of times,” Nuzzo noted. “Even key persons related to critical theory or woke political activism, such as Foucault, Paulo Freire, Derrida, and George Floyd were referred to over 1,500 times.”

The study also highlighted the rapid uptake of gender-related terms such as “transgender*” (10,192 articles), “feminis*” (5,349), and “gendered” (4,869). The analysis showed that terms related to power dynamics, such as “marginalised” and “oppression”, and those linked to climate issues like “global warming” and “social determinant”, were frequently used in health research literature.

Nuzzo’s research underscores the expanding influence of woke concepts in health sciences. While some view this integration as a positive step towards addressing social and environmental determinants of health, others raise concerns about the validity and impact of such concepts. Critics argue that the emphasis on social justice might lead to misattributions of health outcomes and potentially misguide health policies and research priorities. For instance, the focus on environmental determinants of obesity, as opposed to individual responsibility, has sparked debate within the medical community.

Nuzzo pointed out: “The findings suggest that woke concepts are proliferating throughout the medical and health sciences. Consequently, if woke ideas are indeed misguided, which I and many others believe they are, then their frequent use in research articles is a significant issue for health policy and practice.” He cautioned: “By diverting resources and attention away from more valid scientific theories or medical practices, the rise of woke medicine could be detrimental to patient health in the long run.”

“The study points out the potential for woke ideas to foster reverse discrimination,” Nuzzo added. “Policies informed by social justice theories may inadvertently disadvantage certain groups while attempting to address perceived injustices. The author cites instances where health professionals have faced criticism for their perceived privileges, which could detract from patient care and clinical objectivity.”

Regarding future plans, Nuzzo said: “I would like to measure how often woke nomenclature was used in 2023 and then track its use each year moving forward. I am particularly interested to monitor use of woke words and phrases that pertain to gender issues, and which have implications for men’s health, such as ‘male privilege,’ ‘toxic masculinity’, ‘patriarchy’, and ‘MANELS’. I am also interested in exploring use of hyperbolic language, and potential misuse of causal language, in health research articles that include woke nomenclature.”

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