In Survival of the Sickest, Dr. Moalem mentions the idea of the Slavery Hypothesis in order to illustrate the mechanism of evolutionary medicine and its long term consequences. The Slavery Hypothesis is the idea that African-Americans have a predisposition for high blood pressure due to selection during the Middle Passage and ensuing enslavement. Dr. Clarence Grim hypothesized that slaves who survived the journey were likely to have been able to retain high levels of salt, as the death rate was high due to deprivation of food and water, as well as rampant illnesses that caused diarrhea and vomiting. Moalem does not mention that these claims are widely unsubstantiated. There is no proof of there being historical validity to the fact that Africa was salt-scarce and the statistics regarding this hypothesis lack supporting evidence.
However, it is interesting to note that the Slavery Hypothesis remains widely accepted today, despite the numerous criticisms that exist. It is still described as truth in medical textbooks and peer-reviewed literature, in the New York Times, the American Journal of Cardiology, Science News, and even by Oprah and Dr. Oz. As a result, ideas about genetic determinism and the biological basis of race have once again become a focus of scientific research. Acceptance of this hypothesis would presumably imply the acceptance of the idea that race is a biological, not social, construct. I agree with Moalem when he states, “From a medical perspective, it’s clear that specific diseases are more prevalent in specific population groups in a way that is significant and deserves continued, serious exploration” (65). However, this does become an issue when ideas such as that of eugenics arise. These ideas regarding the biological and social constructions of race are obviously a reoccurring theme in this class and remain an interesting topic of debate.