Itai Bavli

Itai Bavli

Visiting Fellow
The University of British Columbia
Bavli

As a visiting fellow in the Harvard Department of the History of Science, Itai Bavli plans to further expand his research on radiation treatment and investigate other aspects of the treatment. Specifically, he will examine why the discovery of similar adverse effects led to broken trust and suspicion toward the medical establishment in Israel, yet triggered no such hostility or broken trust regarding US health authorities. His research suggests that important factors for understanding mistrust in health authorities include which population is at risk (in Israel, the lower socioeconomic level as opposed to middle-upper class, mostly white, patients in the US) and a failure to communicate and effectively alert former patients about the adverse effects. His findings also suggest that national health authorities are more likely to assist privileged over disadvantaged communities experiencing the adverse effects of medical treatments. Based on the radiation treatment case, he plans to continue to explore this avenue of study by unpacking the complex relationship between social inequality, the adverse effects of medical treatment, and trust in the medical establishment.

Itai will also explore existing studies on the controversies and ambiguity regarding the lack of a threshold below which radiation was considered to be safe (i.e., tolerance dose) and the potential risk of radiation per year (i.e., maximum protection dose) and examine whether racial beliefs may have structured the debate; specifically, the belief that African Americans have denser bones and thicker skins and muscles and therefore need larger x-ray doses to make diagnostic pictures. His preliminary findings show that this belief and recommendation had appeared in standard x-ray technology textbooks until the mid 1960s. Consequently, African Americans were getting increased radiation doses compared to other populations. He will investigate the source of this belief, the science behind it, the length of time x-ray technicians followed this recommendation, and its effect on African Americans. He will also examine the response of the Division of Radiological Health of the Public Health Services (PHS) to this discovery. Itai hopes to contribute to our understanding of how racial beliefs and considerations shaped scientific discussions, and shed new light on the political, ethical and social aspects of the use of radiation in the US.

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