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February 16, 1990

Dangerous Diagnostics: The Social Power of Biological Information

Author Affiliations

Medical College of Wisconsin Milwaukee

Medical College of Wisconsin Milwaukee


by Dorothy Nelkin and Laurence Tancredi, 207 pp, $18.95, ISBN 0-465-01573-5, New York, NY, Basic Books Inc, 1989.

JAMA. 1990;263(7):1018-1019. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440070106048

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


The acquired immunodeficiency syndrome epidemic and the numerous controversies surrounding testing for human immunodeficiency virus have loudly and prominently displayed the main issues of this book. We have had serious debates on confidentiality, employment rights, eligibility for insurance, screening of various populations (military recruits, marriage license applicants), testing for research and epidemiology, and, recently, testing for early treatment. Never has it been so powerfully shown that testing can serve multiple uses for different institutions and that these institutions and purposes are often in conflict with each other and with the rights of individuals.

The authors' stated main purpose is to extend this discussion to new developments in genetic and psychiatric testing, such as DNA testing and positron emission tomography. Such tests may lead to better understanding of disease and cure, but they may also subject people to discrimination and exclusion.

In addition to describing some of these tests and their