Celeste Condit

William A. Owens Award 2005

Celeste Condit analyzes the effectiveness of different means of communicating genetic research to the public. As scientific advances increase doctors’ ability to identify an individual’s genetic make-up, the focus on genetic services and testing intensifies, along with media coverage and public interest and concern. She studies how terms may evoke different meanings for medical researchers and the public. For example, the word mutation has one meaning for a physician but may suggest alienating images of the Twilight Zone to a patient. Similarly, patients may understand that having “a gene that causes cancer” means the disease will occur whereas physicians and researchers use the phrase to indicate risk for the disease, not causation.

She has identified specific ways in which lay concepts of disease causation provide resistance to information about medical genetics. Recently, her research has focused on “race-based medicine,” a method of diagnosis and prescription based on informally determined information about differences in gene frequencies among race-categorized groups. Her research has shown a deep-seated tendency to resist doctors’ attempts to assign drugs to a specific population, in part because cultural feelings about race impact the public’s interpretation of the concept. She has predicted serious further erosion of trust between the medical establishment and minority communities when ethnically labeled drugs eventually generate instances of serious or fatal side effects (as in the recent mainstream experience with Vioxx and other COX-2 inhibitors).

Dr. Condit is a much sought-after speaker in this rapidly evolving field and has published in Nature Review, American Journal of Medical Genetics and the Journal of the American Medical Association, among others. She also has published and edited six volumes in her field. Dr. Condit has been an invited participant at forums such as the 6th International Single Nucleotide Polymorphism Conference, The National Human Genome Research Center’s “Race Roundtable” and the Whitehead Institute’s “Press Seminar.” Her research has been supported by more than $1 million in grants from the NIH and the CDC. The National Communication Association recognized Dr. Condit as a Distinguished Scholar and invited her to present the 2004 Carroll C. Arnold Distinguished Lecture, the most prestigious lecture in the field. UGA has previously honored her with Creative Research Medal and an appointment as Distinguished Research Professor.

Previous Award

Distinguished Research Professor 1999