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Perspect Biol Med



Biomarkers Can’t Bypass the Mouth of a Wound.


Greene AK
Perspect Biol Med. 2020; 63(4):602-615.
PMID: 33416799.


This article critiques the idealization of a biomarker-based "objective pain scale" in order to argue for increased investment in communication-centric approaches to chronic pain diagnosis and treatment. Although new technological advances and the rise of big data have revived old fantasies of objective pain measures, scholars have long affirmed the dangers of converting human experience into numbers, as well as the fundamental impossibility of reducing pain to physiology. Biomarkers can certainly be useful tools, but investments must also be made in fostering the "strong objectivity" that feminist scholars have advocated for and that the incorporation of narrative-driven initiatives can provide. Because expressing pain is notoriously difficult, doing this creative, communication-driven work well requires substantial effort, time, and training. Engaging with chronic pain from a feminist standpoint-one that affirms individuals' situated experiences as valuable data and that attends to the rich multi-modal vocabularies emerging on social media-can pave the way to a more equitable, ethical, and effective future of pain care.