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My work focuses on how social inequalities are produced or exploited by commercialized medicine in the United States. My primary area of research examines how clinical trials are conducted and who participates in them as researchers and human subjects. In my book Medical Research for Hire, I show how clinical trials have become a revenue stream for physicians and an important source of medical “care” for uninsured patients.


My latest book—Adverse Events: Race, Inequality, and the Testing of New Pharmaceuticals—focuses on healthy volunteers’ participation in Phase I clinical trials. Healthy volunteers gain no health benefits and expose themselves to risks for the stipends that pharmaceutical companies pay for their time. I analyze their participation in these clinical trials through the lenses of stigma and social inequality. Adverse Events was the winner of the 2021 Robert K. Merton Book Award, given by the Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association.


In addition to my work on the clinical trials industry and on clinical trial participation, I have also conducted research and published on non-human animal researchnew tracking and location technologies in hospitals, the social construction of Munchausen syndrometattooing as a cultural practice, and qualitative methods. I am currently conducting research on pediatric clinical trials for peanut and other food allergies.

“Healthy Volunteers in US Phase I Clinical Trials: Sociodemographic Characteristics and Participation Over Time.”


CA Kalbaugh, et al.


“Gendered Logics of Biomedical Research: Women in U.S. Phase I Clinical Trials.”

MD Cottingham & JA Fisher

Social Problems


“Phase I Trial Compensation: How Much Do Healthy Volunteers Actually Earn from Clinical Trial Enrollment?”

JA Fisher, at al.

Clinical Trials