Catherine Bliss Examines Race and Science in the Post-Genomic World

Catherine Bliss Examines Race and Science in the Post-Genomic World

Science of Caring: A Publication of the UCSF School of Nursing
University of California, San Francisco
December 2015

Diana Austin

Catherine Bliss (photo by Elisabeth Fall)

When Catherine Bliss, assistant professor in the UC San Francisco School of Nursing Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, first set out to write a book on race and genomics, she decided to do more than just talk to scientists about their work. She went into their labs to observe what they actually did and consider what effect those practices might have on how science treats issues of race. She also interviewed them about their backgrounds and personal experiences to examine how their ideas of race were formulated. Those discussions and observations formed the basis for Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice (Stanford University Press, 2012), which explores the idea of race in a post-genomic world and the implications it has for social justice and health.

Looking at How Scientists Approach Race

Introductions from noted sociologist Troy Duster helped open the doors to the labs of well-known genome scientists, such as National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins; and she interviewed luminaries like biotechnologist Craig Venter, who was among the first to sequence the human genome. What Bliss found was that, despite the consensus among genomic scientists that there is little genetic basis for the concept of race, notions of race continue to inform and affect scientists’ work – especially in the health sciences, where the very real problems of access and inclusion for minorities prompt researchers to continue to use race as a central factor in designing projects.

Bliss says, “I would ask about their practices, and then I’d look into their labs at what they were actually doing. I asked them about the technologies they used. It turned out that some were racialized.”…

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