How Not To Talk About Race And Genetics

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Letters, Media Archive on 2018-03-31 02:37Z by Steven

How Not To Talk About Race And Genetics


Micah Baldwin / Via Flickr: micahb37

Race has long been a potent way of defining differences between human beings. But science and the categories it constructs do not operate in a political vacuum.

This open letter was produced by a group of 68 scientists and researchers. The full list of signatories can be found below.

In his newly published book Who We Are and How We Got Here, geneticist David Reich engages with the complex and often fraught intersections of genetics with our understandings of human differences — most prominently, race.

He admirably challenges misrepresentations about race and genetics made by the likes of former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade and Nobel Laureate James Watson. As an eminent scientist, Reich clearly has experience with the genetics side of this relationship. But his skillfulness with ancient and contemporary DNA should not be confused with a mastery of the cultural, political, and biological meanings of human groups.

As a group of 68 scholars from disciplines ranging across the natural sciences, medical and population health sciences, social sciences, law, and humanities, we would like to make it clear that Reich’s understanding of “race” — most recently in a Times column warning that “it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races’” — is seriously flawed…

Read the entire letter here.

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Public Symposium — DNA and Indigeneity

Posted in Anthropology, Canada, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Live Events, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation on 2015-10-21 19:59Z by Steven

Public Symposium — DNA and Indigeneity

Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH)
Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
2015-10-22, 12:30-17:30 PDT (Local Time)

On October 22 at 12:30 pm, join us for the DNA and Indigeneity: The Changing Role of Genetics in Indigenous Rights, Tribal Belonging, and Repatriation conference in downtown Vancouver. This event will bring together an international and interdisciplinary group of archaeologists, anthropologists, bioethicists, geneticists, and representatives from Indigenous organizations to explore the promise and perils of using biological and genetic information to inform understandings of identity. Ultimately, this event will investigate the degree to which biology and genetics currently inform these areas, and—perhaps most importantly—identify the limitations of this approach.

The public symposium will be held at Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre in downtown Vancouver and is free for all to attend (make sure you RSVP). The symposium will include presentations that weave together perspectives from anthropology, bioethics, and genetics.

For more information, click here.

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Three Is Not Enough

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Media Archive on 2013-02-03 22:43Z by Steven

Three Is Not Enough

The Daily Beast
Newsweek Magazine

Sharon Begley, Senior Health and Science Correspondent

In 1990, Americans claimed membership in nearly 300 races or ethnic groups and 600 American Indian tribes. Hispanics had 70 categories of their own.

To most Americans race is as plain as the color of the nose on your face. Sure, some light-skinned blacks, in some neighborhoods, are taken for Italians, and some Turks are confused with Argentines. But even in the children of biracial couples, racial ancestry is writ large—in the hue of the skin and the shape of the lips, the size of the brow and the bridge of the nose. It is no harder to trace than it is to judge which basic colors in a box of Crayolas were combined to make tangerine or burnt umber. Even with racial mixing, the existence of primary races is as obvious as the existence of primary colors.

Or is it? C. Loring Brace has his own ideas about where race resides, and it isn’t in skin color. If our eyes could perceive more than the superficial, we might find race in chromosome 11: there lies the gene for hemoglobin. If you divide humankind by which of two forms of the gene each person has, then equatorial Africans, Italians and Greeks fall into the “sickle-cell race”; Swedes and South Africa’s Xhosas (Nelson Mandela’s ethnic group) are in the healthy-hemoglobin race. Or do you prefer to group people by whether they have epicanthic eye folds, which produce the “Asian” eye? Then the !Kung San (Bushmen) belong with the Japanese and Chinese. Depending on which trait you choose to demarcate races, “you won’t get anything that remotely tracks conventional [race] categories,” says anthropologist Alan Goodman, dean of natural science at Hampshire College.

The notion of race is under withering attack for political and cultural reasons—not to mention practical ones like what to label the child of a Ghanaian and a Norwegian. But scientists got there first. Their doubts about the conventional racial categories—black, white, Asian—have nothing to do with a sappy “we are all the same” ideology. Just the reverse. “Human variation is very, very real,” says Goodman. “But race, as a way of organizing [what we know about that variation], is incredibly simplified and bastardized.” Worse, it does not come close to explaining the astounding diversity of humankind—not its origins, not its extent, not its meaning. “There is no organizing principle by which you could put 5 billion people into so few categories in a way that would tell you anything important about humankind’s diversity,” says Michigan’s Brace, who will lay out the case against race at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. About 70 percent of cultural anthropologists, and half of physical anthropologists, reject race as a biological category, according to a 1989 survey by Central Michigan University anthropologist Leonard Lieberman and colleagues. The truths of science are not decided by majority vote, of course. Empirical evidence, woven into a theoretical whole, is what matters. The threads of the argument against the standard racial categories:…

Read the entire article here.

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Why genes don’t count (for racial differences in health)

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2012-05-07 20:14Z by Steven

Why genes don’t count (for racial differences in health)

American Journal of Public Health
Volume 90, Number 11 (November 2000)
pages 1699-1702
DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.90.11.1699

Alan H. Goodman, Professor of Biological Anthropology
Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts

There is a paradoxical relationship between “race” and genetics. Whereas genetic data were first used to prove the validity of race, since the early 1970s they have been used to illustrate the invalidity of biological races. Indeed, race does not account for human genetic variation, which is continuous, complexly structured, constantly changing, and predominantly within “races.” Despite the disproof of race-as-biology, genetic variation continues to be used to explain racial differences. Such explanations require the acceptance of 2 disproved assumptions: that genetic variation explains variation in disease and that genetic variation explains racial variation in disease. While the former is a form of geneticization, the notion that genes are the primary determinants of biology and behavior, the latter represents a form of racialization, an exaggeration of the salience of race. Using race as a proxy for genetic differences limits understandings of the complex interactions among political-economic processes, lived experiences, and human biologies. By moving beyond studies of racialized genetics, we can clarify the processes by which varied and interwoven forms of racialization and racism affect individuals “under the skin.”

…Professor Armelagos hinted at a powerful lesson: that scientific ideas can endure and be made to seem real if they have social and political–economic utility. An evolutionary framework that explained human variation had been established for more than a century, ever since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. In the 1940s, Montagu used the “new evolutionary synthesis” to explain clearly why race was a biological myth. Yet the idea of race as biology persists today in science and society.

I was aware of the power of race as a worldview in 1973. But what I understood less was the idea’s ability to persist after it had been proven unscientific. If I had been asked in the 1970s whether race would survive as a way to think about human biological variation in 2000, I would have answered emphatically, “No!” I was naive to the durability of an economically useful idea.

Acceptance of the notion of race-as-biology declined in anthropology throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. Yet, during the past decade, racialized notions of biology have made a comeback. This is especially true in human genetics, a field that, paradoxically, once drove the last nail into the coffin of race-as biology. In this commentary, I explain why race should not be used as a proxy for genetic or biological variation. I then explain and illustrate the unfounded assumptions that are needed for an acceptance that racial differences in disease are due to genetic differences among races…

…The Double Error Inherent in Genetic Explanations of Racial Differences

Two errors—2 leaps of illogic—are necessary for acceptance of the idea that racial differences in disease are due to genetic differences among races. The first leap is a form of geneticization, the belief that most biology and behavior are located “in the genes.”

Genes, of course, are often a part of the complex web of disease causality, but they are almost always a minor, unstable, and insufficient cause. The presence of Gm allotype, for example, might correlate to increased rates of diabetes in Native Americans, but the causal link is unknown. In other cases, the gene is not expressed without some environmental context, and it may interact with environments and other genes in nonadditive and unpredictable ways.

The second necessary leap of illogic is a form of scientific racialism, the belief that races are real and useful constructs. Importantly, this leap propels one from explaining disease variation as caused by genetic variation to explaining that racial differences in disease are caused by genetic variation among races.To accept this logic, one needs to also accept that genetic variation occurs along racial divides: that is, most variation occurs among races. However, we know from Lewontin’s work that this assumption is false for simple genetic systems. For a disease of complex etiology, genetics is an illogical explanation for racial differences.

Read the entire article here.

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