There’s No Scientific Basis for Race—It’s a Made-Up Label

Posted in Africa, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive on 2018-03-13 18:09Z by Steven

There’s No Scientific Basis for Race—It’s a Made-Up Label

National Geographic
April 2018 (The Race Issue)

By Elizabeth Kolbert
Photographs by Robin Hammond


The four letters of the genetic code —A, C, G, and T—are projected onto Ryan Lingarmillar, a Ugandan. DNA reveals what skin color obscures: We all have African ancestors.

It’s been used to define and separate people for millennia. But the concept of race is not grounded in genetics.

In the first half of the 19th century, one of America’s most prominent scientists was a doctor named Samuel Morton. Morton lived in Philadelphia, and he collected skulls.

He wasn’t choosy about his suppliers. He accepted skulls scavenged from battlefields and snatched from catacombs. One of his most famous craniums belonged to an Irishman who’d been sent as a convict to Tasmania (and ultimately hanged for killing and eating other convicts). With each skull Morton performed the same procedure: He stuffed it with pepper seeds—later he switched to lead shot—which he then decanted to ascertain the volume of the braincase.

Morton believed that people could be divided into five races and that these represented separate acts of creation. The races had distinct characters, which corresponded to their place in a divinely determined hierarchy. Morton’s “craniometry” showed, he claimed, that whites, or “Caucasians,” were the most intelligent of the races. East Asians—Morton used the term “Mongolian”—though “ingenious” and “susceptible of cultivation,” were one step down. Next came Southeast Asians, followed by Native Americans. Blacks, or “Ethiopians,” were at the bottom. In the decades before the Civil War, Morton’s ideas were quickly taken up by the defenders of slavery…


Skulls from the collection of Samuel Morton, the father of scientific racism, illustrate his classification of people into five races—which arose, he claimed, from separate acts of creation. From left to right: a black woman and a white man, both American; an indigenous man from Mexico; a Chinese woman; and a Malaysian man.
Photograph by Robert Clark
PHOTOGRAPHED AT PENN MUSEUM

…By analyzing the genes of present-day Africans, researchers have concluded that the Khoe-San, who now live in southern Africa, represent one of the oldest branches of the human family tree. The Pygmies of central Africa also have a very long history as a distinct group. What this means is that the deepest splits in the human family aren’t between what are usually thought of as different races—whites, say, or blacks or Asians or Native Americans. They’re between African populations such as the Khoe-San and the Pygmies, who spent tens of thousands of years separated from one another even before humans left Africa

Read the entire article here.

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These Twins, One Black and One White, Will Make You Rethink Race

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Social Science, United Kingdom on 2018-03-13 14:32Z by Steven

These Twins, One Black and One White, Will Make You Rethink Race

National Geographic
The Race Issue
April 2018

Patricia Edmonds


Marcia (left) and Millie Biggs, both 11, say people are shocked to learn that they’re fraternal twins. Marcia looks more like their mother, who’s English born, and Millie looks more like their father, who’s of Jamaican descent.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBIN HAMMOND

Marcia and Millie Biggs say they’ve never been subjected to racism—just curiosity and surprise that twins could have such different skin colors.

When Amanda Wanklin and Michael Biggs fell in love, they “didn’t give a toss” about the challenges they might face as a biracial couple, Amanda says. “What was more important was what we wanted together.”

They settled down in Birmingham, England, eager to start a family. On July 3, 2006, Amanda gave birth to fraternal twin girls, and the ecstatic parents gave their daughters intertwined names: One would be Millie Marcia Madge Biggs, the other Marcia Millie Madge Biggs.

From a young age the girls had similar features but very different color schemes. Marcia had light brown hair and fair skin like her English-born mother. Millie had black hair and brown skin like her father, who’s of Jamaican descent. “We never worried about it; we just accepted it,” Michael says…

…odern science confirms “that the visible differences between peoples are accidents of history”—the result of mutations, migrations, natural selection, the isolation of some populations, and interbreeding among others, writes science journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. They are not racial differences because the very concept of race—to quote DNA-sequencing pioneer Craig Venter—“has no genetic or scientific basis.”

And yet 50 years after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., racial identity has reemerged as a fundamental dividing line in our world…

Read the entire article here.

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Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the Twentieth Century

Posted in Books, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Monographs on 2014-12-12 21:18Z by Steven

Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the Twentieth Century

Columbia University Press
September 2014
304 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9780231168748
E-book ISBN: 9780231537995

Michael Yudell, Associate Professor, Interim Chair, Community Health and Prevention
Drexel University School of Public Health, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Foreword by J. Craig Venter

Race, while drawn from the visual cues of human diversity, is an idea with a measurable past, an identifiable present, and an uncertain future. The concept of race has been at the center of both triumphs and tragedies in American history and has had a profound effect on the human experience. Race Unmasked revisits the origins of commonly held beliefs about the scientific nature of racial differences, examines the roots of the modern idea of race, and explains why race continues to generate controversy as a tool of classification even in our genomic age.

Surveying the work of some of the twentieth century’s most notable scientists, Race Unmasked reveals how genetics and related biological disciplines formed and preserved ideas of race and, at times, racism. A gripping history of science and scientists, Race Unmasked elucidates the limitations of a racial worldview and throws the contours of our current and evolving understanding of human diversity into sharp relief.

Contents

  • Foreword by J. Craig Venter
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. A Eugenic Foundation
  • 2. Charles Davenport and the Biology of Blackness
  • 3. Eugenics in the Public’s Eye
  • 4. The National Research Council and the Scientific Study of Race
  • 5. Coloring Race Difference
  • 6. Biology and the Problem of the Color Line
  • 7. Race and the Evolutionary Synthesis
  • 8. Consolidating the Race Concept in Biology
  • 9. Challenges to the Race Concept
  • 10. Naturalizing Racism: The Controversy Over Sociobiology
  • 11. Race in the Genomic Age
  • Epilogue: Dobzhansky’s Paradox and the Future of Racial Research
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice

Posted in Books, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy on 2012-05-17 02:22Z by Steven

Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice

Stanford University Press
April 2012
280 pages
Cloth ISBN: 9780804774079
Paper ISBN: 9780804774086
E-book: ISBN: 9780804782050

Catherine Bliss, Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of California, San Francisco

Winner of the 2014 Oliver Cromwell Cox Award, sponsored by the ASA Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities.

In 2000, with the success of the Human Genome Project, scientists declared the death of race in biology and medicine. But within five years, many of these same scientists had reversed course and embarked upon a new hunt for the biological meaning of race. Drawing on personal interviews and life stories, Race Decoded takes us into the world of elite genome scientists—including Francis Collins, director of the NIH; Craig Venter, the first person to create a synthetic genome; and Spencer Wells, National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, among others—to show how and why they are formulating new ways of thinking about race.

In this original exploration, Catherine Bliss reveals a paradigm shift, both at the level of science and society, from colorblindness to racial consciousness. Scientists have been fighting older understandings of race in biology while simultaneously promoting a new grand-scale program of minority inclusion. In selecting research topics or considering research design, scientists routinely draw upon personal experience of race to push the public to think about race as a biosocial entity, and even those of the most privileged racial and social backgrounds incorporate identity politics in the scientific process. Though individual scientists may view their positions differently—whether as a black civil rights activist or a white bench scientist—all stakeholders in the scientific debates are drawing on memories of racial discrimination to fashion a science-based activism to fight for social justice.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. The New Science of Race
  • 2. Making Science Racial
  • 3. The Sociogenomic Paradigm
  • 4. Making Sense of Race with Values
  • 5. Everyday Race-Positive
  • 6. Activism and Expertise
  • 7. The Enduring Trouble with Race
  • Notes
  • Index
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A race-based detour to personalized medicine

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2012-05-07 16:46Z by Steven

A race-based detour to personalized medicine

Canadian Medical Association Journal
Volume 184, Number 7 (2012-03-12)
DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.109-4133

Roger Collier, News Staff

Few experts in medical genetics would argue that June 23, 2005 wasn’t an important day. Consensus on whether it was a good or bad day is another matter. Some claim a major step on the long road to personalized medical care was taken. Others are far less convinced, suggesting it was the day the United States government decided, unwisely, to push the field of medical genetics into the heated realm of racial politics.

On that date, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved, for the first time, a drug for a specific race, to wit, the fixed-dose combination drug isosorbide dinitrate and hydralazine (BiDil) for use as a heart disease medication within the black population, who have a much higher risk of heart failure than whites…

…The licensing of isosorbide dinitrate/hydralazine thus became a turning point in discussions on the merits of race-based medicine, a debate that continues to rage. Critics of race-specific therapies argue that focusing on genetics rather than on social and economic inequalities will not reduce disparities in health outcomes and access to care among different ethnic groups. Furthermore, they say, race is a social, rather than a biological, construct.

“Using race is a bad proxy for genetic ancestry,” says Althea Grant, chief of the Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch, Division of Blood Disorders, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This opinion is shared by one of the world’s most famous geneticists: Craig Venter, the genetics pioneer who led the team that first sequenced the human genome in 2001. He has referred to the use of race and ethnicity in medical genetics as a crude tool and a personal pet peeve, suggesting that it will no longer be necessary once the price of sequencing genomes falls to an amount that would make it reasonable to sequence everybody’s genome, a figure he pegged at US$1000…

…The first problem with using race in medical genetics is determining which races constitute a part of someone’s background. Few people have extensive knowledge of their ancestral lineage, and skin colour and other external markers don’t tell the full story. Even people who are aware of their mixed heritage often place themselves in one camp — or are put there by others. Prominent examples include US President Barack Obama and professional golfer Tiger Woods, who are often referred to as black even though the former has a white mother and the latter’s mother hails from Thailand.

“People tend to self-identify with a particular race more than another even if there is a mix,” says Grant. “They might not even know all the ancestries that are in the mix.”

In some areas of medicine, using race as a screening tool has already been shown to create problems, both practical and ethical. That’s why states abandoned the practice of screening only black newborns for hemoglobinopathies, such as sickle cell disease, Grant and colleagues concluded (Ethn Health 2011;16:377–88). The state of Georgia, the last holdout for ethnicity-based newborn screening, discontinued its use in 1998…

“If we go back to its origins, we find that BiDil did not begin as an ethnic drug. Rather it became ethnic over time and through a complex array of legal, commercial, and medical interventions, that transformed the drug’s identity,” wrote Jonathan Kahn, a law professor at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota (www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/pageDocuments/PLMVM6FTAO.pdf). Unlike “racialized medicine, which treats race as genetic, the use of race in medical practice has many legitimate and important places. Collecting broad-based epidemiological data is perhaps foremost among these. Only by using social categories of race is it possible to identify and track racial disparities in health, health care access and outcomes.”

Read the entire article here.

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