Skin Color and the Nature of Science

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2019-02-19 20:59Z by Steven

Skin Color and the Nature of Science

The American Biology Teacher
Volume 80, Number 3 (March 2018)
page 163
DOI: 10.1525/abt.2018.80.3.163

Douglas Allchin, Lecturer, History of Science and Technology
Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science
University of Minnesota

Skin color is the trait most commonly associated with race. Consider just the “black” in the Black Lives Matter name or the “white” in white nationalist rallies. Skin color and the concept of race are ideologically charged—and socially divisive. But scientifically, what is the nature of this relationship?

A study led by Sarah Tishkoff published not long ago in Science contradicts many widespread views of skin color and further dispels the very concept of human races in biology. The group identified at least eight genes for skin color, but the genes do not cluster neatly into predictable groups, or races. They further found that the genes do not align with conventional racial groups:

  • The same depigmentation gene that led to “white” skin in the lineage of most Europeans (SLC24A5) is also common in East Africa, where skin color is much darker.
  • Another pair of genes linked to lighter skin, hair, and eye color among Europeans actually originated in Africa, where among the San people in southern Africa, it also contributes to lighter skin tones.
  • By contrast, a gene for darker pigmentation now common in Africa appears to be widespread in non-African groups as well: Indians, Melanesians, and Australian Aborigines.
  • Some darker skin colors result not by increasing dark pigments but by reducing yellow and red pigments.

The routes to skin color are many and varied, and not exclusively determinant of any geographic or ancestral group. Trying to define race by skin color genetics is hardly “black and white.”…

Read the entire article here.

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