What Doctors Should Ignore

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, United States on 2018-02-14 04:27Z by Steven

What Doctors Should Ignore

The New York Times
2017-12-08

Moises Velasquez-Manoff


Joan Wong

Science has revealed how arbitrary racial categories are. Perhaps medicine will abandon them, too.

Sickle cell anemia was first described in 1910 and was quickly labeled a “black” disease. At a time when many people were preoccupied with an imagined racial hierarchy, with whites on top, the disease was cited as evidence that people of African descent were inferior. But what of white people who presented with sickle cell anemia?

Doctors twisted themselves into knots trying to explain those cases away. White sickle cell patients must have mixed backgrounds, they contended — a black forebear they didn’t know about perhaps, or one they didn’t want to mention. Or maybe white patients’ symptoms didn’t stem from sickle cell anemia at all, but some other affliction. The bottom line was, the disease was “black,” so by definition white people couldn’t get it.

Today, scientists understand the sickle cell trait as an adaptation to malaria, not evidence of inferiority. One copy of the sickle cell trait protects against malaria. Having two can cause severe anemia and even death. Scientists also know that the trait is common outside Africa across the “malaria belt” — the Arabian Peninsula, India and parts of the Mediterranean Basin. And people historically considered white can, in fact, carry it. In the Greek town of Orchomenos, for example, the gene is more prevalent than it is among African-Americans.

We know all this, and yet the racialization of the disease, the idea that it occurs only in people of sub-Saharan African descent, persists. “When I talk to medical students, I get this all the time — ‘Sickle cell is a black trait,’ ” Michael Yudell, chairman of the department of community health and prevention at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, told me.

That’s worrisome for many reasons, he says, chief among them that it may result in subpar medical care for some patients. Case in point: California’s universal blood disorder screening program has identified thousands of nonblack children with the sickle cell trait and scores with the disease — patients who, had doctors stuck to received “wisdom,” might have been missed.

Professor Yudell belongs to a growing chorus of scholars and researchers who argue that in science at least, we need to push past the race concept and, where possible, scrap it entirely. Professor Yudell and others contend that instead of talking about race, we should talk about ancestry (which, unlike “race,” refers to one’s genetic heritage, not innate qualities); or the specific gene variants that, like the sickle cell trait, affect disease risk; or environmental factors like poverty or diet that affect some groups more than others…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

What Scientists Mean When They Say ‘Race’ Is Not Genetic

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2016-07-20 21:07Z by Steven

What Scientists Mean When They Say ‘Race’ Is Not Genetic

The Huffington Post
2016-02-09

Jacqueline Howard, Senior Science Editor

A new paper explains why it can be dangerous to think otherwise.

If a team of scientists in Philadelphia and New York have their way, using race to categorize groups of people in biological and genetic research will be forever discontinued.

The concept of race in such research is “problematic at best and harmful at worst,” the researchers argued in a new paper published in the journal Science on Friday.

However, they also said that social scientists should continue to study race as a social construct to better understand the impact of racism on health.

So what does all this mean? HuffPost Science recently posed that question and others to the paper’s co-author, Michael Yudell, who is associate professor and chair of community health and prevention at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University in Philadelphia…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

“Race” and Science

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive on 2016-05-12 01:55Z by Steven

“Race” and Science

The Common Reader: A Journal of The Essay
2016-04-19

Garland Allen, Professor Emeritus of Biology
Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

A new book traces the complicated legacy of race’s biological conceptions.

Michael Yudell; J. Craig Venter (fore.), Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the Twentieth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014)

Some years ago, at an elementary school where I was involved in writing and testing a new science curriculum, I was on the playground when a small white boy ran up to the teacher with whom I was talking and said that another boy just hit him. “Which one?” the teacher asked. Pointing to a black boy on the other side of the yard, he said “The one with the red hat.” Brief as it was, that incident had a profound effect on me, leading to the realization that racism—the recognition of race, especially skin color, as a significant, defining difference between people—has to be taught—it is not inborn. Michael Yudell’s new book, Race Unmasked is the story of how race differences have been fashioned and taught, especially with the aid of science, in 20th century America. The book provides an interesting and relevant historical perspective on an issue that recent events in Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore and elsewhere have demonstrated is still very much a part of American cultural baggage.

As the author tells us in the Introduction, “in the 21st century, understanding the way race was constructed within the biological sciences, particularly within genetics and evolutionary biology, is essential to understanding its broader meanings.” Yudell shows how scientists, even with the best intentions of modernizing or modifying the concept to keep up with current evidence, often wound up reinforcing the standard, popular view, helping to insure its survival. Thus, this book is about the paradoxical way in which changing biological conceptions of race, changed between 1700 and 1950 from a fixed and significant taxonomic to an arbitrary and socially-constructed category, nonetheless left a confusing legacy that did not substantially change the common perception of the existence of sharply-defined racial groups. The author’s attempt to trace the history of this paradox and its evolution in the 20th century forms the central thread of the narrative…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , ,

Taking race out of human genetics and memetics: We can’t achieve one without achieving the other

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2016-03-24 01:52Z by Steven

Taking race out of human genetics and memetics: We can’t achieve one without achieving the other

OUPblog: Oxford University Press’s Academic Insights for the Thinking World
2016-03-23

Carlos Hoyt

Carlos Hoyt explores race, racial identity and related issues as a scholar, teacher, psychotherapist, parent, and racialized member of our society, interrogating master narratives and the dominant discourse on race with the goal of illuminating and virtuously disrupting the racial worldview. Carlos holds teaching positions at Wheelock College, Simmons College, and Boston University in Boston Massachusetts, and has authored peer-reviewed articles on spirituality in social work practice and the pedagogy of the definition of racism. He is the author of The Arc of a Bad Idea: Understanding and Transcending Race, published by Oxford University Press.

Acknowledging that they are certainly not the first to do so, four scientists, Michael Yudell, Dorothy Roberts, Rob Desalle, and Sarah Tishkoff recently called for the phasing out of the use of the concept/term “race” in biological science.

Because race is an irredeemably nebulous, confused, and confusing social construct, the authors advocate for replacing it with “ancestry.” “Ancestry,” they say, is a “process-based” concept that encourages one to seek information about genomic heritage, while race is a “patternbased” concept that induces one to organize individuals into preconceived hierarchical groupings based on shifting, murky, and contradictory combinations of appearance, geography, ability, worth, and the like.

If biological science seeks and relies on valid and maximally precise population level comparisons between groups, and race is an irrefutably imprecise proxy for consistent and concordant biological/genetic comparison, then of course we should stop using it in biology and switch over to “ancestry,” “genetic heritage,” or some other term that actually gets at what’s real, reliable, and useful. It doesn’t feel like a rocket-science proposition. And yet biological science hasn’t been able to heed the call and make the shift. And I sadly forecast that the shift won’t soon – or ever – be made – unless and until we take the step that even the well-meaning authors of this call for stop short of taking…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Taking race out of human genetics

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2016-02-06 17:35Z by Steven

Taking race out of human genetics

Science
Volume 351, Issue 6273 (2016-02-05)
pages 564-565
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4951

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

Dorothy Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights
University of Pennsylvania

Rob DeSalle, Curator, Molecular Systematics; Principal Investigator, SICG Genomics Lab; Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School
American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York

Sarah Tishkoff, David and Lyn Silfen University Professor in Genetics and Biology
University of Pennsylvania

In the wake of the sequencing of the human genome in the early 2000s, genome pioneers and social scientists alike called for an end to the use of race as a variable in genetic research (1, 2). Unfortunately, by some measures, the use of race as a biological category has increased in the postgenomic age (3). Although inconsistent definition and use has been a chief problem with the race concept, it has historically been used as a taxonomic categorization based on common hereditary traits (such as skin color) to elucidate the relationship between our ancestry and our genes. We believe the use of biological concepts of race in human genetic research—so disputed and so mired in confusion—is problematic at best and harmful at worst. It is time for biologists to find a better way.

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

‘Race Unmasked’ explores science’s racial past, present

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-12-29 02:41Z by Steven

‘Race Unmasked’ explores science’s racial past, present

Science News: Magazine of the Society for Science & The Public
2014-11-30
Magazine Issue: Volume 186, Number 12, December 13, 2014

Bryan Bello, Editorial Assistant

Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the 20th Century. Michael Yudell. Columbia University Press, $40

It’s 1921 and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is packed with visitors eager to learn about the hot science of eugenics. AMNH staff dubs its conference and exhibit “the most important scientific meeting ever held in the museum.” In his new book, Yudell, a historian of public health, argues that the complicated interaction of science and race visible in the eugenics movement is still playing out. “Thinking in the natural sciences has influenced the continued evolution of racist ideology in the United States,” he writes.

An inversion also holds true: Racist ideology has shaped — and continues to sway — the evolution of science. The result is a constant trade-off of influence between popular culture and science.

Yudell dissects key moments in innovation. For example, Mendelian genetics arose and was appropriated by eugenicists to falsely link complex personal attributes to heredity.  In addition, by midcentury, leading anthropologists accepted Africa as the birthplace of the genus Homo, but then several researchers spun off theories positing that different races are Homo sapiens subspecies…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

Racecraft: Stories of Racial Passing

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-12-12 21:35Z by Steven

Racecraft: Stories of Racial Passing

Los Angeles Review of Books
2014-12-05

Lucy McKeon, Writer and Photographer
New York, New York

THE VERY NOTION of racial “passing” implies a test. Those who believed clear racial categorization was possible might test for race by measuring physical traits to indicate “blood purity”: slight physical traits that could be identified, such as the half-moon of a nail bed or the whites of ones eyes. In apartheid South Africa, the “pencil test” was devised: categorizing people based on whether a pencil would remain or fall from their hair. Physical markers were used to fix and control whole futures.

“White people were so stupid about such things,” says Irene, the narrator of Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929). “They usually asserted that they were able to tell; and by the most ridiculous means, finger-nails, palms of hands, shapes of ears, teeth.”

To pass the faulty test of white scrutiny is not difficult; Larsen’s Passing, and other 18th to 20th century fiction and 20th century film, work to demonstrate that categorization by race relies on arbitrary rules and unsound logic — proving, in other words, the falsely naturalized or socially constructed nature of “race” itself. As Stanford historian Allyson Hobbs reminds us in her recent cultural history A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, the gains and losses of racial passing — when someone from one racial group “passes,” or is accepted, as another — were historically contingent, like “race” itself. Indeed, one’s semblance could rarely be taken as trustworthy evidence. “Skin color and physical appearance were usually the least reliable factors,” writes Hobbs, “whereas one’s associations and relationships were more predictive” of who was deemed white and who was not. If white people can’t actually tell who is white and who isn’t, whiteness is exposed as simply the external perception of being white — the privilege, power, and civic membership afforded to someone recognized as such. This is white supremacy in practice.

Michael Yudell’s Race Unmasked examines the history of the concept of biological race — in large part tied to the history of genetics, which “at its founding was inseparable from eugenics theories” — in order to show that race is “neither a static biological certainty nor a reflection of our genes. Instead, race is a historical and cultural phenomenon.” We’ve known this, of course. But Yudell’s recent book provides scientific documentation of the process of “racecraft,” a term coined by Karen Fields and Barbara Fields in their 2012 book by the same name: the “mental terrain” where our deep and pervasive belief in race as meaningful is conjured, then ritualized into reality. “Race” comes to explain social effects like poverty, as witchcraft might explain failing crops. What’s real is not “race,” but the ideology of racism: the belief in “race” as a tool with which to rationalize cause and consequence.

In this way, while both fictive and biographical representations of passing demonstrate the absurdity of “race,” they also emphasize the very real effects of racial categorization. From the point of view of those passing, Hobbs writes,

race was neither strictly a social construction nor a biological fact. The line between black and white was by no means imaginary; crossing it had profound, life-changing consequences. Race was quite real to those who lived with it, not because of skin color or essentialist notions about biology, but because it was social and experiential, because it involved one’s closest relationships and one’s most intimate communities.

Passing, in other words, demonstrates how “race” is both socially constructed and, as experienced, extremely meaningful.

Hobbs focuses on the experience of great loss in her cultural history of passing. As she points out, “Historians and literary scholars have paid far more attention to what was gained by passing as white than to what was lost by rejecting a black racial identity.” But “racial passing is an exile, sometimes chosen, sometimes not.”…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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
Tags: , ,

Making Race: Biology and the Evolution of the Race Concept in 20 Century American Thought

Posted in Dissertations, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-04-23 20:41Z by Steven

Making Race: Biology and the Evolution of the Race Concept in 20 Century American Thought

Columbia University
December 2008
309 pages

Michael Yudell

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy under the Executive Committee of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

At the dawn of the 21st century the idea of race—the belief that the peoples of the world can be organized into biologically distinctive groups, each with its own discrete physical, social and intellectual characteristics—is seen by most natural and social scientists as unsound and unscientific. Race and racism, while drawn from the visual cues of human diversity, are ideas with a measurable past, identifiable present, and uncertain future. They are concepts that change with time and place; the changes themselves products of a range of variables including time, place, geography, politics, science, and economics. As much as scientists once thought that race and racism were reflections of physical or biological differences, today social scientists, with help from colleagues in the natural sciences, have shown that the once scientific concept of race is in fact a product of history with an unmistakable impact on the American story. This dissertation examines the history of the biological race concept during the 20th century, studying how the biological sciences helped to shape thinking about human difference. This work argues that in the 20th century biology and genetics became the arbiter of the meaning of race. This work also brings the story of the evolution of the race concept to the present by examining the early impact of the genomic sciences on race, and by placing it in a contemporary public health context.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Dedication
  • Preface
  • Introduction: The Permanence of Race
  • Chapter 1: A Eugenic Foundation
  • Chapter 2: Making Race A Biological Difference
  • Chapter 3: Race Problems for Biology
  • Chapter 4: Consolidating the Biological Race Concept
  • Chapter 5: Race in the Molecular Age
  • Conclusion: Race, Genomics, and the Public’s Health
  • Bibliography

Read the entire dissertation here.

Tags: ,

From Eugenics to Genomics: A History of the Race Concept and Its Impact on Contemporary Health Disparities

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2010-07-24 02:12Z by Steven

From Eugenics to Genomics: A History of the Race Concept and Its Impact on Contemporary Health Disparities

American Public Health Association Annual Meeting
San Diego, California
2008

Michael Yudell, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor, Department of Community Health and Prevention
Drexel University

At the dawn of the 21st century, the idea of race—the belief that the peoples of the world can be organized into biologically distinctive groups, each with their own physical, social, and intellectual characteristics—is understood by most natural and social scientists to be an unsound concept. The way scientists think about race today, after all, is different than it was in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement when some promoted black genetic inferiority as an argument against egalitarian social and economic policy, and certainly different than one or two centuries ago as scientific justifications for slavery and later Jim Crow were articulated. In other words, race, its scientific meaning seemingly drawn from the visual and genetic cues of human diversity, is an idea with a measurable past, identifiable present, and uncertain future. These changes are influenced by a range of variables including geography, politics, culture, science, and economics.

Today, despite the growing consensus among scientists that race is not, in fact, a useful classificatory tool, an understanding of human difference and diversity remains a hallmark of contemporary scientific practice, and thus presents a seeming contradiction—how can one study human difference without talking about race? On the one hand, beginning in the 1930s, advances in population genetics and evolutionary biology led many to conclude that the race concept was not a particularly useful or accurate marker of biological difference. By the 1970s, many prominent biologists, including the geneticists Richard Lewontin and L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza, came to see the race concept as a deeply flawed way to organize human genetic diversity that is inseparable from the social prejudices about human difference that spawned the concept in the 18th century and have accompanied its meaning since. Historians and social scientists believe that race is socially constructed, meaning that the biological meaning of race has been constrained by the social context in which racial research has taken place…

…During the first three decades of the 20th century, eugenicists and many geneticists fiercely advocated “the belief that human races differed hereditarily by important mental as well as physical traits, and that crosses between widely different races were biologically harmful.” American eugenicists dedicated considerable resources to the study of black-white differences during the first three decades of the 20th century, and sought to apply these ideas to the public sphere. Well-respected geneticists wrote openly that “miscegenation can only lead to unhappiness under present social conditions and must, we believe, under any social conditions be biologically wrong.” In his seminal work on race and intelligence, Race Crossing in Jamaica (1929), Charles Davenport, a Harvard trained biologist and the titular head of the American eugenics movements from the outset of the 20th century until the 1930s, wrote “we are driven to the conclusion that there is a constitutional, hereditary, genetical basis for the difference between the two races [whites and blacks] in mental tests. We have to conclude that there are racial differences in mental capacity.” In their influential text Applied Eugenics (1933), eugenicists Paul Popenoe and Roswell Hill Johnson, who endorsed segregation as a “social adaptation,” wrote “that the Negro race differs greatly from the white race, mentally as well as physically, and that in many respects it may be said to be inferior when tested by the requirements of modern civilization and progress.” Moreover, they suggested “negroes, both children and adults, have been found markedly inferior to white in vital capacity… Differences in temperament and emotional reaction also exist, and may be more important than the purely intellectual differences.” It must be stated that the genetic claims of racial difference advocated by eugenicists—from differences in intelligence to disease rates to musicality—have all been shown to be false.

Eugenic propagandists gave race an unalterable permanence; neither education, nor change in environment or climate, nor the eradication of racism itself could alter the fate of non-whites. In the United States, the impact of eugenics on matters of human difference was felt widely. In Virginia, as head of the State’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, eugenicist and white supremacist Walter Plecker helped to shape the State’s segregation policies. For example, Plecker helped push Virginia’s anti-miscegenation Racial Integrity Act of 1924, and used that law to expose individuals he believed were passing as white in an attempt to stop what he feared to be the mongrelization of the races…

Read the entire paper here.

Tags: ,