Study: Let’s Replace ‘Ancestry’ in Forensics With Something More Accurate

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2021-07-15 18:52Z by Steven

Study: Let’s Replace ‘Ancestry’ in Forensics With Something More Accurate

North Carolina State University News
Raleigh, North Carolina

Matt Shipman, Research Communications Lead

A new study finds forensics researchers use terms related to ancestry and race in inconsistent ways, and calls for the discipline to adopt a new approach to better account for both the fluidity of populations and how historical events have shaped our skeletal characteristics.

Forensic anthropology is a science, and we need to use terms consistently,” says Ann Ross, corresponding author of the study and a professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University. “Our study both highlights our discipline’s challenges in discussing issues of ancestral origin consistently, and suggests that focusing on population affinity would be a way forward.”

Race is a social construct – there’s no scientific basis for it. Population affinity, in the context of forensic anthropology, is determined by the skeletal characteristics associated with groups of people. Those characteristics are shaped by historic events and forces such as gene flow, migration, and so on. What’s more, these population groups can be very fluid…

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Ancestry Studies in Forensic Anthropology: Back on the Frontier of Racism

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2021-07-15 16:36Z by Steven

Ancestry Studies in Forensic Anthropology: Back on the Frontier of Racism

Volume 10, Issue 7 (2021)
pages 602-613
Published: 2021-06-29
DOI: 10.3390/biology10070602

Ann H. Ross, Professor
Department of Biological Sciences,
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina

Shanna E. Williams, Clinical Associate Professor
University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, Greenville

Figure 1
Anatomical landmark location and associated landmark number from Table 1.

Simple Summary

Within the practice of forensic anthropology ancestry is oftentimes used as a proxy for social race. This concept and its implications were explored via a content analysis (2009–2019) of the Journal of Forensic Sciences. Our findings revealed antiquated views of race based on the trifecta of continental populations (Asia, Europe, and Africa) continue to be pervasive in the field despite scientific invalidation of the concept of race decades earlier. Moreover, our employment of modern geometric morphometric and spatial analysis methods on craniofacial coordinate anatomical landmarks from several Latin American samples produced results in which the groups were not patterned by ancestry trifecta. Based on our findings we propose replacing the assumption of continental ancestry with a population structure approach that combines microevolutionary and cultural factors with historical events in the examination of population affinity.


One of the parameters forensic anthropologists have traditionally estimated is ancestry, which is used in the United States as a proxy for social race. Its use is controversial because the biological race concept was debunked by scientists decades ago. However, many forensic anthropologists contend, in part, that because social race categories used by law enforcement can be predicted by cranial variation, ancestry remains a necessary parameter for estimation. Here, we use content analysis of the Journal of Forensic Sciences for the period 2009–2019 to demonstrate the use of various nomenclature and resultant confusion in ancestry estimation studies, and as a mechanism to discuss how forensic anthropologists have eschewed a human variation approach to studying human morphological differences in favor of a simplistic and debunked typological one. Further, we employ modern geometric morphometric and spatial analysis methods on craniofacial coordinate anatomical landmarks from several Latin American samples to test the validity of applying the antiquated tri-continental approach to ancestry (i.e., African, Asian, European). Our results indicate groups are not patterned by the ancestry trifecta. These findings illustrate the benefit and necessity of embracing studies that employ population structure models to better understand human variation and the historical factors that have influenced it.

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The multiple dimensions of race

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Social Science on 2016-04-04 01:07Z by Steven

The multiple dimensions of race

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Published online 2016-03-21
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2016.1140793

Wendy D. Roth, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Increasing numbers of people in the United States and beyond experience ‘race’ not as a single, consistent identity but as a number of conflicting dimensions. This article distinguishes the multiple dimensions of the concept of race, including racial identity, self-classification, observed race, reflected race, phenotype, and racial ancestry. With the word ‘race’ used as a proxy for each of these dimensions, much of our scholarship and public discourse is actually comparing across several distinct, albeit correlated, variables. Yet which dimension of race is used can significantly influence findings of racial inequality. I synthesize scholarship on the multiple dimensions of race, and situate in this framework distinctive literatures on colourism and genetic ancestry inference. I also map the relationship between the multidimensionality of race and processes of racial fluidity and racial boundary change.

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