Human genetic research, race, ethnicity and the labeling of populations: recommendations based on an interdisciplinary workshop in Japan

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-10-06 21:35Z by Steven

Human genetic research, race, ethnicity and the labeling of populations: recommendations based on an interdisciplinary workshop in Japan

BMC Medical Ethics
Volume 15, Issue 1, December 2014
DOI: 10.1186/1472-6939-15-33

Yasuko Takezawa, Kazuto Kato, Hiroki Oota, Timothy Caulfield, Akihiro Fujimoto, Shunwa Honda, Naoyuki Kamatani, Shoji Kawamura, Kohei Kawashima, Ryosuke Kimura, Hiromi Matsumae, Ayako Saito, Patrick E Savage, Noriko Seguchi, Keiko Shimizu, Satoshi Terao, Yumi Yamaguchi-Kabata, Akira Yasukouchi, Minoru Yoneda, Katsushi Tokunaga


A challenge in human genome research is how to describe the populations being studied. The use of improper and/or imprecise terms has the potential to both generate and reinforce prejudices and to diminish the clinical value of the research. The issue of population descriptors has not attracted enough academic attention outside North America and Europe. In January 2012, we held a two-day workshop, the first of its kind in Japan, to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue between scholars in the humanities, social sciences, medical sciences, and genetics to begin an ongoing discussion of the social and ethical issues associated with population descriptors.


Through the interdisciplinary dialogue, we confirmed that the issue of race, ethnicity and genetic research has not been extensively discussed in certain Asian communities and other regions. We have found, for example, the continued use of the problematic term, “Mongoloid” or continental terms such as “European,” “African,” and “Asian,” as population descriptors in genetic studies. We, therefore, introduce guidelines for reporting human genetic studies aimed at scientists and researchers in these regions.


We need to anticipate the various potential social and ethical problems entailed in population descriptors. Scientists have a social responsibility to convey their research findings outside of their communities as accurately as possible, and to consider how the public may perceive and respond to the descriptors that appear in research papers and media articles.

…Another example of the challenges associated with the use of population descriptors can be found in the frequent use of the terms European, African, and Asian. These continental terms are tremendously broad in scope. At the Tokyo meeting, for example, it was noted that even among the Japanese researchers, there was no unitary understanding of what populations should be considered “Asian.”

More importantly, these terms can, in some contexts, be interpreted as referring to white, black, and Asian, the three classic, and socially constructed “races.” There continues to be a great deal of academic work that highlights the degree to which these broad “racial” categories are, in reality, social constructs. Although we should not overlook the correlation between “race” and socio-economic inequality involving factors such as health care and medical care, such discussion has usually arisen within the context of some North American and European societies. However, outside of these societies, the divergence between samples and population descriptors is also problematic. When the actual samples in the name of “European”, “African”, and “Asian” are taken from certain limited groups, without taking into account significant diversity within each region, it is unlikely that such broad terms have any scientific meaning, at least from the perspective of genetics on the global level. Moreover, the research results may be taken as supporting the classic “racial” categories, with any discovered “differences” misinterpreted as genetically determined “racial differences.”

The importance of the distinction between race and ethnicity cannot be overemphasized as the latter pays close attention to (presumably) shared cultural factors such as language, diet, and religion. When considering the contribution of environmental as well as genetic factors to diversity within each continental region, the scientific validity of the use of such broad terms to describe samples becomes even more questionable…

The above study highlights that even populations traditionally presumed to have a high degree of homogeneity may have local genetic differentiations, that make the use of broader population terms less scientifically or clinically relevant. Researchers should strive to select terms that, as much as possible, reflect the sample population and nature of each study. Since genetic subpopulation structure is still generally unknown, sampling without considering the specifics of the subject population could cause false positive results on risk alleles of diseases. In addition, differences in whole genome sequences between individuals belonging to different populations should not be overgeneralized and misinterpreted as population differences…

Read the entire article here.

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Dismantling the Race Myth

Posted in Anthropology, Asian Diaspora, Forthcoming Media, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Law, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Live Events, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-12-07 16:20Z by Steven

Dismantling the Race Myth

Kyoto International Conference Center
Kyoto, Japan
2012-12-15 through 2012-12-16

Poster (PDF, Japanese)

Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University presents International Symposium.
“Race” still has social reality even though it has no biological reality. This symposium aims to dismantle the race myth by bringing together scholars in a wide range of disciplines from Japan and abroad. While race studies have hitherto been confined to trans-Atlantic experiences, we will shed lights on “invisibility,” “ambiguity,” and “in-between-ness” with special reference to Japanese and Asian experiences.


  • Saturday, December 15, 2012
    • Part I. Invisibility: Representation of Invisible Race
      • Takashi Fujitani (Toronto University) / Appearances Can Be Deceiving: Tennosei, Global Modernity, and the Anxieties of Ocular-centric Racism
      • Ayako Saito (Meiji Gakuin University) / Note on the Film Representation of the “Hisabetsu Burakumin”
      • Joong-Seop Kim (Gyeongsang National University) / The Formation of an Invisible Race: the case of the Korean “Paekjong”
      • Ariela Gross (University of Southern California) / Laws of Blood: The Science and Performance of Race in U.S. Courtrooms
      • Relay Talk and Poster Session by Junior Researchers
      • Social Hour
  • Sunday, December 16, 2012
    • Part II. Knowledge: Co-production of Science and Society
      • Arnaud Nanta (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) / Critique on the Idea of “Race” in French Anthropology, 1930s-1940s
      • Wataru Kusaka (Kyoto University) / American Colonial Public Health and the Leprosy Patients’ Revolt: Discipline and Desire on Culion Island, Philippines
      • Miho Ishii (Kyoto University) / Blood, Gifts, and “Community” in India: Betwixt and Between Marking and Anonymisation
      • Yasuko Takezawa (Kyoto University), Kazuto Kato (Osaka University), Hiroki Oota (Kitazato University) / Population Descriptors in Genetic Studies and Biomedicine
    • Part III. Hybridity: Beyond the Politics of “Blood”
      • Ryuichi Narita (Japan Women’s University) / Politics of “Mixed Race” in Modern Japan
      • Mika Ko (Rikkyo University) / Cinematic Representations of “Mixed-Race” People in 1930s Japanese Cinema: The Two Faces of Japan’s Modernity
      • Masako Kudo (Kyoto Women’s University) / Border-crossing and Identity Construction by Children of Japanese-Pakistani Marriage
      • Duncan Williams (University of Southern California) / Japan and Its Global Mixed Race History

This is part of a joint research project, a Japan-based Global Study of Racial Representations with Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (S). The organizers are grateful to Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for its sponsorship of this event. We are also thankful to Science Council of Japan for their support.

For more information, click here.

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