Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth and Culture [Hauskeller Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2014-08-28 20:26Z by Steven

Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth and Culture [Hauskeller Review]

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 37, Issue 10, 2014
Special Issue: Ethnic and Racial Studies Review
pages 1946-1948
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2013.870348

Christine Hauskeller, Senior Lecturer of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology
University of Exeter, United Kingdom

Race and the genetic revolution: science, myth and culture, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan, New York, Columbia University Press, 2011, xiv + 296 pp., £22.66 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-231-15697-4

The similarities and differences among humankind have been a central theme in knowledge production, and modern biological and medical science has contributed much to the formation of race. Race and the Genetic Revolution takes its starting point from two current empirical facts: that ‘race is a scientific myth and a social reality. (2)’ DNA knowledge and genetic tests are promoted as indicating racial differences as biological differences, even though race has been unmasked in the twentieth century as a powerful social reality without a biological basis. Population genetics has shown that races are ideological constructs, yet today we find genetics widely used to re-inscribe nineteenth-century racial categories and prejudices into current social practices. To discuss these developments, Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan have brought together contributions by distinguished scholars with multidisciplinary expertise. The resulting anthology unfolds, with sharpness and clarity, the genealogy of the myth of race and how genetics is being misappropriated to revive it.

Following Krimsky’s programmatic foreword, the book is divided into six parts relating to the social realms in which genetic race is fabricated. The chapters deconstruct the amalgamation of ideology and pseudo-science and discuss in detail the flawed methods used to establish biological races. This folk genetics of race is problematic, however, not least because it is increasingly applied in institutions with social power and authority, such as health services and the police. In Part I, Michael Yuddell and Robert Pollack present a history of the ideology of race and an evolutionary perspective on why strict biological human races cannot exist. Part II analyses the politics and uses of the large forensic DNA databases in the USA and the UK. In both countries, ethnic minorities are over-represented in these databases and thus become prime suspects in police proceedings. Profiles of suspects are kept in the databases even when the individuals are never charged with any crime. Michael Risher argues that these DNA banking practices could be seen as unconstitutional and Helen Wallace points out the human rights aspects. Both observe no decided political will to counteract this re-racialization. In Part III on the logic of genetic ancestry testing, Troy Duster deconstructs the underlying idea of ‘pure’ races, the construction of reference data sets and the statistics used to produce percentages of racial origin. Testing products promising to identify the racial ancestry of an individual, he concludes, are flawed and buyers should beware that they buy nothing of any actual meaning or use. Duana Fullwiley looks at the uptake of ancestral informative DNA markers in the creation of search profiles in policing. Despite falling short of the scientific credibility that would be required for courtroom evidence, DNA-derived racial profiles inform investigative searches…

Read the entire review here.

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Can Science Explain the Concept of Race?

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2012-09-09 17:49Z by Steven

Can Science Explain the Concept of Race?

Volume 57, Release 16 (2012-04-18)
Article 4
5 pages

Lundy Braun, Royce Family Professor in Teaching Excellence and Professor of Medical Science and Africana Studies
Brown University

Amed Logrono, Senior Human Biology Major
Brown University

A review of Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan (Eds.) New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2011. 296 pp. ISBN 978-0-231-15697-4 (paperback).

As many have written, genomics has ushered in a new era of disease- and behavior-related research. At the same time, biomedical researchers have become increasingly focused on health disparities. Consequently, when, how, and whether race should be used in medicine has been the topic of an intense, sometime contentious, and very public debate.

Less widely appreciated, though of perhaps even greater consequence, is that during this same period, there has been a radical expansion of DNA technologies for identifying individuals purported to be involved in criminal activities. The stakes in the use of DNA technologies in forensics are, if anything, higher than in the sphere of biomedicine. Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture is a collection of essays, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan, that address the intersection of race and genomics in several distinct but overlapping and mutually reinforcing spheres. It joins a growing number of books and edited volumes dedicated to exploring the origins and impact of the revitalization of the concept of race among scientists (see, e.g., Epstein, 2007; Roberts, 2011).

Race and the Genetic Revolution provides important insights into some of the most critical and highly charged applications of genomics. An important strength of this timely, engaging, and readable book—and what distinguishes it from some others—is the clarity with which it demonstrates how genomics findings in one discipline such as biomedicine are applied to other disciplines such as psychology, with the assumptions made about race unexamined…

…Although their perspectives vary, the majority of authors in this collection subscribe to the view that race is a social, not a biological, construction. They agree that historical classification systems based on physical and behavioral traits have established a hierarchy of human worth. Though it is not genetically defined, most authors argue that race is socially and politically real, with real social and biological consequences…

…That race is a social, not a genetic, construct is widely acknowledged, though not always well understood. To demonstrate the social nature of race, several authors point to changing classification systems over time and place and to the empirically demonstrated fact that the genetic variation within groups is greater than that between groups. None of the contributors denies the rich genetic variation that characterizes humans; what is at issue for the authors is whether this variation can be categorized scientifically and the uses made of the scientifically constrained data…

Read the entire review here.

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Race Finished: Book Review

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2012-06-03 18:53Z by Steven

Race Finished: Book Review

American Scientist
April-May, 2012

Jan Sapp, Professor of Biology and History
York University, Toronto

Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth. Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle. xviii + 226 pp. Texas A&M University Press, 2011.

Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture. Edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan. xiv + 296 pp. Columbia University Press, 2011. cloth.

Few concepts are as emotionally charged as that of race. The word conjures up a mixture of associations—culture, ethnicity, genetics, subjugation, exclusion and persecution. But is the tragic history of efforts to define groups of people by race really a matter of the misuse of science, the abuse of a valid biological concept? Is race nevertheless a fundamental reality of human nature? Or is the notion of human “races” in fact a folkloric myth? Although biologists and cultural anthropologists long supposed that human races—genetically distinct populations within the same species—have a true existence in nature, many social scientists and geneticists maintain today that there simply is no valid biological basis for the concept.

The consensus among Western researchers today is that human races are sociocultural constructs. Still, the concept of human race as an objective biological reality persists in science and in society. It is high time that policy makers, educators and those in the medical-industrial complex rid themselves of the misconception of race as type or as genetic population. This is the message of two recent books: Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth, by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle, and Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan. Both volumes are important and timely. Both put race in the context of the history of science and society, relating how the ill-defined word has been given different meanings by different people to refer to groups they deem to be inferior or superior in some way.

Before we turn to the books themselves, a little background is necessary. A turning point in debates on race was marked in 1972 when, in a paper titled “The Apportionment of Human Diversity,” Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin showed that human populations, then held to be races, were far more genetically diverse than anyone had imagined. Lewontin’s study was based on molecular-genetic techniques and provided statistical analysis of 17 polymorphic sites, including the major blood groups in the races as they were conventionally defined: Caucasian, African, Mongoloid, South Asian Aborigines, Amerinds, Oceanians and Australian Aborigines. What he found was unambiguous—and the inverse of what one would expect if such races had any biological reality: The great majority of genetic variation (85.4 percent) was within so-called races, not between them. Differences between local populations accounted for 8.5 percent of total variation; differences between regions accounted for 6.3 percent. The genetic divergence between geographical populations in the course of human evolution does not compare to the variation among individuals. “Since such racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance either, no justification can be offered for its continuance,” Lewontin concluded…

Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth is a beautifully presented book, elegantly reasoned and skillfully written. Tattersall, a physical anthropologist, and DeSalle, a geneticist, are both senior scholars at the American Museum of Natural History. Their aim is to explain human diversity in terms of human evolution and dispersal since our ancestors walked out of Africa some 100,000 years ago. The patterns of diversity, they write, reflect the processes of divergence and reintegration, the yin and yang of evolution.

In biology, a grouping has biological meaning based on principles of common descent—the Darwinian idea that all members of the group share a common ancestry. On this basis, and on the ability to interbreed, all humans are grouped into one species as Homo sapiens, the only surviving member of the various species that the genus comprised. Species are arranged within the “tree of life,” a hierarchical classification that situates each species in only one genus, that genus only in one family and so on. Nothing confuses that classification more than the exchange of genes between groups. In the bacterial world, for example, gene sharing can occur throughout the most evolutionarily divergent groups. The result is a reticulate evolution—a global net or web of related organisms, and no species. Among humans, reticulation occurs when there is interbreeding within the species—mating among individuals from different geographical populations. The result of such genetic mixing of previously isolated groups—due to migrations, invasions and colonization—is that no clear boundaries can be drawn around the variety of humans, no “races” of us…

…Although race is void of biological foundation, it has a profound social reality. All too apparent are disparities in health and welfare. Despite all the evidence indicating that “race” has no biological or evolutionary meaning, the biological-race concept continues to gain strength today in science and society, and it is reinforced by those who design and market DNA-based technologies. Race is used more and more in forensics, medicine and the genetic-ancestry business. Tattersall and DeSalle confront those industries head on and in no uncertain terms, arguing that “race-based medicine” and “raced-based genomics” are deeply flawed. Individuals fall ill, not populations. Belonging to any socioculturally defined race is a poor predictor of an individual’s genes, and one’s genes a poor predictor of one’s health.

Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture arose from two projects, both funded by the Ford Foundation and organized by the Council for Responsible Genetics, that “examined the persistence of the concept of human races within science and the impacts such a concept has had on disparities among people of different geographical ancestries.” The first project brought together academics and social-justice advocates to discuss “racialized” forensic DNA databases and seek policy solutions. The second focused on the effects of modern genetic technology in reinscribing and naturalizing the concept of race in science and society. The resulting book is a fine and richly textured compilation, in which a multidisciplinary group of scholars explore racialized medicine, various uses of genetic testing in forensics and the genetic-ancestry industry, and attempts to link intelligence and race.

Sociologist Troy Duster argues that the growing genetic-ancestry industry not only reinforces a biological conception of race but is sorely in need of government regulation in regard to claims made and accuracy of methods used to pinpoint ancestry, as was suggested by the American Society of Human Genetics in 2008…

…A different aspect of racial profiling is evident in the growing industry of racialized medicine, whose proponents might argue that even if race has no evolutionary or biological meaning, it can still be useful for medical treatments. After all, more and more diseases are reportedly correlated with ethnicity and race. But as evolutionary biologists Joseph L. Graves Jr. and Jonathan Kahn argue in their respective chapters on the subject, racialized medicine is a bad investment and is bound to fail for two reasons. First, although individual ancestries are useful on medical questionnaires, ancestry should not be conflated with race. “The issue is not primarily one of whether to use racial categories in medical practice but how,” Kahn writes.

Carefully taking account of race to help understand broader social or environmental factors that may be influencing health disparities can be warranted. . . . But it is always important to understand that race itself is not an inherent causal factor in such conditions.

As an example, he considers the drug called BiDil, FDA approved as an anti–heart-attack agent specifically marketed to African Americans on the grounds that they have a biological propensity for heart disease brought on by high blood pressure. Not only is the drug not effective for all African Americans, it is quite effective for many individuals who self-identify as Caucasian…

Read the entire review here.

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Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture

Posted in Anthologies, Anthropology, Books, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2012-06-03 15:12Z by Steven

Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture

Columbia University Press
September 2011
304 pages
1 illus; 4 tables
Paper ISBN: 978-0-231-15697-4
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-231-15696-7

Edited by:

Sheldon Krimsky, Professor of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning; Adjunct Professor of Public Health and Family Medicine
Tufts School of Medicine
Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts

Kathleen Sloan

Do advances in genomic biology create a scientific rationale for long-discredited racial categories? Leading scholars in law, medicine, biology, sociology, history, anthropology, and psychology examine the impact of modern genetics on the concept of race. Contributors trace the interplay between genetics and race in forensic DNA databanks, the biology of intelligence, DNA ancestry markers, and racialized medicine. Each essay explores commonly held and unexamined assumptions and misperceptions about race in science and popular culture.

This collection begins with the historical origins and current uses of the concept of “race” in science. It follows with an analysis of the role of race in DNA databanks and racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Essays then consider the rise of recreational genetics in the form of for-profit testing of genetic ancestry and the introduction of racialized medicine, specifically through an FDA-approved heart drug called BiDil, marketed to African American men. Concluding sections discuss the contradictions between our scientific and cultural understandings of race and the continuing significance of race in educational and criminal justice policy.

Table of Contents

  • A short history of the race concept / Michael Yudell
  • Natural selection, the human genome, and the idea of race / Robert Pollack
  • Racial disparities in databanking of DNA profiles / Michael T. Risher
  • Prejudice, stigma, and DNA databases / Helen Wallace
  • Ancestry testing and DNA : uses, limits, and caveat emptor / Troy Duster
  • Can DNA witness race? Forensic uses of an imperfect ancestry testing technology / Duana Fullwiley
  • BiDil and racialized medicine / Jonathan Kahn
  • Evolutionary versus racial medicine : why it matters? / Joseph L. Graves Jr.
  • Myth and mystification : the science of race and IQ / Pilar N. Ossorio
  • Intelligence, race, and genetics / Robert J. Sternberg … [et al.]
  • The elusive variability of race / Patricia J. Williams
  • Race, genetics, and the regulatory need for race impact assessments / Osagie K. Obasogie.
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