How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2018-03-25 02:14Z by Steven

How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’

Sunday Review
Gray Matter
The New York Times

David Reich, Professor of Genetics
Harvard Medical School
also, Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Angie Wang

In 1942, the anthropologist Ashley Montagu published “Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race,” an influential book that argued that race is a social concept with no genetic basis. A classic example often cited is the inconsistent definition of “black.” In the United States, historically, a person is “black” if he has any sub-Saharan African ancestry; in Brazil, a person is not “black” if he is known to have any European ancestry. If “black” refers to different people in different contexts, how can there be any genetic basis to it?

Beginning in 1972, genetic findings began to be incorporated into this argument. That year, the geneticist Richard Lewontin published an important study of variation in protein types in blood. He grouped the human populations he analyzed into seven “races” — West Eurasians, Africans, East Asians, South Asians, Native Americans, Oceanians and Australians — and found that around 85 percent of variation in the protein types could be accounted for by variation within populations and “races,” and only 15 percent by variation across them. To the extent that there was variation among humans, he concluded, most of it was because of “differences between individuals.”

In this way, a consensus was established that among human populations there are no differences large enough to support the concept of “biological race.” Instead, it was argued, race is a “social construct,” a way of categorizing people that changes over time and across countries.

It is true that race is a social construct. It is also true, as Dr. Lewontin wrote, that human populations “are remarkably similar to each other” from a genetic point of view…

Read the entire article here.

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

Why You Should Think Twice About Those DNA-By-Mail Results

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History on 2017-07-07 20:36Z by Steven

Why You Should Think Twice About Those DNA-By-Mail Results

Cosmos & Culture: Commentary on Science and Society
National Public Radio

Barbara J. King, Professor Emerita of Anthropology
College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia


In a new book, University of North Carolina, Charlotte anthropologist Jonathan Marks says that racism in science is alive and well.

This stands in sharp contrast to creationist thinking, Marks says, which is, like racism, decidedly evident in our society but most certainly not welcome in science.

In Is Science Racist? Marks writes:

“If you espouse creationist ideas in science, you are branded as an ideologue, as a close-minded pseudo-scientist who is unable to adopt a modern perspective, and who consequently has no place in the community of scholars. But if you espouse racist ideas in science, that’s not quite so bad. People might look at you a little askance, but as a racist you can coexist in science alongside them, which you couldn’t do if you were a creationist. Science is racist when it permits scientists who advance racist ideas to exist and to thrive institutionally.”

This is a strong set of claims, and Marks uses numerous examples to support them. For example, a 2014 book by science writer Nicholas Wade used genes and race to explain, as Michael Balter put it in Science magazine, “why some people live in tribal societies and some in advanced civilizations, why African-Americans are allegedly more violent than whites, and why the Chinese may be good at business.”…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

SCIENTIFIC RACISM REDUX? The Many Lives of a Troublesome Idea

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Social Science on 2015-07-23 01:40Z by Steven

SCIENTIFIC RACISM REDUX? The Many Lives of a Troublesome Idea

Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
Volume 12, Issue 1, Spring 2015
pages 187-199
DOI: 10.1017/S1742058X1500003X

Ann Morning, Associate Professor of Sociology
New York University

Nicholas Wade, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. New York: Penguin Press, 2014, 278 pages, ISBN 978-1-5942-0446-3. $27.95.

What, if anything, does Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes. Race and Human History have to offer sociologists?

For most of us, the answer is “nothing.” Because simply put, this is not scholarly work. A Troublesome Inheritance is not an empirically-grounded monograph that offers substantiated arguments, but rather a trade book targeting general readers who are probably not interested in the literature reviews and citations that academics expect. All kinds of claims are made without reference to any supporting evidence or analysis. As a result, the book cannot serve as a source of data or credible theory regarding race, culture, social structure, or the relationship of genes to human behaviors.

But for sociologists of knowledge and of science, A Troublesome Inheritance is a gold mine. These scholars will no doubt delight in discovering the echoes of eighteenth-century race science, nineteenth-century polygenetic and Romantic thought, twentieth-century eugenics and development theory, as well as enduring sexism and the occasional tirade against “Marxists.” This book may also well become a classic for students of racial ideology, right up there with Herrnstein and Murray’s The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994). Both books are poignant cultural artifacts that testify to the ways in which biological science is invoked in the United States to shore up belief in races and to justify inequality between groups…

Tags: , , ,

Pharmacogenomics and the Biology of Race

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, United States on 2015-01-08 02:36Z by Steven

Pharmacogenomics and the Biology of Race

Myles Jackson, Albert Gallatin Research Excellence Professor of the History of Science
New York University

The Huffington Post

The numerous and impassioned responses to Nicholas Wade’s recently published Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History have once again reminded us of the complexity, ambiguity and perils of writing about the biology of race. In the US one is reminded of the collective sins of our past, including the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century, whereby a disproportionate percentage of people of color and those from lower socio-economic classes were sterilized, and the Tuskegee Study conducted between 1932 and 1972 in which 600 African-American sharecroppers in rural Alabama were purposely not treated for syphilis in order to ascertain information on the long-term effects of the disease. More recently, debates about the biology of race have raged among certain academic circles. While biologists will tell you that humans (other than identical twins, triplets, etc.) do differ from one another genetically — i.e. at the level of the DNA, they will also admit that the difference is rather small. And many (but certainly not all) are loath to label populations, which share the same genetic alleles (or different versions of a gene) as “races.” It turns out there are numerous ways in which one can understand human diversity, including geographic ancestry or responses to environmental selection factors. Sickle cell anemia is a case in point. Identified over a century ago, it was originally thought to be limited to “the Negro race.” As time went on, people from parts of Italy, Greece, Iran, India, and in other diverse locations were identified with the disease…

So why then is race the privileged category used by biomedical researchers in understanding human diversity? There are four sets of institutions that have used race as the primary signify of difference, albeit for very different reasons, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Big Pharma, and personal genomics companies…

…Big Pharma, while initially protesting what it saw as the unwarranted meddling of the government in the affairs of private companies, eventually embraced the move. They quickly realized that race creates markets, as Dorothy Roberts has argued in Fatal Invention (New Press, 2011). In 1996 the US became the second nation (after New Zealand) to permit direct-to-consumer advertising; Big Pharma began to market some of their drugs as race-based, including BiDil, used to treat African Americans with a history of heart attacks and Amaryl, which is used to treat type 2 diabetes in Mexican Americans. Many biomedical researchers have challenged the claims that these medications are more efficacious in one race than in the others…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,

Is race genetic?

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-10-15 15:28Z by Steven

Is race genetic?


Laura Miller

Advances in genealogy and DNA analysis tell surprising and disturbing stories about the heritage we think we know

A bestselling European novelist, while on a recent American book tour, was approached by a woman clutching a manilla folder. “We’re related!” she told him, opening the folder to reveal old black and white photos, documents and a family tree. She pointed to a dour-looking 19th-century lady posing stiffly in a black dress and explained that this was her great-great-grandmother, the novelist’s great-great-great-aunt.

He was kind and patient, but clearly no more than mildly interested in the materials she treasured. Maybe he had more relatives than he knew what to do with back home. Maybe the whole thing was too reminiscent of the years when his homeland was occupied by a foreign power pathologically obsessed with establishing “pure” lineages. Or maybe he just believes in looking forward rather than back. He had, after all, books to sign, cities to visit and even more books to write once he got back, and perhaps defining himself by a future he can shape seems a lot more appealing than dwelling on the past he can’t.

Many Europeans see genealogy as a peculiarly American preoccupation — and of course billions of people in places like China view it merely as a human one, the way we make sense of our place in the world. Christine Kenneally, an Australian journalist and the author of “The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures,” has talked to adherents of both sides and has a lot of ideas about “what gets passed on,” as she puts it. Where Kenneally comes from, the “bad blood” of convicts transported from Britain to the antipodes was once regarded as a cause for shame, something best not talked about by their descendants. No longer: she recalls working on a school project in which her classmates happily dug up convict ancestors to boast about.

A good bit of “The Invisible History of the Human Race” is devoted to defending genealogy and the desire to know one’s lineage. Apparently, many historians look down on the amateur penchant for tracing family trees; it is not research but “mesearch,” too small-picture, too personal to constitute true scholarship. To the layperson, disproving this canard (which Kenneally does neatly) hardly seems a battle that demands to be fought, but when Kenneally takes up the subject of DNA and race, she enters more hotly contested territory. What does it mean to link the slippery concept of race to the scientific study of genetics and the historical facts that constitute an individual’s ancestry?…

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. himself serves as an excellent example. He’s “black,” that is, African-American (as well as a professor of African-American Studies), although the aforementioned DNA analysis revealed that 60 percent of his genetic material is of European origin. Does this make him less black? Not on that infamous evening in 2009, when Gates was arrested by a white police officer in Cambridge, Massachusetts while attempting to enter his own house.

Yet what Gates learned about his genetic ancestry did change how he understood his identity, and he would later announce on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” that he and the officer who arrested him share a common ancestor in the Irish king, Niall of the Nine Hostages. That’s the gist of much of the genealogy- and genetics-based programming that Gates has hosted for the Public Broadcasting Service, shows like “African American Lives” and “Finding Your Roots”: We are all more connected than we realize…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,

24,000-Year-Old Body Shows Kinship to Europeans and American Indians

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Europe, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation on 2013-11-21 00:16Z by Steven

24,000-Year-Old Body Shows Kinship to Europeans and American Indians

The New York Times

Nicholas Wade

The genome of a young boy buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia some 24,000 years ago has turned out to hold two surprises for anthropologists.

The first is that the boy’s DNA matches that of Western Europeans, showing that during the last Ice Age people from Europe had reached farther east across Eurasia than previously supposed. Though none of the Mal’ta boy’s skin or hair survives, his genes suggest he would have had brown hair, brown eyes and freckled skin.

The second surprise is that his DNA also matches a large proportion — about 25 percent — of the DNA of living Native Americans. The first people to arrive in the Americas have long been assumed to have descended from Siberian populations related to East Asians. It now seems that they may be a mixture between the Western Europeans who had reached Siberia and an East Asian population...

…There they lay for some 50 years until they were examined by a team led by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen. Dr. Willerslev, an expert in analyzing ancient DNA, was seeking to understand the peopling of the Americas by searching for possible source populations in Siberia. He extracted DNA from bone taken from the child’s upper arm, hoping to find ancestry in the East Asian peoples from whom Native Americans are known to be descended…

…The other surprise from the Mal’ta boy’s genome was that it matched to both Europeans and Native Americans but not to East Asians. Dr. Willerslev’s interpretation was that the ancestors of Native Americans had already separated from the East Asian population when they interbred with the people of the Mal’ta culture, and that this admixed population then crossed over the Beringian land bridge that then lay between Siberia and Alaska to become a founding population of Native Americans.

“We estimate that 14 to 38 percent of Native American ancestry may originate through gene flow from this ancient population,” he and colleagues wrote in an article published Wednesday in the journal Nature

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,

Genome Study Points to Adaptation in Early African-Americans

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, New Media, United States on 2012-01-03 00:37Z by Steven

Genome Study Points to Adaptation in Early African-Americans

The New York Times

Nicholas Wade, Science Reporter

Researchers scanning the genomes of African-Americans say they see evidence of natural selection as their ancestors adapted to the harsh conditions of their new environment in America.

The scientists, led by Li Jin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, report in the journal Genome Research that certain disease-causing variant genes became more common in African-Americans after their ancestors reached American shores—perhaps because they conferred greater, offsetting benefits. Other gene variants have become less common, the researchers say, like the gene for sickle cell hemoglobin, which in its more common single-dose form protects against malaria. The Shanghai team suggests the gene has become less common in African-Americans because malaria is much less of a threat.

The purpose of studying African-American genomes is largely medical. Most searches for variant genes that cause disease take place in people of European ancestry, and physicians want to make sure they have not missed variants that may be more common in African-Americans and helpful for developing treatments or diagnosis.

Such searches often reveal events in a population’s history by pinpointing genes that have changed under the pressure of natural selection…

…The Shanghai researchers used a method for studying admixture, a geneticist’s term for when two populations or races intermarry; China has several such populations, perhaps accounting for the team’s interest. Using gene chips that analyze common variations in the human genome, researchers can deconstruct the chromosomes of an African-American, say, assigning each chunk of DNA to an African or European origin.

The scientists found that of the African-American genomes in their sample, 22 percent of the DNA came from Europeans, on average, and the rest from African ancestors, a figure in line with other estimates…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,