Race was not a biological construct but a social one.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2021-08-10 20:13Z by Steven

One of [Richard] Lewontin’s pathbreaking works was to find out how much genetic diversity exists within species. This was at a time when we did not know how many genes humans had. Lewontin’s inspired guess was 20,000, far smaller than what most biologists thought then and remarkably close to what is known today. Most biologists then also believed that races had significant biological differences, which was one of the reasons why they thought that there was a much larger number of genes carrying different traits. Lewontin and geneticist John Hubby used a technique, protein gel electrophoresis, developed by Hubby, to quantify the genetic diversity in fruit flies. At that time, fruit flies were the favorite target for testing genetic theories in the laboratory. This pathbreaking exercise traced evolution at the species level to changes at the molecular level—a foundation for the field of molecular evolution—using statistical methods. The result was startling. Contrary to what most biologists believed, the exercise showed a surprising amount of genetic diversity within a given population and further revealed that evolution led to stable and diverse populations within a species. Later on, Lewontin used this method on human blood groups, to show that the result of stable genetic diversity held true for humans as well. The other result of the human blood group study was that it showed that 85.4 percent of the genetic diversity in humans was found within a population, and only 6.3 percent between ‘races.’ Race was not a biological construct but a social one.

Prabir Purkayastha/Globetrotter, “The great scientific crusader who debunked the biological myths about race,” AlterNet, August 5, 2021. https://www.alternet.org/2021/08/richard-lewontin/.

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The great scientific crusader who debunked the biological myths about race

Posted in Articles, Biography, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2021-08-10 18:54Z by Steven

The great scientific crusader who debunked the biological myths about race


Prabir Purkayastha/Globetrotter

On July 4, Richard Lewontin, the dialectical biologist, Marxist and activist, died at the age of 92, just three days after the death of his wife of more than 70 years, Mary Jane. He was one of the founders of modern biology who brought together three different disciplines—statistics, molecular biology and evolutionary biology—that mark the discipline today. In doing so, he not only battled crude racism masquerading as science, but also helped shed light on what science really is. In this sense, he belongs to the rare group of scientists who are equally at home in the laboratory and while talking about science and ideology at a philosophical level. Lewontin is a popular exponent of what science is, and more pertinently, what it is not.

Lewontin always harked back to what being radical means: going back to fundamentals in deriving a viewpoint. This method is important, as it makes radical inquiry a powerful tool in science, compared to lazier ways of relating positions to certain class viewpoints. What is the relation between genes and race, class, or gender? Does social superiority spring from superior genes, or from biological differences between the sexes? As a Marxist and activist, Lewontin believed that we need to fight at both levels: to expose class, race and gender stereotypes as a reflection of power within society, and also at the level of radical science, meaning from the fundamentals of scientific theory and data…

Read the entire article here.

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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.

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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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Multiracial Americans Ready To Claim Their Own Identity

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-05-16 22:07Z by Steven

Multiracial Americans Ready To Claim Their Own Identity

The New York Times

Michel Marriott

For Alison Perry, being multiracial has meant moving through life as if she had a giant question mark drawn on her forehead. Strangers frequently approach and begin a vexing guessing game: “Are you Israeli?” “Are you a Latina?” “Where are you from?”

Yet for this slender, almond-colored woman with delicate features drawn from both her black-American father and her Italian-American mother, race is not what defines her.

“I definitely say that I’m interracial,” Ms. Perry said. “I do not identify myself as a black woman. I definitely don’t identify myself as a white woman, either.”

The very existence of multiracial people like Ms. Perry challenges this nation’s traditionally rigid notions of race…

…”People of mixed race in this country haven’t belonged anywhere,” said Charles Byrd, editor and publisher of Interracial Voice, an Internet news journal based in Queens that has backed the march. “The march will, in effect, allow people to come out and be themselves—not just be black, not just be white, but just be a human being.”…

…Forced Choices And No Choices

Increasingly, multiracial people are arguing—and many scientists agree—that race is a social construct, not a biological absolute. Many historians and social scientists, said Steven Gregory, a professor of anthropology and Africana studies at New York University, believe that the notion of race was largely invented as a way to assign social status and privilege.

Unlike sex, which is determined by the X or Y chromosome, there is no genetic marker for race. Indeed, a 1972 study by a Harvard University geneticist, Richard Lewontin, found that most genetic differences were within racial groups, not between them. He could trace only 6 percent of such differences to race.

Yet in the closing years of the 20th century, race remains a stubbornly resistant feature of this nation’s culture. Other societies, like those of some islands of the Caribbean and some South American countries, have a more fluid sense of racial identity. In Jamaica, for example, when people speak of color, they are referring to skin tone, not inalterable racial categories, said Cecile Ann Lawrence, a lawyer who was a government administrator in Jamaica.

But in the United States, race even divides multiracial people themselves. While some proudly claim their multiracial identity, others believe it is a sham, an effort to identify with the dominant, and privileged, white culture at the expense of a stigmatized minority.

“There is a tremendous amount of denial,” said Scott Minerbrook, whose father is black and whose mother white, but who considers himself black. Mr. Minerbrook, who is on the staff of Time magazine and lives in Islip, N.Y., says that many people “fall into the trap that they don’t want to be identified with failure; they think blackness equals failure.” But there is no escape, he argues; that is how the rest of the world labels multiracial children.

Some multiracial Americans believe, as Anthony Robert Hale, a graduate student in American literature at the University of California at Berkeley, said, that “in most cases, ‘mixed race’ means no race.”…

…Some Are Forging A Different Path

Regardless of society’s labels, many multiracial people are determined to set their own courses. Ms. Perry, who was an anthropology major at Wesleyan University, has learned to regard the American obsession with race with a degree of detachment, even tolerance. But she herself still defies categorization.

At Wesleyan, she was drawn to other interracial students, a well-organized and relatively large group on campus. She said she never felt part of the black community there.

Nonetheless, she joined a West African dance troupe at Wesleyan and traveled with it to Ghana. In Africa, she recalled with a chuckle, she was considered white. She also began dating one of the dance troupe’s drummers, who is white and Jewish….

Read the entire article here.

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How medicine is advancing beyond race

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2011-07-16 14:49Z by Steven

How medicine is advancing beyond race


Elizabeth Landau, CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

(CNN)—No matter what race you consider yourself to be, you have a unique genetic makeup.

That’s why, as technology improves and researchers explore new implications of the human genome, medicine is going to become more individually tailored in a model called personalized medicine.

Although we’ve been hearing for years that people of particular races are at higher risk for certain illnesses, personalized medicine will (in theory) make better predictions based on actual genetic makeup. And even now, race is less relevant to your own health care than you might think.
But doctors say a patient’s culture—the collection of norms, goals, attitudes, values and beliefs—will always be important to health care, no matter how sophisticated genetic technology gets.

Biologically, what is race?

When it comes down to it there’s, no clear-cut way of saying that one person “belongs” to one race or another—in fact, a person who has the skin color and hair type typical of one race may self-identify in a completely different way.

And if you think that race comes from location-based populations, many Americans don’t have a “pure” genetic heritage from only one world region. In fact, 9 million Americans identified as multiracial on the most recent census, so it’s hard to make these distinctions.

You probably have genes that came from several groups of ancestral communities. Based on archaeological evidence, everyone’s earliest ancestors came from Africa more than 2 million years ago, so we’re all descended from the same “race” anyway.

“There are genetic ancestries—markers that you can see—but those don’t necessarily perfectly correlate with what people consider their own race to be, because that’s sort of an artificial construct,” said Dr. Wendy Chung, assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center…

…Sometimes race obscures underlying mechanisms for genetic traits.
For decades, doctors thought that sickle cell disease was exclusively African, but some people of Mediterranean and Indian origin also have the genetic trait. We now know that the genetic trait for sickle cell disease protects against malaria, and that it is found among people with ancestry in places where malaria is, or used to be found, biologists Marcus Feldman and Richard Lewontin point out in their essay “Race, Ancestry, and Medicine.”

Race can also hide underlying social issues—namely, poverty.
African-American life expectancy at birth is on average, about five fewer years than white Americans, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Dr. Vicente Navarro at Johns Hopkins University has shown in his research that social class is a bigger driver of U.S. life expectancy than race or gender. He points out in a 1990 Lancet study that the United States is the only Western developed nation that does not report health statistics according to class

Read the entire article here.

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Race in a Genetic World

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Social Science, Women on 2010-03-14 18:49Z by Steven

Race in a Genetic World

Harvard Magazine
Volume 110, Number 5
May-June 2008

Duana Fullwiley
Photograph by Stu Rosner

“I am an African American,” says Duana Fullwiley, “but in parts of Africa, I am white.” To do fieldwork as a medical anthropologist in Senegal, she says, “I take a plane to France, a seven- to eight-hour ride. My race changes as I cross the Atlantic. There, I say, ‘Je suis noire,’ and they say, ‘Oh, okay—métisse—you are mixed.’ Then I fly another six to seven hours to Senegal, and I am white. In the space of a day, I can change from African American, to métisse, to tubaab [Wolof for “white/European”]. This is not a joke, or something to laugh at, or to take lightly. It is the kind of social recognition that even two-year-olds who can barely speak understand. Tubaab,’ they say when they greet me.”

Is race, then, purely a social construct? The fact that racial categories change from one society to another might suggest it is. But now, says Fullwiley, assistant professor of anthropology and of African and African American studies, genetic methods, with their precision and implied accuracy, are being used in the same way that physical appearance has historically been used: “to build—to literally construct—certain ideas about why race matters.”

Genetic science has revolutionized biology and medicine, and even rewritten our understanding of human history. But the fact that human beings are 99.9 percent identical genetically, as Francis Collins and Craig Venter jointly announced at the White House on June 26, 2000, when the rough draft of the human genome was released, risks being lost, some scholars fear, in an emphasis on human genetic difference. Both in federally funded scientific research and in increasingly popular practice—such as ancestry testing, which often purports to prove or disprove membership in a particular race, group, or tribe—genetic testing has appeared to lend scientific credence to the idea that there is a biological basis for racial categories.

In fact, “There is no genetic basis for race,” says Fullwiley, who has studied the ethical, legal, and social implications of the human genome project with sociologist Troy Duster at UC [University of California], Berkeley. She sometimes quotes Richard Lewontin, now professor of biology and Agassiz professor of zoology emeritus, who said much the same thing in 1972, when he discovered that of all human genetic variation (which we now know to be just 0.1 percent of all genetic material), 85 percent occurs within geographically distinct groups, while 15 percent or less occurs between them. The issue today, Fullwiley says, is that many scientists are mining that 15 percent in search of human differences by continent…

Read the entire article here.

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