From Sharon Begley at Stat News (“reporting from the frontiers of health and medicine”):
ore than a decade after leading geneticists argued that race is not a true biological category, many studies continue to use it, harming scientific understanding and possibly patients, researchers argued in a provocative essay in Science on Thursday.
“We thought that after the Human Genome Project, with [its leaders] saying it’s time to move beyond race as a biological marker, we would have done that,” said Michael Yudell, a professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University and coauthor of the Science paper calling on journals and researchers to stop using race as a category in genetics studies. “Yet here we are, and there is evidence things have actually gotten worse in the genomic age.” More.
Here’s the essay:
Racial research has a long and controversial history. At the turn of the 20th century, sociologist and civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois was the first to synthesize natural and social scientific research to conclude that the concept of race was not a scientific category. Contrary to the then-dominant view, Du Bois maintained that health disparities between blacks and whites stemmed from social, not biological, inequality (4). Evolutionary geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, whose work helped reimagine the race concept in the 1930s at the outset of the evolutionary synthesis, wrestled with many of the same problems modern biologists face when studying human populations—for example, how to define and sample populations and genes (5). For much of his career, Dobzhansky brushed aside criticism of the race concept, arguing that the problem with race was not its scientific use, but its nonscientific misuse. Over time, he grew disillusioned, concerned that scientific study of human diversity had “floundered in confusion and misunderstanding” (6). His transformation from defender to detractor of the race concept in biology still resonates.
Today, scientists continue to draw wildly different conclusions on the utility of the race concept in biological research. More.
And so forth. The skinny: The discovery that there is nothing unusual about people of one “race” sharing genetic sequences with people of other “races,” including Neanderthal man, focused attention on a problem: Diagnostic slips can occur when people are stereotyped by “race,” as Begley reports:
Doctors might miss cystic fibrosis in “black” patients because it is considered a “white” disease, a 2015 study suggested. Similarly, because blood disorders called thalassemias are considered a Mediterranean/white disease and sickle-cell anemia a black disease, they are sometimes misdiagnosed when they strike the “wrong” racial group, Yudell and his colleagues wrote.
Stereotyping isn’t a branch of medicine. So why the hesitancy?:
The reason scientists still use race as a way to group people — asking, for instance, which genetic variants are more common in this or that race — is that many still consider the concept useful if imperfect, said geneticist Neil Risch of the University of California, San Francisco, and president of the American Society of Human Genetics. There are so many racial injustices and more egregious misuses of genetics, he said in an interview, that “there are much bigger fish to fry” than scrubbing race as a biological category. For instance, the genetics society got its first-ever black board member, Charles Rotimi of the National Institutes of Health, only last year.
What did we just read? Please, people, if we are going to fall out of our chairs, could we do so as decorously as possible?
Okay. Now we know there’s a problem, and it isn’t with the data. And it isn’t going away anytime soon if Charles Rotini thinks that a suitable response is to announce that he has a black board member.
Why was that supposed to be relevant? On the other hand, maybe we hadn’t better unpack the thought …
Unfortunately, one key reason for keeping the concept of race alive is probably its value to the race grievance industry. In countries like the United States, where there is now nothing unusual about members of visible minorities holding the highest offices, it’ quite possible that the grievance industry personnel are still there because they are unsuited to useful employment, and thus need to keep the pot boiling for their own survival. But that isn’t science.
See also: See also Eugenics and World War I.
Yes, by now the fulsome comparisons of Darwin to Lincoln as a “great liberator” should be tumbling down the byteway. Yawn.
Follow UD News at Twitter!