Developing: Debate on ‘Race’ and Genomics

In March 2018, Harvard geneticist David Reich published a New York Times op-ed, entitled “How Genetics is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race.’” In the piece, Reich argues that geneticists “are learning that while race may be a social construct, differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real.”

The article prompted 67 natural and social scientists, legal scholars and public health researchers to draft an open letter in response to Reich’s claims. The letter, published by Buzzfeed, asserts that Reich misrepresents critiques of of the use of ‘race’ and ‘population’ in biomedical and genetic research.  It urges collaboration between geneticists and their social science and humanities colleagues so that more careful thinking and writing can be brought to bear upon consequential and controversial questions about how human differences should be ordered and understood.

In following weeks and months, a debate took shape. This page will continue to follow this debate. It will serve as repository for related stories and will be regularly updated with new information and new links.

We will pay particular attention to how this debate is playing out differently in different countries.  Professor of Sociology and Science and Justice Director Jenny Reardon, who helped draft the Buzzfeed response, and who just finished a second book on the condition of living with genomes, has participated in this continuing discussion from Germany.  There she is collaborating with historians and population geneticists who are responding to efforts to re-introduce into Germany genetic definitions of human groups.  Since WWII, it has been taboo in the German context to use the term Rasse (the German word for ‘race’) to refer to humans.  However, many major German language media outlets are mobilizing the Reich op ed to argue that this taboo should end.  To give the reader some context for this current debate, in addition to the news coverage, we provide links to relevant academic articles.  We also provide links to coverage in other parts of the world.

In May 2019, Angela Saini published her book Superior: The Return of Race Science. This book takes up questions of scientific racism and its history, as well as its more recent relationship with genetics and genomics. Reviews and responses to the book are also linked and covered here.

 

Resources (updated regularly, last updated May 30, 2019):

Op-Ed and Initial Response:

Reich’s Op-Ed:

 

Buzzfeed response co-authored by natural and social scientists, legal scholars, and public health researchers:

 

Responses in the Popular Press:

United States:

  • Sam Harris, Charles Murray, and the Allure of Race Science – Vox, March 27, 2018
    • Ezra Klein discusses a debate between himself and Sam Harris reignited by Reich’s op-ed, arguing, in short, that “in this country, given our history, discussions about race and IQ need more care and context than they get.”
  • Denying Genetics is Not Shutting Down Racism, It is Fueling it – New York Magazine, March 30, 2018
    • Andrew Sullivan agrees with Reich’s op-ed, and argues that dismissing science as “racist” helps fuel racism.
  • Race, Genetics and a Controversy – The New York Times, April 2, 2018
    • A series of letters to the editor in response to Reich’s op-ed.
  • Scientific Racism Isn’t ‘Back’: It Never Went Away – The Nation, April 6, 2018
    • Edward Burmila argues that Reich’s op-ed is merely the latest example of scientific racism, which is finding new purchase in the current political climate.
  • What Happens When Geneticists Talk Sloppily About Race – The Atlantic, April 25, 2018
    • Ian Holmes argues that biologists’ use of race as a category often reinforces historical biases.
  • Stop Talking about Race and IQ – Slate, April 27, 2018
    • William Saletan reflects on his past as a believer in the scientific validity of racial IQ disparities and argues that “the genetics of intelligence” and “the genetics of race” are, and should remain, separate fields of research.
  • Race Has a Place in Human Genetics Research, Philosopher Argues – Penn Today, May 2, 2018
    • Michelle Berger profiles Penn philosopher Quayshawn Spencer, who uses semantic theory to reconcile US Census racial categories with population geneticists’ ancestry groups and encourages collapsing the former into the latter.
  • Push for Forensic DNA Phenotyping, Ancestry Testing in Germany Raises Discrimination Concerns – Genome Web, May 4, 2018
    • Turna Ray describes the concerns surrounding legislation introduced in the Bavarian parliament that would allow DNA collection from ‘dangerous’ individuals and forensic DNA phenotyping of crime scene samples. Chief among these concerns is discrimination against immigrants.
  • Observations: “Plug and Play” Genetics, Racial Migrations and Human History – Scientific American, May 29, 2018.
    • John Edward Terrell discusses Reich’s book and argues that writing about “populations,” “migration,” and “admixture” reinforces ideas about separate human groups in potentially dangerous ways.
  • James Watson Had a Chance to Salvage His Reputation on Race. He Made Things Worse. – The New York Times, January 1, 2019.
    • Scientists debate the reasons for James Watson’s re-assertion that differences in IQ between “blacks and whites” are genetic.  Is this just an “old man” out of step with his time, or is he part of a dominant but rarely spoken view in genomics, a view that appeared to be bolstered in the spring by David Reich’s editorial in The New York Times?
  • Is Ancient DNA Research Revealing New Truths — or Falling Into Old Traps? – The New York Times Magazine, January 17, 2019.
    • Gideon Lewis-Kraus explores how Reich’s ancient DNA work has challenged existing archaeological consensus and transformed the academic landscape. He points out that the pressure to work with the handful of powerful ancient DNA labs, which he calls an “oligopoly,” is strong enough to create a “smash-and-grab” environment of “suspicion, anxiety, and paranoia.” Lewis-Kraus also characterizes this as setting up a divide between “those [like Reich] bewitched by grand historical narratives… and those who wearily warn that such adventures rarely end well.” He thoughtfully explores the practical agendas of racialized histories and forms of knowledge that claim to say who people “really” are and where they are “really” from, describes some of the scientific concerns and broader controversy surrounding ancient DNA research in particular, and ultimately connects the claims in Reich’s op-ed to his “broad brush” view of history.
      • Response: Letter in response to Jan. 17 article in The New York Times – David Reich, January 19, 2019
        • Reich responds to Lewis-Kraus, admitting that ancient DNA research faces unresolved ethical issues but also arguing that Lewis-Kraus misapprehends the rigor and nuance of the science to make his argument. Reich argues that his research has “rendered racist and colonialist narratives untenable.”
  • Genetics and Race: How Do We Have This Awkward Conversation? – Genetic Literacy Project, February 13, 2019.
    • Patrick Whittle argues that “genetic facts — including evidence of genetic differences between racial populations — carry no necessarily social or political implications,” and that confirmation of human difference may aid in designing policies to reduce inequalities. He also suggests that human geneticists should acknowledge the history and politics of ideas of race and understand the motives of what he calls “the opposition.”

Germany:

Switzerland:

Austria:

United Kingdom:

  • The Unwelcome Revival of ‘Race Science’The Guardian, March 2, 2018
    • Writing several weeks prior to Reich’s op-ed, Gavin Evans describes race science as “debunked” and notes how race science is taken up by the alt-right and defended as “standing up for uncomfortable truths.”
  • How ancient DNA is transforming our view of the pastBBC News, April 12, 2018
    • A BBC reporter asks Reich about Buzzfeed response.  Rather than responding to substance to the critique, Reich says he is “very pleased to be part of introducing this discussion.”
  • Neanderthals, Denisovans and Modern Humans – London Review of Books, September 13, 2018
    • Steven Mithen reviews Reich’s Who We are and How We Got Here. He notes that ancient DNA research has “implications for the politics of the present,” mentions the Buzzfeed-published response to Reich’s treatment of race. Ultimately, he argues that population genomics, while illuminating, ultimately stand on equal footing with culture and beliefs as ways of defining ‘who we are.’

France:

Korea:

  • Race, Genetics and Us – Korea Times, March 30
    • Jason Lim questions Reich’s optimism about the ability of society to not ‘weaponize’ findings about race and genomics.

Canada:

  • Opinion: Is ‘Race” a Made-Up Label?The Globe and Mail, April 14, 2018
    • Margaret Wente defends Reich for “expanding the range of what is sayable on a topic that is explosive, uncomfortable, and also increasingly inescapable.”
  • Why Your DNA Test Won’t Reveal the Real You – The Globe and Mail, May 4, 2018
    • Timothy Caulfield argues that race is a “biological fiction” and that attempts to attach genetics to human classification, as exemplified by genetic ancestry testing, tend to reify and legitimate racist perspectives.

India:

  • The Science is ComingIndia Times Magazine, April 5, 2018
    • Razib Khan compares Reich’s op-ed to “tossing a grenade into the public square,” but defends his work and his book as not controversial, but “wondrous.”

 

Race and Genomics Debates in the U.S. and Germany:

 

Superior: The Return of Race Science  – Angela Saini, May 21, 2019
  • Why Race Science is on the Rise Again – The Guardian, May 18, 2019
    • Angela Saini describes her new book, Superior: The Return of Race Sciencewhich focuses on the renewed growth of “intellectual racism” and its ties to global right-wing populist movements. She traces race science back to modern science’s earliest days, highlights its inherently political nature, and expresses concern for its growing acceptance in mainstream scientific publications.
  • The Disturbing Resilience of Scientific Racism – Smithsonian Magazine, May 20, 2019
    • Ramin Skibba reviews Saini’s book, drawing on W.E.B. Du Bois to argue that the “problem of the color line” has persisted in the 21st century and taken root in the field of genetics. He highlight’s Saini’s insistence on both keeping the study of race, a social construct, out of genetics research and studying race responsibly in other disciplines.
  • Medical Controversies – Start the Week, BBC Radio, May 21, 2019
    • Andrew Marr discusses a number of medical controversies with guests, including Angela Saini. Saini discusses her new book, and the panel discusses how race science has made a return to the mainstream. The program also deals with gender bias in medical research and with how personalized medicine reproduces existing inequalities.
  • Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini – review – The Guardian, May 27, 2019
    • Alok Jha writes, “This is an urgent, important book.” He observes that racialized science has proceeded “in the name of academic freedom to conduct dispassionate inquiry into the human condition” and notes the book’s timeliness amid the resurgence of white supremacist and authoritarian movements.
  • Superior by Angela Saini – are we all created equal? – Financial Times, May 29, 2019
    • Clive Cookson favorably reviews Saini’s new book but objects to the suggestion that “scientists refrain from investigating the genetic basic of human variation in intelligence and intellectual ability.” He suggests that this research is important to science’s attempts to understand “the brain,” as long as it is “conducted with proper safeguards.”
  • Why Do So Many Researchers Still Treat Race as a Scientific Concept? – Slate, May 30, 2019
    • Tim Requarth calls Saini’s book “damning” and says that she is not simply pointing out the abuse of science for racist political ends, but is telling a “complex and surprising story about the relationship between science and race today, one that is sure to challenge anyone who thinks these ideas are only kept afloat by avowed racists.” Requarth specifically mentions David Reich’s op-ed as an example of racialized science.
      • Requarth ends with a salient point for Science & Justice: “Scientists are required to take ethics courses, but these courses tend to focus on the ethical behaviors of scientists and the ethical ramifications of science. In other words, we consider how science percolates out of the lab and into the broader culture. What we tend not to address is how the broader culture finds its way back into the lab to influence our science. A small step would be for us to spend more time thinking not only about how our science shapes society, but also how society shapes our science. (After reading Saini’s books, I suggested we add such a section to the ethics course my department offers.) The best scientists relentlessly question their own scientific assumptions. It might make for even better science if they used this same self-awareness to question their cultural ones.”

 

Just Biomedicine

Just Biomedicine is a UC Santa Cruz-based research collective that examines the meeting of biomedicine, biotechnology, and big data along the Third Street corridor in the Mission-Bay neighborhood of San Francisco. Many hope that this convergence will democratize access to health information and produce revolutionary new medical treatments that new companies will make available to the public through market mechanisms. Yet, as in other domains, living with technoscientific transformations over time reveals how they produce new inequalities and injustices: new challenges to democratic governance; new surveillance regimes; and new forms of social stratification. These often-hidden justice dimensions can be hard to visualize and hard to stand up for.  This is especially the case in the biomedical informatic domain, where criticism of specific developments can be interpreted as standing against developments in healthcare more generally. Nonetheless, stratified health and wealth outcomes manifest at this celebrated innovative edge of technoscience.  The Just Biomedicine collective seeks to understand and bring into view how this happens in the spaces and infrastructures that shape life on Third Street, and asks how we might help bring about a more just form of biomedicine.

Contact

Jenny Reardon (Sociology), Dennis Browe (Graduate student, Sociology)

Key Faculty

Jenny Reardon (Sociology), Katherine Weatherford Darling (Sociology, University of Maine)

Graduate Student Researchers

Andy Murray (Sociology), Dennis Browe (Sociology)

Current Undergraduate Researchers

Wessede Barrett, Nikobi Petronelli

Undergraduate Researcher Alumni

Emily Caramelli, Amy Coffin, Hannah Finegold, Laura Lopez, Emma Mitchell-Sparke (Tufts University)

Funders

IDEA Hub

Links

Grad Book Launch – Counterpoints: Bay Area Data and Stories for Resisting Displacement

“Stratified Health” map prototype (credit: Emily Caramelli)

Lost in Translation: Why the U.S. word “race” is not to be translated with the German word “Rasse”

Original article (in German): Lost in Translation: Man darf den US-Begriff “race” nicht mit dem deutschen Wort “Rasse” verwechseln (download pdf)

English translation (pdf): Lost in Translation: Why the U.S. word “race” is not to be translated with the German word “Rasse”

In this piece, originally published in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung on May 17, 2018a group of social scientists (including SJRC Director Jenny Reardon), humanities scholars, and natural scientists explain the differences between the English word race and the German word Rasse. These differences help reveal some of the difficulties of translating discussions on the subject of race, and specifically, its relationship with genomics, across different cultural and linguistic contexts. This piece was part of the recent debate initially sparked by Harvard geneticist David Reich in his New York Times op-ed, “How Genetics is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race.'” You can view our regularly updated page tracking this debate in the press here.

Paloma Medina: The Diversity of the Natural World

Paloma Medina, a Science & Justice Training Program Graduate Fellow at SJRC, contributes to the field of population genetics with a distinctly feminist mindset.

By Bradley Jin, SJRC Communications Intern, UC Santa Cruz undergraduate in Sociology and Feminist Studies

Biology has been integral in the formation of what is ‘natural.’ Concepts of the natural have shaped many of our understandings of what is normal in terms  of race, sexuality, and gender. The history of population genetics is not immune to the prejudices carried by the people who seek to understand population diversity. Moreover, genetic population studies have been used as justification to promote systems of inequality. To learn from and change this history, Paloma Medina, a Science & Justice Training Program Graduate Fellow at the Science & Justice Research Center, works with queer community members to inform the applications of her research in population genetics. She works in what is known as ‘queer ecology.’ Queer ecology has many definitions, but it can be loosely described as the interdisciplinary practice of biology that focuses on the gender and sexual diversity found in nature. Queer ecology is a way of practicing just and fair science.

Medina is inspired by the diversity she sees in nature and many biologists share her mindset. She leads a queer ecology research cluster reading group at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Here, graduate students meet to read about and discuss the variety of the natural world. “Biodiversity is almost sacred to biologists. When I tell them about sex and gender diversity in the natural world, they’re like ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’" In the Queer Ecology Research Cluster, Medina seeks to move beyond the critique of science and elevate the stories of queer animals, of which there are many.

For Medina, the side-blotched lizard is a striking example of biodiversity in the animal kingdom. Medina relates that “they have different coloration patterns on their neck that coincide with their lifestyle strategy.” Here, ‘lifestyle strategy’ is almost synonymous with gender expression. This pattern of coloration communicates the behavior of the individual lizards to others. Aggressive males are marked one way, non-aggressive males another. It forms a sort of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ style of dominance. This species, among others, challenges the concept of dichotomous, ‘biological and natural’ gender and sex. Animals like the side-blotched lizard inspire Medina to think of ‘queer’ animals as a reflection of the diversity of human identity.

Along with running the queer ecology reading group Medina has given presentations on biodiversity at the Brain Mind Consciousness Society at UCSC and at the Queer U conference at the University of British Columbia. Having given both lectures and workshops, she states,  “I think students get more out of a workshop than a lecture because students can engage with other students and converse about ideas in a workshop setting. Of course the two styles are not mutually exclusive, but allowing the opportunity to talk about and relate to ideas is critical to learning and expanding.” In addition to workshops, Medina is working with the Youth Group of the Santa Cruz Diversity Center on an illustrated novel. The novel will tell the story of a clownfish who transitions from male to female when the matriarch of their colony leaves.  She hopes this project will elevate the voices of queer and trans youth to a broader community.

UPDATE: Looking for Marla (AKA Buscando a Marla) has launched! Read more on the release.

Paloma Medina is a Science & Justice Training Program Graduate Fellow at the Science & Justice Research Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz. At the Center Medina strives not to practice science as justice, or justice as science, but instead view them as the same thing. For her, science is justice, and justice is science. Technology and science intersect with society to such a degree that they are inseparable.

S&J Colleague Charis Thompson Receives Honorary Doctorate from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Science & Justice Research Center colleague Charis Thompson received an honorary doctorate from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) on Friday, November 17 for her important contributions to the social study of emerging technologies.

Thompson is Chancellor’s Professor and Chair of Gender & Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley, Associate Director of Berkeley’s Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society, and Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics.

S&J Colleague Donna Haraway Receives Award from Yale and Discusses “Making Oddkin”

Recently, on October 23 and 27 2017, Science & Justice Research Center colleague and UC Santa Cruz Professor Emerita (History of Consciousness) Donna Haraway gave two lectures, one at Yale University and one at Duke University. Both lectures were titled “Making Oddkin: Telling Stories for Earthly Survival” and explored the possibilities of the intersection of science, art, and activism, as well as the responsibilities of living in the Cthulhucene, including the decolonization of contact zones. Yale University, from which Haraway received her PhD in biology, also awarded her the Wilbur L. Cross medal for Distinguished Graduate School Alumni, one of Yale’s highest honors. You can now see both lectures on YouTube (follow these links to watch October 23 talk at Yale University and the October 26 talk at Duke University). You can read about her honor and the events surrounding her trip to Yale’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) department here.

Hear SJRC Director Jenny Reardon on Radio Australia

Radio Australia recently aired an episode of its Big Ideas program featuring a talk by SJRC Director Jenny Reardon. The episode highlighted her research on genomics and justice, as well as her forthcoming book from the University of Chicago Press, The Postgenomic Condition: Ethics, Justice, and Knowledge After the Genome. Reardon specifically discussed the ways in which, despite the hype and real advances of genomic science in recent decades, genomics also has produced a pervasive “dis-ease” that must be addressed through a turn to justice as a guiding principle if the hope for a genomics that serves public values is to be realized. You can listen to the entire episode via Radio Australia’s website here and see Professor Reardon discuss her book in person on November 29 at UC Santa Cruz.

April 05, 2017 | Post Conflict Battlefield Landscape Recovery – or Not?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017
4:00-6:00 PMLIDAR Digital Elevation Model of Fort Douamont and Surrounding Landscape
Engineering 2, room 599

 

The multiple forms of disturbances rendered by conflict upon landscapes around the world demonstrate that this anthropogenic agent is an incredible force that is capable of exerting an influence on the environment in a wide variety of ways, yet the bridge between geomorphology and environmental histories of battlefields is rarely made. This research associated with this presentation examines two case study battlefields, and how post-conflict land-use patterns are tied into what we see on the contemporary landscape of today. Also emphasized in the presentation are how various geospatial data collection tools and methods can be utilized with geospatial software to model the changes rendered to landscapes due to conflict, and to link these disturbances with modern land-use patterns.

Joe Hupy (Associate Professor of Geography, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire)
Joseph Hupy earned his PhD in geography from Michigan State University using soils as a proxy indicator for landscape stability following disturbances rendered by explosive munitions in World War One. Out of that research he coined the term ‘bombturbation’, which describes how soils are disturbed from explosive munitions, one of many forms of anthropogeomorphology where humans shape the landscape. The research surrounding World War One bombturbation led towards examination of other battlefields around the world, including research forays on the Viet Nam battlefield of Khe Sanh in 2007 and 2009. Research on all these battlefields relied upon a myriad of geospatial equipment and Geographic Information System modeling techniques. Out of that research and most recently, Joe has begun to use Unmanned Aerial Systems as a tool to gather data, and hopes to revisit other world battlefields in collaboration with other researchers in different disciplines using this technology as a tool.

In discussion with Science & Justice Graduate Fellow Jeff Sherman (Politics).
Co-Sponsored by the Anthropology department and the Center for Creative Ecologies.

March 01, 2017 | Telling the Truth: Objectivity and Justice

Illustration of the world melting4:00-6:00 PM
SJRC Common Room, Oakes 231

The terms “post-fact”, “post-truth”, and “post-reality” are now being used to label the new era we have entered. We are already seeing the erasure of climate data from servers and websites, and purveyors of the truth, including climate scientists, journalists, and academics are being put on warning. (The Climate Scientists witch-hunt and the Professor Watchlist are just two of many indicators). Data refuge efforts are underway amid concerns that the incoming administration will wage a war on scientific expertise.

At the same time that it is of upmost importance that facts, truth, and reality be asserted to counter the normalization of lies and fake news used to obscure the truth and manipulate the public, there is a large body of scholarship showing the non-innocent and often times harmful use of these terms in ways that collude with the forces of power, including colonialism, racism, militarism, etc.

We are creating this cluster to help us think through these issues during these extraordinary times.

Convened by Karen Barad, our first two meetings on Objectivity & Justice proved to be generative. During our first meeting we talked about what the terms ‘fact’, ‘truth’, and ‘reality’ signal to each of us. At our second meeting we had a wonderful discussion of the last chapter of Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism and we came up with some different approaches we might useful take in moving forward. Science & Justice invites you to our third meeting Wednesday March 1st 4-6pm. We will begin with a discussion of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Even if you don’t have time to do the reading you are welcome to join us.

Here is a pdf of the novel, which is also available for less than a dollar on Kindle.

Feb 22, 2017 | Rick Prelinger, “Silence, Cacophony, Crosstalk: Archival Talking Points”

The Center for Cultural Studies hosts Rick Prelinger, an Associate Professor of Film and Digital Media at UCSC, as well as Founder of the Prelinger Archives and a board member at the Internet Archive.

Prelinger currently researches the political economy and aesthetics of archives. He produces live urban history film events made for participatory audiences and is in the early stages of a film counterposing the lived experience of city dwellers as shown in home movies with the pronouncements of urban theorists and historians.

More event information.

February 22, 2017 | 12:00 -1:00 PM | Humanities Building 1, Room 210