Developing: Debate on ‘Race’ and Genomics

Last month, 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 the weeks since, this debate has carried on. As it develops, this page 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.

 

Resources (updated regularly):

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:

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.”

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:

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.

 

 

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 5 | 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 1 | 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 | 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

book

Spring Course | UCSC FDM 225: Software Studies

This coming spring term at UCSC, Science & Justice affiliate Warren Sack, Professor of Film & Digital Media and Digital Arts & New Media, will offer FDM 225: Software Studies, predominantly a history and theory graduate seminar. The course will meet in the Communications Building, Room 139 on Wednesdays from 3pm-6pm.
FDM 225 will incorporate a fairly extensive, hands-on project that deals with the artificial intelligence software used to generate stories automatically (akin to the engine in the Sims game that propels the characters).
The syllabus from my last offering of the course which is different from the coming spring offering in four respects:
  1. A number of new texts have been published on the topic since my last offering (spring of 2014), so several of those will be integrated into the readings (e.g., Federica Frabetti, Software Theory: A Cultural and Philosophical Study (2014)).
  2. I have a book manuscript for the MIT Press “Software Studies” book series that will be integrated into the readings.
  3. The hands-on, maker project described above involves modifying, extending and/or analyzing some software I have written.  You can get a preview of that software, a story generator, here (narrated by FDM PhD student Fabiola Hanna): http://fdm.ucsc.edu/~wsack/DecodingDemocracy/index.html
  4. On the first day of class (April 5th), I have two luminaries in the world of software studies and software art coming to speak.  They will both come to class to speak with us, but also be giving separate talks on campus:
    1. Matthew Fuller (Goldsmiths College, University of London) will speak at the Cultural Studies Colloquium on April 5th at noon in Humanities Room 210.
    2. Olga Goriunova (Royal Holloway, University of London) will speak at our Visual and Media Cultures Colloquium in Porter 245 at 4:00pm on April 5th(http://havc.ucsc.edu/news_events/2016/11/08/visual-media-cultures-colloquium-olga-goriunova)