News

Lost in Translation

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.

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.”
  • 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:

C’elegans: a Sculpted Reflection on Abstraction and the Notion of Progress in Science

In Winter 2018, Science & Justice Visiting Scholar Kim Hendrickx convened a meeting in the lab of Distinguished Professor of MCD Biology Susan Strome to discuss C. elegans, the elegant see-through worm that has long served as a model in developmental biology research.

Strome and lab members welcomed Hendrickx, Distinguished Professor Emerita Donna Haraway and Science & Justice Director Jenny Reardon along with the S&J community.

Invited art student, D (aka Daniel Lynch) created a physical response to the ‘Addressing Biology’ discussion in the form of a sculpture made from discarded laboratory rods, hardware and band saw blades. In their written statement, the student explained: “The UNC blade both suspends and is contained by the construction much like the way scientific dialogue can become bound by the knowledge it has already produced.” Hendrickx responded: “It is strange and exciting to see something very familiar in a new form.” The student, overseen by Dee Hibbert-Jones in the Art Department, was allowed to use this response piece as their final class project. All involved felt the excitement of such creative and engaged interactions between the arts, sciences, social sciences and humanities.

j-UNC by D (aka Daniel Lynch)

Discarded Laboratory Rod & Hardware, Discarded Band-Saw Blades 

C’elegans is a nematode characterized by its S-shaped movement, and is studied as a model organism. Experimentation has caused a variety of mutations in individual worms. Remarkably some have developed neurons instead of reproductive germs. Others lose their characteristic movement, becoming uncoordinated. These are named “UNC” by researchers.

The worm is treated both as a subject and tool, whereas the blade transforms from tool to subject. The legible, linear detail of the teeth reflect the visible, linear nature of the worm’s internal biology. The blade that is held in examination by the construction is torqued into a curve that is evocative of the worm’s natural movement. In contrast, the heavier blade on the floor appears contorted, referencing the UNC.

The material used to build the construction gains new importance through form while retaining its identity and history as a support structure used in scientific experimentation. The construction’s, upward-stretching and outward-reaching form represents a methodic progression towards something, in abstraction of science. The UNC blade both suspends and is contained by the construction, much like the way scientific dialogue can become bound by the knowledge it has already produced.