December 03, 2019 | Forensic Genomics: New Frontiers and New Considerations

Tuesday, December 03


Namaste Lounge

Science & Justice Visiting Scholar and UC Santa Cruz Anthropology Alum, Cris Hughes, unites academics and forensic practitioners to discuss historical and current field training, genomic technological applications in forensic investigations, the problems and limits of interpretation, the resources available, and the incentives practitioners face tied to case resolution.

In addition, the event will focus on the societal and ethical questions raised by novel uses of genetics/genomics in forensics work. Think Golden Gate killer case, in which law enforcement used a publicly available server with genomic information from thousands of individuals who have completed commercial ancestry kits, to find potential leads for the assailant in question, a use not anticipated by many users of this ‘recreational’ service. There are also many difficult questions about whether and how DNA technologies are being used to identify ‘race’ or ‘ethnicity.’ As with any science with a public impact, thinking critically about the balance between ELSI (Ethical, Legal and Social Implications) concerns and the need to solve cases is an essential part of responsible science. For example, looking at police and lay perceptions of race, ancestry, and physical appearance, as well as the caveats with new genetic tools like HIrisPlex and Parabon’s® Snapshot® that are being incorporated into case investigations at an alarming rate.

This event follows the outcomes of the recently launched Forensic Genomics for Investigators course first offered for California investigators through P.O.S.T. November 12, 2019 here in Santa Cruz.

Bridget F.B. Algee-Hewitt is a biological anthropologist at Stanford University who studies skeletal and genetic trait variation in modern humans. Her research combines data analytic and hands-on laboratory approaches to the estimation of the personal identity parameters – like sex, ancestry, stature, and age – that are essential components of the biological profile used in forensic identification of unknown human remains and for the paleodemographic reconstruction of past population histories in bioarchaeology. Concerns for social justice, human rights, and issues of group disparities underlie much of her work. As a practicing forensic anthropologist and geneticist, she provides forensic casework consultation to the medico-legal community.

Ed Green is an Associate Professor of Biomolecular Engineering at UCSC and a principle investigator for the Paleogenomics lab. The Green lab, is interested in genome biology, particularly focused on the problems of assembly and comparative genome analysis. Recent and ongoing projects include genome-scale analysis of archaic human genome sequence, comparative genomics of Crocodilia, and the development of new methods to assemble high quality de novo genomes. The lab is also interested in applying high-throughput sequencing to address questions in molecular biology including the evolution of gene expression, alternative splicing, and population genetics.

Lars Fehren-Schmitz is both a physical anthropology professor at UCSC and principle investigator for the Human Paleogenomics lab. His research focuses on furthering the understanding of South American population history through altitude adaptation and human-environment systems.

Cris Hughes is a forensic anthropologist interested in perceptions of race, and the use of ancestry in both forensic investigations and the practice of forensic anthropology. Cris uses genetic and skeletal data to study estimates of ancestry in present day Latin American populations and is particularly interested in how ancestry as a piece of information drawn from the body, can impact the identification process of that person. As an Assistant Clinical Professor of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cris has lectured at  annual Genomics for™ workshops (e.g. Genomics for™ Teachers, Genomics for™ Judges, Genomics for™ Prosecutors, and Genomics for™ Police) since 2013 as an outreach affiliate for the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the UIUC. Recently, Cris’ work with ancestry is centered around the deaths of migrants along the US-Mexico border. Cris is a visiting scholar with the UC Santa Cruz Science & Justice Research Center, and UC Santa Cruz Anthropology alum.

Co-Sponsored By: The UC Santa Cruz Science & Justice Research Center, the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the UC Santa Cruz Institute for Social Transformation, Colleges Nine and Ten, the Anthropology and Sociology Departments, the Human Paleogenomics Lab, the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute, The Humanities Institute, and the Center for Racial Justice.

Rapporteur Report by Dennis Browe

Forensic Genomics: New Frontiers and New Considerations aimed to explore the big-picture issues of recent, rapid advancements in forensic genomics through an ELSI lens (ethical, legal, & social implications) of novel technologies. Jenny Reardon, Founding Director of the Science & Justice Research Center (SJRC), gave introductory remarks highlighting how this topic – the entanglements of race and genomics – has been a long-standing concern and an ongoing line of inquiry within the SJRC. Thus, for Dr. Reardon, hosting this event was a delight as it is part of a constellation of events and working groups. This event also served as a public follow-up to the recently launched Forensic Genomics for Investigators course first offered for investigators through California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) on November 12, 2019 in partnership with SJRC, the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

As the lead course instructor and event’s convener and moderator, Dr. Cris Hughes (Assistant Clinical Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and S&J Visiting Scholar), began with an overview of the current state of genomic technologies, their use in forensic investigations by law enforcement for solving crimes, and the vital ethical and societal issues raised by these technologies that must be attended to. If the main tension raised during this event could be summarized in one thought, it would be: How can the growing use of forensic genomics to serve the needs of law enforcement for solving violent crimes be balanced against concerns about both privacy and malfunctions of justice that many have when it comes to increased surveillance by law enforcement? Or, how are novel forensic genomics tools actually being used, how can they be used, and how should they be used?

Dr. Hughes began by reviewing how DNA is used in forensic investigations by law enforcement. A multi-state DNA-database pilot program was established by the FBI in 1990, which then expanded into a national DNA database after Congress passed the DNA Identification Act in 1994. The database is known as CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). Using the genetic markers in the database for identification of DNA allows investigators to make a 1:1 match – there is such high probability that many think of it as a purely objective decision. However, even during the founding of CODIS, many raised questions about the privacy implications of our government managing DNA from individuals; The government responded by arguing that CODIS was a database, first, for offenders only, and second, that CODIS used genetic markers only from the “junk DNA” region of the genome, meaning that since this is not a protein-coding region there would be no threats to privacy of individuals. Part of the impetus of this event is that the notion of “junk DNA” is turning out to be misleading, as there are more identifiable genetic markers in this “junk” region of the genome than previously assumed.

Dr. Hughes assessed the pros and cons of using CODIS for forensic investigations. The database, being wrapped in bureaucratic regulations, is steady and accurate when it works. It has gone through decades of validation and analysis and there is extensive consistency in the methods used for interacting with CODIS. Also, since CODIS is tied in with a multitude of laws and regulations, change to using the system and database comes very slowly: this allows for time to assess and critique ELSI impacts related to its procedures. However, the nature of CODIS as slow-moving and heavily regulated places limits on the capabilities that investigators have for working with DNA evidence. Since forensic genetic technologies are rapidly evolving, for Dr. Hughes and others it is necessary to question the benefits and drawbacks of CODIS compared to novel methods that could be used by law enforcement for solving crimes. Dr. Hughes stated that we are again at a moment of “new tech, old concerns: privacy and surveillance, bias, policy and regulation, etc.”

Each expert panel member then presented on how they work with forensic genomics either directly or indirectly, also highlighting the tensions of and in their work. Bridget F.B. Algee- Hewitt, a biological anthropologist at Stanford working at the intersections of forensic science, computational biology, and social justice, helps to identify the bodies of migrants who have died crossing the US-Mexico border, highlighting a kind of double-edged sword of forensic technologies. Her work on CODIS STRs (a type of genetic marker, which she then matches to SNPs (single-nucleotide polymorphisms) in CODIS) can help migrant families identify their lost loved ones, but these scientific techniques can simultaneously help ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) with its surveillance and targeting of migrants for punitive purposes.

A tension surfaced between the other two panelists’ presentations in a humorous way, which, tellingly, captures the main tension of forensic genomics identified by Dr. Hughes: finding a balance between working with law enforcement to solve crimes and being wary of law enforcement due to its history of perpetuating injustices against communities it has sworn to protect (as evidenced by the long history of the racism of U.S. police as a whole). During his presentation, Lars Fehren-Schmitz (associate professor of physical anthropology at UCSC), quipped that he is hesitant to work with law enforcement (presumably for the reasons just mentioned). Ed Green (associate professor of biomolecular engineering at UCSC) then replied by stating that he “likes working with the police, a lot. If someone gets murdered, they [the perpetrator] should be caught.” Further, in opposition to worries about increased surveillance that may come about through novel forensic genomics technologies, Dr. Green feels that there is a “democratization of genomics and forensics happening. It is more citizen-driven.” Riding this tension in its many dimensions will continue to be a key issue as these technologies develop which threaten the ubiquitous use of the FBI’s CODIS database, especially as law enforcement offices are beginning to look to outside labs for their assumed superior technical capabilities (and their lack of regulations) to conduct forensic DNA investigations.

A fast-paced discussion with the audience then followed, covering a number of topics:

Accreditation standards and best practices: Dr. Hughes questioned whether new forensics labs should be expected to adhere to the same standards of labs using CODIS DNA, since many of these emerging labs lack accreditation standards. The panelists weighed the pros and cons of accreditation – what it can help with and what it might fail to cover. For Dr. Fehren-Schmitz, accreditation gives some semblance of security (if a lab is accredited it is assumed that it will follow best practices and do good science), yet, in his experience, just having these policies and procedures in place does not necessarily guarantee the best results. He gave an example of how relying on being accredited can actually lead to lazy scientific practice. Dr. Hughes then touched

on the question of best practices: making best practices too specific requires a massive amount of labor to continually update guidelines to keep up with quickly emerging forensic technologies, yet if best practices guidelines are too general they won’t actually regulate anything. For example, the use of familial searching of genealogical databases by investigators is highly regulated on a state-by-state basis. Perhaps, offered Dr. Hughes, focusing on policy regulation is more necessary than accreditation itself?

Assisting law enforcement with informed decision-making processes: related to best practices is the question of how to help law enforcement decide what forensic technologies and labs to use or not use. How, for example, can we help law enforcement vet particular high-quality (ideally not-for-profit) labs over other labs? How can forensic geneticists aid law enforcement in making these decisions? Dr. Green mentioned one “obvious thing”: make sure to communicate the technical aspects of what cannot be done with the DNA versus what can be done from the very beginning of responding to requests by law enforcement. For Dr. Hughes, one issue is that law enforcement is expected to be experts in everything, which leads to a lack of specific knowledge in technical aspects of crime solving such as using DNA evidence. She would like to build a network of scientific consultants that aren’t necessarily tied to for-profit forensic labs, to help law enforcement vet which labs to turn to for DNA analysis and technical assistance.

Scientific genetic literacy: For Dr. Fehren-Schmitz, the question of assisting with informed decision-making processes is tied directly to scientific literacy (or lack thereof) concerning genetics of the general population and even law enforcement offices. He stated that “we can make it seem like magic because people don’t have basic information about how genetic information is inherited, what genotypes and phenotypes are.” Thus, the market is open for things like “Soccer DNA,” a company that uses genetic pseudoscience to tell customers if their DNA gives them a natural talent for excelling at soccer. Dr. Algee-Hewitt agreed with this, stating that “nothing makes [her] life more difficult than seeing commercials for direct-to- consumer genetic ancestry testing.” These commercials advance the concept that, say, a value of 7% “Scandinavian” or “East Asian” DNA is an important part of the customer’s identity; yet, as geneticists know, such a small value is often not a meaningful value (if itis within the range of error). For her, a main job for scientists is to relay quality information to the general public and to push back against the dissemination of false information such as that being pushed in these commercials.

National Differences: The issue was raised about national differences in ways that forensic scientists are asked to work with law enforcement. The details matter, and any discussions must be situated within the contexts of national laws, regulations, and accepted best practices. For example, in different countries, forensic experts will have different roles to play in the criminal case: in some countries scientists will be asked to testify in trials as expert witnesses while in other countries experts will never participate in a trial but will provide the scientific legwork for law enforcement to press charges. Here, Dr. Algee-Hewitt stressed a key point: the science must be done well. If the DNA forensics work does not get done right, from the very beginning, nothing in the investigative case will get done properly. For her, concerned as she is with questions of social justice, DNA forensics is never just a number or a case, but is much bigger, with implications that will greatly affect families and communities.

Looking Toward the Future: With the rapid development of technologies for forensic genomics, Dr. Hughes stressed that a key theme of the event was looking toward the future: “What do we do with the potential of these new technologies?” For example, as both Dr. Green and Dr. Algee-Hewitt demonstrated, we now know “there is no real junk DNA.” Whereas CODIS, built in the early 1990s, was premised on the fact that certain genetic markers would help identify and match individuals based on their DNA profiles but tell nothing else, scientists are increasingly showing how related genetic markers can potentially (probabilistically) reveal much more about a person, such as their ancestry and other traits.

Dr. Hughes ended the event by making a case and a plea for the importance of building bridges between scientists, the public, and law enforcement: she and others at SJRC and beyond are continuing to build a table for many to gather around to discuss the growing uses of forensic genomics and how we are able to respond to the need for expanded genetic literacy by offering future iterations of the Forensic Genomics for Investigators course. For Dr. Hughes, we must put front-and-center vital questions about the balance between maximizing the utility of this science and raising concomitant questions of ethics and justice.

November 12, 2019 | Forensic Genomics for Investigators P.O.S.T. Course

8:30am – 5:00pm

Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Community Room

5200 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

Course Description

This 8-hour course is designed to assist understanding and engagement with new genomic technologies that are increasingly common as investigative leads, such as, DNA-predicted physical appearance (hair/eye/skin color, face shape) and ancestry estimations.

This course provides foundational information about the use and limitations of genomic technologies in the context of casework (both criminal and missing persons). Through activities and discussions, course participants will engage some of the common contexts in applying these DNA evidences to casework, such as translating ancestry to race labels, accounting for the accuracy of the genetic prediction in your investigation, and using the genetic results to narrow down your leads.

The course also offers a step-by-step guide to deciding which investigative genetics technology is right for an array of casework contexts (e.g. low quality DNA, DNA mixture, lead or no lead, skeletal DNA, touch DNA, diversity of suspect pool).


No fee


To improve the attendee’s understanding of the uses and limitations of genetic predictors of physical appearance and ancestry in case investigations. To develop a protocol for assessing the most useful genetic test (beyond CODIS), given the quality of the DNA and the case context. To provide a network of genetic researchers and practitioners for consultation.

Prerequisites and Eligibility

Must be currently employed by a Law Enforcement Agency. Participation in this workshop is limited to law enforcement practitioners where having an up-to-date grasp of genomic technological applications is imperative. This workshop is formatted and approved as an accredited continuing education course through the Commission for Peace Officers Standards and Training for California law enforcement.

Special Instructions 

An anonymous survey may be emailed to you prior to the start of the course to better understand the incoming perspectives and interests of the attendees.

To Register

Qualified participants are to enroll through Contact Dr. Cris Hughes at refer to POST Plan: N/A POST Course Number: 3180-11160-19. Participation will be capped at 65 attendees.

For information about the hosting agency, contact Dr. Lauren Zephro;

Course Instructors

Dr. Cris Hughes, Assistant Clinical Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Alison Galloway, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz 

Dr. Chelsey Juarez, Assistant Professor, California State University, Fresno

Dr. Lauren Zephro, Forensic Services Director, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office

Sponsored By

The UC Santa Cruz Science & Justice Research Center, the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


This course preceded an on-campus panel discussion Forensic Genomics: New Frontiers and New Considerations, hosted by the SJRC, aimed to explore the big-picture issues of recent, rapid advancements in forensic genomics through an ELSI lens (ethical, legal, & social implications) of novel technologies. The description and rapporteur report can be found at: .

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.”




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.’



  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.”


May 16, 2018 | Assembling Precision Medicine

Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Engineering 2, Room 599


Join S&J Visiting Scholars Declan Kuch and Matthew Kearnes in an informal discussion on how proponents of the bio-nano sciences, centered around polymer chemistry, have promised a new generation of targeting agents that will carry drug payloads to diseased cells with greater accuracy. Alongside these promises, proponents of precision medicine have sought to build new knowledge about health and illness through massive new databases that combine multiple ‘-omics’ with lifestyle and chemical exposure data. Much has already been written speculating about both the efficacy and social effects ‘downstream’ of these sciences, especially the likely consequences of precision medicine in domains of socio-economics, race and disability (Juengst et al., 2016; Meagher et al., 2016).We instead seek to discuss how these critiques are (or are not) affecting laboratory designs, practices, and methods, starting with a discussion of critiques of bio-nano science (Torrice, 2016; Wilhelm et al., 2016). How can bio-nano science and precision medicine practically address their critics in such disciplines as public health and sociology dismissing them as expensive indulgences to benefit mostly rich white people? What role can data sharing play in building public support? How can the open science ethos of bio-nano and much precision medicine research translate into public benefit considering the expanding ‘pharmaceuticalisation’ of illness (Dumit, 2012) and rising drug prices?

Declan Kuch is a Research Fellow in the School of Humanities and Languagues at UNSW. His research is situated between the fields of Science and Technology Studies and Economic Sociology. He has published on topics including public engagement with science and technology, precision medicine, energy and climate policy, and the sharing economy. He is the author of ‘The Rise and Fall of Carbon Emissions Trading’ (Palgrave MacMillan, 2015) and loves riding bikes.

Matthew Kearnes is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, a CI with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science & Technology (CBNS) and member of the of Environmental Humanities Group at the School of Humanities and Languages, University of New South Wales. Matthew’s research is situated between the fields of Science and Technology Studies (STS), human geography and contemporary social theory. His current work is focused on the social and political dimensions of technological and environmental change, including ongoing work on nanotechnology, precision medicine, geoengineering and the development of negative emission strategies to anthropogenic climatic change. He has published widely on the ways in which the development of novel and emerging technologies is entangled with profound social, ethical and normative questions. Matthew serves on the editorial board Science, Technology and Society (Sage) and is an associate editor for Science as Culture (Taylor & Francis). Matthew is also co-convenor of the 4S 2018 conference, to be held in Sydney in August 2018.


  • Dumit J. (2012) Drugs for life: how pharmaceutical companies define our health, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Juengst E, McGowan ML, Fishman JR, et al. (2016) From “personalized” to “precision” medicine: the ethical and social implications of rhetorical reform in genomic medicine. Hastings Center Report 46: 21-33.
  • Meagher KM, McGowan ML, Settersten RA, et al. (2016) Precisely Where Are We Going? Charting the New Terrain of Precision Prevention. Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics.
  • Torrice M. (2016) Does Nanomedicine Have a Delivery Problem? ACS Central Science 2: 434-437.
  • Wilhelm S, Tavares AJ, Dai Q, et al. (2016) Analysis of nanoparticle delivery to tumours. Nature Reviews Materials 1: 16014.

Genomics and Society Graduate Research Fellowship

UC Santa Cruz’s Sociology Department is pleased to announce a new graduate research Fellowship in Genomics and Society. Offered by the Sociology Department, the Science and Justice Research Center and the Genomics Institute with funding from the National Human Genome Research Institute, the GSGRF funds students interested in research at the interface of genomics and society. Today, genome scientists and social scientists at UCSC work together to create a scientifically and socially robust form of genomics that is responsive to the widest range of lives. The fellowship supports research in this unique interdisciplinary environment.

The fellowship includes a graduate student fellowship stipend at a graduate student researcher rate plus a research allowance of $800 per year to cover supplies and travel to one relevant academic meeting or research site. The fellowship is guaranteed for the first year, and it may or may not be renewed for subsequent years.

Eligibility: To qualify for this fellowship, you must be an applicant to the UC Santa Cruz Sociology Department (deadline: December 10), and a US citizen or permanent resident. We especially encourage members of the following underrepresented groups to apply: African American, Native Pacific Islander, Native American/Alaskan, Hispanic, Latina/o, and Chicana/o.

Selection criteria: The Genomics Institute in consultation with the Sociology Department will select fellows based on responsiveness to the goals of the RMI program, the academic record of the applicant, and the potential impact of the students’ research our understanding of the relations between genomics and society. (For more information on the RMI program see

Application process: Students will be nominated for the fellowship through their Sociology application. Students have the option of discussing their proposed area of research in genomics and society in the Personal Statement.

For more information about the Fellowship program, please contact the RMI fellowship director, Zia Isola (email:; phone: 831-459-1702).