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

Tuesday, December 03

4:00-6:00pm

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).

Cost

No fee

Objectives

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 https://post.ca.gov/Training. Contact Dr. Cris Hughes at postgenomicscourse@gmail.com 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; lauren.zephro@santacruzcounty.us.

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

Outcomes

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: https://scijust.ucsc.edu/2019/12/03/dec-03-forensic-genomics/ .

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.”

 

May 08, 2019 | Works-in-Progress with James Doucet-Battle

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

4:00-5:30 PM

SJRC Common Room, Oakes 231

Join SJRC scholars in the SJRC Common Room for an open discussion of works-in-progress! This is a wonderful chance to engage with one another’s ideas, and support our own internal work. At this session, we will hear from Assistant Professor of Sociology, James Doucet-Battle who will discuss his book project entitled, Recruiting Sweetness: Translating Race, Risk, and Gender in Type 2 Diabetes Research, that explores the knowledge production emerging from the increasing importance of biological and racial difference in diabetes research since the genomic revolution.

James Doucet-Battle is Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Cruz. His Ph.D. is in Medical Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley/University San Francisco. James’ research interests include health disparities, race, and medicine; power, subject-making, and citizenship; ethnography, political economy, grounded theory: diasporic and transnational Africa.

 

April 20, 2019 | “No Really, What Percentage are You?” Race, Identity & Genetic Ancestry Testing

Saturday, April 20, 2019

1:00-5:00pm

Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (705 Front St. Santa Cruz)

Free and open to the public; refreshments provided; no registration needed

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing services such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com are rapidly becoming a cultural touchstone, a mainstream phenomenon with significant implications for common notions of race and ethnicity, personal and social identity. Our public event will explore the promises and the problems of DTC genetic testing services, under the broader umbrella of racial justice and genomics.

We will explore questions arising within this new landscape of public genomics: How are people integrating genealogical knowledge (such as of their family tree) with new forms of DNA-based ancestry testing? What is the relationship between our genetic makeup and our racial and ethnic identities (and the ways we are racially classified)? What kinds of genetic ‘truths’ are being produced by these forms of commercialized science? Further, who owns, and has access to, our genetic data? What kinds of organizations are using our data, and for what purposes?

We will engage both science and art to creatively grapple with questions of race and ethnicity in this age of data-driven identities. Our event will host an art exhibit on genomics and identity; an interactive collage-making session; and an experimental type of panel called a chain reaction in which professors and graduate students working in this broad field will converse in a semi-structured conversation through a chain of dyads.

Hosted by Science & Justice Training Program Fellows:

Jon Akutagawa (Biomolecular Engineering), Dennis Browe (Sociology), Maggie Edge (Literature), Dorothy R. Santos (Film & Digital Media) and Caroline Spurgin (Education) with undergraduate fellow Diana Sernas (Mathematics). 

If you feel that genetic ancestry testing has benefited or impacted you in some way, please inquire and send anecdotes to Dennis Browe.

Participants:

Chessa Adsit-Morris, UC Santa Cruz Graduate Student of History of Art & Visual Culture

Russ Corbett-Detig, UC Santa Cruz Assistant Professor of Biomolecular Engineering

James Doucet-Battle, UC Santa Cruz Assistant Professor of Sociology

Ed Green, UC Santa Cruz Associate Professor of Biomolecular Engineering

Chris Hables Gray, Lecturer, UC Santa Cruz Crown College

Braden Larson, UC Santa Cruz Graduate Student of Molecular, Cell, & Developmental Biology

Paloma Medina, UC Santa Cruz Graduate Student of Biomolecular Engineering, Science & Justice Fellow

Co-Sponsored by

The UC Santa Cruz Science & Justice Research Center, the School of Engineering NIH Training Grant, College Nine Student Senate, the departments of Biomolecular Engineering, Education, and the Genomics Institute Office of Diversity, Oakes College Senate, and the Stuart Lab.

Rapporteurs’ Report

Introduction

With the human genome first sequenced and reported in 2001 and then a final draft in 2003 – the end-goal of the Human Genome Project (HGP) – some scholars now term this post-HGP era as one of ‘postgenomics.’ (Reardon 2017; Richardson and Stevens 2015). In this postgenomic era, questions of race and ethnicity are at the forefront of both scientific debates and popular cultural movements: the recent controversy over Harvard geneticist David Reich’s New York Times op-ed in March, 2018 has scholars publicly debating the usefulness of racial categories as precise forms of scientific analysis; the public return of white nationalism(s) across many countries; as well as the use of forensic genetics to solve crimes, the growth of DNA ‘magic boxes’ in police stations, and the raising of concerns about discrimination in DNA phenotyping.

On the level of ‘personal genomics,’ direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing services such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com are rapidly growing into a mainstream phenomenon. They have arguably become a cultural touchstone, with significant implications for common notions of race and ethnicity, personal and social identity. The tools of genetic ancestry testing are increasingly being used for myriad projects of adjudicating one’s identity, such as conceptualizing racial/ethnic heritage as percentage points of ancestry. For example, many in the US now hope to find ‘Native DNA’ to believe they are members of a tribal nation, while tribes do not simply recognize blood quanta as the primary marker of tribal belonging (TallBear 2013); white supremacists are chugging milk; and African Americans are using personal genomics to construct meaningful biographical narratives, engaging in what Alondra Nelson terms ‘affiliative’ self-fashioning in the context of their genealogical aspirations (2016).

To grapple with the implications of some of these world-making projects, our event “No, Really, What Percentage are You?”: Race, Identity, and Genetic Ancestry Testing, explored the promises and the problems of DTC genetic testing services, under the broader umbrella of racial justice and genomics. Over the course of a 4-hour event held at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History on April 20th, over 120 community members joined the fellows along with guest panelists to explore how both science and art engage questions of race and ethnicity that are so prevalent today in this age of data-driven identities. The primary questions explored were as follows:

  • How are people integrating genealogical knowledge (such as of their family tree) with new forms of DNA-based ancestry testing?
  • Is mapping one’s genetic ancestry an act of restoring the past, or does granting a private company access to this information encourage us to commercialize our own genes, or some combination of both?
  • Does it act to uphold existing concepts of race through ancestry, or can it encourage people to see categories as being more flexible than previously thought?
  • Who benefits from these projects, and who might be harmed?
Event Activities and Outcomes

To explore these questions through various activities employing science and art, our event unfolded across two areas of the museum — the main atrium and small conference room (seated, approximately 50) — and featured a number of main attractions: 1) an art installation showcasing the work of artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg; 2) an experimental conversational panel called a chain reaction; 3) large educational posters covering aspects of the foundational concepts and science behind genetic ancestry testing; 4) a collaborative art-making and collage station; 5) and a curated playlist of videos about genetic ancestry testing. We detail each of these activities below.

1) Art Installation

Two people watch the tv screen, a table is in view with information pamphlets.

Artworks were shown near the museum entrance

Two artworks were shown close to the museum entrance and near the event’s welcome table in the atrium. Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s video work, Stranger Visions, along with a zine she co-created with Chelsea Manning and Shoili Kanungo titled Suppressed Images, were shown as a pop-up solo show. The artworks showed the process the artist performed to create 3D printed sculptures from DNA sequencing and phenotyping processes. Through this work she raises concerns about the impulse genetic determinism and the biases and limitations of these DNA phenotyping processes. Event participants displayed curiosity toward this forensic process and the critical (and critically important) questions raised by this video-artwork.

2) Chain Reaction Panel

The chain reaction is an experimental take on the panel discussion format. Seven experts served as panel participants (see below). Dyads were in conversation for approximately 12 minutes each. The format was as follows: the first and second speakers engaged in an initial semi-structured conversation on pre-selected topics for 12 minutes. Once the first conversation ended, expert 1 was asked to leave and was replaced by expert 3. Expert 2 and 3 continued the conversation for another 12 minutes. Then, expert 2 was replaced by expert 4. This process continued until all seven speakers spoke with two other speakers. Fellow Dorothy R. Santos served as the moderator for chain reaction.

Chain Reaction Panelists, Braden Larson and Paloma Medina speaking with each other in front of the audience.

Chain Reaction Panelists, Braden Larson and Paloma Medina

True to the panelists’ diverse expertise, a wide range of topics were covered during this panel, ranging from the importance of narrative through the use of DTC genetic ancestry testing (both the use of cultural narratives as a marketing tool for these companies and the constructing of identity narratives through using the knowledge gained from these tests); who uses these tests and how they, as tools of identity-making, can be used toward many different ends and purposes; the history of genetics, replete with racism and eugenics; the question of gift exchange in our society and whether certain types of genetic gifts (such as agreeing to have one’s genome sequenced for the benefits of ‘science’) fall under sacrificial exchange or egalitarian forms of exchange; the appeal of DTC ‘personal genomics’ due to people’s striving for forms of certainty rather than uncertainty about their lives and identities; the technical possibilities for what DTC genetic ancestry tests can and cannot tell us, and with what levels of certainty, about our ancestry; histories of colonialism and genocide that must be taken into account when trying to paint accurate pictures of many people’s ancestries; and the ongoing question of improving technologies, such that we cannot necessarily predict how genomic information will be used in five and ten years from now — by whom, and toward what sorts of purposes and ends genomic knowledge will be employed.

In general, feedback on the chain reaction was positive, especially by the panelists who commented that they enjoyed the open-ended and stimulating conversation. Some audience members lamented the use of jargon by chain reaction participants–if we were to hold a similar event again in the future, we might consider working with chain reaction participants beforehand to help them think about communicating in more accessible ways.

3) Educational Posters

We hung four educational posters in the museum’s atrium, designed to break down complex scientific topics explored at our event.

SJTP Fellow Caroline Spurgin standing with one of the posters hanging from the ceiling of the museum.

SJTP Fellow Caroline Spurgin

The four posters covered: modelling genetic variation; racism and genetic science; beyond Mendellian inheritance; and inferring genetic ancestry. The posters provided a foundation to engage in conversation and that would result in an invitation to engage in the Collaborative Art Project. Event coordinators were able to spark interesting conversations by asking visitors (who were reading the posters) what they thought about different parts of the posters.

 

 

4) Collaborative Art Activity

The museum’s atrium served as a wonderful focal point for the collaborative art activity. With little to no verbal instruction, visitors gravitated to the art making table and began making collages answering two prompts. The following prompts were printed and displayed on the tables and the wall hanging for community members to respond to creatively:

“To quantify means to measure or express the quantity of something. For example, Genetic Ancestry Test results quantify your genetic ancestry. In two collages, show us how you would quantify yourself and the ways you cannot be quantified. Then add your collages to the wall to be part of the collaborative art project!”

Participants contributed their collages as responses to both the prompts and the educational posters hanging in the atrium. People of all ages were able to participate in the collaborative art activity.

Paper collages strung across a red wall using twine.

Collage display in atrium.

5) Curated Video Playlist

In the small conference room, prior to the start of the chain reaction panel, short, accessible videos on genetic ancestry testing played on loop as visitors sat waiting for the panel to begin. Videos included a newly released educational video by Vox: What DNA ancestry tests can – and can’t – tell you; A provocative and satirical ad for AeroMexico Airlines for ticket discounts based on DNA test results; and informative, humorous videos, including one by BuzzFeedVideo: Ethnically Ambiguous People take a DNA Test; and a CBC News video called Twins get ‘mystifying’ DNA ancestry test results (Marketplace). The idea of curating the videos involved showing, first, a breakdown of the science involved, and second, some moral, ethical, and cultural questions raised around using DNA ancestry test results to rethink one’s ancestry.

Conclusion

This event served to engage the multi-layered discussion of genomics, race, and ancestry by providing students and the general public with the means and tools to become more informed and to think critically about this timely subject. We achieved our goal of facilitating an interdisciplinary discussion between art, science, and science education. We could also have had a more diverse range of experts on the panel since the majority were from the Biomolecular Engineering department. It may have been advantageous to include more social scientists and humanities scholars. This observation was made by a community member and the fellows made certain to listen to this visitor’s concern of lack of disciplinary diversity on the panel. Yet they, along with other visitors to the museum and students from the university, commented on the informative and engaging nature of the event. We realized after speaking with many event participants that we could have created a take-away bibliographic resource. We sparked the curiosity of many visitors and, we think, let people leave with many questions for further reflection, but we could have provided a more concrete list of relevant resources.

One line of future inquiry that arose from this event is the challenge of trying to understand the moral and ethical questions that are continuously arising as genomic technologies improve. As practices of DNA phenotyping are on the rise and the spectre of novel forms of genetic discrimination continues to haunt the fields of genetics and genomics, how can we, as members of a multitude of larger collectives, continue to ask relevant questions and remain pertinent in thinking through complex issues spanning science and race, identity and ethnicity, and the intertwining of genealogical and genetic ancestry?

References

Nelson, A. (2016). The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome. Beacon Press.

Reardon, J. (2017). The Postgenomic Condition: Ethics, Justice and Knowledge After the Genome. University of Chicago Press.

Richardson, Sarah S. & Stevens, H. (2015). Postgenomics: Perspectives on Biology After the Genome. Duke University Press.

TallBear, K. (2013). Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science. University of Minnesota Press.

May 10, 2017 | CRISPR Cas9 and Justice

Sponsored by the CRISPR User Group, SJRC Director Jenny Reardon (Professor of Sociology) will present a talk, to divert our gaze from the spectacular—we will cut out deadly genes; we will fundamentally alter the human species—to focus on the more mundane, but more profound changes of which CRISPR technologies are apart—changes that that call into question how we live and know today.

Rather than a threat to the future of humanity or life on earth, Reardon will argue that CRISPR helps make visible these more fundamental transformations in modes of knowing and governing.

Pizza will be provided.

 

May 10, 2017 |12Noon-1:00PM | Biomed 200

April 25, 2017 | Online Film Screening: The State of Eugenics

Tuesday, April 25 at 3:30 PST
What is the legacy of government sponsored eugenics programs? Learn more and join the discussion following a special screening of THE STATE OF EUGENICS on Tuesday, April 25 at 3:30pm PT presented by Facing History and Ourselves and Reel South.

Between 1933 and 1974, the state of North Carolina ran one of the most aggressive eugenics programs, sterilizing more than 7,600 men, women and children. This film follows the journey of survivors, legislators and journalists who insist the state confront its role in the tragic, forced sterilization of thousands of Americans thought to have “undesirable” genetics.

Duration: 90 minutes

More details are at http://bit.ly/tsoe2017
Promotional Video: https://vimeo.com/195666167

Further Reading:

2017 Los Angeles Times Editorial: California needs to do more than apologize to people it sterilized

2016 PBS: Unwanted Sterilization and Eugenics Programs in the United States

2014 Center for Investigative Reporting: Female prison inmates sterilized illegally, California audit confirms

2014 Press Enterprise: Female inmates, some in Chino, unlawfully sterilized

2014 California State AUDIT: Sterilization of Female Inmates Some Inmates Were Sterilized Unlawfully, and Safeguards Designed to Limit Occurrences of the Procedure Failed

2013 Center for Investigative Reporting: Female inmates sterilized in California prisons without approval

2013 Center for Investigative Reporting Video: Sterilized Behind Bars

 

Nov 16, 2016 | The ‘Public Good’ of Genomics

The Science and Justice Research Center will host Steve Sturdy, Professor of the Sociology of Medical Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh, in a Working Group event that explores the question of the ‘public good,’ and how it has been thought of and variously understood within the field of genomics.

Lindsey Dillon, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Cruz and Gretchen Gano, Associate Director of Research for the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society at UC Berkeley will serve as discussants.

November 16, 2016 | 4:00-6:00pm | Engineering 2 room 599

May 18, 2016 | Just Data? Justice, Knowledge and Care in an Age of Precision Medicine

The “Just Data?” meeting at UCSC aims to broaden the public discussion about big data and health from ethical and legal questions about privacy and informed consent to more fundamental questions about the right and just constitution of care, trust, and knowledge in an age of biomedical data. This agenda-setting workshop will gather international leaders in genomics, health and informatics, civil rights, bioethics, indigenous rights, science policy and the social study of health and medicine. The meeting will be broken into two phases: 1) Discussion of critical challenges, problems and promises; 2) Collaborative work to set the science and justice agenda of big biodata and precision medicine.

For full event and registration information, please visit: https://justdataucsc.wordpress.com/

Co-Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the NHGRI program of the NIH, the UC North Bioethics Collaboratory, and the UCSC Genomics Institute.

May 18-19 | Alumni Room, University Center, UC Santa Cruz