Update: A commenter points to this previous contribution from Michael Yudell:
In an article published today (Feb. 4) in the journal Science, four scholars say racial categories are weak proxies for genetic diversity and need to be phased out. [Unraveling the Human Genome: 6 Molecular Milestones]
They've called on the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to put together a panel of experts across the biological and social sciences to come up with ways for researchers to shift away from the racial concept in genetics research.
"It's a concept we think is too crude to provide useful information, it's a concept that has social meaning that interferes in the scientific understanding of human genetic diversity and it's a concept that we are not the first to call upon moving away from," said Michael Yudell, a professor of public health at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Yudell said that modern genetics research is operating in a paradox, which is that race is understood to be a useful tool to elucidate human genetic diversity, but on the other hand, race is also understood to be a poorly defined marker of that diversity and an imprecise proxy for the relationship between ancestry and genetics.
"Essentially, I could not agree more with the authors," said Svante Pääbo, a biologist and director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, who worked on the Neanderthal genome but was not involved with the new paper. [. . .]
So what other variables could be used if the racial concept is thrown out? Pääbo said geography might be a better substitute in regions such as Europe to define "populations" from a genetic perspective. However, he added that, in North America, where the majority of the population has come from different parts of the world during the past 300 years, distinctions like "African Americans" or "European Americans" might still work as a proxy to suggest where a person's major ancestry originated.
Rooting human variation in blood or in kinship was a relatively new way to categorize humans. The idea gained strength towards the end of the Middle Ages as anti-Jewish feelings, which were rooted in an antagonism towards Jewish religious beliefs, began to evolve into anti-Semitism. These blood kinship beliefs rationalized anti-Jewish hatred instead as the hatred of a people. For example, Marranos, Spanish Jews who had been baptized, were considered a threat to Christendom by virtue of their ancestry because they could not prove purity of blood to the Inquisition.But it's hard to imagine Yudell's ethnic neuroses could have anything to do with his totally non-tendentious (not to mention fresh, novel) advocacy for "Taking race out of human genetics". Who could disagree with his "simple goal", as stated in the concluding paragraph of his current paper: "to improve the scientific study of human difference and commonality" and "strengthen research by thinking more carefully about human genetic diversity". Please suppress any cognitive dissonance engendered by the second to last paragraph:
Phasing out racial terminology in biological sciences would send an important message to scientists and the public alike: Historical racial categories that are treated as natural and infused with notions of superiority and inferiority have no place in biology. We acknowledge that using race as a political or social category to study racism and its biological effects, although fraught with challenges, remains necessary. Such research is important to understand how structural inequities and discrimination produce health disparities in socioculturally defined groups.Who would argue impartial, objective science is not synonymous with the promotion of minority grievance politics?