Osagie K. Obasogie will tell you how to think about race and the human genome

Obasogie, "an Associate Professor of Law at the University of California, Hastings", is concerned:
Ten years ago this month, we were definitively told that race is scientifically invalid, supposedly ending centuries of debate over the social versus biological character of racial categories. [. . .] this one seemingly conclusive finding regarding the biological insignificance of race was supposed to have put the final nail in the race-as-biology coffin. Given the remarkable cruelty and injustice linked to the idea that racial differences and disparities reflect inherent biological differences, this finding was highly celebrated among scholars, politicians, and many others. [. . .]

But, there seems to have been a detour on the way to the funeral: rather than moving away from using race to understand human genetic difference, several research projects began mapping social understandings of race onto this less than 1% of human difference. Like Lazarus, race quickly came back from the dead; the very science that was thought to lead to its demise has instead given it new life under the guise of modern genetics. [. . .]

Framing racial differences and disparities in largely genetic terms when the evidence for doing so is less than robust may lead us to miss the social and political practices that can more meaningfully explain the dynamics at play. And when we miss these complexities, we risk simplistically explaining these outcomes as a function of who people inherently "are" rather than the deeper influences connected to how we treat one another.
But Obasogie has the answer:
But what also unites these three developments concerning race and genetics a decade after the tolling of its death knell is the stunning lack of regulation concerning the questionable claims being made. The FDA has no special rules for new drugs seeking race specific labels beyond a narrow focus on safety and efficacy, genetic ancestry tests garner no special attention from regulators, and federal and state law enforcement agencies openly embrace new forensic techniques without much regard for their impact on racial minorities or social understandings of race. Allowing the market to push these issues without more meaningful oversight is no less unwise than allowing banks to regulate themselves.
Obasogie kindly allows that discussion of race and biology "need not be thoroughly killed" -- just heavily regulated lest "new technologies end up resurrecting a ghost from the past that may haunt us well into the next decade and beyond." This is the second type of response I expect to be seeing more of.


Chris said...

You know you're dealing with either a dolt or a liar when they bring up the % difference issue.

Hey look! Monkeys are just 1% genetically different from us!! We're essentially indistinguishable!!

Ummm, they're monkeys, dude.


Anonymous said...

We've heard these kinds of statements before, that science and truth must be monitored and regulated, or else people may have their feelings hurt, or it could lead to slavery, genocide, etc. It's absurd, it's religious dogma and tyrannical.

Dasein said...

subsequent research has slightly lowered this initial estimate to around 99.5% [from Huffington Post link]

The estimate is now down to 98.4%.

Dasein said...

I expect to see more focus on epigenetics as a way to play down the heritable differences between races (e.g.). The 'missing heritability' from GWAS has at least delayed the day of scientific reckoning. IMO, the evidence is already pretty incontrovertible. If you're not convinced that the IQ gap is highly heritable based on regression to the mean and transracial adoption studies, then I don't think you'll be persuaded even if every important allele (or combination) is discovered. There will always be some excuse- e.g. how do you know it's not those alleles in association with some epigenetic change?

n/a said...


At least for height, most of the missing heritability is not missing after all. Most likely a similar situation obtains for IQ.

Agree that lack of scientific evidence is not the problem.

Anonymous said...

Studies of identical twins reared apart have shown a high heritability for not only IQ but also behavior as well.

Justin said...

So... race is biological... therefore....
Fire up the gas ovens!

Do they really think that way?