Blog | History of Race and Genetics

After the reading group completed, we thought it would be useful to distill our individual reactions into brief written pieces.  What follows are posts from different participants in the group on some of the thoughts (and feelings) spurred by the reading group discussions.  They represent informal and still forming perspectives – we share them nonetheless in hope they can stimulate thinking and further conversations.

A reflection on genetics and race: key themes and takeaways

Date: 03/11/2021
Author: Arjun Biddanda, PhD

“Every scientist has a set of values that they bring to the table when addressing research questions that shape how they form those questions, what methods they use to address them, and the extent of confirmation bias towards their results.”

Lessons from History

Date: 02/28/2021
Author: Jennifer Blanc

“In every history class I took in high school we always started the year with the question, ‘why do we study history?’ This reading group helped my realize that the answer ‘we study history so we can learn from our mistakes’ is not some throwaway line but actually applicable to both my work and my life.” 

On the relevance of race for geneticists

Date: 02/28/2021
Author: Jaeda Patton

“Through our readings and discussions, I learned that scientists played an integral role historically in shaping concepts of race in Western thought, and continue to be influenced by concepts of race today.” 

On assumptions in evolutionary genetics today

Date: 02/28/2021
Author: Mashaal Sohail, PhD

It is key to realize that populations as used in evolutionary genetics today were tied directly to race in the hands of Dobzhansky. Race went from being an object of study in the pre-WWII period to becoming more subtly embedded in the population-focused methodology of the science post-WWII. It is in that sense, and with this history in mind, that racial thinking pervades our science and our lived experience today. 

The Zombie of Genetics

Date: 03/11/2021
Author: Joe Thornton, PhD

We can make a stronger scientific argument against racism—and improve the science of genetics— if we explicitly address the persistent ways in which the history of eugenics shapes geneticsts’ approach to classification and causality today. 

Geneticists should earn their authority

Date: 03/11/2021
Author: Jeremy Berg, PhD

If geneticists want to earn our authority on matters of race, we should exercise some humility and recognize that we need to understand race as it actually exists, out in the world. 

Reflections on our Genetics and Race reading group

Date: 03/11/2021
Author: John Novembre, PhD

Especially as the technologies for reading, understanding, and editing genomes improves, we must take even more care, as the impacts of this knowledge on society will be large and the potential for destructive misinformation amplified.