The Persistence of Race Concepts in Biology and Genetics

Friday, January 5, 2018: 11:30 AM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Michael Yudell, Drexel University
The sociologist and pioneering civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois was among the first to synthesize data from anthropology and the social sciences to conclude that race based disparities stem from social, not biological inequalities and that an emerging biological concept of race was antithetical to both scientific and social progress. Du Bois’s work on the race concept anticipated much of the 20th century debate on the use of race as a variable in scientific research. Despite Du Bois’s work and the work of several generations of evolutionary biologists, population geneticists, and social scientists, biological race concepts continue to shape science, medicine, and public health practice. Today, scientists continue to struggle over the meaning and utility of biological race concepts and biologists are stuck in a paradox: the belief that race can be both an important tool to elucidate human genetic diversity and that race is a poorly defined marker and imprecise proxy of that diversity. This talk will offer an overview of the history of race concepts in genetics in the United States during the 20th century and examine the relationship between this history and the use of the variable race in contemporary genetics research.
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