This week’s readings are focused on Armand Marie Leroi, an evolutionary biologist, and his piece A Family Tree in Every Gene from 2005, and the reaction from a range of academics who were critical of his points.
Laroi’s article believes that, “genetic data show that races clearly do exist.” He argues that Dr. Lewotin looked a too small a number of genes in the 1970s, when, if you look at a hundreds of variable genes are considered at the same time, you will see enough similarities that reflect traditional anthropological races. A way of looking at this would be describing the commonality of genes among a group of people, from say, Europe, could be labeled as-race.
He provides two reasons why this an important finding: 1) to figure out what creates specific traits, such a blonde hair, and 2) as a means to improve medical care by identifying genes that are more likely to be susceptible, or defend against certain ailments.
Nancy Krieger argues that studies in racial disparities in health largely ignore the impact of socioeconomic deprivation and discrimination. She feels that Laroi’s desire to see race and genes linked would be irresponsible, and that a better option would be to recognize and understand how popular and scientific racism effect human health.
The Meaning of Race in the New Genomics article questions how attitudes of race have influenced health research and used erroneously as a scientific variable. The wide variability (lack of standardization) of terms used to describe a singular ‘race’ such as Caucasian, European or white are just one way in which this variable is poorly defined. Race is also often used as shorthand for cultural and social norms which again can color findings.
Finally, The Anatomy of a Medical Myth looks at how a poorly constructed theory, in this case, specific to issues of health and race, can be picked up by non-scholarly institutions and create a momentum that leads them to be considered accepted truths in and outside of academia. Many factors lead to this, one of these is, “…this appeared to be a matter on which there was consensus among knowledgeable people, so too does the utter normalcy of racial essentialism in biomedical science act to reinforce its legitimacy.”