The Genetics and Society working group is launching a project called “Fighting Scientific Racism.” Our goal is to post materials here that illuminate the science in the field of human genomics in a format accessible to students, teachers, journalists, and scientists who, like us, are not experts in the field of genomics. We plan to feature analysis of the ethical, legal and social issues related to the science as well as our ideas on how to include and improve genetics teaching with these topics.
Throughout the history of humankind, many have argued that the individuals of one population or another of our species are superior. The resulting concept of human ‘races’ has often been used to justify exploitation, including the theft of work and/or natural resources. During the development of experimental, evidence-based science, with its highly successful explanations of natural phenomena, this kind of harmful justification continued. During this history, these racist scientific ideas have been debunked – but many continue to hold sway in our culture. With the development of genetic technologies that have made it possible to collect DNA sequences of complete human genomes from individuals around the world, there is new danger that these discoveries will again be interpreted in ways that promote dominant populations.
Our group has read and discussed many scientific articles on the genetics of human populations as well as the way in which these findings are presented to the public in the news media. Taken together, we believe that these articles provide strong evidence rejecting the idea of human ‘race’ as biological. However, these studies do present and analyze data on human genetic similarity and differences amongst and within populations. And, even though the largest amount of genetic variation is within the individuals of any given population, the smaller amount of variation that is between populations has often been misinterpreted or the data misused in ways that reflect or support racist ideas. As we present on these key findings in human genomics in our upcoming essays, we will explore the potential misuses of this science.