A few years back we developed and published a set of three dialogues as a way of explaining the complex science behind human genetic variation to non-experts. The article describes the science and has written scripts for each dialogue. Members of GSWG also recorded each dialogue and the links to download the mp3 files are below. These materials are intended to supplement genetics and social sciences curriculum in secondary and college classrooms or to be used by anyone for informal educational outreach. A brief description of each dialogue follows.
Download the pdf article here.
Stream or download the audio recording for Dialogue 1 here.
Stream or download the audio recording for Dialogue 2 here.
Stream or download the audio recording for Dialogue 3 here.
In the first dialogue, two friends explore the link between DNA and self-identified race. Kelly identifies herself as black and reports this identity on her latest U.S. Census. Upon completion of a DNA-based ancestry test, she discusses with Michael the “unexpected” finding that the ancestry presented to her is predominantly European and maybe that means she is really “white”. This begins a discussion of DNA ancestry testing, raises questions related to the science behind the tests, and leads to a larger question of how race is constructed in society. Incorporating this dialogue and a facilitated discussion within a lesson on human biology will encourage students to explore their own misconceptions on biological essentialism related to human biological variation and race. The context of DNA-based ancestry testing should be a familiar topic to capture interest. Therefore, this dialogue may work as an engagement piece before beginning a unit on human genetic variation or the origins and historical migration patterns of modern humans.
In the second dialogue, two scientists explore the question of whether or not human race is biologically meaningful, tracing some of the history of alternative perspectives in their field. The scientists disagree about whether there are distinct biological races that can be separated on the basis of physical characteristics and genetic information. Their discussion of the history of this debate shows how scientific information on human differences has been used incorrectly to justify racism and oppressive social measures to “solve” problems.
In the third and final dialogue, a social scientist and a skeptic explore the risks and benefits of using self-identified racial categories in medical research and treatment. In most studies the variable being used is “self-identified” race. This final dialogue focuses attention on the reasons for recent calls from genomic scientists, social scientists, and ethicists to abandon the use of racial categories in human genetics studies and medical research – unless the research is probing the consequences of racial stereotyping.
Following each dialogue, we provide sample discussion questions, that may be selected or modified, based on the intended audience, as a way of beginning facilitated discussions. These discussions provide an important opportunity for teachers to identify and clear up student misconceptions.