The Evolution of Race and Population Identifiers in Scientific Thought and Practice
The fields of genetics and genomics are at a historically significant crossroads. After more than a century of criticism concerning the use of racial categories in human biological research (by a litany of natural and social scientists, as well as by scholars in the humanities), the recent National Academy of Sciences report, Using Population Descriptors in Genetics and Genomics Research: A New Framework for an Evolving Field, offers a possible path forward that forsakes racial categories in genetic research. Could the report’s first recommendation—“researchers should not use race as a proxy for human genetic variation”—be an inflection point in the long history of racial science? One that finally sees the race concept in genetics abandoned?
As historians, while we applaud the efforts of the National Academy’s Committee on the Use of Race, Ethnicity, and Ancestry as Population Descriptors in Genomics Research, we know that this is not the first attempt to remove race from human genetics, even while we hope it will be the last. Since the early 20th century, biologists and social scientists have raised questions about the scientific utility and…
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About ELSIhub Collections
ELSIhub Collections are essential reading lists on fundamental or emerging topics in ELSI, curated and explained by expert Collection Editors, often paired with ELSI trainees. This series assembles materials from cross-disciplinary literatures to enable quick access to key information.