Looking for race in all the wrong places: analyzing the lack of productivity in the ongoing debate about race and genetics

Hum Genet. 2009 Sep;126(3):355-62. doi: 10.1007/s00439-009-0674-1. Epub 2009 Apr 25.


The ongoing debate about the relationship between race and genetics is more than a century old and has yet to be resolved. Recent emphasis on population-based patterns in human genetic variation and the implications of those for disease susceptibility and drug response have revitalized that long-standing debate. Both sides in the debate use the same rhetorical device of treating geographic, ancestral, population-specific, and other categories as surrogates for race, but otherwise share no evidentiary standards, analytic frameworks, or scientific goals that might resolve the debate and result in some productive outcome. Setting a common goal of weighing the scientific benefits of using racial and other social heuristics with testable estimates of the potential social harms of racialization can reduce both the unreflexive use of race and other social identities in biological analyses as well as the unreflexive use of racialization in social critiques of genetics. Treating social identities used in genetic studies as objects for investigation rather than artifacts of participant self-report or researcher attribution also will reduce the extent to which genetic studies that report social identities imply that membership in social categories can be defined or predicted using genetic features.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Ethnicity / classification*
  • Ethnicity / genetics*
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetics, Medical
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Prejudice
  • Racial Groups / genetics*
  • Social Class
  • Social Perception