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. 2013 Sep;44(3):250-61.
doi: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2013.04.009. Epub 2013 May 22.

Theodosius Dobzhansky and the Genetic Race Concept


Theodosius Dobzhansky and the Genetic Race Concept

Lisa Gannett. Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. .


The use of 'race' as a proxy for population structure in the genetic mapping of complex traits has provoked controversy about its legitimacy as a category for biomedical research, given its social and political connotations. The controversy has reignited debates among scientists and philosophers of science about whether there is a legitimate biological concept of race. This paper examines the genetic race concept as it developed historically in the work of Theodosius Dobzhansky from the 1930s to 1950s. Dobzhansky's definitions of race changed over this time from races as 'arrays of forms' or 'clusters' in 1933-1939, to races as genetically distinct geographical populations in 1940-1946, to races as genetically distinct 'Mendelian populations' in 1947-1955. Dobzhansky responded to nominalist challenges by appealing to the biological reality of race as a process. This response came into tension with the object ontology of race that was implied by Dobzhansky's increasingly holistic treatment of Mendelian populations, a tension, the paper argues, he failed to appreciate or resolve.

Keywords: Dobzhansky; Genetic race; Mendelian population; Population genetics; Process ontology.

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