New forms of racism arise in science research

February 15, 2014 by Kerry Sheridan
A small stick is prepared for DNA collection

Advances in genetic sequencing are giving rise to a new era of scientific racism, despite decades of efforts to reverse attitudes used to justify the slave trade and Nazi theology, experts said on Friday.

New forms of discrimination, known as neoracism, are taking hold in , spreading the belief that races exist and are different in terms of biology, behavior and culture, according to anthropologists who spoke at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Chicago.

"Genome science can help us a lot in the individualization of medical practice," said Nina Jablonski, an anthropology professor at The Pennsylvania State University.

But she warned that science could be "misused" to propagate the belief that people inherently have different abilities based on skin color or ethnic background.

She cited new research urging that children be identified based on their genetically predetermined educational abilities and then put in separate schools that could be used to foster different kinds of learning.

"We have heard this before and it is incredibly worrying," she said, recalling the segregation era when blacks and whites were schooled separately and African Americans were considered inferior.

A matter of distortion?

"The educationalists who are proposing this meant this in a positive way but it is something that could be easily distorted if it were implemented."

Many distinguished scientists in the United States recognize that race itself is not a biological variable, but they still buy into the notion that shared ancestry can impart certain biological characteristics, said Joseph Graves, an associate dean for research at the University of North Carolina.

Published research has shown that blacks are more likely than whites to have a blood type that causes and can protect against malaria, and are more likely to have a certain gene called APOL1, which protects against a parasite that causes sleeping sickness.

While Graves did not dispute these findings, he said it is wrong to imply that genetic differences account for the vast between whites and blacks.

"The assumption is that African ancestry predisposes one to greater disease and mortality profiles in the United States," Graves said at the conference.

"This is what I call the myth of the genetically sick African."

Instead, social factors are more likely to blame for poorer health among blacks in the United States, he said.

"Americans continually conflate socially defined and biological conceptions of race," Graves added. "Neoracism results in part from this confusion."

Another concern is the ancestry tests that are now commonly sold online, a trend which feeds the notion that one's ethnic heritage may indicate the state of one's health, said Yolanda Moses, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, describing these tests as "misleading."

Race and criminal justice

Over the past decade, the expansion of DNA databases which include genetic profiles from people arrested—but not convicted of crimes—is also a concern, she said.

"Genetics have a profound impact on race and the system," she said.

Ironically, a new focus on race as a basis for genomics began when the National Institutes of Health—the world's largest funder of research—mandated all its genetic studies to have as diverse a representation as possible, in an effort to eliminate health disparities and include more people of color in clinical trials.

When the Human Genome Project first started in the 1980s, this was not the case.

"We went from a world where genome mappers did not want to touch race with a 10-foot pole, to one in which projects and drugs could no longer survive without reframing their reason for being as a minority rights campaign," said Catherine Bliss, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, San Francisco.

"What we have is an ethical and a fiscal pressure to racialize research and applications across the board," she said.

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1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2014
The "goodness" or "evilness" of racism and discrimination depend on sincere intent.

Racism and discrimination are to be avoided if intent is to deny or otherwise denigate on the basis of race, behaviour or culture. If the intent is to individualize education, medicine, etc. so as to enhance and equalize opportunities; then attention must be paid to one's race, and it may be necessary to guide individuals into different paths.
2 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2014
As is so often the case with the lies "science" propagates to support certain agendas, among other things, not the insistence on note considering race to be a real thing, much less have an effect, but absolutely no reference to any "experiments" or "studies" that back that up. This is political, not philosophical. "Science" is being used in its role of conning the gullible to promote ideas and sentiments that have no basis in reality. Note the "technical" caption for the photograph at the start of the article, "A small stick is prepared for DNA collection"! It's a swab! It cannot necessarily be taken that the theoretical, analytical aspect of the presentation are any better! They "justify" it by saying they are trying to "reverse attitudes" that led to "the slave trade and Nazi theology". So lie about race being real because you don't want it to be misused!
5 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2014
Science is pure. People are racist. As always those that try to use science to promote "evil" will be weeded out and exposed for who they are and science will continue on its path of discovery.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2014
Jay R. Feierman: One can't separate natural selection and mutations...

In every other species from microbes to man, differences in morphological and behavioral traits associated with reproductive fitness are examples of ecological adaptations. It seems racist, sexist, and homophobic to imply that ecological adaptations are examples of mutation-driven evolution in humans.

If sickle cell disease is due to a nutrient-dependent amino acid substitution that results in one of 1182 hemoglobin variants, it is obviously an ecological adaptation.

Anyone who claims that sickle cell disease is due to a mutation should support their claim with experimental evidence of what causes the mutation and how it is naturally selected in circumstances that appear to vary with skin pigmentation, or be prepared to defend themselves from claims that they are racists.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2014
The "goodness" or "evilness" of racism and discrimination depend on sincere intent.

Racism and discrimination are to be avoided if intent is to deny or otherwise denigate on the basis of race, behaviour or culture. If the intent is to individualize education, medicine, etc. so as to enhance and equalize opportunities; then attention must be paid to one's race, and it may be necessary to guide individuals into different paths.

Well yeah, that's a very Kantian view; if we do intend to create good with the discrimination put forward, it will be good.

However what we do know is that things such as the example put forth - of the sickle cell disparity between Africans and others - can lead to negative discrimination. A clear example would be insurance pricing. Yes, it will certainly help those who have been genetically identified find correct treatments more quickly, however if statistically these people create higher costs for insurance companies, that may be unfair.
Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2014
Well this whole idea of racial differences is a good thing.

See, we the jews were made by god.

Everyone else is a dirty monkey descendent - thus justifying the plans for a master race and extermination of all inferior races.

So lets blitzkrieg and holocaust their non jew arses.
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2014
The scientific discoveries must be obliterated for the purity of the ideal, "All Humans are equal."

Equal my arse. I am not even my own equal before my morning coffee.
not rated yet Feb 16, 2014
I'm sure i've no need to counterpoint this egregious remark but i nonetheless feel this kind of 'racist and proud' sentiment cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged..

Well this whole idea of racial differences is a good thing.

See, we the jews were made by god.

Everyone else is a dirty monkey descendent - thus justifying the plans for a master race and extermination of all inferior races.

So lets blitzkrieg and holocaust their non jew arses.

But surely then it's our obligation as superior beings to show magnaminity towards our less chosen (ie. cursed) underlings? That doesn't mean it has to be genuine or heartfelt, but i at least make a pretense at recognising a common thread of humanity that binds us all together (although personally, i don't like Pygmies (they're unhygenic and they steal))..

More to the point, by feigning such empathy we can make more money from them!
5 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2014
This article is not good. There ARE differences between people, of course, otherwise, we all were clones. And some genetic trades are more common in certain areas, like lactose tolerance, immunities to some deseases or something else. Difference is not the problem. You can't deny that every person is different from another. It's how you deal with that. Different doesn't mean better, it just means different. And in some cases one treatment works better in one population than in another. What's that fuzz about neoracism because of science? That's bullshit. Its not because of science, its despite science findings. We are one species, one race, and we all have little differences, and that is okay.
That article goes way into the wrong direction.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2014
Genetic sequencing is a tool and whether it is used for good or bad is up to the people using it.
I for one would love it if the world were more tailored to my specific needs.
Imagine growing up with your education and medical care specifically suited to your abilities and biochemistry.
Just remember that your DNA seems to only account for about 50% of who you are , so any conclusions drawn (about an individual) from genetic sequencing alone will probably be wrong half the time. ;-)
not rated yet Feb 17, 2014
I was going to comment on the article but then read the comment of evolution3 - now I'll just add to that, that the species with less variability have lesser chance to survive and evolve.
Even the fit-ness of one to a particular environment in a specific moment is not a guarantee for better survival, and that's just from the biological point of view...
not rated yet Feb 17, 2014
Estrogen receptor α polymorphism in a species with alternative behavioral phenotypes appears to link ecological variation to nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled chromosomal rearrangements and diversity of morphological and behavioral phenotypical traits in "morphs" of white-throated sparrows. The article also seems to pit experimental evidence of biologically-based cause and effect, which is exemplified in differences in parental feeding behavior, against statistical representations of what might otherwise be considered mutation-driven evolution in the context of speciation. Simply put, the "morphs" do not seem to result from mutations.

The use of their detailed series of experiments may extend what they have shown across the vertebrate genome via what is currently known about the conserved molecular mechanisms of epigenetically-effected physical landscapes of DNA in the organized genomes of other model organisms.
Phil DePayne
not rated yet Feb 17, 2014
This article is actually adding to the problem by insinuating sickle cell disease is limited to people of African origin. The distribution of sickle cell is roughly coincident with the distribution of the malaria parasite in tropical and sub-tropical regions, including many Asians.

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