Highly Accessed Open letter

The ethics of characterizing difference: guiding principles on using racial categories in human genetics

Sandra Soo-Jin Lee*, Joanna Mountain, Barbara Koenig, Russ Altman, Melissa Brown, Albert Camarillo, Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Mildred Cho, Jennifer Eberhardt, Marcus Feldman, Richard Ford, Henry Greely, Roy King, Hazel Markus, Debra Satz, Matthew Snipp, Claude Steele and Peter Underhill

Genome Biology 2008, 9:404  doi:10.1186/gb-2008-9-7-404

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Separating racist judgement from scientific objectivism

John Copen   (2008-07-30 15:52)  self email

There is no doubt there are both phenotypic and genotypic differences between individuals and between groups of similar individuals and groups of other similar individuals. But that really is the key, isn't it?

The question is not are there differences, but what difference are we focusing on AND powerfully WHY. Racist judgement oozes like a sore from the WHY part of this question. Scientific objectivism must identify both WHAT and WHY and use WHY to explain away racist judgement. How so?

Hierarchical assignment should not include a valuation such that it lends credibility to racist judgement. The existence of a hierarchy is not always objective as well, and is highly dependent upon the subjective determination of the value of a characteristic to an individual organism to survive, adapt, and excel within the context of its environment. And moreover, genetic evolution is not always a rapid response to such an environment - there is a lag involved and so current differences cannot be attributed to current conditions necessarily, nor can they explain mechanisms for now when they were derived then. Add to this the more rapid and disruptive mechanisms of genetic change from exogenous agents such as radiation and chance aberrations in genetic material transmissions. Clearly, racist dogma and rationalization cannot be supported by differences resulting from chaotic events.

This article is important in that it brings attention to critical issues in science that have been warped and distorted to serve political and putatively "moral" positions of persons or groups which end up hi-jacking scientific objectivism to support spurious and distorted racial judgements and agendas, but also to support religious dogmas and beliefs, often in ways far distorted from what the facts support and describe.

Unfortunately, the article does not stress the need for scientific objectivism enough and does not address how errors to judgement occur and can be identified by the press and public who may want to call to question the distorted claims of the judgmental, the intolerant, and fearful and hate-mongering amongst us.

To be of greater value, perhaps this author group might wish to address the issues of identifying the ill-spirited misuse of scientific knowledge to support harmful social judgements. Overall, a needed position statement in need of more detail and operational functionality.

Competing interests

None declared

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