IMW 300 Racial Fictions - Natural/Physical Sciences

Just another Rollins College Blogs Sites site

Author: Shanica

Reflection 2

Our wide range of research was eventually narrowed to a few themes that we noticed as our research progressed which also lead us to focus on different areas in order to get a general picture of what we would like to share. The scientific discipline is very focused on proving theories with actual hard data through experiments and research. We have looked at how the scientific community has dealt with race from as early as the 19th century. The Eugenics Movement and its relation to the United States has been proven to be quite interesting. We have explored how the Nazi government was influenced by the Eugenics Movement in the United  States, to promote its racial hygiene movement. The Nazi government promoted the thought that the whole was more important than the parts. Therefore, it was important for them to preserve the nation by getting rid of those that were unfit. This resulted in the mass genocide of Jews and other minorities. As we’ve noted, race played an integral part in the atrocities that happened in the past.

As the years progressed, the violations committed by the scientific community due to racism have not been overt, however, the effects are often just the same. The methodology of the scientific discipline demands an objective view of the hard data collected. While this methodology may often be violated because the persons carrying out the research are human after all; the same methodology can rectify the mistakes of others. This was observed in the critique of Samuel Morton’s cranial capacity research. Morton carried into his research, his own preconceptions  and tried to get the data to fit his preconceived notions, however, using the scientific method, Steven Gould could discover the faults present within the research.

When used correctly, the scientific method has proven and disproved many hypotheses, such as in The Human Genome Project. In our previous reflection we talked about how  scientists sought to prove that there are genetic differences between the various races but the opposite was actually found. Once this discovery was made, it disrupted many long held beliefs which resulted in many scientists trying to find a way to incorporate race into science and medicine. One such way found was personalized medicine. Pharmaceutical companies and other corporations seem to seek profit from targeting a specific subgroup by claiming that certain groups are more susceptible to certain diseases.

We have also linked the theme Implicit Bias with race within the medical field. Implicit bias is the unconscious associations we make about different racial groups. All humans are susceptible to this even doctors; they are humans after all.  However, while the scientific community has acknowledged that there seems to be a racial disparity in the health care community, no one wished to claim individual responsibility. Instead, the narrative is framed in such a way as to say the disparity is an overall activity and refraining from calling out specific physicians or even hospitals for their prejudice. Even when potential healthcare physicians perform questionable acts, there is no debate about whether or not these persons are suitable to be treating minorities in the future. So, the physicians carry their prejudice with them without having been questioned or doubted for it which then results in minorities suffering on a large scale and no takes responsibility.

The Use of Race in Medicine as a Proxy for Genetic Differences

Root, Michael. “The Use of Race in Medicine as a Proxy for Genetic Differences”. Philosophy of Science, Vol. 70, No. 5, 2002, pp. 1173-1183. Accessed 30 March 2017.

Race is a prominent category in medicine. Doctors often consider the race of patients when deciding whether or not to test for a particular illness, or what drug to use and epidemiologists often use race to describe the varying rates of morbidity and mortality. However, while this is present, many other critics say that race is false and it is only an illusion or scientifically meaningless. This paper seeks to explain how race is used in medicine and that proper understanding of this term may call into question long held practices of using race as marker of any medically relevant genetic trait..

Race is like marital status; no one would be married or single if matrimony had not been invented; however, given that we did, we now divide ourselves along discernible boundaries and treat each other differently depending on which of these categories we belong to. So with race; we assign each other a race and treat each other differently depending on that race. As a result, epidemiologists can discover that the rates of mortality or morbidity are different for one race than another even though race is not biological just as they can discover that health risks vary with marital status even though marital status is not in our genes. Therefore, race can mark the risk of a biological condition, even though race is not itself a biological condition but a social status.

“Though both blacks and whites carry the sickle-cell gene, when tests developed to identify carriers of the gene, many states in the United States targeted blacks for screening because health officials continued to treat the sickle gene as a black gene and used race as a proxy for the disease.” Though race is still used in the United States as a proxy for sickle-cell anemia, the author believes that they are are good reasons not to. First, race over-estimates the sickle-cell trait in black people and under-estimates the trait in white individuals. Also, to use race as a proxy for a genetic trait encourages the belief that race is a genetic category, for many people assume that if a disease is genetic and it is much prevalent in one race than another, then race must be a genetic. As a result, using race as a proxy for the sickle-cell trait or disease helps to sustain the assumption that people of different races differ in their genetic makeup and that there are more genetic differences between than among black and white people in the U.S. Finally, to use race as a proxy for a genetic trait distributes the risk of genetic discrimination unequally between black and white. Firms unable to practice racial discrimination, because of the civil rights laws, are able to use the results of the sickle-cell test to deny black individuals employment. If black people are targeted for testing and individuals who test positive are denied jobs, then black people are at greater risks than white individuals of suffering genetic discrimination. Race-conscious screening has a disparate impact on black people in employment, especially whenever an employer has access to genetic information about job applicants.

The author argues that race, should not be used in medical practice as a proxy for a disease or for a response to a medical treatment. To stratify health statistics by race is reasonable, as long as employment, housing, income, education, or healthcare are stratified by race; but to use race as a proxy for a gene is: 1) bad science, because race and genes vary independently, and 2) bad policy, because the practice helps to sustain a harmful racial ideology.

Medical Racism and the Rhetoric of Exculpation: How Do Physicians Think about Race?

Hoberman John. “Medical Racism and the Rhetoric of Exculpation: How Do Physicians Think about Race?” New Literary History, Vol. 38, No. 3, 2007, pp. 505-525. Accessed 29 March 2017.

Over the course of the last 2 decades, medical literature has published  hundreds of peer-reviewed studies that point to racially motivated decisions by physicians either to deny appropriate care to black patients or to inflict on them extreme procedures that many non-black patients would have been spared. Dr. H. Jack Geiger, in 1996, asked, “How are we to explain, let alone justify, such broad evidence of racial disparity in a health care system committed in principle to providing care to all patients?”. Dr. Geiger did his study but could not bring himself to categorize the documented behavior of his colleagues as racist. He further stated that if racism was involved, it is unlikely to be overt or even conscious. The fact that this medical racism could imply individual culpability was an avenue that he could not even see.

The methodology of this paper is based on the supposition that significant aspects of the medical racial folklore of the pre-Civil Rights period have persisted and adapted to modern circumstances to a greater extent than most of us would have assumed.There is, in fact, no reason to assume that medical students and doctors are less likely to absorb and act upon the racial narratives within society. The paper further mentions three medical students who dressed up in Blackface for Halloween and the only result was a demand for a public apology and racial sensitivity training. The author questions why this action did not result in the question of whether these students were fit to serve the potential African Americans who would consult them for medical treatment.

American medicine has reacted ambivalently to the more than 600 studies that have documented racial disparities in health care.  Medical journals publish the hundreds of papers that confirm the disparities, however, medical authors have developed a rhetoric and a vocabulary that allow them to denounce racial health and treatment disparities without ever taking any real responsibility for them.  As the authors of the Institute of Medicine report put it: “Survey research suggests that among white Americans, prejudicial attitudes toward minorities remain more common than not, as over half to three-quarters believe that relative to whites, minorities, particularly African Americans, are less intelligent, more prone to violence, and prefer to live off of welfare. It is reasonable to assume, however, that the vast majority of health care providers find prejudice morally abhorrent and at odds with their professional values. But healthcare providers, like other members of society, may not recognize manifestations of prejudice in their own behavior.” This portrait of the physician’s vulnerability to “prejudice” effectively exonerates them of responsibility, since denigrating or hostile motives are assumed to be absent.

The authors argument is that “… anyone who regards the past twenty years of self-exonerating publications as evidence of “serious reform” will be unable to imagine the “broader view of the problem” that might force the medical profession to reform”.

Race, Science, and the Legitimization of White Supremacy in South Africa, 1902-1940

Rich, Paul. “Race, Science, and the Legitimization of White Supremacy in South Africa, 1902-1940.” The International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 23, no. 4, 1990, pp. 665–686., Accessed 20 Feb 2017.

Segregation was a sought after end point in South Africa during the 20th century. There was a clear desire to incorporate modern and ‘scientific’ modes of discourse within the segregationist views. This paper attempts to show how this discourse was an important part of the South African debate on race before the emergence of apartheid.  There were rapidly growing connections in the inter-national scientific community so therefore, this way of thinking appealed to the those who supported segregation. They began to search for ways to differentiate human beings based on their race; emphasizing aspects of human difference rather than similarity. They assumed that there was a human hierarchy where the Anglo-Saxon race sat on the top. The ‘scientific’ evidence found though was very open-ended because it could be used to support a variety of predictions regarding the future. Although, the belief of Anglo-Saxon superiority was prevalent, no one really believed that Africans would die out in the face of advancing white colonial settlement which was in contrast to the views held by many others. Overall, the racism in South Africa sought significantly less ‘scientific’ experts than in the United States during the same period.


Reflection 1

Our groups explored a wide range of aspects concerning science and race at the start of our research. However, one particular aspect that we’ve focused on is the human genome project and how this project changed the perception of race in society. The human genome project set out to prove the inability to distinguish the differences between the genes of persons of different races. It was found that often times, people had more in common with someone of a different race than they do with their own. This was a significant find  and we would have expected that this would put an end to categorization by race in the science community. However, we found that contrary to our expectations, scientists made an ever increasing effort to discover genetic markers that could be able to distinguish the different races. This has fallen under the guise of ‘personalized medicine’. Pharmaceutical companies and other corporations seem to seek profit from targeting a specific subgroup by claiming that certain groups are more susceptible to certain diseases.

With this discovery, we aim to further explore the reconstruction of race in modern scientific communities. It would be helpful to look at the effects that this reconstruction has had on medicine, science  and society as a whole. There may also be alternate aspects of the human genome project, the effects it has had on society and the presence of race in the scientific community, that we have not discovered so we aim to broaden our search as well as.

Another interesting concept that we found was implicit bias and the issues that surround it. Implicit bias is the unconscious associations we make about different racial groups. This leads to problems because it is an unconscious and unintentional thing that people do as human beings. Unfortunately, certain races are associated with negative stereotypes; in many cases we unintentionally associate negative events with certain groups of people. This aspect is extremely interesting because it is obvious that this is an issue that needs to be tackled, however, it is hard to solve things that are perpetuated by our subconscious. Implicit bias is also an extremely applicable issue to real world situations such as in court. An example that was researched was the concept of “triage” in public defender cases. Public defenders are notorious for being overworked and underfunded meaning they don’t have the resources available that they should have. Therefore, they select the cases that seem most possible to win and dedicate more resources to these  cases. The problem with this idea of triage is that public defenders could, a lot of times, subconsciously take part in  implicit bias resulting in certain races and groups of people not receiving proper legal counsel or  getting less attention. We find this an interesting concept and issue and one that will be tough to investigate, but certainly needs to be tackled.

The Genetic Reinscription of Race

El-Haj, Nadia Abu. “The Genetic Reinscription of Race.” Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 36, 2007, pp. 283–300., Accessed 20 Feb 2017.

After the first draft of the human genome project was completed, various leaders declared an end to race asa valid scientific category. However, this declaration may have been premature. Shortly after, multiple journals produced heated debates about the biological status of race and how useful it would be in biomedical research and practice.  Therefore, this review sought to analyze the meanings,  and effects of race in particular fields of contemporary postgenomics by examining  the scientific, social, and political economic contexts of the use of race. The focus is on the United States and the central network of postgenomics scientific practices. Group based diversity has become an object of value in postgenomic medicine, therefore the review sought to explain how and why this came about. It even discusses the political economy of genomics and its relation with neoliberalism in order to understand how they structure race in science and society. It is overall, an explanation of how race is being reconstructed within the science community and if its reconstruction is valid in the context of bio-medicine.

Racial Science Now: Histories of Race and Science in the Age of Personalized Medicine.

Beaton, Brian. “Racial Science Now: Histories of Race and Science in the Age of Personalized Medicine.” The Public Historian, vol. 29, no. 3, 2007, pp. 157–162, Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.

This article focuses on race in contemporary biomedical research and uses a case study of RaceSci: A History of Race in Science Web project. This project is one of the earliest electronic resources devoted to the history of race in science. It was relaunched in early 2007 in order to expand its focus on the present. It’s original purpose was to affirm race as a category of analysis within the history of science and to help create a field where none previously existed. In recent times, the role of race has received considerable attention and thus historians have come to recognize that scientific constructions of race takes place in various institutions and practices. Although, this was very surprising, racial science made a noticeably return particularly in genetic research and drug trials  which are part of the emergent trend of ‘personalized medicine’.  Despite the fact that the Human Genome Project proved that race cannot be determined through genes, the trend of ‘personalized medicine’ keeps growing. The article argues that this is an effort by researchers and drug companies to develop pharmaceuticals tailored to specific subgroups. However, the real objective is to identify groups of individuals with potentially similar genotypes. The author believes that considerable reworking may be needed to attend to the reemergence of race in contemporary scientific research.

What’s ELSI got to do with it? Bioethics and the Human Genome Project

Yesley, Michael S. “What’s ELSI Got To Do With It? Bioethics And The Human Genome Project.” New Genetics & Society, vol. 27, no.1, 2008,  pp. 1-6. Academic Search Premier. Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.

With the start of the human genome project, the advances in human genetics have produced increased fear of harmful consequences with the simultaneous hope for medical benefits. There are no definitive risks of studying human genetics but there are many factors to consider nonetheless. Many people often look at the moral aspect of bioethics which would often seem readily apparent. However, morality is often subjective and complex which requires a grasp of the necessary facts and a familiarity with societal moral guideposts. These necessary facts are often difficult to establish and evaluate as well as the moral guideposts. Moral guideposts are derived from a variety of sources such as social, political, religious, familial… etc. These moral values may also conflict with each othe and ranked differently by different societies. Therefore, this paper argues for a third party advisory commission to be appointed instead of  the ELSI program established by genome scientists. This would lessen the possibility that public policies related to human genetics would not depend on genome scientists’ self interests in advancing the human genome project.

This paper may help look at the policies currently involved in the study of human genetics and what the current thoughts are.

Comparing genetic ancestry and self-reported race/ethnicity in a multiethnic population in New York City

This paper sought to use genetic markers, such as ancestry informative markers (AIM) in order to determine the accuracy of self-reported race and/or ethnicity from questionnaires. The genetic estimation of ancestry has become more possible through the use of  AIMS and newly developed statistical methods.  Particular AIMs were chosen in order to enhance the differences between allele frequency of the major ancestral populations chosen. They exhibited the largest differences so the results could be easily interpreted. The AIMS chosen produces reliable estimates of ancestry proportion in individuals who self-identified as White or Black. However, persons who chose their ethnic background as Hispanic produced results that reflected their multiracial makeup and heterogeneous origins. The study suggested that using Hispanic as category may be insufficient for characterizing genetic background associated with race in epidemiologic or other analyses. The study focused on multi-racial mother-child pairings in New York City.  It should be noted that race was defined in the terms of ancestral background so other studies may vary depending on their operationalized definition of ‘race.

Yin, Lee, et al. “Comparing Genetic Ancestry And Self-Reported Race/Ethnicity In A Multiethnic Population In New York City.” Journal Of Genetics, vol. 89, no. 4, 2010, pp. 417-423. Academic Search Premier. Accessed 18 Feb. 2017.