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The flipside of serendipity: human genetics rediscovers race.

In this paper I investigate the recent re-emergence of race in human genetics and pose the question: was it happenstance or opportune timing? I conclude that, at the turn of the millennium, the time was seemingly ripe for the simmering issue of genetic race to boil over into the scientific mainstream. Further, I argue that it is always important to consider the broader social, political, economic and technological forces that lie behind scientific discoveries. In the case of race it is especially important, given the complexity and sensitivity of the issues involved.


Attributions of serendipity, while central to the mythology of science, often underplay broader social, political, economic and technological forces that can conspire to make previously incomprehensible interpretations of the data suddenly seem peculiarly profound. Certainly, scientific discoveries never occur in a socio-political vacuum, and rarely are they completely accidental. One of the most celebrated exponents of serendipity, Louis Pasteur, famously quipped that he was able to make his chance discoveries because of his 'prepared mind'. However, we could add to the list: his position in French society, the emergence of the laboratory as a social institution, technologies of animal husbandry in nineteenth-century France, and so on. (1) It is important to consider these factors and forces, so as to put scientific discoveries in their proper place--that is, not distinct from, but deeply interwoven into life's rich socio-political tapestry.

The history of race science provides several notable instances that attest to this point. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, just as the reactionary conservative response to eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinking was beginning to rear its head, ethnologists and comparative anatomists began discovering race just about everywhere they looked. (2) Then, in the middle of the twentieth century, on the eve of the Cold War and in the aftermath of eugenics and the Holocaust, just as the liberal humanist institutions of the United Nations were being established, physical anthropologists uncovered the underlying unity of humanity, digging up fossilised hominid remains in the African savannah. (3) Now, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, population geneticists have rediscovered race, slap-bang in the middle of our present neo-conservative moment. In each case, the interpretations offered to these seemingly serendipitous discoveries have been consistent with the intellectual spirit of the times.

In this paper I investigate the recent re-emergence of genetic race in more detail, and endeavour to ascertain how, after a half-century hiatus, a young team of population geneticists could casually rediscover race in 2002. Was it happenstance? Or was it opportune timing? My tentative conclusions are: (a) the flipside of serendipity is sociopolitical context; and (b) in the first few years of the new millennium, on the face of it, the time was indeed ripe for genetic race to re-emerge within the scientific mainstream.


'We have sequenced the genome of three females and two males, who have identified themselves as Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian or African American ... to help illustrate that the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis. In the five Celera genomes, there is no way to tell one ethnicity from another.'--J Craig Venter, White House press conference, June 2000. (4)

Craig Venter was the 'maverick' geneticist who founded Celera Genomics--a private biotech company that, in the late 1990s, took on a trans-national network of publicly and privately funded researchers in a frantic race to sequence the human genome. In June 2000, at the White House press conference that heralded the completion of the 'first assembly' of the genome, standing next to his public-sector adversary Francis Collins, United States President Bill Clinton, and (via satellite feed) United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a triumphal moment for Big Science and liberal humanism Venter announced: 'the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis.'

In saying this, he reaffirmed evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin's oft-cited claim that racial classification is of 'virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance'. (5) He also echoed a gaggle of other geneticists and an army of anthropologists who, since the middle of the twentieth century, have similarly sought to deny that the 'race concept' has any basis in biology. In short, he took up what might be termed the 'race as social construct' position--a position that has come to function as a default setting within the social sciences in recent decades. Never mind that his assertion was based on an analysis of only five individual genomes and thus a statistical fallacy; the important thing was that it befitted the hyperbole of the occasion and had the aura of incontrovertible truth.

Over the next few years the incontrovertibility of the 'race as social construct' position began to erode. Just four years after Venter's speech, in the pages of a Nature genetics supplement dedicated to the issue of race in genomics, Francis Collins--who had shared both podium and Time magazine cover with Venter on that aforementioned momentous day--offered this cautious qualification: 'As ancestral origins in many cases have a correlation, albeit often imprecise, with self-identified race or ethnicity, it is not strictly true that race or ethnicity has no biological connection.' (6)

Now Collins is no Arthur Jensen, J Philippe Rushton, or Richard Lynn (evolutionary and/or hereditarian psychologists, and latter-day eugenicists, who have fuelled the race and intelligence debate from the late-1960s until the present); nor is he a Richard Herrnstein or Charles Murray (authors of the notorious bestseller The Bell Curve, which re-ignited the debate in 1994); he has no links to the Pioneer Fund (founded in 1937 to promote 'study and research into the problems of heredity and eugenics'); (7) and he has never published in Mankind Quarterly (the disreputable journal of the Pioneer Fund). In fact, he is the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, a renowned medical genetics researcher, and by all accounts not a racist. So why is a distinguished geneticist, not some racist crackpot on the margins of academia, suddenly making the claim: 'it is not strictly true that race or ethnicity has no biological connection'? What happened in those few short years that separate Venter's exultant assertion and Collins's wary disclaimer?

Ostensibly, the answer to these questions can be found in Collins's paper, for he cites evidence to support his claim: a population genetics study conducted by Noah Rosenberg and his team of researchers that was published in Science in December 2002. Drawing on samples from the Human Genome Diversity Cell Line Panel, (8) these researchers investigated the 'correspondence of predefined groups with those inferred from individual multilocus genotypes'. (9) They used a complex computer algorithm to sort 1,064 genome samples, from fifty-two different populations, on the basis of 4,199 different alleles, at 377 highly variable 'junk-DNA' loci, into varying numbers of statistically significant genetic clusters, and then compared the clusters with the geographical origins of the populations from which they were drawn. Put simply, they took the labels off the samples and tried to see if the computer could sort them back into meaningful groups based solely on their genetic similarities.

They found that 'predefined labels' (such as 'Yoruba', 'Italian' or 'Japanese') were 'highly informative about membership in genetic clusters'. (10) Further, when asked to identify five clusters, the computer grouped the samples into sets roughly corresponding to five geographical regions: (i) sub-Saharan Africa, (ii) Europe and West Asia, (iii) East Asia, (iv) Oceania, and (v) the Americas (see the row marked 'K=5' in Figure 1 below for a graphical representation of these clusters). Curiously, these regions are roughly geographically concordant to those occupied by the 'black', 'white', 'yellow', 'tawny' and 'copper-coloured' 'varieties' outlined in Johann Friedrich Blumenbach's seminal eighteenth-century racial typology. (11)


These results should have come as no surprise to most population geneticists, as it had long been assumed that human groups separated by physical, environmental, linguistic, and/or cultural barriers would display some degree of genetic differentiation. (12) Nonetheless, they were quite significant, as it was the first time that human populations had been comprehensively shown to cluster together on the basis of genetic likeness in a 'blind' test.

Still, Rosenberg and his colleagues were relatively circumspect in their conclusions. Their point was not to show that old anthropological conceptions of race are genetically 'real', but to argue that differentiating between human populations is both methodologically and statistically valid, and that such distinctions can be legitimately used for tracing the origins and migrations of peoples, as well as for medical and epidemiological purposes.

The words 'race' and 'ethnicity' never appeared in their paper, only 'population' and 'ancestry', and they were careful to choose neutral colours to code the continental clusters they identified--sub-Saharan Africa was orange, Europe and West Asia pale-blue, East Asia pink, Oceania green, and the Americas purple (not black, white, yellow, tawny and copper-coloured). Here they seemingly followed a convention established by the father of human population genetics and the prime mover behind the Human Genome Diversity Project, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, whose co-authored magnum opus, The History and Geography of Human Genes (1994, abridged 2006), featured a colour-coded atlas on its cover (Figure 2), with the caption: 'Four major ethnic regions are shown. Africans are yellow, Australians red, [Mongoloids blue] and Caucasoids green.' (13) A reviewer from Time magazine described Cavalli-Sforza's book as 'a landmark global study' that 'flattens The Bell Curve, proving that racial differences are only skin deep.' (14) Similarly, the Rosenberg study was lauded for its 'humanitarian' findings and adjudged 'paper of the year' by The Lancet in 2003. (15)

On the surface the consensus was that nothing much had changed. Population genetics had proven racial differences were only 'skin deep', and the Rosenberg findings only served to further confirm this incontrovertible fact. Everyone was content to repeat the familiar mantra: 'no race here ... nothing to look at ... move along'. However, beneath the 'race as social construct' ideological edifice a fuse had been lit and a 'race as biological reality' powder keg was about to go off.



Even before the Rosenberg paper appeared, a group of belligerent geneticists headed up by Neil Risch from Stanford University had published an opinion piece in Genome Biology defending 'the validity of race/ethnicity categories for biomedical and genetic research' on the basis of cluster analyses similar to that used by the Rosenberg study. (16) The following year A W F Edwards, who had pioneered the statistical techniques behind cluster analysis with Cavalli-Sforza in the 1960s, penned a curt refutation of Lewontin's 1972 claim about the insignificance of racial classification, citing the Rosenberg study to buttress his argument. (17)

Following on from Edwards's assault, over the next few years several review essays appeared in major journals, (18) and the issue exploded onto the pages of the major broadsheets. Two articles from The New York Times tell the story of this re-emergence quite well: in August 2000 the headline read, 'Do races differ? Not really, genes show', with the author quoting Venter and others; (19) by July 2006 another headline read, 'Imperfect, imprecise but useful: Your race', and the article discussed the utility of racial classifications for biomedical research. (20)

A further twist in the plot of this recent race potboiler began on 14 March 2005, when evolutionary biologist Armand Marie Leroi published a now infamous op-ed piece, again in The New York Times (seemingly the arbiter of all things genetic), entitled 'A family tree in every gene'. (21) Taking up the Rosenberg study bait, he heralded their findings as suggesting: 'the consensus about social constructs was unravelling', and 'looked at the right way, the genetic data show that races clearly do exist.' (22) Further, he celebrated new advances in genetics that will soon mean, 'we shall no longer gawp ignorantly at the gallery [of racial differences]; we shall be able to name the painters.' (23)

Of course, more than a few people took exception to this talk of 'genetic painters' and 'racial galleries', and Leroi's article prompted a swift multi-pronged rebuttal. Within a month the US Social Science Research Council (SSCR) had sponsored a web forum collecting together critical responses from many of the usual 'social construct' suspects, including Alan Goodman, Evelynn Hammonds, Joseph Graves, Ruth Hubbard, Richard Lewontin and Jonathan Marks (many of whom also appeared in the 2003 PBS documentary series 'Race--the Power of an Illusion'). (24)

Labouring valiantly to plug the holes emerging in the epistemic dyke separating old race pseudoscience from modern human genetics, these ageing anti-race activists accused Leroi of 'reifying' race, and argued that race is most certainly not a biological category but rather an all-too-real social category that should be kept as far away as possible from the objective realm of science. As physical anthropologist Jonathan Marks put it succinctly elsewhere: 'Race and genetics aren't from the same worlds ... one is scientific, and the other provides a means for localizing yourself in a very subjective world of social relations.' (25)


So what are we to make of this imbroglio? Is race an 'illusion' or something that 'clearly exists'? Which experts should we trust, the likes of Lewontin and Marks or Edwards and Leroi?

I claim that we should trust neither group. The question that these 'race realists' and 'social constructivists' are desperately trying to answer is a misleading one. (26) Much like the myriad technoscientific objects that Bruno Latour terms hybrids, (27) race is a messy and complex entity. Put another way, race is a Gordian knot tying together the social and natural orders. No matter how strong one's determination or how well-intentioned one's motives, it can never be fully untangled--its foundations are nowhere to be found.

This is what more sophisticated constructivists mean when they say race is a social construct--that the social and political aspects of race cannot easily be disentangled from the biological. (28) However, some constructivists want to go as far as to suggest that there is no biological dimension to race at all, with Richard Lewontin being a notorious culprit. Lewontin's research in the 1970s did not show that racial classifications were genetically insignificant, only that differences between racial groups were less significant than within groups. (29) His denial of the genetic significance of race is a non sequitur.

Putting aside Lewontin's fallacy, the major mistakes that unsophisticated social constructivists make are: (a) to suggest that being bound up with social and political concerns renders race 'unscientific' (as if scientific knowledge about human subjects could ever be separated from society and politics); and (b) to believe that by replacing race with the term population we can somehow escape this problem. The latter move just 'purifies' the concept of race, allowing geneticists to investigate racial groups such as 'Yoruba', 'Japanese', 'Caucasoid' or 'Australian' under the rubric of population, whilst denying that their research has anything to do with race.

The race realists, on the other hand, recognise that population and race are equivalent concepts within human genetics, and are quite happy to point out the glaring f laws in unsophisticated social constructivists' arguments. All the same, by overplaying the supposed reality of race, they downplay its social and political dimensions. In the process they risk becoming apologists for the basest race advocates--for the likes of Jensen, Rushton, Lynn, or Herrnstein and Murray.

For instance, Leroi has been championed by promoters of race realism whose affinities often also lie with members of the 'race and IQ' rabble. (30) Yet Leroi is seemingly not a race bigot, and there is nothing in his article that could be considered overtly racist. The only contentious claims that he makes are as follows: (a) race has a biological basis; (b) this has some significance for biomedicine; (c) we may in the future be able to understand the genetic bases of phenotypic differences such as skin-colour, eye-shape, and so on; and (d) recognising the genetic significance of race may be an argument for protecting isolated indigenous populations. (31)

Nevertheless, while he does not suggest that differences in intelligence and behaviour between racial groups are genetically determined (a much bolder and empirically-baseless claim), nor does he explicitly refute this idea. Moreover, intriguingly, he thinks that acknowledging the biological basis of race might lend support to a humanitarian policy proposal (protecting Andaman Islanders). However, apparently, he does not consider that his op-ed argument might implicitly lend support to other less well-intentioned policy proposals. In short, he fails to recognise the social and political dimensions of the new race science that he so boldly champions--a failure symptomatic of a more widespread failure of scientists to grasp the broader socio-political context of their subject matter. (32)

Indeed, the problem with the race realist and unsophisticated social constructivist perspectives is that both are mired within an overly 'foundationalist' understanding of scientific knowledge. (33) A better way of conceptualising both race and population is to acknowledge that they are equivalent, and they are both constructed. This does not mean that they are figments of our collective imagination, or 'illusions'. Rather, it means that the biological and social components of race or population are not like DNA fragments on an electrophoresis gel--they cannot be tagged with radioactive material and separated out from each other.

Furthermore, it is important to note that the social and political aspects of race are by no means trivial. Race plays a fundamental role in organising bodies and allocating resources within our modern polities. (34) As a consequence, we need to start grappling in more sophisticated ways with the question of why race has re-emerged as a conceptual category within mainstream human genetics.


Only one of the contributions to the SSCR web forum posed the question that I consider to be most important: 'why is race new again?' The answer that science and technology studies scholar Jenny Reardon and two of her graduate students, Brady Dunklee and Kara Wentworth, gave was that the powerful and novel science of genomics has thrown human genetics into one of its periodic states of crisis--a situation that is being amplified by the pernicious science/society dualism which underlies conventional epistemic frameworks for understanding science. (35) Furthermore, the authors suggested this current episode is part of an ongoing cycle of race and biology crises that stretches far back in time and includes the heated debate provoked by Hernstein and Murray's 1994 publication of The Bell Curve.

I believe these authors are on the right track. However, in contrast to their characterisation, I feel there is something categorically different about the current reconstitution of race within human genetics, which sets it apart from earlier 'race and IQ' controversies. I make this claim primarily because, unlike those earlier debates, which occurred on the sordid margins of academia, the current 'crisis' is firmly situated within the academic mainstream. The geneticists who are suggesting that race might have a biological basis are not crackpot racists. Furthermore, the geneticists who deny that race is a valid biological category are usually referring to an imagined essentialist conception of race, rather than their own more rigorous 'populationist' conceptions.

Hence, to answer the question as to why race is new again, rather than drawing parallels between the present race debate and earlier race and biology controversies, it is necessary to examine the way in which the epistemic cultures of medicine and population genetics are recombining around the concept of race. It is beyond the bounds of this paper to provide a comprehensive examination of these dynamics, but I will offer a few preliminary observations.


In contrast to prominent historians of race science, who suggest that a group of committed scientists repudiated the old anthropological concept of race and forged a new genetic concept of population in the aftermath of World War II, (36) Jenny Reardon maintains that there was no clean break between the old eugenics and the new genetics; rather, the concept of race never left the natural sciences. (37) While decrying the crude use of racial categorisations within society, physical anthropologists and population geneticists reserved the right to employ such categorisations with more precision within their own fields of study--'they crafted a new concept of race defined in populationist terms'. (38)

I agree with Reardon on this point, but I also believe that the lingering 'populationist' conception of race went into hiding, retreating from academic attention as the intellectual climate changed between the 1930s and the 1970s. The reasons for this retreat are complicated, but it strikes me that two contributory factors can be identified: the molecular revolution in genetics, and reactions to Nazi race science.

The science of genetics was brought into being at the beginning of the twentieth century through the interplay between Francis Galton's biometric approach and Gregor Mendel's gene concept, and the history of human genetics since that time can be characterised as a contest between these two competing paradigms. (39) The concept of race is most closely associated with the biometric paradigm, which was dominant in the early decades of the twentieth century. Galton's statistical methods provided the theoretical platform for the basic science of population genetics and the applied science of eugenics, both of which rose to prominence in this period and were initially preoccupied with measuring and analysing observable differences between human races.

However, what geneticists could do with race was severely restricted by the rise of Mendelian genetics and, in particular, by the molecular revolution of the late-1940s and 1950s, which was epitomised by Crick and Watson's 1953 discovery of DNA's double-helical structure. Most geneticists became increasingly fixated with lowly organisms like E. coli, which could be manipulated and studied in the laboratory. Few bothered with Homo sapiens, since complex and interesting human 'traits' such as 'intelligence', 'criminality' and 'pauperism' could only with great effort and utter disregard for the empirical evidence be forced to fit into a Mendelian 'single-gene' schema. From that point on, population geneticists began focusing almost exclusively on unobservable differences between human races, such as the variable distributions of blood protein alleles. (40)

At the same time, the crimes committed by Nazi scientists in the name of Rassenhygiene shocked and appalled many in the scientific establishment. After the War, this led to a powerful scientific aversion to studying race, which may have helped to hasten the epistemic shift away from the biometric paradigm. Nevertheless, unlike physicists, who chose to confront their complicity with wartime atrocities head on, geneticists opted for the path of denial and repression, banishing the term race and writing off Nazi race science, along with most of nineteenth and early-twentieth-century anthropology and genetics, as tragically misguided pseudoscience. (41)

As a result, in the post-War period, population genetics and the medical applications of genetics (or eugenics) discreetly parted ways. Human population genetics became primarily concerned with tracing the origins and migrations of peoples, and due to the paucity of research methods at its disposal it became marginalised, leaving only a handful of committed researchers, such as Cavalli-Sforza, to carry the flame. Medical genetics, on the other hand, disavowed its eugenical roots and concentrated on uncovering relatively simple genetic disorders that crossed racial boundaries. Race was retained as an organising category within medicine, in areas such as public health and epidemiology, but it was increasingly conceptualised as a social construct.

These trends began to reverse as DNA-sequencing techniques and computing power improved. Suddenly population geneticists had powerful new tools--massive bioinformatics mainframes running sophisticated algorithms--that could be used to interrogate some of the same old questions which had earlier occupied race scientists. Hence, after being sidelined for several decades, anthropological and medical questions have once again become central concerns within mainstream genetics, and the biometric paradigm has regained some ground.

Race now enables geneticists to examine fundamental questions about where we came from (human origins) and where we are going (medicine)--supplying 'landmarks' for their explorations into deep history, and 'chapter markers' to make sense of their rapidly developing transformative textbooks of genetic medicine. As signalled by the Rosenberg study, there has been a confluence between these two previously diverging streams.


It is clearly because of these recently rediscovered uses for genetic race that the debate about whether race is a social construct or whether it is a biological reality has heated up again. However, race's reemergence in mainstream human genetics might possibly also be traced to a shift in the intellectual climate that has re-invigorated biological determinist arguments, and reduced the efficacy of the 'environmentalist' rejoinders commonly proffered by the majority of social scientists. (42) Indeed, it seems as if every day a newspaper announces a new genetic discovery which purports to explain some essential aspect of human nature that has puzzled the brightest minds among us for millennia. Once upon a time it was the 'gay gene'. Now, all of a sudden, we have a gene for religiosity, a gene for alcoholism, a 'gambling gene', a 'warrior gene', and so the list will go on.

Interestingly, this intellectual shift also coincides with a broader ideological shift from Cold War liberal-humanist universalism to post-1989 neo-liberalism and, more recently, to post-9/11 neo-conservatism. While it is impossible to establish a causal link between the re-emergence of genetic race, the rise of biological determinism and the prevailing political climate of neo-conservatism, it is curious to note the resonances between these concomitant phenomena.

To illustrate how the re-emergence of race might be in keeping with the current zeitgeist we need only take a close look at Edwards's recent refutation of Lewontin's 1972 claim about the 'virtual insignificance' of racial classifications.

Trawling through the back catalogue of The American Naturalist, it would seem that others have seen the flaws in Lewontin's argument as well. In 1977 population geneticist Jeffry Mitton suggested that, by looking at many genetic loci simultaneously, it is possible to find 'substantial differentiation' between groups (which is pretty much an identical critique to that of Edwards). (43) Lewontin and others shot down Mitton's analysis the following year on the grounds that it multiplied differences, making a relatively small amount of differentiation seem disproportionately large. (44) However, in 1981 eminent population geneticists James Neel and Masatoshi Nei clarified the issue. They pointed out that Mitton was correct--genetic differences between human populations are slight, but they are also statistically discernable and by no means insignificant. (45) In Nei's words: 'Lewontin's humanistic statement ... is excessive and says more than his data indicate'. (46)

In spite of these early critiques, Lewontin's 'humanistic statement' has been repeatedly invoked over the past thirty-five years in both popular and academic papers. (47) As recently as 2002, it was heralded in a New Scientist article as indicating: 'two individuals are different because they are individuals, not because they belong to different races.' (48) Mitton, Neel, Nei and others' muffled intra-disciplinary objections have done little to dampen the broad inter-disciplinary appeal of the 'social construct' position outside of population genetics. Indeed, Lewontin's claim did not receive any further serious critical attention until Edwards's 2003 attack. We might legitimately ask: why on earth did it take so long for Lewontin's 'excessive' statement to be debunked in a popular forum?

Edwards believed his article 'could, and perhaps should, have been written soon after [Lewontin made the claim]'. (49) That it took him over thirty years to do so is testament to the hegemonic status that the 'race as social construct' position maintained within the social and natural sciences for the final decades of the twentieth century. Accordingly, the fact that Edwards got around to pointing out Lewontin's fallacy shortly after the turn of the millennium suggests that the intellectual cachet of the 'social construct' position might currently be on the wane.


The pendulum seems to be swinging back from the politically correct 'anti-race' excesses of the 1970s through the 1990s. Nevertheless, while to some extent this is a correction, we need to make sure it does not swing too far. Rather than falling into the trap of sustaining a false dichotomy between biology and society, we must grapple with the issues raised by the re-emergence of genetic race in a more rigorous fashion. Instead of burying our heads in the sand and denying that race exists, as 'many race and ethnic studies scholars' are wont to do, (50) we should methodically interrogate the practices of human geneticists, investigating the ways in which race is constituted, mobilised and negotiated in specific local and global contexts.

Furthermore, by placing the rediscovery of genetic race within a broader social, political, economic and technological context, instead of examining it through a narrow foundationalist lens, it is possible to see that there is nothing particularly serendipitous about this reemergence. Serendipity is a useful trope, but it often serves to hide the broader socio-political shifts that make 'accidental' discoveries possible. The specific shifts that have facilitated the recent re-examination of racial classifications within human genetics were almost certainly technological; race has became useful again thanks to rapid advancements in DNA-sequencing techniques and information processing. However, I suggest that the growing propensity among geneticists to utilise race as a tool for reviving fundamental human questions might also stem from a broader ideological shift from liberal-humanist universalism to neo-conservative particularism. Both of these factors may have conspired to make a banal scientific clarification--the idea that there are discernable genetic differences between geographically distinct populations or races--seem like a miraculous discovery.

It is important that we shed light on such issues, as race is a complex and sensitive topic. Moreover, I believe the sooner we acknowledge that race is a fluid and hybrid entity which inhabits all attempts to categorise humanity by ancestral or geographical origins, the sooner we can move on to the more interesting questions and examine what is right or wrong with present technoscientific racial ontologies and the ways in which they are constituted.

Daniel Whyte



(1) Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France, Alan Sheridan and John Law (trans.), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1988.

(2) George W Stocking Jr, Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1982; Nancy Stepan, The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain, 1800-1960, Macmillan, London, 1982.

(3) Donna Haraway, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science, Routledge, New York, 1989. See chapter 8.

(4) Venter's speech appears in a White House Press Release available at the National Human Genetics Research Institute website,, accessed 1 June 2006.

(5) Richard C Lewontin, 'The apportionment of human diversity', Evolutionary Biology, vol. 6, 1972, 397.

(6) Francis S Collins, 'What we do and don't know about "race", "ethnicity", genetics and health at the dawn of the genome era', Nature Genetics Supplement, vol. 36, no. 11, 2004, 513.

(7) The Pioneer Fund's certificate of incorporation can be found on the Institute for the Study of Scientific Racism website, Institut/pioneer/pfund.htm, accessed 4 November 2006.

(8) The cell line panel is the remnants of the ill-fated Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP), now housed at the Centre for the Study of Human Polymorphisms (CEPH) in Paris and known as HGDP-CEPH. Note: Indigenous Australian and Polynesian peoples were not included in the panel due to these groups' political objections to the project.

(9) Noah A Rosenberg, Jonathan K Pritchard, James L Weber, Howard M Cann, Kenneth K Kidd, Lev A Zhivotovosky and Marcus W Feldman, 'Genetic structure of human populations', Science, vol. 298, no. 5602, 2002, 2381.

(10) Rosenberg et al., 2384.

(11) Johann F Blumenbach, 'On the natural variety of mankind', in Robert Bernasconi and Tommy L Lott (eds), The Idea of Race, Hackett, Indianapolis, 2000, 27-37.

(12) Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca, Genes, Peoples, and Languages, Mark Seielstad (trans.), North Point Press, New York, 2000, 25-27.

(13) Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Paulo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza, The History and Geography of Human Genes, Abridged Paperback Edition, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1996.

(14) Sribala Subramanian, 'The story of our genes', Time, vol. 145, no. 2, 1995, 54.

(15) Richard Horton, 'Read all about it: The Lancet's paper of the year, 2003', The Lancet, vol. 362, no. 9401, 2003, 2103.

(16) Neil Risch, Esteban Burchard, Elad Ziv and Hua Tang, 'Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease', Genome Biology, vol. 3, no. 7, 2002, comment2007.1.

(17) A W F Edwards, 'Human genetic diversity: Lewontin's fallacy', BioEssays, vol. 25, no. 8, 2003, 789-801.

(18) For example, see: Michael Bamshad, Stephen Wooding, Benjamin A Salisbury, and J Claiborne Stephens, 'Deconstructing the relationship between genetics and race', Nature Reviews Genetics, vol. 5, 2004, 598-609; Rick A Kittles and Kenneth M Weiss, 'Race, ancestry, and genes: Implications for defining disease risk', Annual Review of Genomics Human Genetics, vol. 4, 2003, 33-67.

(19) Natalie Angier, 'Do races differ? Not really, genes show', The New York Times, 22 August 2000, F1.

(20) Denise Grady, 'Imperfect, imprecise but useful: Your race', The New York Times, 4 July 2006, F5.

(21) Armand Marie Leroi, 'A family tree in every gene', The New York Times, 16 May 2005, A21. Leroi recently produced a documentary series for Channel 4 in the UK called 'What Makes Us Human?' The answer, predictably enough, was 'our genes'.

(22) Leroi, A21.

(23) Leroi, A21.

(24) Social Science Research Council Forum,, accessed 2 September 2006.

(25) Jonathan Marks, 'Scientific and folk ideas about heredity', in R A Zilinskas and P J Balint (eds), The Human Genome Project and Minority Communities: Ethical, Social and Political Dilemmas, Greenwood, Westport, Conn., 2001, 61.

(26) I am using the terms 'realist' and 'social constructivist' in an idiosyncratic way to designate the two groups I have identified. These terms should not be confused with the numerous philosophical positions that share these labels.

(27) Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, C Porter (trans.), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1993.

(28) The work of sociologist Troy Duster is a case in point. See: Troy Duster, 'Lessons from history: Why race and ethnicity have played a major role in biomedical research', Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, vol. 34, no. 3, 487-96.

(29) Lewontin, 397.

(30) Leroi is a rising star among the Gene Expression blog community ( Gene Expression is infamous for is rabidly biological determinist viewpoint. The site is maintained by 'a collection of individuals interested in exploring the cutting edge of genetics and its intersection with other disciplines and everyday life ... [who are] united by a reverence for the exploration of the heterodox in an empirical and analytic fashion drained of excessive emotive enthusiasm or revulsion'.

(31) Leroi, A21.

(32) Harding calls this 'the new scientific illiteracy'. Sandra G Harding, The 'Racial' Economy of Science: Toward a Democratic Future, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1993, 3.

(33) Here I use the term 'foundationalist' to designate the idea (also known as 'realism') that science aims to reveal the 'truth' about a real given world 'out there'. For example, see: Stathis Psillos, Scientific Realism: How Science Tracks Truth, Routledge, London and New York, 1999.

(34) Donna J Haraway, Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium.FemaleMan[c]_Meets_Oncomouse[TM]: Feminism and Technoscience, Routledge, London and New York, 1997, 217.

(35) Jenny Reardon, Brady Dunklee and Kara Wentworth, 'Race and crisis', in Is Race Real?, a web forum organised by the Social Science Research Council,, accessed 5 September 2006.

(36) In particular, see: Elazar Barkan, The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States Between the World Wars, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992.

(37) Jenny Reardon, Race to the Finish: Identity and Governance in an Age of Genomics, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2005.

(38) Reardon, 43.

(39) F Vogel and A G Motulsky, Human Genetics: Problems and Approaches, Second Edition, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 1986, 3.

(40) Cavalli-Sforza, 13-18.

(41) Jon Beckwith, Making Genes, Making Waves: A Social Activist in Science, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2002, 98-115.

(42) In this context 'environmentalist' refers to the idea that environment plays a more important role in the development of an organism than its genetic makeup.

(43) Jeffry B Mitton, 'Genetic differentiation of races of man as judged by single-locus and multilocus analyses', The American Naturalist, vol. 111, no. 978, 1977, 210.

(44) R Chakraborty, 'Single-locus and multi-locus analysis of genetic differentiation of races of man--critique', American Naturalist, vol. 112, no. 988, 1978, 1134-8; R C Lewontin, 'Single-locus and multiple-locus measures of genetic distance between groups', American Naturalist, vol. 112, no. 988, 1978, 1138-9; J R Powell and C E Taylor, 'Are human races substantially different genetically?', American Naturalist, vol. 112, no. 988, 1978, 1139-42.

(45) James V Neel, 'The major ethnic groups: diversity in the midst of similarity', The American Naturalist, vol. 117, no. 1, 1981, 83-7; Masatoshi Nei, 'Gene differences between human races', The American Naturalist, vol. 117, no. 1, 1981, 88-9.

(46) Nei, 88.

(47) A citation analysis on Web of Science yielded 517 citations between 1975 and 2006, with approximately 20 percent coming from the social sciences.

(48) Anil Ananthaswamy, 'Under the skin: Our DNA says there's no such thing as race. So why do doctors still think it matters?' New Scientist, vol. 174, no. 2339, 2002, 34.

(49) Edwards, 801.

(50) The following was culled from a recent cultural studies publication: 'I want to underline then, as many other race and ethnic scholars have done before me, a remark that is as tiresome as it is pivotal: there is no such thing as race.' Anoop Nayak, 'After race: Ethnography, race and post-race theory', Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 29, no. 3, 401 (emphasis in the original).
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Date:Jan 1, 2007
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