Fatal Invention: Race and Science

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dorothy Roberts, Kirkland & Ellis professor and faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, and author of Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics and Big Business Re-create Race In the Twenty-First Century, discusses how the findings of the Human Genome Project a decade ago stands in contrast to racial definitions in medicine and technology.


Dorothy Roberts

Comments [55]

Mr. Bad from IL

Finally, for those interested in understanding further the pseudoscientific rantings of Dorothy Roberts one only needs to consult Wikipedia:

When Dorothy Roberts writes:

"Many separate DNA samples according to the racial categories adopted by the federal government for the census and other administrative purposes – categories that have changed more than 20 times since 1790."

She fails to address how much science has changed in that period, a span of time wherein we once considered Bats to be related to Birds and that human beings were descendants of "Adam and Eve" as opposed to a branch off of the cladogram that shows how we split off from other primates into our own unique species.

Dorothy Roberts propagates scientific ignorance in lieu of the impossible, i.e. social reform. It's a quick, convenient way to the top of "soft science" academic heap, bravo to her and her ambition!

Aug. 16 2011 07:19 PM
Margaret from UWS Manhattan

("...they're using scientific data in a non- scientific way... profit motive re. race-specific drugs") But of all things, there is a scientific given that some people have a predisposition toTay-Sachs, or sickle-cell anemia,etc., and some don't, and that is what a race-specific drug is for. I agree that language needs expanding, to acknowledge our minimal genetic differences, and the unity of the species; and to stop giving an excuse to people who need one, to express their fear of differences; need for competition; and/or their ego's false construct of supposed innate superiority - to the point they as much as claim they have the right to other peoples' lives.

Aug. 16 2011 06:35 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Bill

Well, I appreciate your argument but it's rather convoluted. I think the essence of your argument is this, when you write:

"Take an individual labeled bi-racial: they don't represent any kind of exception to genetic variation except in so far as they deviate radically from fixed ideas of racial consistency that are themselves a record of considerable variation and categories into which many sub-categories have been subsumed, otherwise population groups would not evolve over time--at least not by natural selection."

Your taking an overarching, "god's eye view" of evolution that discounts the benefits and obvious scientific usefulness of loosely defining specific genetic groups. What you're really doing is trying to make race disappear by saying that since perfectly "pure" discrete racial categories don't exist, which I would agree with, no categories exist, which is a silly argument.

There are no "perfect/pure" circles, squares, triangles, rectangles found in nature, they exist in their "pure" form only within a closed system like mathematics but we still use geometry to help us build imperfect shapes like rectangular buildings, pyramids, etc.

You're guilty of erasing the genetic history of the human race by dint of your trouble conscience. "Jean from NYC" has used the appropriate terminology (genotype/phenotype) and made a balanced, interesting argument that doesn't ignore scientific reality in favor of socially acceptable lies. Race can be a very general term, loosely defined and malleable, there is no need to be scared of it.

Taxonomic classification is one of the most important principles not only of science but of critical thinking, anytime you decide that some true observation is "inconvenient" because it doesn't accord with your worldview of one big human family with 100% perfect equality in every way than you are guilty of anti-intellectualism. The truth is you are arguing not for the absence of race but for its omnipresence. Phenotypical similarity (skin color, facial features, etc.) is NOT the point of "race", phenotypical similarity is the point of "racism" - get it?

Aug. 16 2011 08:39 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Dorothy Roberts

Your post is just blowing smoke, when you write:
"that claim to prove the validity of biological races routinely use inconsistent, ambiguous, and unreliable tests for categorizing research subjects by race and import social classifications into their work" you do not support of substantiate it with any evidence.

When you claim that "The large number of clusters actually identified could just as easily be highlighted to show the difficulty of dividing human beings into genetic races." You DO NOT MAKE ANY SENSE. At all. As for your tin foil hat conspiracy theories, you should read 'Jean from NYC" post, she has a handle on the actual science behind this research, who supports it and so on, which you clearly don't.

Aug. 16 2011 08:19 AM
jim from NJ

you can't define race, but you claim to know so much about it.
that's very ignorand and stupid.

Aug. 15 2011 11:49 PM
Dorothy Roberts

The comments show that many people would rather cling to 18th century racial ideology than accept the evidence presented for decades by evolutionary biologists and anthropologists that the human species is not divided into biological races. Bill has done a great job of explaining why race applied to human beings is a social, cultural, and political classification and not a genetic one. I will only add that recent scientific studies that claim to prove the validity of biological races routinely use inconsistent, ambiguous, and unreliable tests for categorizing research subjects by race and import social classifications into their work. Many separate DNA samples according to the racial categories adopted by the federal government for the census and other administrative purposes – categories that have changed more than 20 times since 1790. The number and composition of computer-generated gene clusters touted as proving five principal races depend on the instructions, genetic samples, and assumptions researchers feed into computer programs. The large number of clusters actually identified could just as easily be highlighted to show the difficulty of dividing human beings into genetic races. Many genetic, genomic, and biomedical researchers are supported by the pharmaceutical and biotech industries and/or hope to translate their findings into marketable gene-based products. While waiting for the promise of gene-tailored, “personalized” medicine to materialize, race is being exploited as a convenient but inaccurate proxy for genetic difference. I argue in Fatal Invention that the resurgence in science, politics, and big business of the antiquated belief that human beings are divided into a handful of biological races threatens to reinforce social inequality in 21st century America.

Aug. 15 2011 10:49 PM

Pardon the many typos. Thanks.

Aug. 15 2011 06:32 PM

And continued again....

To take another example: any pure breed of dog was once a mutt. What about replicating the features of some favored mutt so as to create a population of mutts replicating its features makes it a breed apart from our thinking it so? That favored mutt is now retrospectively called the ur-examplar of that breed, the first of "its kind," but that doesn't retroactively change it's biological status: it, like each individual after it that resembles it, has the genetic makeup it has whether you call it mutt or breed, just as Obama remains unchanged whether you call him black, "white" because you think he isn't black enough, "Heinz 57," or decide to make Heinz 57 a bona fide race whose terms have been calibrated to him.

"Someone who is 1/2 black and 1/2 white may have the more or less of the genetic qualities of each and therefore not fit either category comfortably, socially or biologically."

Whether the fit is comfortable or uncomfortable has nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with culture. Genetics is indifferent to the social dynamics that judge it.

And here again we're back to a manner of "purity," because such a person has one or another or both of some races to be comfortable with or not, but each parent race, on the one hand, is very likely to bear enough genetic content from some other sanctioned category as to trouble the terms on which it's defined (slavery and people increasingly not caring about miscegenation has resulted in a lot of white in our black--again, at what point does one or the other grade into and out of bi-racialism?), and on the other hand is categorized at the expense of the real genetic dynamism that any individual is the result of.

I'm not sure where you're coming from with the PC remark. There's nothing PC about questioning race. It's exactly the problem of our discourse surrounding race that it tends to become synonymous with our discourse surrounding culture, which is reified the same way or, worse, often confused one with the other. I think that race, especially the way those typically labeled as PC defend it, becomes an ideology of essentialized difference that makes it indistinguishable from racism. That doesn't strike me as particularly PC.

Aug. 15 2011 06:30 PM


Take an individual labeled bi-racial: they don't represent any kind of exception to genetic variation except in so far as they deviate radically from fixed ideas of racial consistency that are themselves a record of considerable variation and categories into which many sub-categories have been subsumed, otherwise population groups would not evolve over time--at least not by natural selection. (Incidentally it can be argued that the central and point of On the Origin of Species, without which evolution cannot be said to occur by natural selection, is that there's no such "thing" as species--no such thing, that is, outside of their being useful categories for talking about what actually unsettles those categories since, as categories, they're generalizations that falsify individual variability and which individual variability falsifies in turn.) There are enough half-"black"/half-"white" individuals in the world with the right physical features and genetic content that, if we chose to so categorize them, they would be labeled a bona fide race themselves, but instead we subordinate them to the pre-existing racial categories that by convention we've granted race status to: we label them as qualified-black or a qualified-white. Place all such individuals together on an island where they'll reinforce their genetic makeup by proximity and reproduction and build a cultural identity around their shared physical characteristics (at the expense, always, of their differences), and you'll have a race, but no individual under those circumstances would be any different biologically _on those terms_ than an individual who under our current cultural circumstances would be denied race status. Of course the shared biological characteristics are real; that doesn't mean that race is. Those biological characteristics are indifferent to the categories in which we group them: they don't care whether the culture deems them worthy of race-status or not.

Aug. 15 2011 06:28 PM

Mr. Bad,

Of course nowhere in my post do I deny the genetic similarity of population groups, but purity is clearly implied when, as in your own example, special weight is given to the genetic provenance from established groups or bona fide races. Yes, you affirm that race is impermanent, but unless you support an idea of evolution by some other mechanism than natural selection, impermanency means difference within discrete groups, which means I'd throw the challenge back at you: not, What term should I come up with to replace "race" in our daily discourse (I wouldn't; I would just have it understood that it's post facto a category rather than an a determinant thing), but How then would you define what variability renders fixed categories inadequate to describe? You affirm that race is impermanent, that it changes, but it doesn't change en mass. A race, like a species, changes slowly over time through the selection of variations from the generalized "norm" that defines the larger group and that exists, therefore, only as a category, not as a real thing; and by eventually replacing that norm those variations can be said to have changed the race. But are we right in continuing to refer to a single, unitary race that has undergone change when by placing an old exemplar side-by-side with a new, each representing huge, discrete populations in their respective times, their differences would be significant enough to categorize them as different? What goes vertically goes also horizontally: the changing mean over time is matched by the variations across a given population at any one moment, or the very fact that we're defining groups by a mean. Many African Americans today have "white" genetic material in them. What percentage decides one's identity one way or the other? or how broad is the mean in which one gets to be "bi-racial" or has that status decided for them? These are matters of identity, and as such they're cultural, not genetic.

Aug. 15 2011 06:25 PM

Race is real.

But, there is no reason to infer that we should not treat people with equal respect and consideration.

The moral status of a person stems from their having a self, a consciousness, a power of choice, a capacity to feel pain and pleasure.
This is found in all humans regardless of race.
But races -and this should be beyond doubt after the genome project and the just mentioned Stanford study- are real.
Let us not confuse the normative with the descriptive here.
And a last link, this time to BBC -masters of pc bowdlerization- reporting on recent genetic study:

Aug. 15 2011 03:34 PM


You need to follow the new scientific developments. There are 5 main groups, and large varieties within them, still, race is a projectible (can be used for prediction etc.) property as to e.g. health.


Racial Differences Found in Heart Drug Response

Race Is Seen as Real Guide to Track Roots of Disease

Ignoring Race May Be Dangerous to Health

Aug. 15 2011 03:23 PM

@ Mr. Bad and Tony, please explain what you mean by "political correctness"? I find the use of this buzzword is a mask for the absence of a concrete argument about a particular approach to describing political content. Please describe your issue with the authors approach to “describing” or her “articulation” of the issue at hand?

Aug. 15 2011 03:22 PM
Mr. Bad from IL

@ Jean from New York

Also, if you're a scientist, have you heard of any possible explanations for this diversity? Could it have anything to do with the 'Out of Africa" theory? Essentially meaning that Africa has the deepest "well" of genetic mutations owing to the fact it harbors the first evidence of human habitation and longest stable communities?

Aug. 15 2011 01:55 PM
Mr. Bad from IL

@ Jean from New York

I think you've made your point perfectly, thanks for your input. Could you link to any article/info with regard to African genetic diversity? I've not heard of this discovery and would be interested to read more.

Aug. 15 2011 01:47 PM
Jean from New York

There are actual genetic variations among humans that have been "defined" by society as "races". The speaker is correct in stating that the categorizations were a human invention to justify socio-economic stratification. I have long agreed that in such a context, the concept of "race" has been a tool of oppression.

Her analysis of modern biological evidence is incomplete, however. She obviously does not understand human genome sciences, nor the scientists who are engaged in this effort. For example, her claim that "genetic scientists" have primarily sought to "understand genetic differences" for the purposes of re-defining "race" is ridiculous. The questions are purely anthropological: for example, have H. sapiens who have lived for millennia in an extreme environment acquired genotypes that increase the chances of survival in that environment? (e.g., the Arctic; high altitudes; regions with a very high malaria prevalence). The vast majority of basic research on human genetics is not funded by the healthcare industry at all: it is academic science, funded by the US Government.

The insurance-driven health care system does use "race categories". This I agree is a form a racism (whoever it is directed at), because without an actual diagnostic test, an "increased risk" based on "race" is a generalization using a phenotypic marker (eg, skin color) to infer a genotype (eg, probability of carrying a sickle-cell anemia [SCA] susceptibility mutation or haplotype), without really accounting for the true variation in genotype in the population with the phenotype. For example, African-American people in the U.S. may have higher rates of SCA, but that is because they are mostly descendents of a small group of West and southwest African populations. The SCA mutations confer a limited resistance to severe malaria infections. African-Americans descended from immigrants who came from say the Sudan may not at all have the same resistance, nor the same rates of SCA. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA, 2008) was an important safeguard against misuse of genetic information by insurance companies, employers, et al. Other countries have passed similar laws.

One striking discovery recent human genomics studies have shown: the human genetic diversity in Africa dwarfs all genetic diversity outside of it combined. If anything, this does away with the socio-economic "race categories". Two Africans (say a Dinka from the Sudan, and a San bushman from the Kalahari) can easily be more genetically dissimilar from each other than are a man from Norway and another from Bangladesh.

Aug. 15 2011 01:25 PM
Mr. Bad from IL

@ Debbie from NYC

Ugh, you've got to be kidding? Yes if you want to reify abstract descriptors like "white" and then point out how they cannot adequately describe reality then you're really on to something, but it's called comedy, not "intellectual honesty:.

Aug. 15 2011 01:15 PM
Debbie from NYC

Mr. Bad: Hmmm...I think that if you read what I wrote, you will see that I am simply trying to be intellectually honest. I am trying to explore how trying to define "race" gets you caught up in a tangled web of questions while acknowledging differences in appearance and certainly cultural differences. I think the concept of race is too simple and yet becomes really complex when you think about it. I don't know what purpose it serves, but maybe the person who talked about categorizing plants, animals, etc., in the natural world is onto something.

I am not caught up in or stuck in my beliefs but willing to explore. I also state that it leads to more questions.

Oh, one more thing. I notice someone used "Jewish" as a race. Are all Jews of the same race or can some Jews be of the European race if they are particularly fair? If "Jewish" is a race, then are any other religions also races or just Jewish? Is that person just wrong? If so, then who decides the official categories of race? (I do not claim that I am the one to decide on these categories).

Oh boy...

Aug. 15 2011 01:01 PM
Mr. Bad from IL

@ Debbie from NYC

You're just playing with words and creating silly arguments to knock down (straw men). It's nice that that SINGLE college course was so convincing to you that for the rest of your life you will remain so convinced irrespective of what research or ideas have come along since then. It is exactly that kind of intellectual lethargy that explains why this debate has become polarized into one where accusations of racism (absent any racist sentiments) are par for the course.

Aug. 15 2011 12:51 PM
Winyan Luta from NYC

People should not misunderstand that what the author is saying is the idea of Race is predicated on an untruth. She is not saying Racism does not exist...even if it is a belief in an invention!

Aug. 15 2011 12:45 PM
Mr. Bad from IL

@ Bill

I'd also like to point out that the opinions I've expressed should not be construed as nostalgia for the despicable racist past we are all very aware of by now - rather it is simply a matter of recognizing that humans (homo sapiens) are animals that have evolved differently according to their environment, and until very recently almost in complete genetic isolation from each other due to geographic limitations on intermingling.

Doesn't it just make sense that a modern Norwegian, whose homeland was first settled by humans around 8000 BC and up until very recently (1500 or so years ago) had never even encountered, much less bred, traded or even spoken to a Chinese person may have evolved somewhat differently that that Chinese person thousands and thousands of miles away owing to his environment, diet, social norms, etc? Is it fair to call that a "race", well, you can argue that all day if you want, but there are certainly genetic differences that predominate in those groups.

Aug. 15 2011 12:43 PM
Winyan Luta from New York City

As Native Americans, we do not recognize race but culture. Historically, we called people by their attributes. There is only one race, the human race! We recognize ancestry.....!

Aug. 15 2011 12:36 PM
Debbie from NYC

A lot of this has been talked about in the comments since I last posted, and there's so much to say! My realization that there is no biological basis in race (of course there is a cultural construct called race!) comes from a college class I took and a discussion that went something like what is below.

I did graduate from college a long time ago, but this discussion has stuck with me for many years. Whatever conclusion you draw from it, I think this type of questioning is meaningful & yes, only leads to more questions:

What are the races? Should we go with the traditional: White, Black, Asian, Native (Is that what someone called "Melanesia" above?), Hispanic? Get rid of "Hispanic"? OK. So, let’s try to define one. White. What is white? Is white defined as people who have fair skin and come from European countries? Are all fair skinned people part of this race? If you are, say, Italian, you could be pale and blond or you could have darker skin with darker hair. Are you both white? How dark do you have to be to no longer be white? Which drugs are better for you? What if you are from Cuba and you have white skin? Are you white or Hispanic? Does it depend on how many relatives you have who are of European origin to be white? Should we all get biological tests to see how white or non-white we are? What about Barack Obama, who is half black and half white? What race is he & how much testosterone does he have? Why is he considered black (biologically, not culturally, I mean…of course there is a cultural thing called race…) if it’s not based on his skin color? What about “Asian”? People from India are "Asian" and also people from China. They look different from one another – as large groups. Are they biologically more similar to one another than they are to people from, say, Ireland? Are all people from Spanish speaking countries “Hispanic”? What about “Native” people with dark skin? Are “Native” people from the Americas the same as “Native” people from, say, Australia or are those different races too? Did I get my original 5 designations wrong?

I don't know what is lost or won or what purpose it serves to say there is no such thing as race, but I do not believe there is. I do believe in trends of features based on people's ancestors living in isolated communities and therefore breeding with one another. That's like dog breeds. Is "race" any different? Do I believe dog breeds exist but not races? Is that weird?

This is fun!

Aug. 15 2011 12:35 PM

Hi Bill!

The emerging consensus based on recent DNA studies is that race is a real and important category.

As this 2002 New York times article says:

"Scientists studying the DNA of 52 human groups from around the world have concluded that people belong to five principal groups corresponding to the major geographical regions of the world: Africa, Europe, Asia, Melanesia and the Americas.

The study, based on scans of the whole human genome, is the most thorough to look for patterns corresponding to major geographical regions. These regions broadly correspond with popular notions of race, the researchers said in interviews."

There are many racial differences, and some of them are related to health treatment.
The vulnerability to lupus e.g. is greater in whites.

A recent Stanford study shows that there is a near perfect matching between genetic profile, and commonsense racial (self) identification. Meaning that if you see yourself as white, a blind analysis oif your DNA by a computer, would also label you as white.

Then there are obvious differences in testosterone levels, fetal gestation time, introvert/extrovert, and a long list of important traits.

Check out this

Aug. 15 2011 12:15 PM
Mr. Bad from IL

@ Bill

Nobody said much of anything about "purity", at least not in a laudatory sense, but I have noticed that everything you and the PC crew say about the obvious scientific evidence for racial difference is suffused with anger at the sick social ramifications of race (i.e. racism) or simply suffused with white guilt. Yes, racial differences have been employed to oppress, dehumanize and diminish people throughout history and yes, "race" is far from an exact term. So how would you term it, because the genetic evidence for common genetic differences in certain populations is irrefutable? Do you have a better word or is it just a scary topic? "Race" may have an ugly history as a word but it comes the closest to the scientific truth. Someone who is 1/2 black and 1/2 white may have the more or less of the genetic qualities of each and therefore not fit either category comfortably, socially or biologically. Race is not a permanent thing, obviously.

The existence of such a person who straddles two, three or four or however many racial groups does NOT disprove the fact that his/her genetic heritage is derived from those groups, and more importantly that someone whose genetic heritage is not diverse will have the characteristics which predominate in Europe or Asia or Africa for instance.

Your point is illogical, you disprove the notion of race by making the claim that someone who is of 1/2 black and 1/2 white heritage is actually a new race, or of no race at all? Spawned from the earth whole? That as opposed to an admixture of the two races? I think it's more likely the latter case.

Aug. 15 2011 12:10 PM

The comments here are disheartening. No, there is no such thing as race--not at least apart from its being a social construct. Saying that race isn't a legitimate biological category isn't a denial of biological difference, it's the denial that race accounts for those differences while arguing that races actually obscures differences within their categories (especially cultural differences, and especially when race and culture get bounded up together by their use of the same equivocal term, like "black" race/culture or "white" race/culture) and obscures similarities across racial categories. It insists on difference in excess of the facts. Correlation is not causation. You were once a distinct race if you were Irish. Now you are just white and whatever differences attending that separation have passed. The underlying biology hasn't changed, but the social construct has. Say you're half "black" and half "white" and therefore regard yourself as bi-racial: you're paradoxically regarding yourself at once as something that disproves the idea of racial purity while upholding the idea with the false assumption that your parents were themselves "pure." They weren't any more pure than you. Where does black end and white begin? That same individual self-identifying as bi-racial might just as well have simply identified as black--the common default for generations now for whiteness with any measure of blackness mixed in. If you look white you would be said merely to "pass" as white, but "really" you would be black. Find me the biology that supporting either position. Both are constructs. Humans have been mating and changing constantly over time and will continue to do so. Sometimes they've contributed through their own developed social values (i.e., constructs) to the selection of certain features that come to correlate with discrete communities so that those communities come to appear as patently different, physically, from some others, but that's not the self-fulfillment or self-realization of race, it's merely the self-affirmation of the construct that science now is in the position to critique, with profound ethical consequences. Human populations everywhere have always been in motion, always exchanging DNA and developing in concert with their social and physical environments. Purity is only ever a snap-shot illusion of what your own race refutes on and individual-by-individual analysis at any one time and that your race's own and continued history refutes for being an ongoing evolutionary process. Talk of purity is pre-Darwinian. It's been 150 years. When will we catch up?

Aug. 15 2011 11:49 AM
Mr. Bad from IL

@ John L from Jackson Heights, NYC

Well, science has shown that there ARE definable racial differences, it is NOT true that we are all the same, unless you mean that we are all of the same species, which is unquestionably true.

There is no such thing as a "social race", rather there are ways that we view/depict various races within a society and these may have a tendency to reinforce divisions, especially what could be described as racist opinions (i.e superiority of one race to another) within a given society and its culture.

There are however heritable traits found in various races that tend to drive social adaptions and success, or maladaptive behaviors that become self reinforcing and destructive. To make an example: Asians and Jews (both self described as such) tend to score higher on IQ tests, are frankly more intelligent by a measurable standard, than whites or blacks generally and so tend to pursue occupations and professions with demanding intellectual components. Because of this culture of achievement (predicated on heritable higher IQ's) Asian and Jews generally have more persons of even average intelligence achieving in this fashion due to the social pressure to "measure up" to racial peers. On an individual level this does not guarantee an Asian or Jew will be smarter or more successful than any white or black competitor but it means they are born into a culture which expects them to be "smart" and which they strive to live up to. This would not be true if Asians and Jews were generally less intelligent than blacks and whites, owing to intelligence being a relative not an absolute or permanent quality of any race. it may well be true that owing to continued global integration and miscegenation race as a biological distinction will disappear but we're not there yet.

Aug. 15 2011 11:49 AM
History Doc from NYC

Talking about "race" in America is always a hot button topic. But it's important to understand that as something that can be determined by looking at blood under a microscope (which is what spurious science attempted to suggest in the 19th century) the notion of "race" is ridiculous. What most of us don't realize is that the impulse to categorize came out of the early natural science (such as looking at plants and wildlife) desire to create a system of organizing the natural world that was orderly and made sense. Unfortunately, that interest in ordering plants and wildlife was expanded to attempt to create a human taxonomy -- to horrific effect. (And of course expediancy and self-aggrandizement play into everyone's world view...) So, quasi-science human taxonomy was quickly appropriated by political entities for social, political and economic gain. Remember: as recently as the late-19th century "Celtic" (often a blanket term for Irish, Scots and Welsh) was considered a "race". In short, these distinctions were neither based on science nor were they ever meant to be considered benign -- or even neutral. The distinctions were, by definition, pejorative.

In America we have a long, brutal and shameful history regarding "race" and it is a history that as Americans we don't really want to engage. Much of the popular thinking asserts that "all of that race stuff" was "taken care of" by the mid-20th century Civil Rights movement, or by having elected Barack Obama as president. As a result, many believe that as a country we've become free of "all that race stuff." But the legacy of historical practices that were foundational to America lives on. To pit the "biological construct" against the "practical, everyday experiences" does a disservice to the real concerns that people express and brings any true conversation to a grinding halt.

Aug. 15 2011 11:44 AM
daniel from westchester

The difference among humans should be accepted respecting scientific evidence and used within a political correctness frame. If we use the scientific finding to manipulate the truth for political purposes, than, we only have a incorrect scientific concept. (I believe this the argument at hand.)

Aug. 15 2011 11:25 AM
John L from Jackson Heights, NYC

This is an important conversation that needs to be discussed more often. Though I have not read Robert's book, it seems she not arguing against socially racial differences, yet merely that race is purely a social construct. Perhaps most distressing about this truth is that race is one of the most important facts of our lives while in the facts of science it does not exist. We are all the same. A good complement to this argument is Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in in the Age of Colorblindess."

Aug. 15 2011 11:24 AM

Daniel, true. But, once we add preferences, such as for example for more sexually active, you will use the fact than Black men have more testosterone and higher level of sexual activity as a reason to prefer them over Asian men.
If on the other hand you prefer calm and stability, you will go for the low testosterone, high IQ Asian man.
Of course as a type, their individual differences like their are women who are taller than men.

Aug. 15 2011 11:13 AM
Mr. Bad from IL

Human beings and chimpanzee's share 95% of their genes in common. It should be obvious by that fact alone that a very few genetic differences could make for large statistically measurable variations within a species.

Aug. 15 2011 11:11 AM
Brian from Hoboken

Didnt you read Dr Paul's comment? There absolutely is a biological difference between ad even within races. Why dent the science when individualized medicine and treatments are the next great discovery in treating and preventing disease?

Aug. 15 2011 11:11 AM
daniel from Westchester

I guess you all try to make your point but always miss one and the most important: The difference between whites and asians or blacks is a difference within the specie and not to higher or lower type of races. You all should know that the rest of the world talk about one race. "The human race."

Aug. 15 2011 11:09 AM

Anyone serious about actually learning something on the topic would read the book. There are many more which offer similar enlightenment on the topic. I doubt that any of the commenters here would bother. They obviously know all there is to know.

Aug. 15 2011 11:06 AM

This debate is so 70s. Everyone now knows that race is real biological fact. It has importance in health care e.g..
One crucial experiment was conducted by Stanford U, and they conclude:

"American Journal of Human Genetics, involved 3,636 people enrolled in a large trial on the genetics of hypertension. To see whether genetic markers correspond to the standard racial categories, the scientists first analyzed the volunteers' DNA, identifying which genetic markers they carried. They then used a computer program to cluster people based on genetic similarities; those who shared genetic markers were grouped together. Finally, the scientists compared those groupings with the volunteers' self-identified race. The result: people who considered themselves white had been grouped by the computer, based on their genetic markers, in one cluster, while people who consider themselves African-American had been grouped in a second, different cluster. The same held for Hispanics and East Asians. Only five people had DNA that matched an ethnic group different than the racial or ethnic box they checked at the outset of the

Aug. 15 2011 11:04 AM
Tony from Brooklyn

The author seems angry that scientists don't use their findings to support her ideology.

Scientists have an obligation to truth, not political correctness.

Aug. 15 2011 11:03 AM
Tiffany Pilgrim from Williamsburg

Although this Dr. Dorothy Roberts is idealistic in saying we are all the same--this is foolish. I as a black woman benefit for cosmetics, drugs, hair and skin products made with my biological differences in mind.

We as a black race also have to realize we were one of the last races here to bred like dogs for traits that made us physically superior for working in the fields. The weak died in the fields and mates were chosen based on strength and size. Evidence of this still shows up in how we dominate sports.

Aug. 15 2011 11:02 AM
Mr. Bad from IL

The sad truth is that by acknowledging racial differences we give racists space to make racist claims and promote despicable policies and views that should be execrable to every human being like Nazi ideas of racial purity.

Race is BOTH a biological and a social construct, but once the former is proven it informs the latter - and often to the detriment of society as a whole. The truth may well be that certain racial groups generally may require targeted social polices to allow them to compete but there is simply no way to discuss this matter without handing the initiative to racists and bigots.

Aug. 15 2011 11:02 AM
BJK from NYC

What qualifies an attorney, whose expertise is in sociology, anthropology and policy, to speak about biology and genetics?
The premise that there are no quantifiable genetic markers that distinguish people from each other is absurd.
What exactly is Ms. Roberts objection to the pharmacologically proven fact that certain disease states are manifested differently, and that certain drugs are metabolized, have differeing effects, depending on race?
Is her premise that the FDA, in the interest of establishing accurate and safe guidelines for drug administration, should reject such distinctions, in the name of some 'post-racial' credo?

Aug. 15 2011 11:02 AM
Steve from Flatbush

There really is no better proof of race than how this topic has inspired racists to post their comments.

Aug. 15 2011 11:01 AM
Donna from NYC

Mr. Bad from IL said "This sort of political correctness is a stupefying."

Amen to that. WHY was this a segment?

Aug. 15 2011 11:00 AM
The Truth from Becky

The perpetrators of racism always want to deny it exists.

Aug. 15 2011 11:00 AM

Trying to discuss this has to be enormously frustrating for Ms. Roberts. Jami, too little time was given to the topic; and please stop presenting this as if it were a matter of opinion. It is not.

Aug. 15 2011 10:59 AM
john from office

Wow this is a juicy subject.

To deny racial differences is foolish. Look a Norway and then look at africa. Look at Japan after the earthquake and look at Haiti after theirs.

Aug. 15 2011 10:57 AM
brandon from manhattan

People of certain races respond differently to different drugs and there is a differential in susceptibility to certain diseases.To ignore this puts people at risk for being misdiagnosed or mistreated. Even FDA recognizes the need for subgrouping populations in clinical trials.

Aug. 15 2011 10:56 AM
Debbie from NYC

I am glad to hear this segment. Race is not real, biologically. There is skin color and there are trends of facial features. The idea of "race" is purely cultural. Whiteness does not really exist and therefore "non-Whiteness" (for lack of a better term -- and it's interesting, right, that there seems to be this major division?) does not exist either. Amazing how much has happened because of this cultural construct!

Aug. 15 2011 10:55 AM
Paul from New York

If there are no differences between races at the level of biology, please explain the propensity for african americans to get keloids and caucasians to get lupus (and as my time in medical school informs me, the list goes on and on). Granted we are not completely different genetically but there is unarguably a biologic difference between "races".

Aug. 15 2011 10:55 AM
Donna from NYC

I'm sorry, but we are divided into different races because we are DIFFERENT - pretending we are all the same isn't doing anyone any favors.

Aug. 15 2011 10:55 AM

Of course race is still real.

Asians and Africans consistently aggregate at opposite ends, with Europeans intermediate, on a continuum that includes over 60 anatomical and social variables. To take one concrete example: One neurohormonal contributor to crime and reproductive behavior is testosterone. Studies show that black college students and military veterans have 3% to 19% more testosterone than their white counterparts. The Japanese have even lower amounts than whites. Sex hormones are circulated throughout the body and are known to activate many brain-behavior systems involving aggression and reproduction. For example, around the world the rate of dizygotic twinning per 1,000 births (caused by a double ovulation), is less than 4 among Asians, 8 among Europeans, and 16 or greater among Africans. The differences in multiple birthing are known to be heritable through the race of the mother regardless of the race of the father, as found in Asian/European matings in Hawaii and European/African matings in Brazil.

Aug. 15 2011 10:54 AM
pliny from nyc

everybody knows there is no difference between golden and a pit.

Aug. 15 2011 10:54 AM
Steve from Flatbush

Anyone who could say we live in a "Post-racial" society must never have experienced racism.

Sadly, racism is alive and well, and so long as people continue to discriminate against other people because of their skin color or culture, we will not be able to credibly claim we've gotten past the construct.

Aug. 15 2011 10:54 AM
Mr. Bad from IL

This woman is just peeing into the wind. Race is a biological trait, denying that is simply foolish. This sort of political correctness is a stupefying. How many blond haired/blue eyed Chinese persons are there, or any Asian nationality at all? A greyhound and a poodle are both dogs, but they vastly different characteristics, yet they are different "breeds" and belong to the same species and have obvious genetic (verifiable) differences. I'm not saying racism is acceptable, far from it, individual vary too much individually to make generalizations about any person you meet but one can rationally say, and I would bet, that MOST greyhounds are faster than MOST poodles.

Aug. 15 2011 10:53 AM

I live in Central FL. I hear the "n" word every day from whites here. 'Nuff said.

Aug. 15 2011 10:53 AM
The Truth from Becky

Only non-minorities even have to ponder this question.

Aug. 15 2011 10:51 AM

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