Why You Should Think Twice About Those DNA-By-Mail Results

Barbara King, National Public Radio, July 6, 2017

In a new book, University of North Carolina, Charlotte anthropologist Jonathan Marks says that racism in science is alive and well.

This stands in sharp contrast to creationist thinking, Marks says, which is, like racism, decidedly evident in our society but most certainly not welcome in science.

In Is Science Racist? Marks writes:

If you espouse creationist ideas in science, you are branded as an ideologue, as a close-minded pseudo-scientist who is unable to adopt a modern perspective, and who consequently has no place in the community of scholars. But if you espouse racist ideas in science, that’s not quite so bad. People might look at you a little askance, but as a racist you can coexist in science alongside them, which you couldn’t do if you were a creationist. Science is racist when it permits scientists who advance racist ideas to exist and to thrive institutionally.

This is a strong set of claims, and Marks uses numerous examples to support them. For example, a 2014 book by science writer Nicholas Wade used genes and race to explain, as Michael Balter put it in Science magazine, “why some people live in tribal societies and some in advanced civilizations, why African-Americans are allegedly more violent than whites, and why the Chinese may be good at business.”

The work of psychologist Philippe Rushton, who died in 2012, has been published and even celebrated in scientific circles, Marks explains. Rushton suggested that “the peoples of Africa had undergone eons of natural selection for high reproductive rate and low intelligence, which he measured via surrogate variables — notably, sex drive, criminality rates, penis size, and brain size.”

In other words, Wade, Rushton, and others working in the same vein take what is cultural, historical and political and conclude it is biologically natural. That’s “rationalizing the economic and social disparities in the modern world,” Marks notes.

“Race,” Marks writes, “is not the discovery of difference; it is the imposition of difference.” Inequality comes about because of unequal conditions imposed upon different groups of people through economic and cultural forces.

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“Scientific racism,” Marks told me, “often begins by highlighting (and misrepresenting) patterns of difference in the human species; but regardless of how different they may be from one another, people are entitled to equality.”

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