Biological justification of stratification: race and other dimensions of rank order

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Akbay G., Altınışık N. E., Somel M.

Philosophy and History of Race Workshop, 09 August 2021 - 11 January 2023, pp.6-7

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • Page Numbers: pp.6-7
  • Hacettepe University Affiliated: Yes


Early 20th century style monogenic explanations of behavioral diversity, or crude genetic determinist forms of racism are long dead, at least in the scientific community. Starting with Lewontin’s (1972) work on protein polymorphisms in human populations, the consensus position is that interpopulation diversity is much lower than intrapopulation diversity, thus, race is not a robust biological category. However, there has been criticism against the consensus position, stating that there exist real albeit modest genetic differences between human populations, that these can be detected with better accuracy using current genomic techniques, and further, that these differences may have some contribution to health and social disparities among human groups. With respect to individual variation, even if the monogenic perspective is obsolete, techniques such as GWAS can today report many variants that partially “explain” the variation in traits such as social anxiety, IQ, educational attainment, etc. In this study, we have two aims. First, we point out the conceptual and technical inadequacies of these genetic studies. However, we also claim that criticism of these studies should not solely focus on their technical shortcomings. We argue that the emphasis should be put on the sociopolitical context of these studies. Today, genetic studies related to health or social disparities within or among human groups are conducted in a highly stratified social world where the traits of interest are tightly connected to social status differences. In this setting, inevitably, genetic inferences end up being used as ideological material to normalize disparities. Instead, in societies relying on the famous dictum “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, genetics research on the same topics could directly serve the needs of the disadvantaged. We believe that geneticists bear the responsibility of how their research outcomes on health or social disparities are politically used in their societies, and should orient their research activities accordingly.