In the March 25, 2018 Sunday Review section of the New York Times, Dr. David Reich, professor of genetics at Harvard University published an article entitled 'Race' in the Age of Modern Genetics. (Also published on March 23 under the title How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’ ). Since it overlaps somewhat with my blog entry of Feb. 10, 2018, I thought it would be interesting to refer you both to the article (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/23/opinion/sunday/genetics-race.html?) and my response to it below.
David Reich attempts to convince the readers that there is validity in discussing genetic differences among “races” while at the same time cautioning against “misusing” such data in “pseudoscientific racist” terms. Unfortunately, Dr. Reich, himself, has muddied the water in this article.
We are left confused as to what he means by “race” alternately putting that term in quotes and using the phrase “racial constructs” while never defining either. His examples include phrases such as “self-identified African-Americans” and “self-identified European-Americans.” Are we to consider these as two examples of races? Later he describes a study that compares “Europeans with more years of education” with “Europeans with less years of education.” Are these two different races?
He concludes by using the invalid analogy of comparing sexes. We can definitively define males as having a XY chromosomal configuration and females as having an XX chromosomal configuration and therefore use sex scientifically as an independent variable. There is no such way to define races genetically or in any other definitive manner. We are, therefore, left with only the vague notion of “self-identification” as the highly variable and inaccurate independent variable. If we were to use “self-identification” in determining the variable “sex”, and did a study of a transgender population, our “science” for the study of the genetic relationship to sex would be incorrect. The fact of the matter is that we are all African and there are certainly genetic clusters of variables among different populations living in or recently emigrated from different geographic locations. Adding “race” to this discussion is misleading and not helpful.