Comfort, Nathaniel, PhD, Author, Professor, History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Johns Hopkins UniversityBio and Contact Info
Listen (4:20) Debate about race and genetics is really about social justice
Listen (2:32) The radical middle
Listen (4:45) How to define race when genetic variation is continuum
Listen (6:03) As a society are we trusting science more as the ultimate source of knowledge?
Listen (6:04) Does Wade's book help free scientists and clinicians?
Listen (2:04) On blogging
Is race biological, or is it a cultural construct?
This question lies at the heart of a debate sparked by this year’s publication of “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History.” Writing that race is biological, former New York Times science journalist, Nicholas Wade, ignited a furor in the life science community, with many scientists denouncing the book and the misrepresentation of their research. Science writer, David Dobbs, called it a “dangerous book.”
Joining us today to work through some of the tough questions in this debate is Nathaniel Comfort, a science historian at Johns Hopkins University. Comfort describes his position in the debate as the “radical middle”, accepting some of Wade’s arguments but insisting that science is always in a context, that it’s always political.
“The debate over race and genetics is really about social justice,” Comfort says in today’s show.
Comfort argues that Wade is not honest about the book’s agenda and uses science as a proxy argument for his own preconceptions. Comfort warns that genetic explanations, such as the one Wade makes for race, usually tend to reinforce the status quo.
So what about using race as phenotype for treating various diseases? For example, some racial groups are more likely to get certain diseases than other groups. Working at a major medical research facility, Comfort has the opportunity to talk to clinicians on a regular basis about whether, in today’s world of personalized medicine, race is still relevant as a phenotypic marker.
For more, visit Comfort’s blog on the topic.
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