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Genomics Forum · Research

Race, Medicine and Scientific Research

ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum

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One of the oft-repeated promises of advances in genomic and genetic sciences is a better understanding of an individual’s biological profile, thereby allowing for more individualised health care. But these advances have also turned scientific attention to group classifications. Some scientists think that long-held social assumptions about race or ethnicity can now be turned into scientifically valid concepts by better analysis of genomic and genetic traits within populations. These classifications, too, are held to promise better understanding of illness and treatment within specific populations. For instance, the drug BiDil is marketed in the United States as a treatment for heart disease among African-Americans.

However, these promises exist on an historical backdrop of abuse of racial categories. Can we now use well what we have historically misused so poorly? This work programme picked up two aspects of this complex issue to provide an answer to that question. First, it analysed the social context in which race is used. Although we may talk of scientifically defined concepts of race, the concepts emerge from a muddled cultural context which shapes how racial ideas are received and perpetuated. Second, is it scientifically possible to develop a measurement of race usable in the laboratory or in practical health care?

To explore these questions, the Forum invited two noted North American academics, Dr Jenny Reardon of the University of California at Santa Cruz (author of Race to the Finish: Identity and Governance in the Age of Genomics) and Prof. Joseph L. Graves Jr (author of The Race Myth: Why We Pretend Race Exists in America and The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium) to come as Visiting Research Fellows. The Forum organised a series of events—a seminar, a public lecture and a workshop—that allowed Dr Reardon and Prof. Graves to interact with key British social scientists and medical researchers in an exploration of the problems and promises of the new racial medicine.


Lecture Report - The Race Myth: More Sincere Fictions in the Age of Genomics

Meeting Report - Classifying Genomics: Race Expert Meeting

Policy and Practice Implications Arising from the Workshop - Policy and Practice Implications - Race Expert Meeting

Further information

Race/Ethnicity in Genetics in Science and Health, Institute for Science and Society (formerly IGBIS), University of Nottingham.

"Policy Implications of Defining Race and More by Genome Profiling" by Suzanne Haga in Genomics, Society, and Policy 2006, Vol.2/1, pp. 57-71.

Interview with Joseph L Graves Jr.

Is Race ‘Real’? A web forum organised by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC).

Minorities, Race and Genomics, Human Genome Project.