By Jonathan Kahn
In a recent article in Wired, science journalist Angela Saini discusses “the disturbing return of scientific racism.” The piece is drawn from her new book, “Superior: The Return of Race Science.” Scientific racism per se might be succinctly characterized as (mis)using science to assert essential biological bases for differences among socially defined racial groups. It has been used over 200 years to justify, and indeed promote, the subordination of certain racial groups as purportedly inferior to others.
Saini does an admirable job of tracing the roots of modern scientific racism and identifying its resurgence. Her story in the Wired piece, however, focuses primarily on the more obviously pernicious manifestations of scientific racism exemplified by Bruce Lahn’s work at the University of Chicago asserting a genetic basis for cognitive differences across socially defined racial groups. Saini effectively shows how other geneticists and socially scientists dismantled these claims but frames its appeal in the widely held mistaken belief that “races have natural genetic propensities.”
The dangers of scientific racism, however, manifest not only in pernicious attempts to show superiority of inferiority among races. It also emerges more subtly and complexly in the well-meaning work of biomedical professional seeking to explore broader racial differences, particularly in the field of health disparities. Read More