PIK Professors Call Attention to the Use of Race in Human Genetic Research

February 5, 2016

Dorothy Roberts and Sarah Tishkoff have coauthored a perspective piece published this week in the journal Science that calls for an end to the use of genetic concepts of race in biological research.

Both are Penn Integrates Knowledge Professors. Roberts, the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology, is a scholar of race, gender, and the law who also holds the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander chair in the Law School and is a professor of Africana studies and director of the Program on Race, Science, and Society. Tishkoff, the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor in Genetics and Biology, is an expert on human genetics, with a particular focus on African populations.

“We believe the use of biological concepts of race in human genetic research—so disputed and so mired in confusion—is problematic at best and harmful at worst. It is time for biologists to find a better way,” the researchers wrote.

Their article noted that countless studies have failed to uphold a biological basis of race. Researchers would be better served, they wrote, using terms and concepts like “ancestry” and “population” in describing human groups in genetic studies. The authors also advised the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to convene a panel of experts across disciplines to “improve the scientific study of human difference and commonality” by seeking ways to “move past the use of race as a tool for classification in both laboratory and clinical research.”

Read the full announcement here.

Read the Science perspective piece here.