New Articulations of Biological Difference in the 21st Century: A Conversation

This conversation is prompted by continued frustration about how race is discussed and understood by the public and by those researchers who remain determined to draw clean lines around people who share particular physical characteristics. We make the case that knowledge of human evolution and population genetics should be a core aspect of “diversity requirements” being developed by universities to sensitize students to diversity issues. All college students should graduate knowing that race is not a proxy for DNA and that often what people consider to be human nature — in our genes — has more to do with cultural beliefs than with biology [1].

Neo-Boasian Anthropology

Carolyn Rouse: Agustín, you and I are neo-Boasians in the sense that we would like to see fewer lines drawn among the four fields usually labeled sociocultural anthropology, biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology and archaeology. We agree that possibilities for more robust theorizing happen when scholars engage across these, and other, fields. As a cultural anthropologist who studies race and inequality, I rely on the work of biological anthropologists like you, Jonathan Marks and Sarah Hrdy because theories of biological difference have such a significant impact on concerns such as mass incarceration, the educational achievement gap and racial health disparities [2].

Agustín Fuentes: I agree. The more engaged and boundary-crossing the anthropology, the richer and more effective it can be. An integrative anthropology is one where diverse theoretical and methodological tool kits have the potential to merge, meld, deviate and entangle. It can cross traditional boundaries and draw from a range of different areas and modes of scholarship in efforts to develop a fuller, if sometimes messier, understanding of being and becoming human. Not everyone engaged in anthropological research or all anthropological questions require an integrated tool kit. However, a diversity of approaches must be central to normative practice if anthropologists are to honestly assert that we are distinct from other social sciences and humanistic approaches and can provide a holistic option to the “pure” biological sciences.

Racial Recursion

Carolyn: When it comes to genetic medical research, new discoveries have a familiar pattern. They start with a celebration of our common humanity and how the discovery is going to serve all people. But even before the champagne has been poured, scholars have found new ways to parse the smallest differences, proving once again that race is a proxy for DNA. The announcement of the sequencing of the entire human genome in 2000 fit that pattern. We were told that humans share 99.9 percent of the same DNA, but since that announcement, numerous scholars have reiterated how significant that 0.1 percent is [3]. An extraordinary number of the scholarly articles on race and disease risk published in the last 15 years come dangerously close to essentializing race. Many well-intended researchers use racial classifications unquestioningly to try to improve health care for minorities. They forget that their conclusions about racial difference are then appropriated by less well-meaning researchers who (mis)use this data as proof that there are stark differences between people who look different. The quintessential example of this is Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance (2014) [4].

Agustín: There remains a strong desire to see that 0.1 percent as the “real” important part of the genome. In the United States, difference is always more important than similarity — the well-known “one-drop” racial classification categories. This is tied to the resilience of genetic determinism as an explanatory frame to make sense of social difference. There is an erroneous assumption that the variable genetic patterns in humans underlie relevant differences in health, behavior and even aptitude. This leads smack dab into the “race” issue.

Yes, different populations vary in some of the 0.1 percent of the genome that makes up much of human genetic diversity, but this variation does not represent biological races no matter how one manipulates/packages/represents it. Wade and others love to use standard data sets and compare the 0.1 percent variants in clusters of people from Nigeria, Western Europe, Beijing and Tokyo, and so on. Doing this does yield some patterned differences, but these populations do not reflect the entire continental areas of Africa, Europe and Asia, the classic “races.” A comparison of geographically separated populations within the continental areas also yields easily measurable variation of similar magnitude. Comparing 60 Nigerians to 60 European-descendant Americans to 60 people from Beijing and Tokyo gives the same level of differences in genetic variation as does comparing such clusters of people from Siberia, Tibet and Java (Asia) or from Finland, Wales and Yemen (“Europe”) or even Somalia, Liberia and South Africa (Africa). None of these comparisons give us races. Identifying a few genetic variants that are more common in some populations in some parts of some continents than they are in other populations in other parts of other continents does not come close to any biologically valid demonstration of race.

Carolyn: When conducting research on racial health disparities and sickle cell disease, I would often despair over how well-meaning institutions and individuals reassert biological difference [5]. The National Institute of Science’s Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health, for one, and the International HapMap Project, for another [6]. And now behavioral psychologists and economists are playing with fire and re-essentializing biology and behavior in ways sociobiologists did years ago.

Agustín: This is especially irresponsible given the current state of knowledge in biological and evolutionary sciences. In the contemporary understanding of evolutionary theory, one cannot essentialize the complex processes involved in human behavior and physiological and psychological health down to patterns and processes of genetic control, or even predominant genetic influence.

Contemporary evolutionary theory, dubbed Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES), expands on the neo-Darwinian model and provides for better integration among diverse approaches, de-emphasizing traditional priorities of genetic differentiation as the driving force in evolutionary change [7]. In EES, organisms are thought to be constructed in response to multiple developmental impacts, not simply “programmed” to develop by genes. Organisms don’t “evolve” to fit into environments; rather, they coconstruct and coevolve with their environments. For humans, the EES approach requires a biological anthropologist to be attentive to sociocultural complexity, including information on economic, biological and environmental histories. Recently, I outlined what an anthropologically focused EES approach to human sexual partnering would look like [8]. I argued that a truly anthropological evolutionary attempt to understand sexual partnering in any group of humans must consider all of the following: (1) patterns of choice of sexual partners; (2) the possibility of a history of sexual selection influencing morphologies, behaviors and sexual processes; (3) the structural constraints and facilitators provided by specific reproductive physiology; (4) individual variation in behavior, experience and physiology; (5) local ecological contexts; (6) social group and larger community demography; (7) perceptions and display of gender roles and sexual activity; and (8) institutions, traditions and technologies that promulgate and limit gender roles and sexual activity, including marriage, laws/morals, kinship associations/ regulations, economic constraints and medical interventions [9].

EES requires that we reduce reliance on simple or linear causality. Evolution is not just a process of natural selection shaping our genes, with the resulting genetic variations playing the main role in explaining the human experience. Presenting it as such is highly misleading, and in the context of medicine and race it becomes not only unethical but also dangerous.

Carolyn: Jonathan Kahn speaks to these dangers in Race in a Bottle: The Story of BiDil and Racialized Medicine in the Post-Genomic Age. He describes the continual use of new genetic discoveries to reassert racial difference as racial recursion [10]. Kahn’s book focuses on the development of the heart medication BiDil, characterized as the first ethnic wonder drug. The drug was marketed as a treatment designed for black people, and Kahn focuses on why scholars, medical specialists and policy experts felt comfortable operationalizing theories of racial biological difference.

Agustín: People want to believe that there is a robust biological underpinning to racial categories. It sounds “right,” especially given the complex realities of racial inequity and the robust investment in, and history of, eugenics in American academic, political and medical circles. The fact that such an approach misrepresents biological reality and evolutionary theory does not dissuade many from buying into it. Wade’s fact-bending book sold more than 60,000 copies, and not only to ignorant white-power aficionados. Wade misrepresented genetic and evolutionary data to make pronouncements about race that resonate with the “race is biology” approach. The draw of such positions should not be underrepresented. Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, wrote a glowing review in the Wall Street Journal; he championed Wade as the voice of reason against a sea of left-leaning academics who seek to deny the “reality” of race as biology.

Carolyn: Some of these beliefs have been promoted for years by well-funded racist organizations such as the Pioneer Fund; this group had among its members the late Philippe Rushton, who believed that there is an inverse relationship between penis size and IQ. But there is also the more mainstream Heterodox Academy, an online forum dedicated to pushing the academy to the political right because, the group’s members believe, liberal scholars teach orthodox ideas “without any real evidence.” Listed among the entrenched, unsubstantiated orthodoxies held up for critique by the Academy is this one: “All differences between human groups are caused by differential treatment of those groups, or by differential media portrayals of group members” [11] They don’t like the idea that scholars question what actually constitutes human behavior. Notables listed on the Heterodox Academy’s advisory board in 2016 include Steven Pinker of Harvard, John McGinnis of Northwestern and John McWhorter of Columbia. It is fascinating that some scholars think evolutionary biologists who challenge the idea that humans can be neatly sorted into racial groups are doing so for political reasons.

Agustín: This viewpoint is not uncommon in the United States, including among a large number of those who go into the medical profession. If doctors believe the “race as biology” fallacy, such blinders will influence their treatment of patients, even if at a subconscious level, and create the possibility of worsening the already deplorable health disparities we see. You have written on just this topic.

Carolyn: I have described in a chapter how attempts to ameliorate health disparities in the early 2000s encouraged false beliefs about race and biology in many ways [12]. For example, in 2013 I received an email from the National Institute of Minority Health and Disparities (NIMHD) stating, “CDC statistics show that African Americans are 30% more likely to die from heart disease and 40% more likely to have high blood pressure than white Americans. Emerging data suggests that genomic variation and other factors influencing genetic behavior can enhance individual susceptibility to heart disease, especially in minority populations” [13].

While the compassion driving attempts to find genetic causes for racial health disparities can be celebrated, the insidiousness of the discourse must be noted. This can be seen in a 2016 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) article that indicates many medical students think blacks and whites have significant physical differences based on their genes [14]. The authors interviewed first-, second- and third-year med students as well as residents about biological difference. The research showed, for ex- ample, that 63 percent of first-year students believed black skin is thicker than white skin. 46 percent of first-year students believed black people’s blood coagulates more quickly than whites’. The authors conclude, “A substantial number of white laypeople and medical students and residents hold false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites and demonstrate that these beliefs predict racial bias in pain perception and treatment recommendation accuracy.” Science historian Keith Wailoo wrote a response to the article in The Daily Beast, where he noted, “The UVA study turns our gaze to one important place where race problems are manifest — medical training and physician perceptions” [15].

While I agree that the findings are horrifying, I would like to highlight two things. First, the statistics seem to point not to medical school per se, but to undergraduate preparation and to public health discourses about race and biological difference. Notably, the data show that first-year and third-year students have vastly different beliefs about race. For example, 33 percent of first-year medical students said “Blacks have stronger immune systems than whites,” whereas only 5 percent of third-year students held this belief. Similarly, 42 percent of first-year students believed “Black people’s blood coagulates more quickly than whites,” whereas 5 percent of third-year students agreed. Again, about 13 percent of first-year students believed “Blacks’ nerve endings are less sensitive than whites,” whereas 0 percent of third- year students held this belief [16].

First-year medical students and the general public are about equally ignorant, even though medical schools tend to draw from the top students of top-tier and second-tier colleges and universities. We must ask how premed students, who study biology in preparation for the MCAT exam, graduate from college with false beliefs about biological difference. As undergraduate educators, we are not doing our job.

The second thing that struck me about the study was that four of the 15 questions about biological difference asked were denoted as “items that are factual or true”: “Whites are less susceptible to heart disease than blacks”; “Blacks are less likely to contract spinal cord diseases”; “Blacks have denser, stronger bones than whites”; “Whites are less likely to have a stroke than blacks.” Within an article meant to expose racialized thinking in medicine that leads to reduced access to pain medication for blacks, the authors reassert other myths about biological difference. Classifications by race are a social construct that results in real effects. That means one cannot abstract race from economic class, environment, education and access to resources such as good food, clean water and safe communities. In addition to the poor use of cardiovascular data by race, including the data to support BiDil, we can point to demographic studies by the Dartmouth Atlas project that note that geography, or where one lives, often plays a bigger role in health than race or even class. So in addition to being shocked that students entered medical school thinking these bizarre things about race, I was equally shocked by how unaware the authors of this article were to their own unproblematized use of black and white.

While I am distressed that students enter medical school largely ignorant about race, I am hopeful that exposure to diverse patients through medical training can have a positive impact.

Agustín: The core problem here remains that biology courses in high school and college are taught by individuals who, at least subconsciously, buy into the “race as biology” and “genetics as deterministic” perspectives. There are very, very few high schools in the United States where accurate information on human biological diversity is offered. There are few courses even at the college level where such information is provided or where contemporary evolutionary theory and biology are the norm. Inside and outside the classroom, students are mired in implicit “race talk” related to issues of biology and an overemphasis on genetic control of behavior. Think about discussions of professional sports, testosterone, violence, sexuality.

When human biological diversity is discussed it is often misrepresented. The two most common examples of human evolution and health given in classroom contexts are sickle-cell anemia and lactose tolerance. The sickle-cell example is always situated in Africa-the-continent, writ large, not West Africa, from where the examples are almost always derived. There are rarely examples drawn from the Arabian Peninsula or South Asia, where similar genetic variants arose. Nor are the Mediterranean thalassemias mentioned, a different genetic response to similar environmental pressures. In the case of lactose tolerance, the core examples come from Europe, not those populations in Africa and central Asia where the same types of genetic modifications expanded. In the classroom, sickle cell becomes a “black” genetic issue and the ability to digest milk a “white” one, regardless of the fact that neither of these genetic patterns is truly apportioned by continents or “races.”

When one does see a discussion of human genetic diversity in the biology classroom, it usually involves comparing a few populations from three or five continents, thus reifying a “racial” norm as the standard mode of comparison. The one most telling piece of information about human genetic diversity that has not made its way into most biology classrooms is that there is more genetic diversity in all the populations of sub-Saharan Africa than all the combined variation outside of the African continent; human genetic variation is not apportioned uniformly or discretely by continental landmass. This means that the continents are not appropriate contexts or markers for discussing genetic variation. They are proxies for race, and their (mis)use as such continues to reinforce the “race as biology” motif.

The Role of Anthropologists

Carolyn: I like to include racist and quasiracist literature on biology and race in my teaching because I want students to have the conceptual tools to argue against theories of biological difference. So when the economists Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor published “The ‘Out of Africa’ Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development,” I assigned it [17]. Featured in one of the top economic journals, American Economic Review, the article argues that the reason Africa developed more slowly than Europe and Asia was because of too much genetic diversity. Poorly citing the literature, the authors hypothesized that people who are genetically different have a difficult time cooperating. In South America, too little genetic diversity presumably suppressed innovation. But Europe and Asia had the right level of genetic diversity. This Goldilocks theory for why different regions of the world had different development trajectories made me far more forgiving of Jared Diamond and his ecological determinist theory of human development.

When it came time to discuss Ashraf and Galor’s article, one of the seniors in my Race and Medicine class, an economics major, said that a lecturer in the economics department had assigned the article but presented it as fact. This African American student said he simply accepted the conclusions because he had no other knowledge or conceptual tools to challenge the authors’ rather stunning “biological” theory of human history. As anthropologists housed in universities, our challenge is how to educate our students given that the new biological arguments about race are presented as common sense, packaged in complex statistical work that cuts across disciplines.

Agustín: I think it falls to anthropology to offer context and training on how to assess the “commonsensical” arguments of the “scientific” neoracists. One area of critical input is courses on human evolution and human biological diversity. Getting the “race as biology” option off the table is a first step. Anthropologists need to do this systematically, not by asserting there “is no biology to race” but by demonstrating what we know about human biological diversity and evolutionary history and how the biology itself demonstrates that black, white, Asian and so on are not biological categories. This is crucial, as the argument against anthropology is that we are simply being “leftist” or too liberal, when in fact the science is behind us. Genes don’t do anything by themselves; epigenetics and complex metabolic and developmental systems are at play in how bodies work.

The roundworm C. elegans has about 20,000 genes and humans have ~23,000 genes, yet it is pretty obvious that humans are more than 15 percent more complex than roundworms. So while genes matter, they are only a small part of the whole evolutionary picture, and focusing just on DNA — and 0.1 percent of it at that — won’t get one anywhere, racially or otherwise.

Unfortunately, this requires tackling the use and misuse of statistical analyses in race studies. For example, “Structure” is a common statistical program used to assess patterns in genetic diversity; it looks at diversity and then strives to find patterns. One can program Structure to offer options for different patterns of how the data cluster [18]. The originators of the program comment that their model is not well suited to data shaped by or influenced by gene flow, and they warn that how many clusters one gets can be rather arbitrary. For human genetics, there can be five or three or seven or 14, depending on the parameters used. The statistical analyses used by folks like Galor also require a bit of sophistication to see that the numbers and patterns are only as robust as the assumptions that underlie them. And those assumptions are weak at best.

Here is where integrated anthropology becomes especially important. It is in the evolutionary, ethnographic and historical contributions from across the discipline that issues of structural violence, cultural construction, semiotic and linguistic processes elaborate on and inform the ways humans make meaning, experience the world and create, manipulate and disseminate processes of inequity and racialized structures. A far cry from a “Genes + Race” approach.

Carolyn: Unfortunately, the entire academy has drunk the statistical Kool-aid such that many are unable to appreciate the relationship between qualitative and quantitative, or how affect, feelings, beliefs and social practices impact the factors that people count. I listened as Galor presented his paper at Princeton to a room of scientists; during the question and answer period, they focused solely on his regression analysis. They seemed fine with the basic premise of his argument as long as he could demonstrate that his variables were clean and his statistical work accurate. I asked to meet with Galor after his talk. Realizing that I could never question him about the accuracy of his research, I decided to ask him something that would help me understand why we keep ending up back here. First he told me that he thought scholars like myself (I’m African American) would appreciate that his work celebrates genetic diversity in Africa. I guess saying that Africa didn’t develop as quickly as Europe and Asia because they could not get along is better than saying Africa didn’t develop because Africans are intellectually inferior. But of course the idea that one can locate human development on some poorly defined, unilinear trajectory was not a topic I could discuss with him. So I ended by asking him why he dedicated so many years of his life to this research. He said that similar to Einstein, who worked to create a unified theory of the universe, he wanted to create a unified theory of economic development. Enough said, I guess.

Agustín: The drive toward essentialism and the universal explanatory frameworks known as reductive theory in explaining human social and structural complexity should be nonstarters in both the sciences and social sciences. However, many economists and psychologists continue to seek these kinds of highly generalizable explanatory frameworks. I think it is important to ask what it is about the histories and structures of these two disciplines that enables the persistence of such approaches. One should not be blind to the relevant political and funding structures, either, as they play substantive roles in fostering “theories of everything” that seek to smooth the wrinkles, bumps, turns and rivulets of the human experience.

Anthropologists have to dive into these debates head first, no holds barred, and use our tool kit to shine light on these scientifically impoverished and often ethically dubious approaches.

Carolyn: After the Ashraf and Galor article came out, I decided I had to use myself as proof for what I had been teaching in my Race and Medicine course. So I got my DNA tested by the personal genome testing service 23 and Me. Because the government had embargoed 23 and Me from interpreting my results [19], I purchased a Promethease report for $5.00 through The results linked me to PubMed studies of each allele, which were actually interesting even though scientists are generations away from being able to make sense of the data. Promethease clarified that only about 17 percent of the human genome has been studied for links to disease. Given gene–gene interactions, epigenetics and the microbiome, we really have no idea whether the genes linked to disease are modified by other factors, including undiscovered coding and noncoding DNA.

With Promethease, one discovers that the genes for “East Indian” come from a group of Gujurati Indians from Texas and the genes for “Chinese” come from a group of Chinese from Denver, Colorado. In the end, what I learned is that I am from everywhere and nowhere. My DNA connects me to histories, migrations, encounters and mutations disconnected from territory or culture. My DNA exists independent of who I am as a social and cultural subject, even though traces of my status are readable in my genes.

By 2016, 23 and Me was once again allowed to report on findings, so I went back to their website. In a tutorial entitled, “Your self-reported ethnicity helps us personalize your reports,” the company explains, “Telling us about your ethnicity is important because certain variants are more common in certain ethnicities.” In other words, they can tell me what I am if I tell them what I am. I was told that I was 10 percent sub-Saharan African, or 38 percent West African, or 66 percent West African depending on the level of statistical confidence I chose. Knowing something about the slave trade, the fact that some of my ancestors came from West Africa did not surprise me. With its extraordinary focus on trying to box people into groups, perhaps the government needs to embargo 23 and Me again.

Agustín: I too had my DNA tested by 23 and Me. The results are not particularly surprising, or informative, but the way they are presented shocked me. It also helped me understand why, in spite of such detailed academic knowledge about how genomic systems work and what human genetic variation can and cannot tell us, the public is still being misled. I am leaning toward the belief that 23 and Me does not do this in an intentionally racist way, but the result is racializing, fostering severe ignorance of what genetic ancestry means and how DNA works.

I’ll illustrate with my own results. A pie chart at the start of my report tells me that I am 99.3 percent European, 0.6 percent Middle Eastern/North African and 0.1 percent unassigned. This is accompanied by a cool map of the planet with my areas of potential ancestry colored in (and the rest blank). If I go to the 50 percent statistical confidence level, I get a picture of my 23 chromosomes broken down by color code into segments that are Ashkenazi, Southern European (generally), Iberian (specifically), Northwestern European (generally), British and Irish (specifically), Middle eastern (generally) and North African (specifically). These numbers change pretty fast if one goes to the 90 percent certainty level, where I am still mostly European (generally) and then about 4.5 percent unassigned.

Looking just at the color-coded chromosome images, one gets the impression that my chromosome 1 is made of 50 percent Ashkenazi DNA and 50 percent Iberian DNA. This is ludicrous and misinformative. The variation 23 and Me is focusing on is found in less than 1 percent of the genome. So any description of any large stretch of a chromosome is totally inaccurate, since as we established at the outset, all humans are more than 99 percent the same genetically. But that makes for a boring graphic. And there is no such thing as Ashkenazi or Iberian DNA. Most of what 23 and Me is assessing is relative frequency of a given genetic variant, not its novelty; there are few DNA sequences unique to populations, and no unique genes in human groups. This means that a certain sequence of DNA might be very common in Ashkenazi Jews but can be found at lower frequencies in other populations. Also, in this kind of reporting format, what am I to make of the fact that 23 and Me tells me I am around 3 percent Neanderthal? And why do they emphasize my extinct human connection and ignore my 99 percent African and living human connection?

A core problem with 23 and Me is that they use samples from only 31 populations to represent all of humanity, which has tens of thousands of populations. Thirteen, more than a third, of the populations used for comparison of all samples are European-derived, and only four, just over 10 percent, are African-derived. However, sub-Saharan Africa has more genetic variation across populations than all other populations globally. So every time 23 and Me runs someone’s DNA, they likely overestimate European heritage and downplay African heritage.

The 23 and Me results skew how individuals see their genetic make-up. Too many people assume that their DNA contains the “real” indicators of who they are (and probably how they will behave). Rather than telling me that I am 99 percent similar to all other humans, that my ancestors of between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago were spread around the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia and that most of my more recent ancestors were probably from parts of Europe and North Africa, they tell me that I am 99 percent European. This is not “wrong” as it does reflect aspects of my ancestry; it is just misleading, incomplete and ignorance- enhancing.

The language and graphics used by 23 and Me and many other ancestry firms to represent human genetic diversity act to reify notions about divisions of humanity into European, African and Asian biological groups, validating the pseudoscience by folks such as Ashraf and Galor. It is ironic that this same genetic data, assessed and presented correctly in context, disproves the misleading concepts about what human biological variation means.

Parting Thoughts

Carolyn: While I have been slow to jump on the multispecies bandwagon, I now believe that speculative conversations about what makes us human are critical for pushing back against these insistent narratives of human racial difference. Multispecies research destabilizes myths about human biology in ways that make discussions about how you and I are different based on your 99 percent “European” versus my 32 percent “European” DNA seem like child’s play. And new speculative conversations about the role of epigenetics and the microbiome in generational and geographic health and even behavior are repositioning the discovery of DNA and the sequencing of the genome as only the opening salvo to our understanding of human biology.

My hope is that we can do more at the undergraduate level to get students to see — as you note the optics are critical — that an allelic map of the world shows we are all from everywhere and nowhere. And our histories, your “Ashkenazi” and my “West African,” do not require a genome test. We knew our history before we took the test. And if our tests produced surprising information, would that change, as you note, our experiences and identity? It should not. And finally, no student should be admitted to medical school who does not understand that race is not a proxy for biological difference.

Agustín: I completely agree. None of these genome tests are considering our microbiome, which has huge diversity, genetic and otherwise, and which has coevolved with humans for millennia. An honest assessment of human biological variation should really include a much wider lens … let’s not forgot a substantial portion of the human genome is insertions from viruses. We are not even totally ourselves. Biologically, humans are multispecies communities. Let’s see 23 and Me tackle that.

All of this, the EES, epigenetics and multispecies approaches, complex and multifaceted approaches to race and race theory are fine and good. But most of this information stays in the academy. What about the 99 percent of people who don’t take an anthropology course, or who do but don’t get this information effectively delivered to them? What about those who go on to be doctors, economists, politicians? This is a crisis of ignorance of astounding proportions. The data and information are there and can be easily taught across curricula. The MCAT, or even the SAT, should have some of this basic biology as standard content. Anthropologists everywhere should be pushing it whenever they can. Everyone should be able to enjoy having an ancestry test, but being able to understand the results for what they are is the most important issue. I feel that no one should graduate from college without such a skill. Where “diversity requirements” are concerned, this one is foundational.


1. Agustín Fuentes, Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths About Human Nature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012); Evelyn Fox Keller, The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture, (Duke University Press, 2010).

2. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, “Introduction,” Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011); Jonathan Marks, Tales of the Ex-Apes: How We Think about Human Evolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015)

3. Catherine Bliss, Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012); Terence Keel, “Neanderthal Genes, Religion, and the Unique Identity of Modern Humans,” Gene Watch 23, no. 3 (2010).; Dorothy Roberts, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Recreate Race in the Twenty-First Century (New York: The New Press, 2013).

4. Nicholas Wade, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History (New York: Penguin Press, 2014).

5. See Pollock, Anne. 2012. Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference. Durham: Duke University Press.

6.; https://www.genome. gov/10001688/international-hapmap-project/.

7. K.N. Laland et al., “The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis: Its Structure, Assumptions and Predictions,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 282:20151019 (2014), rspb.2015.1019.

8. Agustín Fuentes, “The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, Ethnography, and the Human Niche: Toward an Integrated Anthropology,” Current Anthropology 57, supplement 13 (2016): S13–S26, doi:10.1086/685684.

9. Excellent examples of this approach can be also seen in Douglas W. Bird, Rebecca Bliege Bird, Brian F. Codding, and Nyalangka Taylor, “A landscape Architecture of Fire: Cultural Emergence and Ecological Pyrodiversity in Australia’s Western Desert,” Current Anthropology 57, supplement 13 (2016): S65–S79; Greg Downey, 2016. “Being Human in Cities: Phenotypic Bias from Urban Niche Construction,” Current Anthropology 57, supplement 13 (2016): S52–S64.

10. Jonathan Kahn, Race in a Bottle: The Story of BiDil and Racialized Medicine in a Post-genomic Age (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).

11. Website: Last accessed July 1, 2016.

12. Carolyn Rouse, “Racial Health Disparities and Questions of Evidence: What Went Wrong with Healthy People 2010,” in Understanding Health Inequalities and Justice: New Conversations across the Disciplines, ed. Rebecca L. Walker, Michele Rivkin-Fish, and Mara Buchbinder (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2016), 302–332.

13. Email sent by NIMHD to NIMHD-INFO-, under the subject heading, “February 14th: Dr. Gary Gibbons — NIH Health Dis- parities Seminar Speaker,” Sent February 8, 2013.

14. Kelly M. Ho man, Sophie Trawalter, Jordan R. Axt, and M. Norman Oliver, “Racial Bias in Pain Assessment and Treatment Recommendations, and False Beliefs about Biological Differences between Blacks and Whites,” PNAS, 113, no. 16 (2016): 4296–4301.

15. Keith Wailoo, “The Pain Gap and Why Doctors Offer Less Relief to Black Patients,” The Daily Beast, April 11, 2016, http://www.thedaily doctors-o er-less-relief-to-black-patients.html.

16. Hoffman et al., 2016, page 4298.

17. Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor, “The ‘Out of Africa’ Hypothesis Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development,” American Economic Review, 103, no. 1 (2013): 1–46.

18. Deborah A. Bolnick, “Individual Ancestry Inference and the Reification of Race as a Biological Phenomenon,” in Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age, ed. B. Koenig, S. Lee, and S. Richardson (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008), 70–88.

19. See this New York Times article for details: html?_r=0.


Agustín Fuentes is professor and Chair of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. His current research includes cooperation and community in human evolution, ethnoprimatology and multi-species anthropology, evolutionary theory and interdisciplinary approaches to human nature(s). Recent books include Evolution of Human Behavior (Oxford), Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature (U California) and Conversations on Human Nature (with Aku Visala, Left Coast/Routledge) and the forthcoming “The Creative Spark: how imagination made humans exceptional” (Dutton/ Penguin).

Carolyn Rouse is professor and Chair of Anthropology and Director of African Studies at Princeton University. Her research focuses on race and inequality, and institutional responses to both. Her books include Engaged Surrender: African American Women and Islam (U California), Uncertain Suffering: Racial Health Disparities and Sickle Cell Disease (U California) and (with John Jackson and Marla Frederick, NYU).

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