My four steps to interpret and move beyond nature-nurture for the current draft of a 1500-word entry for a handbook on environmental studies: Continue reading
Science writer, Nicholas Wade, and philosopher Nevan Sesardic, among others have argued that Rosenberg et al’s division of human genetic diversity into reasonably distinct clusters (depicted as bands of color in their diagrams) shows that human racial divisions have a biological basis after all. Some lines of critical inquiry that I would recommend: Continue reading
Many links won’t work because they point to a blog accessible only to the students in the course.
Population geneticist, Richard Lewontin “found that the majority of the total genetic variation between humans (i.e., of the 0.1% of DNA that varies between individuals), 85.4%, is found within populations, 8.3% of the variation is found between populations within a ‘race’, and only 6.3% was found to account for the racial classification. Numerous later studies have confirmed his findings” (wikipedia). Critics of Lewontin, Continue reading
“Some people suggest that race is coded in genes and genes determine IQ test scores. A slightly less simple but similar supposition is that differences among races are associated with differences in genes that people have, which, in turn, are associated with differences in IQ test scores. Yet everyone has a sense that such claims are controversial. What should you think about them?”
With this introduction I kicked off an interactive presentation to high school students visiting the exhibit “Race: Are We So Different” at the Museum of Science in Boston in 2011. In preparing the talk I had been concerned that the efforts of many critics to counter claims that link race, genes, and IQ test scores were too easily discounted by people entertaining the hypothetical: “Suppose that one day advances in genetics show direct links…” So I wanted not to assert from a position of professorial authority that this or that scientist was wrong about the facts or interpretations. I sought instead to render simple direct relationships implausible and to provide angles of critical questioning that would help students respond to any new facts that might emerge in the future. In this spirit, the presentation started with the introduction above, announced the take-home lesson – “The world is not that simple” – then moved through the script reproduced below. I do not have data to show how successful I was, so let me suggest that readers evaluate the educational approach for themselves by formulating their own answers at each step. At the end, see whether you have a clearer sense of why it is implausible that race, genes, and IQ test scores can be linked in any direct fashion… [See more]
After a graduate class in which students presented maps they had made of the complex intersections surrounding ideas about genes, race, families, identity, society, business, science,… the question arose of what does one do next. Here are some responses of mine:
1. Look for “an aspect of the map’s complexity that engages you most. Or… look for a path on which you can move through the complexity while turning to the side from time to time so you do not lose sight of the wider terrain” (Taylor & Szteiter 2012, 110ff). This is the question we asked of each students after they described their maps.
2. Interrogate the maps further, with a view to exposing more connections and, perhaps, the mycelium under the visible mushrooms. In the context of this PBL case, we might ask probing questions, such as:
a. How do the data collected limit the questions asked?
b. What meaning of genetic is in play in each instance?
c. What is the social infrastructure (e.g., surveillance, monitoring, ..) that is implied by the use (now or in some future scenario) of the science being pursued?
d. Where does this item sit in relation to the tension that rises when we want to “shift the focus from group membership to heterogeneous pathways without bolstering the fiction that racial group membership no longer brings social benefits and costs”? (Taylor 2009)
e. Which of these four aspects of racial distinctions are being addressed: similarity, diversity, ancestry, and admixture?
etc. (For some themes to rephrase as questions, see Taylor 2009)
3. Establish spaces in which people can choose to take time away from more directed and feasible directions of research and activism to explore the wider realm of issues that they had been backgrounding or leaving unnoticed. (See discussion of refractive practice and CPR spaces.)
4. Include #1, 2, and 3 in a more ambitious endeavor— “enactable social theorizing,” described in an incomplete and unedited thought piece. In brief, the ideal is to embrace:
heterogeneity, shifting associations, and contingency… bring[ing] the multiple strandedness of changing social life into the center (as against being the variation or noise around the deeper [more essential] Social Dynamics [capitalization deliberate here])… shift[ing] the focus from shaping a better social theory to allowing for social theorizing, as well as from representing social dynamics to enacting social theorizing in the form of repeatedly defining and pursuing engagements in the heterogeneous dynamics that intersect in all kinds of society-making.
Taylor, P. J. (2009). “Infrastructure and Scaffolding: Interpretation and Change of Research Involving Human Genetic Information.” Science as Culture, 18(4):435-459.
— and J. Szteiter (2012). Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement Arlington, MA, The Pumping Station, 2012.