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Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century

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A decade after the Human Genome Project proved that human beings are not naturally divided by race, the emerging fields of personalized medicine, reproductive technologies, genetic genealogy, and DNA databanks are attempting to resuscitate race as a biological category written in our genes. In this provocative analysis, leading legal scholar and social critic Dorothy Rober A decade after the Human Genome Project proved that human beings are not naturally divided by race, the emerging fields of personalized medicine, reproductive technologies, genetic genealogy, and DNA databanks are attempting to resuscitate race as a biological category written in our genes. In this provocative analysis, leading legal scholar and social critic Dorothy Roberts argues that America is once again at the brink of a virulent outbreak of classifying population by race. By searching for differences at the molecular level, a new race-based science is obscuring racism in our society and legitimizing state brutality against communities of color at a time when America claims to be post-racial. Moving from an account of the evolution of race—proving that it has always been a mutable and socially defined political division supported by mainstream science—Roberts delves deep into the current debates, interrogating the newest science and biotechnology, interviewing its researchers, and exposing the political consequences obscured by the focus on genetic difference. Fatal Invention is a provocative call for us to affirm our common humanity.


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A decade after the Human Genome Project proved that human beings are not naturally divided by race, the emerging fields of personalized medicine, reproductive technologies, genetic genealogy, and DNA databanks are attempting to resuscitate race as a biological category written in our genes. In this provocative analysis, leading legal scholar and social critic Dorothy Rober A decade after the Human Genome Project proved that human beings are not naturally divided by race, the emerging fields of personalized medicine, reproductive technologies, genetic genealogy, and DNA databanks are attempting to resuscitate race as a biological category written in our genes. In this provocative analysis, leading legal scholar and social critic Dorothy Roberts argues that America is once again at the brink of a virulent outbreak of classifying population by race. By searching for differences at the molecular level, a new race-based science is obscuring racism in our society and legitimizing state brutality against communities of color at a time when America claims to be post-racial. Moving from an account of the evolution of race—proving that it has always been a mutable and socially defined political division supported by mainstream science—Roberts delves deep into the current debates, interrogating the newest science and biotechnology, interviewing its researchers, and exposing the political consequences obscured by the focus on genetic difference. Fatal Invention is a provocative call for us to affirm our common humanity.

30 review for Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    When Bill Clinton announced that they had finally mapped the human genome he also voiced a warning: "We must guarantee that genetic information cannot be used to stigmatize or discriminate against any individual or group." You see, the problem had been that genetics for a very long time had mostly been used to do the exact opposite. Hitler’s death camps were the natural outcome of theories of eugenics that sought racial purity and to protect the health of the nation by eradicating individuals dee When Bill Clinton announced that they had finally mapped the human genome he also voiced a warning: "We must guarantee that genetic information cannot be used to stigmatize or discriminate against any individual or group." You see, the problem had been that genetics for a very long time had mostly been used to do the exact opposite. Hitler’s death camps were the natural outcome of theories of eugenics that sought racial purity and to protect the health of the nation by eradicating individuals deemed unfit. The US considers itself the ‘land of the free’ – but Hitler himself praised people like Henry Ford and others in the US Eugenics movement for their disgusting theories he was all too happy to adopt and put into practice. I’m saying all of this because this should be a warning to us. Science has let us down before in relation to eugenics – all is not forgiven and should never be forgotten. Science can say, ‘yes, that was a gross misuse of the scientific method back then, but now our genetic theories are much better’. But bold statements such as that are not enough. The onus of proof falls heavily on science, not for reassurance, but for guarantees. I don’t believe that science is a purely objective and disinterested pursuit solely interested in the furtherance of human knowledge. Anyone reading the history of IQ testing, the history of race relations, of medical testing, and of so much more will see that far too often scientific claims and assumed immutable laws have been used as covers for the most horrendous crimes against humanity – in fact, some of the worst crimes every committed by humans to other humans. The science justifying these crimes has often been standard science, not some freakish imitation. The consequences of leaving this to the experts are too grave to be accepted. We need more than mere science involved in making these decisions. Racism is particularly evil because people are certain that it is a scientific fact – while it is rather a myth. Yes, I know, you’ve seen people with differently coloured skin to yours and you are sure that must prove they are genetically different from you, but actually, we are all just one large, unhappy family and the differences between us in our genes amount to two-tenths of stuff all. Races literally do not exist, at least, not as a biological category of any meaning. They are a social construct and as such they change over time in much the same way that fashion does. Where I was born, we are prepared to kill people we considered inferior – but the difference between them and us was not defined in terms of genetics. On the one side are those who are really, really fond of the little baby Jesus and on the other side are those who like the little baby Jesus, but are also quite fond his mum too – damn heretics! Death to them all! And since 1690 the little baby Jesus followers and mother of the little baby Jesus followers have been at each other’s throats. But even if you don’t need genes to be a turd, genes are so convenient that almost difference between groups ends up being blamed on them eventually. So, there’s also homosexuality, disability, social class, people who live in the countryside – that is, people who might otherwise expect to be seen as being part of the genetical in-group get pushed out because they were seen as being different, of not living up the high standards we erect for belonging. The history of capitalism has been a history of the blaming of poverty on poor genes. You see, capitalism is a system that is based on merit, so if you don’t succeed it is clear that that must be because you are somehow defective – it surely can’t be due to any disadvantages you faced or any advantages others had – it is a meritocracy after all. At the start of the 20th century researchers at Melbourne University estimated that one-in-ten people in the population were mentally defective, due to their poor genes – how could you argue? They were unemployed, they lived like animals in their poverty… Genes are convenient in explaining the ills that plague our world. And today we have gene maps that we can scour in search of an inbuilt explanation for homelessness or the angry black male gene, or the welfare cheat gene – and this map has been paid for in taxpayer dollars – and since we also live in a post-racial world, well, the differences we find will prove to be those of a disinterested, objective science. There is a bit in this book where the author says that black men are more likely to have their testicles removed if they are diagnosed with prostate cancer than white men with the same condition. Yeah, white doctors castrating black men – obviously the doctors would claim this has nothing at all to do with the centuries old, white male panic over the projected sexual potency of black men. But subconscious racism exists, even in the most educated of people. We need to be terrified of the power of stereotypes – they can turn us into monsters. Black people are the canary in the mine on this one. As the Brown Vs Board of Education case showed with its doll tests (where black children were shown to prefer white dolls over black dolls) having black skin has been subconsciously associated with multiple negative social characteristics (from violence to laziness) and that this has not only been indoctrinated into the consciousness of white people, but into the consciousness of blacks as well. I read somewhere that black households in the US have many more cleaning products than white households – in response to the stereotype that blacks are ‘dirty’. The most frightening thing about stereotypes is how they become subconsciously accepted by the target population of those stereotypes. Any process that divides medicine into ‘white’ and ‘black’ medicine will almost invariably result in worse health outcomes for blacks. But this book documents exactly how this process is occurring and being given justification via distorted visions of ‘personalised medicine’ genetics is often claimed to be about to deliver us. There is a bit of this where the author quotes doctors who ‘know’ that black people do not feel pain in the same way that white people do – and so, they can be (and are) treated with either no or reduced doses of pain killers that in white people would cause excruciating pain. This isn’t reported from 1862 – but today. A friend recently sent me a link to a series of memes that police in Phoenix have been posting on their Facebook pages – many about running over black protestors in Ferguson who complain about police killing other black people https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/.... This level of hatred for other people based on skin colour or religion is not limited to police, of course – the fact it is so prevalent in the police force just shows how prevalent it is in the rest of society too. As such, allowing medicine to be divided according to race – that is, a means of dividing the world that has no scientific validity – is really asking for trouble. I need to stress again, race has no scientific validity. But the argument here is that we can use someone’s reported race as a way of individualising otherwise more generic treatments. For instance, black people in the US often suffer from hypertension – so we can tailor our treatment of them according to this known racial trait. The problems with this ought to be obvious. For instance, Barack Obama is probably the most famous black American – accept, well, given his father was from East Africa and most African Americans were brought to the US from West Africa – and Obama’s mum was white... it all starts to get a little complicated. Fortunately, in the US it seems that any ancestor you have that could be defined as black automatically defines you as black too. Powerful stuff that black blood. Her take down of the DNA tests – the spit into the test-tube and I’ll tell you stories about your ancestors – is worth the price of the book alone. I worked as an archivist for a number of years, so I have an acquired loathing disease for genealogists, of all the human breeds, the pedigree ones are by far the most boring. The chapter on BiDil – a drug marketed to treat heart failure in black people – is a textbook case in why this nonsense is so dangerous. As is the story she tells of the young black girl misdiagnosed for years because everyone knows cystic fibrosis is a white genetic disorder. And while we are on cystic fibrosis, I’m going to quote this bit at length: “She noted that geneticists have long known about the genetic mutations that cause cystic fibrosis, a chronic, progressive disease that causes thick mucus to build up in the respiratory and digestive systems. It used to be common for children with cystic fibrosis to die from lung infections. “There have been great strides made in cystic fibrosis, but none of it comes from the understanding it’s caused by a particular gene or even what that gene does. We have doubled the life expectancy of individuals with cystic fibrosis, but it really has to do with management of the [consequent] infectious disease, Cho says. When I later heard a radio program about a girl suffering from cystic fibrosis whose parents could no longer afford her infection-fighting medications, it seemed clear to me that the public money invested in gene hunting would be better spent using already-proven therapies to treat sick people who aren’t getting the care they need.” Like I said before – capitalism needs genetic theories to justify its version of meritocracy. Eugenic theories are therefore likely to always find new ways to make a comeback. We need to beware. We need to beware of the ideology that dresses itself as objective science.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Stoker

    If you adored Anne Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, you will love this book. In many ways, they felt like sisters to me: critical evaluations of the way that science is cultural, and the way that science creates concepts like race and sex and writes them onto bodies. Wonderful. If you adored Anne Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, you will love this book. In many ways, they felt like sisters to me: critical evaluations of the way that science is cultural, and the way that science creates concepts like race and sex and writes them onto bodies. Wonderful.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Robert Wechsler

    This was a very frustrating read for me, because there are so many important ideas and so much important information in this book, and yet I found it poorly argued and structured. I was forced to slog (and carefully skim) through too much information, often finding very important information and arguments hidden in the middle of sections. I was sad to discover, in the book’s Conclusion, that I didn’t feel the author had sufficiently supported some of her conclusions and ignored some arguments sh This was a very frustrating read for me, because there are so many important ideas and so much important information in this book, and yet I found it poorly argued and structured. I was forced to slog (and carefully skim) through too much information, often finding very important information and arguments hidden in the middle of sections. I was sad to discover, in the book’s Conclusion, that I didn’t feel the author had sufficiently supported some of her conclusions and ignored some arguments she had successfully made.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kaileigh

    Speaking as someone who works directly with human genomic data and studies evolution in humans, I think this book is essential reading for the field. Even though this book is now several years old it is shockingly prescient, I was continually amazed that a writer thinking through these problems in 2010 would be so readily able to predict what the science and politics of race would look like in 2019. I certainly wasn't able to see the writing on the wall at that time, but Dorothy Roberts did. Whet Speaking as someone who works directly with human genomic data and studies evolution in humans, I think this book is essential reading for the field. Even though this book is now several years old it is shockingly prescient, I was continually amazed that a writer thinking through these problems in 2010 would be so readily able to predict what the science and politics of race would look like in 2019. I certainly wasn't able to see the writing on the wall at that time, but Dorothy Roberts did. Whether you are a scientist, or just want to better understand how science can act to reinforce ideas of race and racism, this book is meticulously researched and will give you nearly everything you might need to know. I was seriously impressed and would really like to participate in a course built around this book. My one caveat is that it is a dense book with a lot of information, not a quick breezy read. Expect to read a chapter and then take a break to digest. It took me over a month to read it (taking some breaks to read other books), but I kept coming back for the great ideas and insights. Truly one of the best books I've read and super relevant to my work.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    One of those times I wish GoodReads allowed half stars, as I teetered back and forth between 3 and 4 for a long time. In the end I went with three, mostly because some chapters felt repetitive. Perhaps that's the nature of a book like this, but when it gets to the point that I'm tempted to skip the rest of a chapter because I feel like I already read it, it's a bit too much. But Roberts makes several excellent points, primarily that we are still too quick to try to base race on biology when it's One of those times I wish GoodReads allowed half stars, as I teetered back and forth between 3 and 4 for a long time. In the end I went with three, mostly because some chapters felt repetitive. Perhaps that's the nature of a book like this, but when it gets to the point that I'm tempted to skip the rest of a chapter because I feel like I already read it, it's a bit too much. But Roberts makes several excellent points, primarily that we are still too quick to try to base race on biology when it's increasingly clear that what we call race is a pernicious socioeconomic construct that we're still trying to justify. I will certainly be taking future headlines regarding 'scientific studies' as applied to race with a very large shaker of salt, as I had not realized that researchers (some with a profit motive) were playing so fast and loose with the data.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mark Ainsworth

    Outstanding resource This book is incredibly well researched. A tremendous amount of referenced information is presented is a cogent manner. Super great read and so so important in our world.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    For anyone interested in what genetics has to say about who we are, and how we work, this is an extremely important book. With barely concealed frustration, Roberts lays out the ways that our social construction of race combines with the cost-cutting and shortcut-taking to lead to a new enthusiasm for categorising humans into white, black, red and yellow, and pretending this is a biological, rather than a social, set of categories. Roberts' writing has just the right balance of scientific informa For anyone interested in what genetics has to say about who we are, and how we work, this is an extremely important book. With barely concealed frustration, Roberts lays out the ways that our social construction of race combines with the cost-cutting and shortcut-taking to lead to a new enthusiasm for categorising humans into white, black, red and yellow, and pretending this is a biological, rather than a social, set of categories. Roberts' writing has just the right balance of scientific information, context and the ever-so-occasional anecdote to make a compelling and easily understandable case, which travels from race-based medicine and big pharma marketing, through the increasing racial bias of DNA testing techniques, and the attempts to put racial overlay on ancestry testing. She has interviewed a wide range of participants, and covers various voices on the debates, while never losing a polemical and outraged edge and tone. There is much to be furious about. Not only the distortion (and dumbing down!) of some of the most exciting science around now, but more fundamentally, our society's refusal to tackle racial inequality at the cause, and constant preference to find explanations rooted in biological or other explanations not rooted in who we are and what we do to each other. I couldn't give the book five stars (such a silly concept anyway) in the end, just because at times in the latter chapters Roberts fury at the way the technology is used moved into argument that the technologies of genetic testing were inevitably racist, conclusions which felt on much shakier ground, and her conclusions consisted more of boycotting the technologies than establishing how they might be safely used. I would have been very interested in more discussions about how individual genome sequencing (instead of race-based typing) can be used for medical treatment, and how ancestry tracing might be improved and freed from the race-paradigm, to benefit the many peoples who have been forcibly separated from their homelands. Even a discussion about whether DNA testing has a role in crime detection without providing racial distortion would be welcome. This was perhaps most present during the sections on ancestry testing, where a lot of the problems stem from the uncertain and unknown, being then shoved into a preset racial framework. My particular interest in paleogenetics, and the use of DNA to understand our history better, so I'm almost certainly biased, but as these techniques get better, and the sample sizes get larger, the ability to distort ancestral patterns into archaic ideas of race will diminish - even as I'll concede that people's ability to draw racist conclusions will not (Nicholas Wade's latest book is evidence for that, although it is based on outright distortion of the science, driven by deep-seated beliefs of racial 'difference'). The sharpest point that is driven home, is that we use technology in the society, and shaped by the society, that we live in. So while we have a racist police system, all methods of crime detection will reflect that racism (one of the most challenging parts of the book was realising the short window in which DNA testing worked against racism, by exonerating unjust convictions. That relied, however, on cases built with disregard to DNA - these days police build the techniques in, and in doing so, reflect their own biases). While our hospital and health systems are plagued with racist ideas - ideas which facilitate cost-cutting for services in black areas - the science used will reflect that. So changing or using these technologies safely isn't possible without changing the framework, which wasn't really in the scope of the book. I can also hear Roberts' frustrated response to someone wondering how to utalise DNA tests for the better - that it is all a distraction from looking at the things we know about racial health disparity - that poverty, stress and being subject to abuse, polluted neighbourhoods and unsafe working conditions are the things we could fix, all before we go looking at our genes for answers.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Adams

    A thorough, dense book on the myth of biologic race (a myth very much alive in contemporary medical education). "Race is not a biological category that is politically charged. It is a political category that has been disguised as a biological one. [. . .] there are no biological races in the human species. Period. That conclusion was confirmed by the most ambitious research project on human biology yet undertaken, the Human Genome Project." Roberts reviews a lot of history I'd never heard before A thorough, dense book on the myth of biologic race (a myth very much alive in contemporary medical education). "Race is not a biological category that is politically charged. It is a political category that has been disguised as a biological one. [. . .] there are no biological races in the human species. Period. That conclusion was confirmed by the most ambitious research project on human biology yet undertaken, the Human Genome Project." Roberts reviews a lot of history I'd never heard before, then tackles many of the myths of 'biologic race' that I've heard too many times, from sickle cell anemia as a black genetic disease (a misconception first popularized in the early twentieth century and still taught today, despite the fact that people from central Greece are more likely to have sickle cell than African Americans), to different medicines being more effective in different [socially constructed] groups of people.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emma Klein

    Highly recommend this book for anyone in health fields. Meticulously documents and then debunks modern attempts at biologizing race, especially with genomics. I learned a lot from this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    B Sarv

    In this extremely well documented book I met a cross between Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and George Lipsitz “Possessive Investment in Whiteness” with a unique look into the science of genetics. Particularly revealing was the author’s look in the the process of FDA approval of a medicine for African Americans with heart disease. White supremacy once again adapts to try to maintain its systems while trying to find a way to disguise itself in the trappings of respectability. Extraordina In this extremely well documented book I met a cross between Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and George Lipsitz “Possessive Investment in Whiteness” with a unique look into the science of genetics. Particularly revealing was the author’s look in the the process of FDA approval of a medicine for African Americans with heart disease. White supremacy once again adapts to try to maintain its systems while trying to find a way to disguise itself in the trappings of respectability. Extraordinarily well-written the author makes a case for re-examining how race is used in genetic science. One of the most moving quotes: "Discovering a genetic risk opens a fresh avenue for profit. Dealing with the environmental risks we already know exist and are killing people costs money.” This is the world we live in? Does it have to be?

  11. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Hale

    A dense, thoughtful and troubling book about how race is socially and politically constructed, and has been perpetuated from colonial times up to the present day. Roberts has a scientist's vigour and a journalist's stubbornness, illuminating the strategies and fallacies of scientific racism and laying out the grim consequences. I like to think I'm fairly well-read in terms of racial politics, but this was one of those "oh no, it's even worse than you think" kind of books, peppered with nasty sur A dense, thoughtful and troubling book about how race is socially and politically constructed, and has been perpetuated from colonial times up to the present day. Roberts has a scientist's vigour and a journalist's stubbornness, illuminating the strategies and fallacies of scientific racism and laying out the grim consequences. I like to think I'm fairly well-read in terms of racial politics, but this was one of those "oh no, it's even worse than you think" kind of books, peppered with nasty surprises that in hindsight are revealed to be the inevitable result of centuries of white supremacy. Only a few years old, this book feels even more urgent now.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    As a medical professional, I think this book should be a required text for those in medicine and scientific research. I’m glad I have had some background reading in similar type texts and podcasts, as it made absorbing and understanding all the research a little easier, but it brings to light a number of essential challenges to the conflation of genes, ancestry, and race that happens regularly even in scientific and medical professionals.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jade

    5 stars Very eye-opening. I definitely recommend everyone read this. Roberts really lays out all of her arguments in such a clear and easy to follow manner. Plus, she gives ample amounts of research and evidence that backs up all of her arguments. Nothing is ever said(written) without fully stated evidence as to how Roberts got to that conclusion.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Mccrary

    An incredible book. It really challenged every thing I thought I understood about race. A very compelling read and very accessible-even the science of the genome and DNA as Roberts explains it is easy to follow.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    This is an excellent, informative and well-written book about what Roberts calls the "new biopolitics of race" in the areas of medicine, genetics and reproductive rights. Highly recommended if you're interested in critical race theory, medical sociology or related fields.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

    While I agree with many of the arguments presented in this book, I don't feel they are presented as clearly or persuasively as necessary. Definitely as the book progresses, the arguments become clearer, but I found the first section hard to follow with parts unclear.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Herrera

    great insight into the sociopolitical construction of race

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jade Dill

    Roberts is an icon and THIS BOOK IS SO IMPORTANT

  19. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

    This is a must read for all health field personnel. It squashes the belief that race is a biological concept. Great information throughout, just very dense.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    This book is so good and necessary! Every science writer should read it, and everyone working in medicine or human genetics.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    3.75 stars. This is a hard one to rate because it got a bit frustrating. The premise is strong, but the execution isn't always great. The premise is something we've known for years: race is a political construct and has no basis in biology. But the arguments tend to get weighed down in details, and there's a lot of repetition. I skimmed a lot toward the end. Nonetheless, the ideas are important and raise a lot of interesting and thorny questions. So I recommend reading it, but to expect to want 3.75 stars. This is a hard one to rate because it got a bit frustrating. The premise is strong, but the execution isn't always great. The premise is something we've known for years: race is a political construct and has no basis in biology. But the arguments tend to get weighed down in details, and there's a lot of repetition. I skimmed a lot toward the end. Nonetheless, the ideas are important and raise a lot of interesting and thorny questions. So I recommend reading it, but to expect to want to skim it in places. She addresses a large number of issues, and makes a lot of cogent arguments, but the ones that stood out to me the most were about race and genetics and using DNA identifiers of race to solve crime. First though, she addresses the idea that race is a political category rather than an inherent (biological) difference between humans. She makes several points here, but one that stands out is the instability of race. Although a person's genetic makeup doesn't change, their racial category can change from country to country (or even generation to generation within the same country), along with the privileges (or oppression) that come with that category. It's hard to say how convincing her argument is though, because I was already on the same page. But what do we do when it comes to genetics and medicine? What do we do when there's an association between sickle cell anemia and race, or cystic fibrosis and race? Are these associations due to biased research? Are they real? She argues no, not really; for example, sickle cell anemia occurs more frequently in regions with high prevalence of malaria, regardless of the majority race of the region. So what happens if race is used as a diagnostic variable? If people look for sickle cell anemia in a black population but don't consider it as a diagnosis for another population? "Applying a sophisticated biostatistics model to several uses of race in medicine, epidemiologists ... calculated that differences between racial groups are usually too small to warrant using this variable as a predictive tool or as a factor in clinical decision making." p. 99 So basically, using race as a diagnostic tool means that many cases of race-related diseases will be missed because they occur in someone of a different race than the one associated with the disease. It can even difficult to think about representation in medical research: "While designed to correct historic neglect of people of color in biomedical research, requiring that biomedical researchers use race as a variable risks reinforcing the very biological definitions of race that have historically supported racial discrimination. Paying attention to racial disparities in health care is crucial to eliminating them, but attention to race in biomedical research can also make these disparities seem grounded in biological difference rather than social inequality." p. 106 She argues that we do need to pay attention to race in research, but in order to provide equal opportunities to privileges, give scientists richer resources to study the body, and to study how racism harms people's health. If race is treated as a social category, its inclusion in research can be beneficial, but not so much if it's treated as a biological category. In sum, when it comes to race and medicine: "...race is not a biological category that naturally produces health disparities because of genetic differences. Race is a political category that has staggering biological consequences because of the impact of social inequality on people's health." p.129 What about using DNA and racial markers to solve crimes? For instance, looking at the DNA at a crime scene to discern the race of the suspect? She makes a strong case that this is a BAD idea, at least in part due to the human error factor. "...DNA is not infallible. The genetic material in the government data banks has to be retrieved, transferred, transported, identified, labeled, analyzed, and stored by human hands, and there is opportunity for error at every stage." p. 270 And in fact, there are several cases of mixed up, mislabeled, or contaminated DNA. Finally, "Is it so bad if we hold a variety of views about the meaning of race--some seeing it as a biological category, others as a social construct--as long as everyone rejects the view that one race is superior to others? I contend that the ideology of race as a natural division between human beings that is written in our genes will have devastating political consequences." p.297 That is, it will produce an even deeper (though perhaps implicit) belief that races are inherently different from one another, a perspective that has resulted in entrenched racism since the founding of the country. Overall, her arguments are convincing. I would be interested to hear the argument from those on the other side (e.g., geneticists convinced that race is an important biological category), and I'd be interested to hear the perspectives of people of color.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Abby Suzanne

    Fatal Invention by Dorothy Roberts introduced me to a whole new frontier. I thought the book did a great job looking at the complexities of race biological research. Race is a social and political construct, but often gets conflated with ancestry in biological research, or used as a "proxy" for ancestry when genetic information is unavailable. Accordingly, race is often viewed as biological, even though it's a political and social construct with no biological origins. I was really into this book Fatal Invention by Dorothy Roberts introduced me to a whole new frontier. I thought the book did a great job looking at the complexities of race biological research. Race is a social and political construct, but often gets conflated with ancestry in biological research, or used as a "proxy" for ancestry when genetic information is unavailable. Accordingly, race is often viewed as biological, even though it's a political and social construct with no biological origins. I was really into this book until the end when Roberts mentioned some crim research involving DNA. Her interpretation of her interpretation of the research was, I thought, super one-sided and biased. Because I'm familiar with it, I know it's actually a lot more balanced than she described, and though the media interpretation of the research is probably as biased as she indicated, the research itself isn't, and it made me question her interpretations of all the research she'd presented in the book. I know everyone has their own interpretations, but given my familiarity with one of the studies she discussed and the differences in how I read the study and how she framed it, I'm not convinced I'd agree with her reading of all the research she presented in the book. I took this one with a grain of salt- probably a LOT of truth in the book, but I'm thinking some of it may be overstated or interpreted to convey a point, rather than actually reflecting what level of objectivity may be in the studies themselves.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Interesting. I learned a lot about genetics, genetic research and the problems (social and otherwise) involved with that. This book is also almost a decade old (sorry, I'm slow to get to things) and I'd like to see if I can find out the state of the research now. Are scientists/companies still trying to force the research into old race based models? Tech changes so fast - but our wrong thinking seems to remain the same no matter what the new tech. One thing I didn't quite understand about the bo Interesting. I learned a lot about genetics, genetic research and the problems (social and otherwise) involved with that. This book is also almost a decade old (sorry, I'm slow to get to things) and I'd like to see if I can find out the state of the research now. Are scientists/companies still trying to force the research into old race based models? Tech changes so fast - but our wrong thinking seems to remain the same no matter what the new tech. One thing I didn't quite understand about the book was the authors need to try and convince me that racism still exists and is a real and horrible thing, with far reaching devastating repercussions. If I was a person who didn't believe those things -- I would not be reading this book -- so I felt she could have skipped some of those sections. For the most part, the book was well written, well documented, and decently structured. One of the most surprising things to me (and excellent demonstration of her point) is that large groups of "white" appearing folks get sickle cell anemia around the world. I'm pretty well educated, and have spent my 53 years believing that only "black" people get sickle cell. No. People with a cellular predisposition to get the disease get sickle cell - regardless of the amount of melanin in their skin. A ha. See why its silly to put race in the science of thinking about disease? Ok. Good.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Important Work This is an important book about how the concepts of race has been used in the past and is now being used today. It’s scary. I wish it would be relegated to the past but seems more of an obsession than ever before. The author points out that race is a fairly new concept brought from Spanish and Latin to define horses and dog breeding. As the Americas were opened up to settlement and slavery became part of the social structure, it was used to define people who were permanent slaves a Important Work This is an important book about how the concepts of race has been used in the past and is now being used today. It’s scary. I wish it would be relegated to the past but seems more of an obsession than ever before. The author points out that race is a fairly new concept brought from Spanish and Latin to define horses and dog breeding. As the Americas were opened up to settlement and slavery became part of the social structure, it was used to define people who were permanent slaves and indentured servants who received freedom. The concept that people were of an Inferior race defied actual objective science practices but became science as practitioners their first dead and worked to find answers they wanted. While it seemed to die down a bit a few decades ago, DNA mapping caused it to surge again from scientists claiming that they can find race rather than the evidence isn’t there. Popular DNA kits are used to promote the idea of race and heritage. Governments are using DNA to identify suspects in crime, determining nationality and migrants origins and development of inmates not mass incarceration efforts. Race isn’t born out in biology. But it’s is being used constantly to define or reject a person’s worth. Important book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lucas Miller

    I'm interested in learning about race science, but have struggled with the science books. I only made it about half way through Mismeasure of Man. Roberts front loads a lot of the scientific research in her book. She is meticulous and thorough. A major component of her thesis is the way that the new racial science dismisses criticism as social/political activism that doesn't understand science. In light of this, Roberts works to understand the science she is criticizing. This is slow reading, bu I'm interested in learning about race science, but have struggled with the science books. I only made it about half way through Mismeasure of Man. Roberts front loads a lot of the scientific research in her book. She is meticulous and thorough. A major component of her thesis is the way that the new racial science dismisses criticism as social/political activism that doesn't understand science. In light of this, Roberts works to understand the science she is criticizing. This is slow reading, but necessary. The second half of part two and part three of the book are explosive. They are hard to read, but I couldn't put the book down. The dystopian nightmare that genomic research is leading us towards is absolutely jaw dropping. Robert's voice shifts during these latter sections. Her upfrontness about being an activist and advocating for change is refreshing and the very opposite of bias. She is writing with a sense of urgency and everyone should be engaging with her ideas. Stick through the first half, it's worth it. Highly Recommended.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bailey W

    Fatal Invention will be one of the books that will stick with me forever. Dorothy Roberts’ detailed research coupled with poignant analysis describes how race has no biological basis, yet continues to persist throughout scientific literature and society as “biologically determined”. Through discussions of genetic ancestry, personalized pharmaceutical medicine, reproductive medicine, and criminal DNA databases, the author takes great care to show how scientists, policymakers, and businesses regar Fatal Invention will be one of the books that will stick with me forever. Dorothy Roberts’ detailed research coupled with poignant analysis describes how race has no biological basis, yet continues to persist throughout scientific literature and society as “biologically determined”. Through discussions of genetic ancestry, personalized pharmaceutical medicine, reproductive medicine, and criminal DNA databases, the author takes great care to show how scientists, policymakers, and businesses regardless of political alignment contribute to the rebranding of racial science. She calls on scientists and citizens alike to tackle the false notion that race is biological. “Which path we choose to follow is not only a question of scientific evidence. It is a question of moral commitment. There is no neutral scientific position on this question. We have long had scientific confirmation that race is a political and not a biological category” p.310 This book should be required reading for everyone.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I always learn a ton reading Dorothy Roberts. This books delves into how race really has no biological basis, even in the medical community where so many diseases are treated as if they are the result of being part of an ethnic group (surprise! environmental factors, including to existence of racism are much more likely to be the culprit rather than genes belonging to a socially/politically created group) and how new racial science incorporates more of the old racial science than we'd like to th I always learn a ton reading Dorothy Roberts. This books delves into how race really has no biological basis, even in the medical community where so many diseases are treated as if they are the result of being part of an ethnic group (surprise! environmental factors, including to existence of racism are much more likely to be the culprit rather than genes belonging to a socially/politically created group) and how new racial science incorporates more of the old racial science than we'd like to think. She also addresses the shortcomings of ancestry tests (definitely took my 23 and Me results importance down a notch) and warns about allowing the government to casually collect our genetic data under the guise of criminal justice, research, and the good of society - we really could be looking at a Gattace situation in the not so distant future.

  28. 4 out of 5

    amanda

    This is a nonfiction book that essentially explores the social construction and inherent fallacy of relying on race as a predictive factor of just about anything except for as an indicator of susceptibility to environmental racism, trauma, and adverse affects on the physical body as a result of systemic racism. Roberts debunks the science behind dividing people up into races and looks critically at genetic research and testing that use race to shape health care and medicine. This is an excellent This is a nonfiction book that essentially explores the social construction and inherent fallacy of relying on race as a predictive factor of just about anything except for as an indicator of susceptibility to environmental racism, trauma, and adverse affects on the physical body as a result of systemic racism. Roberts debunks the science behind dividing people up into races and looks critically at genetic research and testing that use race to shape health care and medicine. This is an excellent, if sometimes dry, book that I think is a worthy read for anyone interested in the science and history of race.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Olzer

    This is a really great book! The topic is much narrower than I expected though no less useful. I started the book thinking it would lay out a history of scientific racism and racialized science practices in the past and present day. Instead, the book focuses primarily on new genetic technologies and their role in perpetuating a biological definition of race. Nice to read a long-form analysis of a single topic. This book is extremely timely, especially as reprogenetics and DIY genetic testing bec This is a really great book! The topic is much narrower than I expected though no less useful. I started the book thinking it would lay out a history of scientific racism and racialized science practices in the past and present day. Instead, the book focuses primarily on new genetic technologies and their role in perpetuating a biological definition of race. Nice to read a long-form analysis of a single topic. This book is extremely timely, especially as reprogenetics and DIY genetic testing become more commonplace.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Robert Rittel

    Finishing this book felt like a real accomplishment. It is a dense book with so much knowledge and research packed into it. It isn't an easy read but it's an important one. Dorothy Roberts lays out very clearly the way genetic science is redifining race and creating a new "biopolitics" built on a biological definition of race. By denying race as a sociopolitical category and defining it as a genetic and biolical category society is creating a new, more advanced form of scientific racism.

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