A history of the concept of race in American scientific thought.
Yudell (Public Health/Drexel Univ.; co-editor: The Genomic Revolution: Unveiling the Unity of Life, 2002) traces how the concept of race evolved from the eugenicists of the early 20th century to present-day geneticists. He argues that the biologic concept of race originated with eugenic theories of race difference, was integrated into modern biologic thought by evolutionary biologists in the 1930s and ’40s, and continues to generate controversy as a classification tool. In examining the history of racial science, Yudell looks at the work of specific scientists and institutions, among them the eugenicist Charles Davenport and the National Research Council in the 1920s and ’30s, evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky, population geneticist L.C. Dunn, anthropologist Ashley Montagu and UNESCO in the 1940s and ’50s. The author’s account of the controversy aroused by Carleton Coon’s The Origin of Races (1962) makes especially interesting reading, as do his discussions of the pseudoscientific work of Alfred Jensen and William Shockley and the clash between sociobiologist E.O. Wilson and evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin in the 1970s. In the final chapter, “Race in the Genomic Age,” Yudell tackles the impact of the genomic revolution on the biological race concept. Scientists who use the race concept in genomic research claim that technological improvements allow them to examine human diversity unhampered by social prejudice. Social and natural scientists argue that the race concept is a flawed, inaccurate way to measure human diversity inseparable from social prejudice. Genome scientists say that the race concept is not accurate but is a useful proxy in clinical settings. J. Craig Venter, who wrote the foreword, opines that instead of relying on an individual’s appearance or self-identified ethnicity, looking directly at his genomic sequence is the best way to personalize medicine. The controversy continues.
A challenging, well-researched work that clearly shows the interconnectedness of scientific and social thought.