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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Is race "real"?

Someone wrote in "wondering what the current stance is with geneticist in regards to whether different human races exist or not." This important question has been discussed at length already, and I refer readers to a Social Sciences Research Council forum on race, the special issue of Nature Genetics on race published in November of 2004, and an edited volume by Jefferson Fish. I side with those who feel that race, as it is normally understood, is a social construct. Those biological definitions that might be partially valid for humans differ significantly from the way the concept is normally used in our society. However, others argue for the importance of considering "ethnicity" in clinical trial design (Taylor et al. 2005), and the drug BiDil has been licensed exclusively for African-Americans (for a recent news report in "The Times" click here).

So, my answer to this questions has been given before.
It seems to me that if a drug differs in either safety or efficacy for one "race" or another, then the underlying basis is probably either a genetic difference or a cultural difference. In the first case, the relevant genetic difference itself, or a related biomarker, would be much more reliable than popular notions of race. On the other hand, if the basis is cultural, the relevant practice (such as lifestyle or diet) should be identified. I was therefore gratified to see Nature Genetics publish this letter from Jonathan Kahn making the case against the misuse of race, as well as a sidebar showing how the media has misrepresented their own statements.
However, additional answers are welcomed.

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