David Reich: The Genetics of Race

This is an important article to read, from earlier this year.

This is a really hard subject for scientists to tackle because it exists at that very amorphous border between science and morality. What if the science did support the idea of biological races, where there was more diversity between groups than within them? Would that be scientific support for racism?

At the same time, we do view our genomes as defining us as humans, at least in the modern age. We reflexively balk at the idea of purposefully changing our genomes (i.e. gene editing with Cas9) as if our genomes are a sancrosanct part of our humanity. Is it a dangerous idea to define our value as humans by the sequence of DNA in our genomes?

At first blush, Reich may be setting a dangerous precedent, or at least supporting the idea that our value as humans is defined by our DNA. I think that is what scientists, including myself, are worried about. When we use DNA as a test for discrimination, what does that mean? If there was a larger genetic gap between human populations, would that support the idea of one population being superior to another?

I would much rather have humanity defined by consciousness, empathy, justice, and morality. Those are the things that have formed the basis for human societal progress over the last 300 years, not genetics.


But maybe something we might get out of Reich’s work is that we aren’t so defined by our DNA? I felt after watching his “Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past” video I got the impression that things like culture were more important than genetics per se. DNA looks more useful to follow migrations, etc. than to say why one group is the way it is.

I am concerned with using science to support moral or ethical arguments for the reason you mentioned. It seems kind of opportunistic. What happens if science seems to support something immoral. Is science neutral? Is ethics above science?