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Critically Speaking

Oct 14, 2020

With the rise in direct to consumer genetic testing, such as 23andMe and Ancestry becoming more popular and more widely used, we are discovering more uses and misuses by humans with these tests. In this episode, Therese Markow and Aaron Panofsky discuss how these direct to consumer genetic tests work, the science behind race, ethnicity, and social perception of both, and the ways in which groups, such as white nationalist groups, have interpreted and discussed their genetic results. These technologies are also being used in a wide variety of political projects. They also discuss the major ways in which science and expertise are under direct assault, often resulting in correlations being attributed to causation or stating something as truth when there is no science to back it up.  



 Key Takeaways:

  • Regardless of what their genetic test results were showing, those on the white nationalist website often ignored the science or applied different types of lenses to the identity claims. 
  • Many consider the term “race” to be biologically meaningless, not just for humans, but for all the plants and organisms that we study, but genes can correlate with socially defined racial groups and socially defined groups at other scales.
  • The distinction between race and ethnicity is being muddied and confused in people's minds, in part because of how these commercial genetic tests are deployed and used. 


"There can be kind of a feedback loop in our minds and in our culture, where the tests can reinforce these racist ideas, but they can also undermine these racist ideas. It's kind of about whether we make a tendentious reading, where we just focus on the race, or a more holistic reading of these data and focus on all the different kinds of things that can correlate to human races being just one of many." —  Dr. Aaron Panofsky


Connect with Dr. Aaron Panofsky:


Book: Misbehaving Science: Controversy and the Development of Behavior Genetics -

Connect with Therese:


Twitter: @CritiSpeak




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