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Don't Be Afraid to Speak of Genetics and Race

Harvard genetics professor David Reich argues in the The New York Times that scientists need to tackle head-on genetic differences that appear among different races.

The use of genetics has been used egregiously, Reich acknowledges, including to justify slavery and acts of genocide. More recently, he points to work by former New York Times staff writer Nicholas Wade who claimed research suggests that genetics can explain certain racial stereotypes, including that some populations have evolved to be lazier than other populations.

Reich also notes James Watson has suggested that genetic factors may contribute to lower intelligence in Africans than in Europeans.

But Reich also says that in his own research, he has been able to pinpoint, through the use of genetics, factors that could explain, in part, the higher prevalence of prostate cancer among African-Americans than European-Americans.

Denying the role that genetics can play in differences among whole populations, he argues, is as bad as using it for unscientific and unverifiable claims.

"I am worried that well-meaning people who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations are digging themselves into an indefensible position, one that will not survive the onslaught of science," Reich says. "It is important to face whatever science will reveal without prejudging the outcome and with the confidence that we can be mature enough to handle any findings. Arguing that no substantial differences among human populations are possible will only invite the racist misuse of genetics that we wish to avoid."

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