171607 From Eugenics to Genomics: A History of the Race Concept and Its Impact on Contemporary Health Disparities

Monday, October 27, 2008: 10:42 AM

Michael Yudell, PhD, MPH , School of Public Health, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
The critical task of understanding and reducing health disparities has researchers looking at all possible explanations for disparities in health. Fueled by programs including Healthy People 2010 and the CDC's Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health, the search for underlying causes of these disparities is a national healthcare priority. Despite an explosion of research into the etiologies of disparities, there remains a limited literature on the impact of history on contemporary health outcomes. This talk will offer an overview of the history of the race concept in genetics in the United States during the 20th century, and the relationship between this history, the use of the variable “race” in contemporary public health genomics research, as well as its role in contemporary health disparities.

An understanding of the biological/genetic race concept in the United States during the 20th century can help public health practitioners understand the following: where did widely held beliefs about the genetic nature of racial differences come from? How did science come to justify the belief in the biological inferiority of certain racial groups? How have these ideas evolved over the course of the 20th century? Was there resistance among scientists to having their ideas about human diversity popularized in a racist way, or, did scientists themselves participate in the ways in which race became a biological concept? Who in the sciences, both natural and social, resisted racial science? And, lastly, what impact does this evolving concept of race have on understanding and researching health disparities?

Learning Objectives:
1. Describe the history of the biological race concept during the 20th century; 2. Assess the relationship between the history of the biological race concept and contemporary work in public health genomics; 3. Identify the risks of utilizing the biological race concept in public health genomics; 4. Understand how the race concept impacts health disparities research.

Keywords: History, Genetics

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have authored several books and articles on the genome project, including the book "Welcome to the Genome: A User's Guide to the Genetic Past, Present, and Future" (co-authored with Rob DeSalle and published by John Wiley & Sons in 2004). I am currently completing a manuscript entitled "From Eugenics to Genomics: The Scientific Origins of Modern American Racism". The manuscript is an examination of the history of the biological race concept in the United States during the 20th century. I pay particular attention to the role that geneticists and others in the biological sciences had in formulating both scientific and popular ideas about human difference. The manuscript also considers the ways in which public health (both historically and contemporarily) has been influenced by this history.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.