Challenging Myth of Race and Gender

Jonathan Beckwith from Harvard University’s School of Medicine opened the panel discussing biological determinism. He discussed that in the 1970s biological determinism was an extremely popular topic in the biological community. From Science for the People’s work with biological determinism two groups arose, council for responsible genetics and the sociobiology study group. He then discussed the focus of genome biology in the 80s, when there was a push to sequence the human genome. His work in this time directly challenged research that was being done. He published articles, held public workshops that brought together science professionals, published books, and taught classes that dealt with the issues. There was also a revival of the issue of race and intelligence at this time, specifically with the issue of the extra Y chromosome. There were flawed studies done at Harvard and Boston’s Children Hospital that connected an extra Y chromosome to violence. This myth has stuck around and made into the media as well as textbooks that are still in circulation. He also discusses when genetic studies have been used for good. The hunt to find a difference between race, while had a negative root, has showed a lot about human history and the development of the human genetic code.

The next speaker was Anne Fausto-Sterling a professor of biology at Brown University. She discussed the issue of gender and whether or not the world we are raised in becomes part of our biology. She looks at the difference between the terms “sex” and “gender” and their involvement in the question of nature v. nurture. Using the work of Micheal Foucault and Judith Butler she challenged the idea that there was a definite division between nature and nurture. She focused on the idea that sex is biological, but gender is developed from the environment an individual is raised in. She describes the complex relations between science and society and how they can shape a person’s gender. She suggest that we develop a more complete understanding of the body that takes into consideration many different complex systems and life experiences that change one’s body as it develops.

The last speaker was Alan Goodman a professor of biological anthropologist from Hampshire College. He discussed the early years of the movement against scientific racism. He talked about how scientists thought that the racist views in science would just fade away over time. This has proved not to be true though, as racism is still alive and well in science today despite countless scientific studies that prove that there is not real difference in the fundamental biology of races.



One thought on “Challenging Myth of Race and Gender

  1. Evelyn W

    When I went to this panel I was really intrigued by the discussion of the extra Y chromosome, both because I really like genetics and because I had never heard of this “phenomenon.” This example really speaks to the problem of trying to attach every personality trait to a specific gene as well as to the overall issue of separating biological determinants from the effects of society and culture. I think it can be difficult to determine how much of a persons identity is really based on their genome and even whether it’s okay to ascribe any of their personality to DNA.

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