Writer and theorist for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates, explains this view best when he says:
Our notion of what constitutes “white” and what constitutes “black” is a product of social context. It is utterly impossible to look at the delineation of a “Southern race” and not see the Civil War, the creation of an “Irish race” and not think of Cromwell’s ethnic cleansing, the creation of a “Jewish race” and not see anti-Semitism. There is no fixed sense of “whiteness” or “blackness,” not even today…When the liberal says “race is a social construct,” he is not being a soft-headed dolt; he is speaking an historical truth (Coates).
While there is a lot of truth in the argument that humans construct views of people around us based on the context we’re in, claiming that race is solely a social construction or, as Mr. Coates says, “is no more dependent on skin color today than it was on “Frankishness” in Emerson’s day [he’s referencing Ralph Wald Emerson talking about Race]”(Coates), denies fundamental genetic differences amongst humans.
In what follows, I will lay out my argument that race is not merely a social construct, but rather the claim that race has biological roots and that there are clear and demonstratable genetic differences amongst different races.
Now all that being said, I feel like I must include this note: I do not believe any race is inherently superior, rather that there are differences in abilities between races and these differences, coupled with social context (here is where the social construction comes in), breeds feelings of superiority.
So, join me after the jump and all will be explained in depth!
Before I jump head first into discussions of race realism and human biodiversity, I feel like I need to expand upon the note that I wrote before the jump (and you can treat this as a very large sidenote, the real post will begin after).
Before the jump, I said that I do not believe any race is inherently superior and of course I still believe this. I believe this for a few reasons. First, the concept of objective superiority implies that there is some objective standard against which races are judged and then have their value determined. However, this is not the case. For you see, such a standard implies that there is some “standard giver” – that is, something or someone that sets out the rule of the world and which value different genetic traits should be held to – but, as I think I’ve made pretty clear over the past four years, such a being does not exist.
What’s more, a claim to an objective standard ignores context and survival when, in reality, different contexts dictate which traits are more desirable. Allow me to give an analogy to explain this point: being incredibly good at basketball will do one no good if one is playing baseball and is ignorant of the rules. That person could be the best basketball player in the world and yet in the context of baseball, that wouldn’t matter. Similarly, you can have a race of people who are, on average, statistically more athletic and faster than another race, but if no one from that group knows how to speak, their unmatched athleticism will do them no good in a spelling bee. A useful way to visualize race and superiority is in relation to the breeds of dogs. Some dogs are faster, slower, stronger, smarter, etc. but only hardliners will say X breed is ALWAYS better no matter what. Humans are the same way.
Thus it is not fair for me to say that X race is superior to Y race because X posses a given trait that Y does not. The only value judgment I can fairly make is that X race is superior within the context of when their unique trait would be useful; absent that context, they are not superior. Thus racial claims of superiority are themselves, social constructs because they are only relevant within specific situations that the people making the claims find important.
If you wish to read more about my views this subject, check out my post “Equal in Ability vs. Equal in Being”, but let’s continue as if this discussion never happened.
(Another note is that the terms “race” and “ethnic” are used synonymously here)
So I spent a long while thinking and trying to decide where I actually wanted to start my argument and although I’m not entirely confident in my choice, I think I would like to start where my last post left off in the discussion of life and the divisions that are drawn between different complexities.
To recap, I argued that the concept of life is merely a human invention that operates off arbitrary lines drawn at different levels of complexity. I argued that a rock might not be considered alive but a tree might be, solely because one is more complex than the other and the one that is more complex passes some threshold and thus enters the realm of the living (Heft).
And thus I think this is a decent place to start my examination of race in humans will be a definition of race and biological divisions amongst races.
I. Defining Race
Defining race has always been a hard task and the effort to come up with a cogent definition has been a task reserved for philosophers or biologists with little overlap. Both groups have members who write tomes trying to come up with complex definitions being careful not to “offend” people but also being all inclusive while at the same time drawing clear lines. It is not my goal to do that. I have no intention on writing a 300 page paper on the definition of race (that will be another post), rather I want to present you with my own personal definition and give arguments supporting the biological reality of race.
If you were to enter “define: race” into my brain’s search engine, this is the definition you would get:
Race is a term of art in human taxonomy that refers to groups of people who are distinct from one another in the expression of various genes, traits, or abilities such that these differences are noticeable (either genetically, pathologically, or phenotypically).
Races may then be divided further into “clans” or “tribes” based on familial status, ranking, or other societal factors.
Before continuing, I do want to add one other interesting point that directly addresses the social constructivists – genetic mapping of clusters of microsatellite markers vs. individuals own descriptions of their race in the context of society match up almost perfectly. Specifically, a meta-analysis entitled “Genetic structure, self-identified race/ethnicity, and confounding in case-control association studies” and published in the American Journal of Human Genetics found there is “a nearly perfect correspondence between genetic cluster and SIRE [self-reported ethnicity]…with a discrepancy rate of only .14%”(Tang et al.). To quote in length from the article (emphasis added):
Attention has recently focused on genetic structure in the human population. Some have argued that the amount of genetic variation within populations dwarfs the variation between populations, suggesting that discrete genetic categories are not useful. On the other hand, several studies have shown that individuals tend to cluster genetically with others of the same ancestral geographic origins. Prior studies have generally been performed on a relatively small number of individuals and/or markers. A recent study examined 377 autosomal micro-satellite markers in 1,056 individuals from a global sample of 52 populations and found significant evidence of genetic clustering, largely along geographic (continental) lines…[w]e have shown a nearly perfect correspondence between genetic cluster and SIRE [self-reported ethnicity] for major ethnic groups living in the United States, with a discrepancy rate of only 0.14% (Tang et al.).
So even if one buys some portion of the social constructivist’s argument, it’s clear that something in our genes lines up with traditional conceptions of race.
II. Genetic Support for the Biological Reality of Race
As humans evolved and spread out across the globe, we encountered vastly different climates. Humans lived in the deserts of Africa, and the temperate and frigid temperatures of Europe. Human beings spread out and even if one buys the “out of Africa” theory, the most recent data indicate that there were substantial phenological differences amongst the people due to divided population structures within Africa originally. This means that even if one accepts the unrevised hypothesis (which the founding scientists now say needs updating (x)(x)), at the most basic level there were genetic differences amongst the peoples leaving Africa (Gunz et al.).
Following that, humans lived in different parts of the world for extend periods of time, humans evolved to survive within those niches and they subsequently adapted the niches to themselves, and it is this co-evolution that contributed a great deal to the phenological and genetic differences amongst humans. But of course, that is far from all the evidence. Recent genomic studies show that different traits and genes tend to cluster – that is, appear more frequently – in different races leading to a pretty good indicator of race as being biological. Specifically, a study coming out of the University of Oregon and published in Sociological Theory entitled “The Genomic Challenge to the Social Construction of Race” argues that there are very clear and defined traits that can be measured when looking at the human genome and that these traits correlate amazingly well with traditional conceptions of race and allow accurate genomic predictions of race (Shiao et al.)(Sesardic).
What’s more, another interesting way to look at race is not jut which genes are different, but how they interact with each other. Specifically, researches at the University of Pennsylvania found that the expression of different genes differed dramatically from race to race and that these expressions could be the key to understanding why some races are more vulnerable to different diseases (Garfield).
But it get’s more interesting than that. Recent studies are beginning to shatter the social constructivist’s view of race in that they suggest that counter to the old view that human evolution stopped a long time ago, humans are constantly evolving to adapt to their surroundings. Specifically, scientists suggest that at least 14% of the human genome has changed due to different social settings. These changes have been different across cultures and have resulted in different expressions of genes ranging for changes in skin color, different attention spans, and IQ, to name a few (Wade). These changes are changes in the expressions of different genes or traits and would arguably be a biological basis for race.
If you want a rather dense read, I suggest you look at Neven Sesardic‘s paper entitled “Race: a social destruction of a biological concept”. While cited above, my analysis does not do Sesardic justice in his work and I suggest you read the paper.
So I ask, in a world where there are data supporting phenological and genomic changes in race over periods of time, how can race just be a social construct with no grounding in biology?
III. Pathological Support for the Biological Reality of Race
The strictly genetic evidence for the biological reality of race is far from all there is. In fact, the study of the human immune system as well as disease spread and growth repeatedly show that there are differences amongst the races of humanity and that these differences have very real affects on how we treat patients. In other words, something in our genes is causing some treatments for certain diseases to be more or less effective depending on the racial group they are administered to. Let’s talk specifics.
Leukemia and Bone Marrow Transplants: Leukemia is a horrible disease that has killed over 24,000 people in 2014 alone at the time of writing this (SEER) and often requires expensive and dangerous bone marrow transplants and, as with any other transplant, a match is required. What’s worse, as the disease kills the immune system, finding that match becomes increasingly difficult.
Let’s take the tragic example of Nick Glasgow, the 28 year old bodybuilder who died from leukemia in 2009 [Rest in Peace, Nick]. For Nick, what should have been a successful procedure took a grim turn when his background was discovered. You see, Nick was 1/4 Japanese and 3/4 Caucasian which complicated the task of finding a match, for as various races mix and populations become more diverse, the genetic makeup of individuals within a given population changes as well. Specifically, around the world, different populations have, over time, developed different proteins that are crucial to the immune system’s marking of new matter in the body as “okay” or “in need of rejection (attack by white blood cells)”. As Michelle Setterholm, the director of scientific services at the National Marrow Donor Program, said:
The truth is, when people of different backgrounds marry and produce offspring, it creates more types that are harder to match…[t]he probability just gets lower when you have people of mixed ancestral DNA (Barbassa)
As inter-racial breeding occurs, the immune profile of the offspring becomes more and more unique because as opposed to having many of the same kinds of proteins, the offspring have many different proteins all given from different races which makes finding a match exponentially harder. This is due to the fact that because certain proteins cluster in specific ethnic groups and interbreeding mixes them up, there are conflicting signals sent to the immune system by the conflicting proteins. For example, some could say “reject this transplant” while others might not which, and if a match is not found and a stock donation is given, leads to “the donor and recipient cells [attack] each other” and, in the case of Nick, had he been white, “he would have [had] a nearly 90 percent chance of finding a matching bone marrow donor who could cure his leukemia”(Barbassa).
And sadly, this is far from the only case. Devan Tatlow (four years old in 2010 when the cited article was published) had a relapse in his leukemia just a few years back. Devan, a mixed race child, had his genetic makeup measured and ran through the International Marrow Registry of over 14 million donors only to have the results come up dry (Shay). [Further reading: “Race matters when a patient needs a stem cell or marrow transplant”]
So I ask, how can race just be a social construct with no grounding in biology if thousands of people each year die because they are unable to get transplants that will work with their genetic makeup because of the different genetic makeup of the racial groups their ancestors belonged to?
Clinical Trials, Heart Medication, and Lewontin’s Fallacy: Before new drugs are put out on the market, they need to undergo “clinical trials” – that is, tests to see if they’re safe. In theory, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) keeps a very close watch on these trials and tries to account for every variable so they don’t approve a drug that will, say, kill everyone who is of a certain blood type. Because these trials are so important and because looking at all the variables is critical to a drug’s success, companies try to be as thorough as possible which means they account for genetic differences in populations as well (similar to the ones described above).
In fact, the idea of controlling studies for race to eliminate extra variables has been a biological reality since the 1980s and culminated in Alzheimer’s disease being the “poster child” for race and genetics. Specifically, “[a] variant of the gene ApoE4 is a strong genetic risk factor for early-onset Alzheimer’s disease…” and is so important, that according to Dr. Esteban Buchard of the University of California in San Francisco:
It occurs in about 20% of the African American population, and it means nothing. It occurs in about 6% of the Japanese, and it makes their risk six times higher [than that for white people]…Something about being Japanese unleashes the wrath of the gene, and something about being African American attenuates it (Beckman).
But that’s just the tip of the racial iceberg so to speak; sickle-cell anemia and heart medication are hugely racially based. For the former, the preponderance of evidence as well as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute‘s statement on it support the widely held scientific view that sickle-cell anemia is almost always linked to peoples with ethnic backgrounds in South American, African, or Middle Eastern regions (NIH).
What’s more, the FDA recently approved two drugs (isosorbide and hydralazine) in combination (BiDil) aimed only at African-Americans. These drugs were deemed to be racially sensitive and designed to target specific genetic differences amongst blacks and whites in terms of heart problems (Brody and Hunt).
However, before continuing to other arguments, I would remiss if I didn’t address the claims Brody and Hunt make in the previously cited article entitled “BiDil: Assessing a Race-Based Pharmaceutical”. You see, while I think their analysis of what BiDil is and who it targets is correct, they join the cult of race=social construct. They say:
It has been shown generally that there is more genetic diversity within a so-called “racial” cohort than there is difference between 2 such cohorts. Nor does the human genome, in general, show the sorts of radical discontinuities among different racial groups that our commonplace intuitions would call for; instead, we see much more evidence of gradual blending (Brody and Hunt).
This, however, is not true and justifies more in-depth analysis. This is not only incorrect, but even has a fallacy named after it: Lewontin’s Fallacy, and to understand why it is incorrect, one must fully understand the argument being made. The argument Brody and Hunt put forward is that within groups we would classify as “distinct races”, there is more genetic variation amongst individuals (eg. between two different black men) than between the average genome of one “race” and that of a different “race” (eg. whites and blacks).
But this is a flawed study and works around incomparable data. The study ignores the fact that in different races, different alleles tend to clump differently and the frequency is statistically significant enough to allow genetic classification and prediction of race and ancestry to a very high degree. To quote British statistician, geneticist, and evolutionary biologist A. W. F. Edwards in his paper entitled “Human genetic diversity: Lewontin’s fallacy”:
It has…been proposed that the division of Homo sapiens into these groups is not justified by the genetic data. This…is unwarranted because the argument ignores the fact that most of the information that distinguishes populations is hidden in the correlation structure of the data and not simply in the variation of the individual factors (Edwards).
What’s more, more recent evidence that has come to light in the past few years indicates that the claims made by Brody and Hunt are flawed and that, in fact, there is more genetic difference between races as opposed to within them (Casals and Bertranpetit).
So when Brody and Hunt claim that race needs to be redefined so as to afford the same medical treatments to everybody, I ask how they account for the abundance of critiques of their methodology as well as all the evidence linking different races to different unique problems. Under their model, everyone would be treated for heart disease in the exact same way and, sadly, we would see many more people dying. For anyone else, I ask the following: how can race just be a social construct with no grounding in biology when drugs are specifically targeted at proteins and cells within distinct racial groups so as to afford better treatment to groups that are more genetically at risk?
IV. Implications – The Death of Diversity and Ethnic Cleansing
Following from the above, and given that race really is a biological reality and not just some construct that humans made up to create divisions, the implications of it must be discussed. Specifically, the implications of multiculturalism in respect to preserving diversity as well as societal conflicts must be analyzed.
Diversity, something that is often touted as the paragon of virtue and that which must be protected at all costs is currently under attack. The threat to diversity is very real, but it’s cause is not what most leftists would expect. Fascism, racism, extremism, or any of the SPLC/ADL‘s “isms” are not a threat to diversity; multiculturalism is.
You see, multiculturalism is not about preserving different cultures or educating the public about different ethnic views, multiculturalism is about assimilation and destruction of difference. The reason for this is because modern liberal society tries to bring fundamentally different people together and then maintain peace. However, given the nature of different ethnic groups and the goal of peace (which will be discussed more later), this can only be attained at the expense of the difference that people work so hard to “protect” (Rasch).
In fact, the theories of the German philosopher Carl Schmitt can be utilized to understand why modern liberal “normativism” is fantastic at destroying difference. For Schmitt, liberal society is predicated on one very important assumption that informs all modern socially liberal policy making (which will be examined in depth in later sections of this series). For Schmitt, modern liberals assume an “ontological priority of non-violence” wherein humans are innately good and society makes us violent (Rasch). This “counterfactual”, as William Rasch calls it, is a fundamentally utopian view of humans that leads to a fork in the road. The utopian view of the “innate goodness of the human being” forces the liberal to pick one of two roads, either the illiberal rejection of this utopian thinking in favor of a more pragmatic view of humans, or an idealistic view that utopia can be achieved. For the smart liberal, the only true course of action is to abandon the normativism he creates and shed the utopian view of humans in favor of an, even if it’s still arguably liberal in nature, illiberal outlook – one that recognizes inherent conflicts amongst different people due to demographical differences (Scheuerman).
This illiberal view, while cognitively dissonant, is not what I concern myself with, rather it is the idealistic view that breeds destruction of difference. Allow me to explain: the idealistic view presupposes an “ontological priority of non-violence” and thus assumes that humans are innately good (Rasch). This view, when it confronts societal violence, sees the violence not as an inherent outcome of multiculturalism, but as a product of unequal treatment in society thus the liberal seeks to equalize society to solve for this. While potentially not bad, the logic behind it is the logic of the destruction of difference, for you see, conflicts among racial groups are seen as rectifiable and in an attempt to do so, the liberal creates the concept of “the human”. This concept is of an innately peaceful and kind creature that isn’t rash or violent. However, in an attempt to make this concept a reality, societal changes occur wherein groups are shoved closer and closer together in an attempt to get inter-breeding and mixing to promote “solidarity” and to try to eliminate the differences which caused the tensions (eg. social status) and as the differences are destroyed, diversity is replaced with assimilation and homogeneity (Odysseos).
A useful analogy is the following: imagine you have two groups, one with red hair and one with blonde hair. The two groups are at war because the Reds think they’re better and vice versa. Suddenly, an outside force says “Hey, breed together! That will force you to know each other” and imposes an order in which that is the norm. The children no longer have unique hair colors – that is, red or blonde – rather, they all have a mix of both and thus the unique traits of each group are traded in for one common standard.
(And of course, I always like to have empirics on my side so I will point this out: there was an interesting study done that found that hybridization threatened the uniqueness of species because there was no difference anymore, just a standard hybrid. The researchers also found that this was especially dangerous to already rare traits because it would cause the extinction of said trait (Rhymer and Simberloff).)
What’s more, history is on my side, for humans are not so neat and tidy and are not innately good. Ethnic conflict does occur and will always occur when multiculturalism is adopted and the reality of this cannot be denied and sadly, history is rife with examples. In what is present day Turkey in 1915, the Ottoman Turks killed around 1,500,000 members of their adjacent ethnic group, the Armenians. In Rwanda in 1994, the Hutu killed between 500,000 and 1,000,000 members of their adjacent ethnic group, the Tutsi. In Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995, the Bosnian Serbs killed around 8,000 members of their adjacent ethnic group, the Bosnian Bosniaks. Hell, a Google search of “list of ethnic genocides” shows that there are many, many more.
(For an interesting thought experiment, imagine what the Iraqi Interim Government would have said if Saddam Hussein, when on trial for genocide against the Kurds among other things, would have said in his defense, “I didn’t commit any form of genocide…race is just a social construct so the word “genocide” makes no sense!”. I bet their reaction would be similar to this.)
The simple and undeniable fact is that when multiple ethnic groups are placed right around each other, conflict will always ensue. Humans are different and divisions are natural, wishing them away in favor of a liberal utopia won’t stop violence, recognizing the reality of race will.
Finally, stay tuned for part two of this post (it will come sometime in the “Ideology in Progress” series) where I ignore everything I wrote above and assume race is a social construct and then explain why division is good! *Basically an “even if it’s a social construct that creates division, that division is good and not discriminatory” argument*
And as I leave, I would like to quote Pakistani game theorist Mahbub-ul-Haq on the issue of ethnic violence (emphasis and spacing added):
Classic accounts of modernization, particularly those influenced by Marx, predicted that the old basis for divisions, such as tribe and religion, would be swept aside. As hundreds of millions of people poured from rural to urban areas worldwide, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was expected that new alliances would be formed, based on social class in particular…
[s]cholars point out that fear of and hostility toward other ethnic groups are far older and often more entrenched than modern principles of tolerance or equality under the law.“ No matter how we may wish for it otherwise, we did not leave violence against outsiders behind us as our nations became modern and democratic”…
[i]ndeed, over the past 50 years, the most frequent settings for violent conflict have not been wars between sovereign states, but rather internal strife tied to cultural, tribal, religious, or other ethnic animosities. Between 1989 and 2004, there were 118 military conflicts in the world. Of those, only seven were between nation-states and the remaining 111 occurred within a single state, a large portion of which involved ethnic conflict…
[a]ccording to another recent estimate, “nearly two-thirds of all [the world’s] armed conflicts [at that time]included an ethnic component. [In fact], ethnic conflicts [were] four times more likely than interstate wars.” Another study claimed that 80 percent of “major conflicts” in the 1990s had an ethnic element…
[a]ny listing of the world’s most brutal wars in the past few decades would include ethnically based internal warfare or massacres in Rwanda, the Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Lebanon, and Indonesia (East Timor). In 1998, one authoritative study estimated that some 15 million people had died worldwide as a result of ethnic violence since 1945 (including war-related starvation and disease). In the decade since, at least 5 million additional deaths resulted from ethnic conflict in the Congo alone, with hundreds of thousands more in Sudan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Since the end of the Cold War, the world’s attention has focused increasingly on ethnic clashes (Handelman).
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