Science Fictions and Racial Fables: Navigating the Final Frontier of Genetic Interpretation

37 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2010

Date Written: 2009


The meaning of "race" has been vigorously contested throughout history. Early theories of race assigned social, intellectual, moral and physical values to perceived physical differences among groups of people. The perception that race should be defined in terms of genetic and biological difference fueled the "race science" of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, during which time geneticists, physiognomists, eugenicists, anthropologists and others purported to find scientific justification for denying equal treatment to non-white persons. Nazi Germany applied these understandings of race in a manner which shocked the world, and following World War II the concept of race increasingly came to be understood as a socio-political construction with no biological meaning. Modern theories thus understand race as a special grouping of persons necessary to preserve unbalanced relationships of power. Nonetheless, there has been an increased willingness of late to understand race in terms of biological difference. In particular, federal and state courts in the United States have largely embraced the use of distinct racial DNA databases to form expert opinions on racial genomic probability. Race, however, remains a purely social construct. Scientific evidence that claims the ability to biologically discern race should therefore be rejected by courts as irrelevant, unreliable and unfairly prejudicial. This Article argues that the prevailing socio-political understanding of race is being threatened by an ascendance of modern "race science," and advocates a conception of race that accounts for the teachings of modern genetics, while avoiding a biologically reductionist view of race.

Keywords: race, biological, DNA

Suggested Citation

Sundquist, Christian, Science Fictions and Racial Fables: Navigating the Final Frontier of Genetic Interpretation (2009). Harvard Blackletter Law Journal, Vol. 25, 2009. Available at SSRN:

Christian Sundquist (Contact Author)

Albany Law School ( email )

80 New Scotland Avenue
Albany, NY 12208
United States

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