Genetic Determinism, Technology Optimism, and Race: Views of the American Public

38 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2015  

Jennifer L. Hochschild

Harvard University; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Maya Sen

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: January 27, 2015

Abstract

We begin with a typology of Americans’ understanding of the implications of links between genetic inheritance and racial or ethnic groups. The typology has two dimensions: one running from genetic determinism to social construction, and the other from technology optimism to technology pessimism. Construing each dimension as a dichotomy enables a 2 x 2 table with four cells, each of which offers a distinct political perspective on the possibilities for reducing racial inequality in the United States. For example, a technology pessimist who is also a social constructivist fears that genomic science will re-biologize race, and may be a “backdoor to eugenics” (Troy Duster); in contrast, a technology optimist who sees a role for genetic inheritance in understanding how phenotypes differ among groups hopes that genomic science will eventually offer cures for diseases to which particular groups are especially prone.

We then use a new public opinion survey to analyze Americans’ use of the typology. Survey respondents are disproportionately technology optimists who perceive that some diseases, traits, or behaviors are more prevalent in one group than another due to genetic factors. Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to hold that set of views, and self-identified blacks, whites, and Latinos are also equally likely to hold that set of views. The article concludes with a discussion of the findings, and two speculations about alternative interpretations of the fact that partisanship and group identity do not differentiate Americans in their views of the inks between genetic inheritance and racial inequality.

Keywords: genomics, technology optimism, genetic inheritance, race, partisanship, public opinion

Suggested Citation

Hochschild, Jennifer L. and Sen, Maya, Genetic Determinism, Technology Optimism, and Race: Views of the American Public (January 27, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2560510 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2560510

Jennifer L. Hochschild (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-0181 (Phone)
617-495-0438 (Fax)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Maya Sen

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://scholar.harvard.edu/msen

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