“Mortal Skin”


William Saletan in Slate has a good article, Mortal Skin: Race, Genes, and Cancer, about how blacks are more likely to die of three sex-related cancers (breast, ovarian, and prostate) than whites, even when researchers statistically hold all else equal.

But, Saletan goes on to make his usual argument that “race is a rough, transitional category:”

Taken together, these points form the beginning of a sensible way to think about race. It`s a fluid category. It can be economic, cultural, and genetic. It can be salient but also coarse. Analytically, it`s a primitive tool. Can it tell us useful things? Yes. Should we use it? Yes, but judiciously. In the case of cognitive ability, it probably does more harm than good. But in the case of drug reactions or cancer, lives are at stake.

Our responsibility is to use this tool wisely and, at the same time, begin to replace it with more sophisticated models of interacting dynamics—economics, culture, genetics—that more accurately fit the data. If we succeed, tomorrow`s doctors won`t have to guess your prognosis from your race. They`ll have your genome and plenty of other biological information about you, much of it inherited. And they won`t have to pretend it doesn`t matter.

But race isn`t about individual gene variants, it`s about family.

Say you have two children and you have them tested with a very sophisticated model of interacting dynamics and it turns out that one has variant X of important gene Z and the other has variant Y. So, genetically, they`re different.

But, guess what? They`re still both your kids.