With protests now in every state over the murder of George Floyd and ongoing police brutality, we’re revisiting an episode from last year with the science journalist Angela Saini, whose work explains how scientific inquiry has been complicit in, or explicitly aligned with, racism and white supremacy. Despite the myths we tell ourselves about science existing in an apolitical vacuum, pseudoscientific and pseudointellectual justifications for racism are on the rise—and troublingly mainstream. Race is a relatively recent concept, but dress it up in a white lab coat and it becomes an incredibly toxic justification for a whole range of policies, from health to immigration. It is tempting to dismiss white-supremacist cranks who chug milk to show their superior lactose tolerance, but it’s harder to do so when those in positions of power—like senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller or pseudointellectual Jordan Peterson—spout the same rhetoric. The consequences can be more insidious, too: consider how we discuss the health outcomes for different groups of people as biological inevitabilities, not the results of social inequality. Drawing on archives and interviews with dozens of prominent scientists, Saini shows how race science never really left us—and that in 2020, scientists are as obsessed as ever with the vanishingly small biological differences between us.
Go beyond the episode:
- Angela Saini’s Superior: The Return of Race Science
- Meet the Cheddar Man—and the many puns about his discovery in Cheddar Gorge—the first prehistoric Briton of his era whose genome was analyzed
- Learn how recent archaeological evidence discredits the idea that Native Americans were decimated solely due to European diseases. As with health disparities today, these outbreaks were more connected to government policies leading to poverty and malnutrition.
- In this excerpt from Saini’s book, she investigates the scientists behind the white supremacist journal Mankind Quarterly, which has a network of contributors who sit on the editorial boards of more widely trusted scientific publications
- Read Harriet A. Washington’s cover story for us on “The Well Curve,” which points to the social inequalities that lead to health disparities, especially with regard to tropical diseases
Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.
Download the audio here (right click to “save link as …”)
Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.
Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.