Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

When You Have a Hammer …: The Misuse of Statistical Races1

  • Kenneth Prewitt (a1)

Abstract

Race statistics and race policy have been intertwined in American history since its founding, starting with the infamous three-fifths clause, continuing with policies based on nineteenth-century race science, the restrictionist immigration at the turn of the century, the Jim Crow regime, and carrying into the civil rights era through such policy concepts as institutional racism, statistical proportionality, disparate impact, and affirmative action. Across this history, the policies and the statistics were about “race,” whether they punished or benefited, were racist or antiracist. But can there be policy that misuses race statistics, that is presented as about race when it should not be? Race statistics are a powerful policy hammer in American history, but not everything is, in fact, a nail. Today the census undercount is argued over as if it is about race; it isn't really. Posing far greater danger, census race categories have worked their way into genomic medicine. The nineteenth-century belief that “race is biological” lingers in the American mind. The use of census categories in genomic medicine risks re-biologizing race. Maybe we should not leave the hammer lying around.

Copyright

Corresponding author

*Kenneth Prewitt, Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, 1314a International Affairs Building, New York, New York, 10027. E-mail: kp2058@columbia.edu

Footnotes

Hide All
1

This article is based on a chapter in Kenneth Prewitt's What Is Your Race? The Census and the Flawed Effort to Classify Americans, scheduled for publication by Princeton University Press in May, 2013. The term “statistical races” is defined in more detail in the book, but essentially means the races resulting from government-adopted racial categories for use in the census, related statistical programs, and administrative records. It is these races that find their way into public polices, whether or not they match lived races, socially constructed races, identity races, biological races, or any other race categories established by social practices and attitudes.

Footnotes

References

Hide All
American Anthropological Association (2010). Race: Are We So Different?http://www.understandingrace.org/home.html/⟩ (accessed August 15, 2012).
Anderson, Margo J. and Fienberg, Stephen E. (1999). Who Counts? The Politics of Census-Taking in Contemporary America. New York: The Russell Sage Foundation.
Barkan, Elazar (1992). The Retreat of Scientific Racism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Bennett, Claudette (2003). Exploring the Consistency of Race Reporting in Census 2000 and the Census Quality Survey. Paper Presented at the Joint Meetings of the American Statistical Association, San Francisco, CA, August 3–7.
Black, Edwin (2003). War Against The Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows.
Bliss, Catherine (2009). Genome Sampling and the Biopolitics of Race. Unpublished Manuscript, Department of Sociology, Brown University.
Brown, Lawrence D., Eaton, Morris L., Freedman, David A., Klein, Stephen P., Olshen, Richard A., Wachter, Kenneth W., Wells, Martin T., and Ylvisaker, Donald (1999). Statistical Controversies in Census 2000. Jurimetrics, 39: 347375.
Bullard, James H. and Dudoit, Sandrine (2008). R/Bioconductor: A Short Course. ⟨http://wiki.biostat.berkeley.edu/~bullard/courses/T-mexico-08/lectures/hapmap/slides-2x2.pdf⟩ (accessed August 15, 2011).
Charney, Evan and English, William (2012). Candidate Genes and Political Behavior. American Political Science Review, 106(1): 134.
Citro, Constance F., Cork, Daniel L., and Norwood, Janet L. (Eds.) (2004). The 2000 Census: Counting Under Adversity. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Collins, Francis (2004). What We Do and Don't Know about “Race,” “Ethnicity,” Genetics and Health at the Dawn of the Genome Era. Nature Genetics, 36: S13S15.
Darga, Kenneth (1999). Sampling and the Census: A Case Against the Proposed Adjustments for Undercount. Washington, DC: The American Enterprise Institute.
Duster, Troy (2005). Race and Reification in Science. Science, 307(5712): 10501051.
Dyson, Freeman (2007). Our Biotech Future. The New York Review of Books, July 19, 4.
Evans, James P., Meslin, Eric M., Marteau, Theresa M., and Caulfield, Timothy (2011). Deflating the Genomic Bubble. Science, 331(6019): 861862.
Food and Drug Administration (1998). Investigational New Drug Applications and New Drug Applications. ⟨http://www.fda.gov/oashi/patrep/demo.html⟩ (accessed August 15, 2011).
Food and Drug Administration (2005). Guidance for Industry: Collection of Race and Ethnicity Data in Clinical Trials. ⟨http://www.fda.gov/downloads/RegulatoryInformation/Guidances/ucm126396.pdf⟩ (accessed August 10, 2011).
Fujimura, Joan H. and Rajagopalan, Ramya (2011). Different Differences: The Use of “Genetic Ancestry” Versus Race in Biomedical Human Genetic Research. Social Studies of Science, 41(1): 530.
Hammonds, Evelynn M. (2006). Straw Men and Their Followers: The Return of Biological Race. Social Science Research Council Web Forum, Is Race “Real?”http://raceandgenomics.ssrc.org/Hammonds/⟩ (accessed September 3, 2012).
Heer, David (Ed.) (1968). Social Statistics and the City. Cambridge, MA: Joint Center for Urban Studies.
Herrnstein, Richard J. and Murray, Charles (1994). The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. New York: The Free Press.
Hillygus, D. Sunshine, Nie, Norman, Prewitt, Kenneth, and Pals, Heili (2006). The Hard Count: The Political and Social Challenges of Census Mobilization. New York: The Russell Sage Foundation.
Holden, Constance (2003). Race and Medicine. Science, 302(5645): 594596.
Kahn, Jonathan (2007). Race in a Bottle. Scientific American, 297(2): 4045.
Katznelson, Ira (2005). When Affirmative Action Was White. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (2000). The Census 2000 Education Kit/Census 2000 Everyone Counts! Washington, DC: Leadership Conference Education Fund.
Lewontin, R. C. (2006). Confusions about Human Races. Social Science Research Council Web Forum, Is Race “Real?” June 7. ⟨http://raceandgenomics.ssrc.org/Lewontin⟩ (accessed August 28, 2012).
Linnaeus, Carolus ([1735] 1766). Systema Naturae. 12th edition.
Martin, Paul, Ashcroft, Richard, Ellison, George T. H., Smart, Andrew David, and Tutton, Richard (2007). Reviving “Racial Medicine”?: The Use of Race/Ethnicity in Genetics and Biomedical Research, and the Implications for Science And Healthcare. London: Faculty of Health and Social Care.
Morning, Ann (2011). The Nature of Race. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Murray, Charles (2007). Jewish Genius. Commentary, 123(4): 2935.
Nicholson, Jim (1997). Memo from the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, May 20.
National Institutes of Health (1994). NIH Guidelines on the Inclusion of Women and Minorities as Subjects in Clinical Research. NIH Guide 23.11. Washington, DC: NIH.
Oppenheimer, Stephen and Foundation, the Bradshaw (2003). Journey of Mankind: The Peopling of the World. ⟨http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/journey⟩ (accessed August 15, 2012).
Orr, H. Allen (2006). Talking Genes. New York Review of Books, 53(14): 2026.
Peters, Mary E. (2003). Determination of Reasonable Rates and Terms for the Digital Performance of Sound Recordings by Preexisting Subscription Services. Federal Register, 68(117): 36,46936,470.
Prewitt, Kenneth (2003). Politics and Science in Census Taking. New York and Washington, DC: Russell Sage Foundation and Population Reference Bureau.
Prewitt, Kenneth (2010). What Is Political Interference in Federal Statistics? The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 631(1): 225238.
Prewitt, Kenneth (Forthcoming). What's Your Race? The Census and the Flawed Effort to Classify Americans. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Risch, Neil (2005). Genetic Structure, Self-Identified Race/Ethnicity, and Confounding in Case-Control Association Studies. American Journal of Human Genetics, 76(2): 268275.
Risch, Neil, Burchard, Esteban, Ziv, Elad, and Tang, Hua (2002). Categorization of Humans in Biomedical Research: Genes, Race and Disease. Genome Biology, July 1. ⟨http://genomebiology.com/2002/3/7/comment/2007⟩ (accessed August 26, 2012).
Roberts, Leslie (1992). How to Sample the World's Genetic Diversity. Science, 257(5074): 12041205.
U.S. Bureau of the Census (2010). ⟨http://2010.census.gov/partners/research/⟩ (accessed August 12, 2011).
Varmus, Harold (2009). The Art and Politics of Science. New York: Norton.
Wade, Nicholas (2002). Race is Seen as Real Guide to Track Roots of Disease. New York Times, July 30. ⟨http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/30/science/race-is-seen-as-real-guide-to-track-roots-of-disease.html⟩ (accessed August 1, 2011).
Wade, Nicholas (2006). Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors. New York: Penguin.
Wallman, K. K., Evinger, S., and Schechter, S. (2000). Measuring Our Nation's Diversity: Developing a Common Language for Data on Race/Ethnicity. The American Journal of Public Health, 90(11): 17041708.
Washington, George ([1889] 1939). The Writings of George Washington (Vol. 31). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Wight, Tommy and Hogan, Howard (1999). Census 2000: Evolution of the Revised Plan. CHANCE: A Magazine of the American Statistical Association, 12(4): 1119.

Keywords

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

When You Have a Hammer …: The Misuse of Statistical Races1

  • Kenneth Prewitt (a1)

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.