Are Clusters Races? A Discussion of the Rhetorical Appropriation of Rosenberg et al.’s “Genetic Structure of Human Populations”

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Abstract
Noah Rosenberg et al.'s 2002 article “Genetic Structure of Human Populations” reported that multivariate genomic analysis of a large cell line panel yielded reproducible groupings (clusters) suggestive of individuals' geographical origins. The paper has been repeatedly cited as evidence that traditional notions of race have a biological basis, a claim its authors do not make. Critics of this misinterpretation have often suggested that it follows from interpreters' personal biases skewing the reception of an objective piece of scientific writing. I contend, however, that the article itself to some degree facilitates this misrepresentation. I analyze in detail several verbal and visual features of the original article that may predispose aspects of its racial interpretation; and, tracing the arguments of one philosopher and one popular science writer, I show how these features are absorbed, transformed into arguments for a biological basis of race, and re-attributed to the original. The essay demonstrates how even slight ambiguities can enable the misappropriation of scientific writing, unintentionally undermining the authors' stated circumspection on the relationship between cluster and race.
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Archival date: 2017-08-07
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2017-08-02

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