Race is a sensitive subject: politically, culturally, and scientifically. Its tainted history has relegated research on race to ‘bad science’, yet current biomedicine and forensics are co-shaped by techniques that depend on and explore biological differences between human populations. Anthropologist Amade M'charek examines the way racial ideas affect science and forensic research.
Forensic DNA research relies increasingly on race while producing investigative tools for the police to help solve crime. The risk of these tools is the criminalization of groups of people in society who are already marginalized and othered. It is an example of the enormous role which genetics plays in our daily life. Discussing this issue – both in science and in society – is badly needed, but speaking about 'race' is taboo. In the post-WWII and the postcolonial era, the study of race has been delegated to the realm of 'bad science’. And yet, it is evident that biological differences play a role in (forensic) science today. This is often subtle, hidden in seemingly unproblematic techniques, in genetic markers, algorithms, and statistical analyses. But in the process, these techniques reintroduce and shape race in science and society, and we should find ways to address and discuss the implications of this – even if it makes us feel uncomfortable.
Prof. dr. Amade M’charek is professor of Anthropology of Science at the department of Anthropology (University of Amsterdam). Her research interests are in forensics, forensic anthropology and race. She leads the project RaceFaceID (ERC consolidator project), that examines forensic technologies of giving a face to an unknown suspect and how that goes hand in hand with the production of race. She is also rounding up a the project Dutchness in Genes and Genealogy, a project examining how Dutchness is enacted in the collaborative work of population geneticists, archaeologists and genealogists.