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A Reconsideration of the role of self-identified races in epidemiology and biomedical research

Lorusso, Ludovica and Bacchini, Fabio (2015) A Reconsideration of the role of self-identified races in epidemiology and biomedical research. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science. Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (in press). ISSN 1369-8486. Article.

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DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2015.02.004

Abstract

A considerable number of studies in epidemiology and biomedicine investigate the etiology of complex diseases by considering (self-identified) race as a relevant variable and focusing on the differences in risk among racial groups in the United States; they extensively draw on a genetic hypothesis—viz. the hypothesis that differences in the risk of complex diseases among racial groups are largely due to genetic differences covarying with genetic ancestry—that appears highly problematic in the light of both current biological evidence and the theory of human genome evolution. Is this reason for dismissing self-identified races? No. An alternative promising use of self-identified races exists, and ironically is suggested by those studies that investigate the etiology of complex diseases without focusing on racial differences. These studies provide a large amount of empirical evidence supporting the primacy of the contribution of non-genetic as opposed to genetic factors to the risk of complex diseases. We show that differences in race—or, better, in racial self-identification—may be critically used as proxies for differences in risk-related exposomes and epigenomes in the context of the United States. Self-identified race is what we need to capture the complexity of the effects of present and past racism on people's health and investigate risk-related external and internal exposures, gene–environment interactions, and epigenetic events. In fact patterns of racial self-identifications on one side, and patterns of risk-related exposomes and epigenomes on the other side, constantly coevolve and tend to match each other. However, there is no guarantee that using self-identified races in epidemiology and biomedical research will be beneficial all things considered: special attention must be paid at balancing positive and negative consequences.

Item Type:Article
ID Code:10958
Status:In Press
Refereed:Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords:Self-identified race, biomedicine, epidemiology, genetic variation, exposome, epigenome
Subjects:Area 11 - Scienze storiche, filosofiche, pedagogiche e psicologiche > M-FIL/02 Logica e filosofia della scienza
Divisions:001 Università di Sassari > 01-a Nuovi Dipartimenti dal 2012 > Scienze Politiche, Scienze della Comunicazione e Ingegneria dell'Informazione
001 Università di Sassari > 01-a Nuovi Dipartimenti dal 2012 > Architettura, Design e Urbanistica
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:1369-8486
Deposited On:10 Jul 2015 18:50

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