Geneticists Have Reduced Use of the Term 'Race' in Papers

By Medscape Staff

December 06, 2021

A decline in the use of the word "race" in papers on human genetics reflects a growing understanding of race as a social construct. But other trends may point to ongoing uncertainty about how to discuss different populations.

What to know:

  • Human geneticists have moved away from using the word "race" to describe populations, a study recently published in The American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG) shows.

  • Researchers examined the text of all 11,635 articles published between 1949 and 2018 by the AJHG.  While the word "race" appeared in 22% of papers in the first 10 years of the paper's publication, it was used in just 5% of papers in the last 10 years.

  • This decline points to the current understanding in science of race as a social construct and a desire to move away from past research that erroneously conflated genetics with racial categories, according to lead author Vence Bonham, JD, the acting deputy director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

  • The study also found that the alternative and sometimes more ambiguous terms "ethnicity" and "ancestry" have increased over time, which may suggest that geneticists are still struggling to find terms to accurately describe populations.

  • A The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine has recently formed a committee to produce a consensus report on the use of the word "race" and other terms descriptive of populations in health disparities research.

This is a summary of the article "Human geneticists curb use of the term 'race' in their papers" published by Science on December 2. The full article can be found on science.org.

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