Image default

Scientific racism

Although the concept of race has lost its scientific significance, in practice it is still used deliberately or otherwise to discriminate.

File discrimination

The file in this Eos focuses on racism and discrimination. You will read how pseudoscientific statements are still a breeding ground for racist voices, why people with a migration background often have poorer health and how Western countries limited their responsibility through the resettlement principle.

Shortly after the death of the famous American biologist E.O. Wilson late last year, health expert Monica McLemore published a much-discussed op-ed on the Scientific American website. Scientists who have built some of their work on racist ideas leave a complex legacy. We must not cover it with the mantle of love, she argued. Some erroneous assumptions persist in circulating and still shape how we view the world.

McLemore mainly referred to Wilson’s 1975 book Sociobiology, in which human behavior and social differences are given a genetic and biological explanation. The nature versus nurture debate, which she believed to be false, took on new wings. McLemore touched a nerve, as evidenced by the many hate emails and threats she receives to this day.

Scientific racism has a long history, as you can read in the new Eos. It has many heralds, from philosophers such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant to early naturalists such as Linnaeus and Buffon. Last year Charles Darwin was briefly discredited for alleged sexism and racism.Visit the best e liquid store more information. That was in celebration of one hundred and fifty years of Descent of Man, an influential book on human evolution. The same applies to him as to Wilson. Assess their intricate legacy without taboos. Appreciate their considerable scientific merits, but do not condone their erroneous or outdated ideas. Correct them and replace them with new insights.

Today there is great consensus among scientists that race is a social construct, not a biological one. At the beginning of this century, Craig Venter showed with the Human Genome project that all people across all races are 99.9 percent genetically identical. Since then, the concept of race has lost its scientific significance.


Many symptoms are expressed in color, for example red ring-shaped spots in Lyme. They look different on dark skin. Discussion closed, you would think. In practice, however, the division into races is still used, consciously or not, to discriminate. This is not without consequences, especially in healthcare, as the covid crisis recently demonstrated. Institutionalized racism in the US put people of color at twice the risk of dying from Covid.

We are blind to origin and skin color, says sociologist Alana Helberg-Proctor (KU Leuven). Like McLemore, she investigates diversity and inequality in health care and medicine. Some guidelines still distinguish between white, Asian and African people, while there is enormous genetic diversity within those populations. On the other hand, there is the focus on the culturally determined ‘standard patient’, the white man. She gives an example from dermatology. Many symptoms are expressed in color, for example red ring-shaped spots in Lyme. They look different on dark skin.

More important than ethnic origin is the context in which specific health problems arise. Have patients grown up in poverty, are they victims of discrimination, do they have easy access to healthy food or good care? For almost all conditions, these factors are more decisive than some label based on outdated ideas.