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Race, genetics, and the lure of forbidden knowledge


March 30, 2018

Recently geneticist David Reich published an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race.’” In it he contends that “differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real”—and what’s more, that “as a geneticist I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races.’”

The invocation of his status as a natural scientist, the insistence on what is “real,” and the astonishing suggestion that race has been overlooked until now—I’ve seen it all before. Reich is using a rhetorical device that sociologist Reanne Frank has called the “forbidden knowledge” thesis, where academics who identify themselves with “science” (and are usually, though not always, male, white biological scientists) contend that anyone who questions the biological foundations of racial groupings is denying reality, or “sticking their heads in the sand” as Reich puts it. Another recent version of this was New York Times former science reporter Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. The Times also published an op-ed by geneticist Armand LeRoi in 2005 making pretty much the same case, so I’m not sure why they felt it was new in 2018. But the conceit is that there has been a cover-up (or “orthodoxy” in Reich’s words) denying the biological truth about race, so we need brave souls like Reich and Wade and LeRoi to reveal the truth (again!) to the public: race is a biological characteristic of the human species.

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Commentary

Studying precarious work

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December 20, 2017

Image: Dave Pearce via Flickr

Profound changes in paid employment have unfolded in recent decades, with serious consequences for millions of workers whose jobs, careers, and family lives have are been exposed to rising levels of risk. Though much of the attention has focused on the advanced capitalist societies, precarious work has also grown through Asia and much of the global south.

Involved here is the spread of work that is uncertain or insecure, in which risks are shifted from employers and governments to workers, and in which workers lack the legal protections and benefits that the standard work arrangement once offered.

Familiar examples of precarious work include temporary and contract work, but growing rapidly now are jobs in the “gig” or on-demand economy, “bogus” self employment in which workers are independent in name only. Working under these conditions can over time have adversely affect individuals, shaping workers’ trajectories in ways that can inflict lasting harm.

Workers often suffer income insecurity. They cannot know when they will be working, if at all. They have little or no access to job training or sick days. And they often feel like outsiders while on the job. Societal effects can also accumulate, as when the weakening of economic attachments drives the social and political instability that has surfaced in recent years, at times seeming to threaten the foundations of liberal democracy itself.

What is known about these developments? One set of answers can be found in Precarious Work, our just-published collection of original papers on the topic.

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