Some forensic anthropologies may wrongly support misconceptions about race


BOSTON, MA – Forensic anthropologists analyze skeletal remains to help identify people. A new study points out how this work, dealing specifically with ancestry, may inadvertently support the idea that racial differences are biological.

“While forensic anthropologists understand that race is social, our literature does not articulate it in a problematic way. Any research that focuses on documenting differences (or similarities) in human populations should use appropriate terminology that does not support white supremacy or racial claims, ”says corresponding author Sean Tallman, PhD, RPA, Assistant Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM).

While modern practitioners have moved the terminology from “race” to “ancestry” to describe regionally patterned human skeletal variation, the extent to which they have changed or criticized long-term classification approaches remains uncertain.

Forensic anthropology has lagged behind other anthropological sub-disciplines in its conceptualizations and engagement with “race” and “ancestry” and the processes behind human population variation, which may unwittingly propagate the disproved notion that racial differences are biological.

Researchers performed a content analysis of forensic anthropological literature from 1966 to 2020 that discusses “race” and “ancestry” and found that the two terms – used to describe regional patterned human skeletal variation – were rarely defined (13% and 12% respectively) and while “ancestry” first supplanted “race” in the early 1990s, it remained in use until 2013, long after the domain was more vast body of biological anthropology has stopped using it.

Additionally, the researchers found that only 59% of the authors used population histories, population structures, or micro-evolutionary forces to explore the processes that cause regionally patterned human biological variation and have the potential to create differences. between human populations. About 25 percent of the authors criticized the use of “race” or “ancestry” to explore variations in human population or incorporated more nuanced theoretical frameworks like the theory of incarnation (four percent ) to explain how structural societal inequalities are physiologically embodied.

According to Tallman, all research that examines the documentation of differences (or similarities) in human populations should use appropriate terminology. “In essence, our oversimplification of the complex processes that characterize human skeletal variability has made field research vulnerable to be used to support biomedical claims for biological differences between social racial groups in health care and treatment,” he adds.

Researchers believe it is important to be aware of how majority white perspectives can limit the relevance of forensic anthropological research and propagate the exclusion of Blacks, Indigenous people, Latinxes, and others. color. “The field needs to do better in deploying terminology, in discussing the forces modeling human skeletal variability, and in ensuring inclusion,” says Tallman.

– This press release was originally published on the Boston University School of Medicine website

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