Friday, May 13, 2016

Race and Anatomy: Don't be mislead by pseudo-science!

Students always misunderstand their forensic unit in anatomy.  Anatomy misleads students into thinking that there are 3 "pure" races based on evidence from hair, cranium and femur.

For clarification, Let us turn to the Lab, the textbook and other resources.

The Lab
Anatomy provides important disclaimers within the lab itself.  However, it seems that these disclaimers get downplayed because students never mention them.  Let me quote from the lab itself and emphasize these points:

It can be extremely difficult to determine the true race of a skeleton. This is due to several factors: First, forensic anthropologists generally use a three race model to categorize skeletal traits: Caucasoid (European), Mongoloid (Asian/Amerindian), and Negroid (African). Although there are certainly some common physical characteristics among these groups, not all individuals have skeletal traits that are completely consistent with their geographic origin. Additionally, there is the issue of racial mixing to consider. Often times, a skeleton exhibits characteristics of more than one racial group and does not fit neatly into the three-race model. Also, the vast majority of the skeletal indicators used to determine race are non-metric traits, which, as stated earlier, can be highly subjective.
 First of all, most of the above paragraph is explaining why race is NOT a reliable factor when it comes to trace evidence.  The paragraph states that race is difficult to determine.  Why would it be difficult if race was biological?  Would it be difficult to determine whether a human, a chimp or a gorilla committed the crime?  I believe it would not because biologically, those three creatures are different.  But because humans are the same species and NOT biologically different, they cannot be separated distinctly into different races.  Secondly, the three race model is an old, erroneous and racist model that biologists, social scientists and anthropologists all do NOT use anymore.  Finally, the non-metric traits are a fancy way of saying that race is NOT scientific.  "Non metric" means it is subjective and based upon the society and local circumstances surrounding the people; it is a social construction.

Anatomy Textbook
I stopped into the ILC and looked at the anatomy text books.  There was NOTHING in the entire book about race.  I checked the table of contents, the index and I thumbed through chapters.  Nothing.  There is even a section on genetics that makes no mention about race.  Not a thing.  The section about craniums and skeletal system makes no mention of any distinguishing characteristics. 

Other Sources
Contexts sociology blog
The press release reports the results of this panel’s initial analysis of almost 500 cases. Most startlingly, it reports that FBI examiners gave inaccurate testimony in 96% of those cases.... As a 2009 review of forensic science by the National Research Council (NRC) put it, “No scientifically accepted statistics exist about the frequency with which particular characteristics of hair are distributed in the population.”

Science Buzz: 
...there’s more variation within any racial group than there is between them...Our genes are constantly moving around the planet. We’ve had 100,000 years of genes moving and mixing and re-assorting in countless different ways. We’re always mating outside our groups. [As a result, there’s] very little variation among us.

Live Science:
there is only one human race. Our single race is independent of geographic origin, ethnicity, culture, color of skin or shape of eyes — we all share a single phenotype, the same or similar observable anatomical features and behavior - See more at:
...there is only one human race. Our single race is independent of geographic origin, ethnicity, culture, color of skin or shape of eyes — we all share a single phenotype, the same or similar observable anatomical features and behavior

Innocence Project and Unreliable Evidence:
...many forensic testing methods have been applied with little or no scientific validation and with inadequate assessments of their robustness or reliability. Furthermore, they lacked scientifically acceptable standards for quality assurance and quality control before their implementation in cases...And from NPR,
We’re talking about a technology which the FBI and state and local crime laboratories across the country have relied upon to associate an accused to a piece of crime scene evidence for the last 40 years by looking at hairs under a microscope that they found in a crime scene and comparing it to a defendant’s hair. It turns out that for 30 or 40 years, they were exaggerating the probative value of those similarities such that in, I would say a quarter, of all the DNA exoneration cases, the people were originally convicted in part based on crime lab people coming in and saying the hairs matched.

New Scientist:
With the exception of nuclear DNA analysis, no forensic method has been rigorously shown able to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.

The Atlantic
How unthinking racial essentialism finds its way into scientific research.

There is no such thing as race; The troubling persistence of an unscientific idea.

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