Current Research Interests

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Much of my most recent research has been focused on contemporary issues at the intersections of race and biology, including biomedicine. One thread of this research surrounds the various approaches to understanding the genetics of population structure in humans, and how these approaches have been leveraged into arguments both for and against treating "race " in humans as biologically real. The hope that contemporary conceptual and technological advances in biology (e.g., large scale sampling combined with genomics clustering software) would provide a clear, decisive answer to the "race question " has proven to be misguided, and grappling with the issues reveals the ways in which the positions defended are wrapped up in arguments that extend beyond the science. Much of this work has been pursued in the context of a very fecund research collaboration with Rasmus Winther (University of California, Santa Cruz); we have so far published three papers together ( "Prisoners of Abstraction? The Theory and Measure of Genetic Variation, and the Very Concept of 'Race. ' " 2013; " Ontologies and Politics of Bio-Genomic 'Race '. " 2014; "Realism, Antirealism, and Conventionalism about Race. " 2015; see abstracts here).

In addition to this work on contemporary biological practice and arguments surrounding "biologically legitimate " populations, I have been working on the ways in which "race, " via social mechanisms that profoundly influence people 's lives and life-chances, can create biomedically relevant differences between populations, and how these social mechanisms might influence our views on social policy (see e.g. " When Socially Determined Categories Make Biological Realities: Understanding Black/White Health Disparities in the U.S. " 2010). Race, as a social category, creates biological differences where, in the absence of the social power of race, there might have been none. Some of the harms caused by (or associated with) racism and the legacies of racism can be, and are, reliably transmitted between generations (via, e.g., maternal imprinting / fetal programming). There are obvious moral, as well as social and political implications, to the realization that, even in the absence of new harms, the harms that have been done (and are still being done!) will have influences for multiple generations.


I have continued to work on issues surrounding public health and genetics research, including criticizing attempts to understand violence as a matter of individual pathology (e.g. "Violence and Public Health: Exploring the Relationship Between Biological Perspectives on Violent Behavior and Public Health Approaches to Violence Prevention," 2007) and exploring the role that genetic research into addiction plays in focusing attention away from social influences on addiction rates and, again, onto the individual (e.g. "Personalizing Risk: How Behavior Genetics Research into Addiction Makes the Political Personal," 2012).


Finally, I continue to work on issues related to the conceptual foundations of evolutionary biology. My 2006 book, Making Sense of Evolution (co-authored with Massimo Pigliucci), was focused on those topics, I continue to work on issues related to that project. For example, I wrote an article extending the analysis of adaptive landscapes, "The end of the adaptive landscape metaphor? " (2008), and have published on arguments surrounding explanations for evolutionary stasis, the relationship between developmental stability and evolutionary innovations, and the nature of biological explanations that make use of fitness.




Last Updated:

November 2015