The (Mis)appropriation of Biological Anthropology in Race Science and the Implications for Forensic Anthropology

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Donovan M. Adams
Marin A. Pilloud


Most biological anthropologists acknowledge that phenotypic human variation is distinct from human race. However, there is the potential for the research on human variation to be (mis)interpreted by the public as a reification of biological races. To explore this possible misuse, this study is a content analysis of articles (n = 1146) in the prominent race science journals Mankind Quarterly; The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies; and The Occidental Quarterly. The goal is to investigate how race science employs research in biological and forensic anthropology to justify arguments. Articles were evaluated according to country affiliation, discipline, data sets, racial/ethnic terminology, position on racial hierarchy, position on racial segregation and eugenics, focus of study, views of scientific community, and the average power index (PI). Additionally, specific examples of (mis)appropriation are highlighted.

Though the primary discipline represented in these publications is psychology, biological anthropology maintains a presence. Skeletal and dental traits, genetics, and paleoanthropological data are used to argue for biological racial differences and taxonomic distinctions. The research of forensic ancestry estimation was regularly used to legitimize the concept of biological race. While the PIs of the articles are low, they are present on the internet and circulate within social media. The continued use of biological anthropology to reinforce racial essentialism should force practitioners to question the ethical implications of their research. Finally, we provide discussion regarding shifts
in methodology and terminology to address how biological and forensic anthropologists can rectify the damage this research may directly and indirectly cause.

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