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Perspective
Nature Genetics  36, S17 - S20 (2004)
Published online: ; | doi:10.1038/ng1455

Conceptualizing human variation

S O Y Keita1, 2, R A Kittles1, 3, C D M Royal1, G E Bonney1, P Furbert-Harris1, G M Dunston1 & C N Rotimi1

1  National Human Genome Center, College of Medicine, Howard University, Washington, DC 20060, USA.

2  Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.

3  Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology, and Medical Genetics, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA.

Correspondence should be addressed to R A Kittles kittles-1@medctr.osu.edu
What is the relationship between the patterns of biological and sociocultural variation in extant humans? Is this relationship accurately described, or best explained, by the term 'race' and the schema of 'racial' classification? What is the relationship between 'race', genetics and the demographic groups of society? Can extant humans be categorized into units that can scientifically be called 'races'? These questions underlie the discussions that address the explanations for the observed differences in many domains between named demographic groups across societies. These domains include disease incidence and prevalence and other variables studied by biologists and social scientists. Here, we offer a perspective on understanding human variation by exploring the meaning and use of the term 'race' and its relationship to a range of data. The quest is for a more useful approach with which to understand human biological variation, one that may provide better research designs and inform public policy.

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Nature Genetics
ISSN: 1061-4036
EISSN: 1546-1718
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