2023 Science Reporting In-Depth - Gold

The racist manifesto of a mass shooter at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. does more than reflect one person’s distorted views, Ashley Smart told his readers. It is emblematic of a broader spread of scientific racism that appropriates legitimate genetics research for extremist ends. The manifesto manipulates, misinterprets, and distorts the findings of mainstream genetics studies in addition to citing widely discredited studies on the fringes of academic research. The more reputable studies do not directly take up the question of racial difference, Smart noted, “but they explore themes that have long interested race scientists: Some catalogue human genetic variation by continent, while others probe how genes influence cognitive ability, propensity to violence, and other complex traits.” As their research is twisted to serve racist claims, he wrote, “many geneticists are weighing the societal risks of their work and confronting an unsettling possibility: that some of their most common practices and conventions may serve to perpetuate the myth of race as a biological category and help fuel scientific racism.” While various studies have cited modern genetics as a potential tool to ease the health woes that disproportionately affect Black communities, some detractors worry the research ― genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in particular ― could deepen health disparities, Smart writes. The judges praised the depth and historical context of Smart’s reporting. Robert Lee Hotz, science journalist and president of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, said “Smart has marshaled the history of science to frame how deeply racialist misconceptions remain embedded in contemporary medical and public health research, especially through genome-wide association studies.” As Smart makes clear, Hotz said, “This is science that unsettles scientists, even those who are pioneering it.” Of the award, Ashley Smart said: “It is gratifying to see the story recognized in this way, and I hope it will bring attention to the important ongoing debate about how we should think about ancestry in genetics research.”