When Jenny Reardon was 11 years old, her father, a former Jesuit priest, told her, “Jenny, genetics is the future.”
Encouraged by her intellectually curious dad, she dove head first into the sciences, winning a prize from the General Motors International Science and Engineering Fairat age 14. Reardon double-majored in molecular biology and politics at the University of Kansas, and she fell into genomic research, as many molecular biologists did in the 1990s, before going on to get her doctorate. Now a sociology professor at UCSC, Reardon has authored her second book, The Postgenomic Condition: Ethics, Justice and Knowledge After the Genome.
An open letter from Reardon and 66 others argued that Reich dangerously misrepresented the science of genomics. I talked to Reardon, who’s currently in Germany, about ethical issues around genetic studies and the field’s complicated relationship with race—stemming partly from a history of white supremacy and eugenics. Reardon says that many people of color have been understandably hesitant to participate in research.
“When scientists have been interested in studying African Americans, it’s usually not because they’re interested in improving their health,” she explains. “It’s usually because they’re a helpful research tool.”