Forensic genetics and the prediction of race: What is the problem?
A new wave of innovations in forensics seeks to support criminal investigations by making inferences about the racial or ethnic appearance of as yet unknown suspects using genetic markers of phenotype or ancestry. This paper argues that to grasp fully the potentials of these innovations they must be understood both in the context of established patterns of police–minority relations and as part of significant changes in the use of ‘race’ as an object of knowledge in science, policy, and politics. Socio-technical developments offer new means of identification through geneticisation, datafication, and visualisation and heighten the visibility and valorisation of racial difference. Elements of this are already evident in existing national police forensic DNA databases whose operation, outcomes, and accompanying ethical frames are racialised in varied ways. By openly mobilising race and ethnicity, however, predictive techniques raise new questions about the validity, interpretation, dissemination, and application of results. Examination of existing use by the police and public of suspect descriptions shows the enduring power of common sense visual and linguistic understandings of race and appearance. That very power makes it hard to transition effectively from moments of collective stigmatisation to the identification of individual suspects.
KeywordsEthnicity Forensic genetics Phenotype prediction Race Racism
I would like to express my gratitude to Amade M’charek and Peter Wade for providing the context and support vital to the development of this article. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers whose insights greatly improved the final result.
- Aldhous, P. 2014. You dunnit: Reconstructing Faces from DNA Evidence. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
- Back, L. 2007. The art of listening. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
- Chow-White, P.A. 2008. The informationalization of race: Communication technologies and the human genome in the digital age. International Journal of Communication 2: 1168–1194.Google Scholar
- Chow-White, P.A., and S.E. Green. 2013. Data mining in the age of Big Data: Communication and the social shaping of genome technologies from 1998 to 2007. International Journal of Communication 7: 556–583.Google Scholar
- Duster, T. 2004. Selective arrests an ever-expanding DNA forensic database, and the specter of an early-twenty-first-century equivalent of phrenology. In DNA and the Criminal Justice System, ed. D. Lazer, 315–335. London: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
- ECHR. 2016. Healing a Divided Britain: the Need for a Comprehensive Race Equality Strategy Equality and Human Rights Commission Report.Google Scholar
- Foster, J. T. Newburn, and A. Souhami, A. 2005. Assessing the impact of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.Google Scholar
- Fox, D. 2010. The second generation of racial profiling. Am. J. Crim. L. 38: 49.Google Scholar
- Goldberg, D.T. (2015) Are We Post-Racial Yet? Polity.Google Scholar
- Hindmarsh R, Prainsack B (eds) (2010) Genetic suspects: Global governance of forensic DNA profiling and databasing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Hoeyer, K.L. and Tutton, R. (2005) “Ethics was here”: Studying the language-games of ethics in the case of UK Biobank. Critical Public Health, 15(4):385–397.Google Scholar
- Jones, C. (2014). Predictive Policing: Mapping the future of policing, Open Democracy.Google Scholar
- Kahn, J. 2008. Race, genes, and justice: A call to reform the presentation of forensic DNA evidence in criminal trials. Brooklyn Law Review 74 (2): 325.Google Scholar
- Kahn, J. 2013. Race in a bottle: The Story of BiDil and Racialized Medicine in a post-genomic age. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
- Koops, B.-J., and M. Schellekens. 2008. Forensic DNA phenotyping: Regulatory issues. Science and Technology Law Review 9: 158–202.Google Scholar
- Lammy, D. (2017) Lammy Review: Final Report https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/lammy-review-final-report.
- Leese, M. 2016. ‘Seeing Futures’: Politics of visuality and affect. In Algorithmic life: Calculative devices in the age of big data, ed. L. Amoore and V. Piotukh, 148–164. Milton Park/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Lipphardt, V., A. Lipphardt, N. Buchanan, M. Surdu, V. Toom, M. Wienroth, A.C. Mupepele, C. Cedric Bradbury, and T. Lemke. 2016. Open Letter on critical approaches to Forensic DNA Phenotyping (FDP) and Bio-Geographical Ancestry (BGA), published online 08 Dec 2016.Google Scholar
- M'charek, A. 2016. Data-Face and ontologies of race. Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology website, https://culanth.org/fieldsights/835-data-face-and-ontologies-of-race. Accessed 24 March 2016.
- Muhammad, K.G. 2011. The Condemnation of Blackness. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Nakamura, L. 2008. Digitizing race: Visual cultures of the internet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- Nelson, A. 2016. The social life of DNA: Race, reparations, and reconciliation after the genome. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
- Puwar, N. 2004. Space invaders: Race, gender and bodies out of place. New York: Berg.Google Scholar
- Regalado, A. 2017. Does your genome predict your face? Not quite yet. MIT Technology Review.Google Scholar
- Roberts, D. 2011. Collateral consequences, genetic surveillance, and the new biopolitics of race. Howard Law Journal 54: 567–586.Google Scholar
- Rowe, M. 2012. Race & crime. London: Sage.Google Scholar
- Senker, P. 2010. ‘Forensic DNA phenotyping: Reinforcing race in law enforcement. In What’s the use of race?, ed. I. Whitmarsh and D.S. Jones, 49–62. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Skinner, D. 2012. Mobile identities and fixed categories: Forensic DNA and the politics of racialized data. In Identitypolitics and the new genetics: Re/Creating categories of difference and belonging, eds. K. Schramm, D. Skinner, R. Rottenberg, 53–78. Oxford: Berghan.Google Scholar
- Smith, G. 2015. Opening the black box: The work of watching. Abingdon Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Staubach et al. 2017. Letter Nature 545:30.Google Scholar
- Toom, V., M. Wienroth, A. M’charek, B. Prainsack, R. Williams, T. Duster, T. Heinemann, C. Kruse, H. Machado, and E. Murphy. 2016. Approaching ethical, legal and social issues of emerging forensic DNA, phenotyping (FDP) technologies comprehensively: Reply to ‘Forensic DNA phenotyping: Predicting human appearance from crime scene material for investigative purposes’ by Manfred Kayser. Forensic Science International: Genetics 22: e1–e4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Washington, H.A. 2010. Base assumptions? Racial aspects of US DNA forensics. In Genetic suspects: Global governance of forensic DNA profiling and databasing, ed. R. Hindmarsh and B. Prainsack, 131–152. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Wienroth, M. 2018. Governing anticipatory technology practices. Forensic DNA phenotyping and the forensic genetics community in Europe, New Genetics and Society 37 (2): 137–152.Google Scholar
- Wienroth, M., N. Morling, and R. Williams. 2014. Technological innovations in forensic genetics: social, legal and ethical aspects. Recent Advances in DNA & Gene Sequences 8 (2): 98–103.Google Scholar
- Williams, R., and M. Wienroth. 2014. Ethical, social and policy aspects of forensic genetics: A systematic review. Basingstoke: Palgrave.Google Scholar