The molecularization of race in testosterone research

Abstract

While feminist science studies scholars have documented the misleading and dangerous implications of reducing testosterone to a ‘sex hormone,’ few studies have explored how testosterone is used to racialize populations in and beyond scientific research. In this article, I conduct a content analysis of 149 studies that evaluate population differences in testosterone. Despite widespread claims that testosterone varies between racial groups, my analysis of this literature provides scant evidence to support these proclamations, undermining the notion that testosterone contributes to racial differences in biomedical and biosocial outcomes. To supplement these findings, I use network analysis to visualize study outcomes as a citation network and trace racial differences testing in testosterone research from early twentieth century eugenics research to the contemporary ‘gold-standards’ used by scientists today. Lastly, I propose three theoretical mechanisms—ambiguity, absence and data recycling—to help explain how the racialization of populations is perpetuated in this context. Together, these mechanisms provide a basis for STS scholars to better understand how researchers enact population differences across different scientific contexts.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Kristen Springer, Katrina Karkazis, Liz Carlin, Joanna Kempner, Rebecca Jordan-Young, the BioSocieties editorial team, and three anonymous reviewers for feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript as well as Sarah Davis for her assistance coding. Of course, I take all responsibility for any errors in the manuscript. I would like to thank the David Mechanic Scholar Fund from the Institute of Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University for their generous support of my dissertation project, which this paper was included.

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Kramer, B.L. The molecularization of race in testosterone research. BioSocieties (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41292-020-00200-w

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Keywords

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Molecularization
  • Health disparities