Chasing Ghosts:  Race, Racism and the Future of Microbiome Research

October 22, 2021

2021 Wall Scholar Mohammed Rafi Arefin has co-authored a new article in the American Society for Microbiology’s mSystems Journal.

The paper explores the origins and evolution of the problematic use of race in microbiome literature and suggests alternative and actionable changes to build a more equitable and antiracist microbiome science.

The paper led to a conversation with fellow Wall Scholars about the importance of antiracist scholarship being multi-, inter- or transdisciplinary,” said Dr. Arefin. “We spent a long time discussing some important questions every scholar and researcher should consider about racism in our different fields.”

  • How have major changes, specifically those involving the politics of race, gender, class, and sexuality, in your fields occurred?
  • Who has driven them and in what venue? Is race often disconnected from racism in your fields? How do you address the stubbornness of essentialist racial thinking in your fields?
  • How do we trouble the use of race in dominant thinking without denying race as a tool of radical political organizing and a lived social and communal reality?”

“The microbiome sciences are often complicit in contributing to racial disparities by attributing findings to racial or ethnic differences without referencing racism or by using ghost variables of race … Studies use imprecise labels that inaccurately conflate race with other variables, present racial or ethnic differences in disease or environmental burden without context, or link racial groups with particular diseases or increased disease burden. In continuing to use the category of race as a determining variable in research design and analysis, human microbiome research has come to explicitly or implicitly rely on race as holding biological truth independent of social forces.”

From “Chasing Ghosts: Racism and the future of Microbiome Research

Read Chasing Ghosts: Race, Racism and the Future of Microbiome Research here.