Humans have long embraced the idea of grouping and naming people who have distinct, genetically determined physical characteristics, like almond-shaped eyes or different skin color. It made sense, from a social standpoint (think safety, politics, and business) to align one's self with kin. However, studying race from a biological point of view, in the hopes of learning about specific diseases or developing new drugs, is a different matter altogether.

"Race is generally not a useful consideration in a clinical decision," says medical ethicist Susan Setta, professor of philosophy and religion at Northeastern University in Boston. "It is sometimes used as a substitute for considerations of lifestyle, which are often essential components of clinical decision-making." Harold Freeman, director of the National Cancer Institute's Center to Reduce Health Disparities, said at a recent meeting, "Race disappears when you look at the human genome."

But scientists know that they cannot ignore...

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