Dec 15, 2008


This hour of Radiolab, a look at race. 

When the human genome was first fully mapped in 2000, Bill Clinton, Craig Venter, and Francis Collins took the stage and pronounced that "The concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis." Great words spoken with great intentions. But what do they really mean, and where do they leave us? Our genes are nearly all the same, but that hasn't made race meaningless, or wiped out our evolving conversation about it.

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Craig: 00:01 Hi everybody. This is Craig from Washington DC. Radiolab is supported by HSS, the number one hospital in the country for orthopedics for nine straight years according to US News and World Report. With locations in Nassau, Westchester, Bergen, and Fairfield counties, the best is now nearby. Learn more at

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Female: 00:46 You're listening to Radiolab from NPR and WNYC.

Male: 00:54 Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

Jad Abumrad: 01:02 June 26, 2000, 10:19 AM, at the White House. This is the moment that race died.

Bill Clinton: 01:14 Good morning. We're here to celebrate the completion of the first survey of the entire human genome, of the entire human genome, of the entire human genome-

Jad Abumrad: 01:25 See for a hundred years, scientists, or at least a certain group of scientists, had been trying to prove that race is real. That it's not just something that we see with our eyes, in fact there is something fundamentally different between a person who is White and a person who is Black-

Robert Krulwich: 01:40 Or Asian and they looked at blood differences.

Jad Abumrad: 01:42 Nothing.

Robert Krulwich: 01:43 They looked at differences in musculature-

Jad Abumrad: 01:45 The size of our heads, nothing.

Robert Krulwich: 01:46 They couldn't really say this is this and that is that.

Jad Abumrad: 01:50 Then-

Bill Clinton: 01:51 ... of the entire human genome.

Jad Abumrad: 01:52 … in 2000-

Bill Clinton: 01:53 It is my great pleasure-

Robert Krulwich: 01:54 … Bill Clinton introduces two of the most important scientists in the world.

Bill Clinton: 01:57 Dr. Francis Collins and Craig Venter.

Jad Abumrad: 02:00 Both of whom get up to the podium and say, look, we have searched all the way down to our DNA. Can't get any deeper than that. And when it comes to race-

Male: 02:07 The concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis.

Jad Abumrad: 02:14 It's just not there.

Bill Clinton: 02:15 What that means is that modern science has confirmed what we first learned from ancient fates. The most important fact of life on this earth is our common humanity.

Jad Abumrad: 02:31 But, couple years down the road, if you fast forward, we began to look more closely and we began to notice-

Male: 02:37 Some subtle differences based on ethnic background

Jad Abumrad: 02:40 … differences.

Male: 02:41 Differences in people's health and race.

Jad Abumrad: 02:44 The differences seemed like they could be important.

Male: 02:46 Some genetic diseases target racial or ethnic groups more than others.

Jad Abumrad: 02:51 So that now, just a couple of years later, even some of the scientists who were on the podium that day saying it was all over even they had started to rethink.

Francis Collins: 03:01 Are we rolling?

Female: 03:01 Yes, we're rolling.

Francis Collins: 03:02 We are rolling. Oh, all right.

Jad Abumrad: 03:04 That's Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, and in 2000 you were standing with Bill Clinton and Craig Venter. You remember this day?

Francis Collins: 03:12 I do remember June 26, 2000. Yes, it would be hard to forget that one.

Jad Abumrad: 03:17 What was the weather like, out of curiosity?

Francis Collins: 03:19 It was really hot that morning.

Jad Abumrad: 03:21 Really we didn't want to talk to Francis about that day. We actually wanted to ask him about something he said couple of years afterwards, something he wrote in a medical journal.

Robert Krulwich: 03:28 Jad, could you read the not defense is saying not this-

Jad Abumrad: 03:31 Oh, well-

Francis Collins: 03:32 ... just read it to you. This is you talking.

Jad Abumrad: 03:34 Okay. Here it is. Increasing scientific evidence, however, indicates that genetic variation can be used to make a reasonably accurate prediction of geographic origins. [inaudible 00:03:43]. It is not strictly true that race or ethnicity has no biological connection.

Robert Krulwich: 03:50 So, that's what we're kind of wondering. It's not strictly true that it has no biological connection. [inaudible 00:03:55] careful tiptoe.

Francis Collins: 03:58 I won't defend that as being the world's best sentence construction.

Robert Krulwich: 04:02 But there's something that you want to say that you didn't quite pass through your lips, it sounds like, but-

Francis Collins: 04:08 Well, let me try again here. I think there are two points you can make about race and genetics. One is we're really all very much alike, incredibly alike. But you can also say even that small amount of difference turns out to be revealing.

Jad Abumrad: 04:25 So that's our show today. What exactly can science reveal about race? Does it exist? Does it not exist?

Robert Krulwich: 04:32 What really can you say about it?

Jad Abumrad: 04:34 Yes. I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert Krulwich: 04:36 I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad Abumrad: 04:37 This is Radiolab. Okay, ready?

Robert Krulwich: 04:47 Mm-hmm (affirmative). Three, two, one.

Robert Krulwich: 04:50 So let's go back and consider Francis Collins' statement.

Jad Abumrad: 04:53 It is not strictly-

Nell Greenfield B: 04:54 Okay, stop. Stop. So it's not strictly speaking true that race has no biological connection.

Jad Abumrad: 05:01 Who are you?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 05:02 I'm Nell Greenfieldboyce. I'm a science reporter with National Public Radio. But for the moment, I'm your grammar instructor.

Jad Abumrad: 05:08 Okay.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 05:09 To take this double negative and make it into a sentence that is without the double negative.

Jad Abumrad: 05:14 [inaudible 00:05:14] .It is sort of true.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 05:15 It is sort of true that race has something to do with biology. Right?

Jad Abumrad: 05:21 Right, right, all right.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 05:22 But while he is tip toeing around with his fancy double negatives, some people out in the real world-

Male: 05:27 It sounds like a cell phone and I'm getting rid of that right now.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 05:30 … are you taking that concept-

Male: 05:31 Get closer to the mic.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 05:32 … and they're just running with it.

Female: 05:33 Hello. Can you hear me?

Male: 05:34 Hello, hello.

Jad Abumrad: 05:35 Who's running with it, exactly and how?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 05:38 Well, I talked with one detective in Louisiana. Let me just make sure I have your name pronounced correctly.

Kip Judice: 05:44 Sure. My name is Kip Judice, I am the patrol commander of the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office with the rank of captain.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 05:50 Who says that he actually used DNA to say something about race. When was this all going down?

Kip Judice: 05:56 See 2002, 2003.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 05:59 And that that helped him catch a serial killer.

Kip Judice: 06:01 We had a victim who had been plunged into death.

Male: 06:03 Perneesha Column was only 23 years old.

Kip Judice: 06:06 She was left in a field and found by some hunters.

Male: 06:08 It is believed her final moments alive we're spent visiting her mother's grave. Her abandoned car discovered-

Kip Judice: 06:14 Her vehicle was found abandoned-

Male: 06:16 … in the cemetery.

Kip Judice: 06:16 … right near her mother's grave side.

Male: 06:18 In just over a year four women have been murdered in Louisiana. Their deaths linked by DNA evidence.

Female: 06:24 DNA evidence at all of the crime scenes that point to a single killer.

Male: 06:28 A serial killer.

Kip Judice: 06:29 The media dubbed him the Baton Rouge Serial Killer. It was in the news almost daily.

Male: 06:34 Self defense classes are filling with frightened women.

Female: 06:36 Where will he strike next?

Kip Judice: 06:38 Based on some witness information-

Male: 06:40 The suspected killer is believed to be a White male.

Male: 06:43 He is described as a White male.

Kip Judice: 06:45 White male in a white truck.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 06:46 Everything at that point they had-

Male: 06:47 Between 30-

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 06:48 … it made it seem like it was probably a White guy.

Kip Judice: 06:49 Yes.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 06:50 They had this eyewitness report, the fact that there seemed to be a serial killer and most serial killers are thought to be White guys and they started testing hundreds of White men.

Male: 06:58 Police have launched an extraordinary effort to take DNA samples.

Male: 07:02 DNA samples from nearly a thousand men.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 07:04 They were doing kind of a genetic dragnet.

Bob McNamara: 07:06 A dragnet for a serial killer, in an area where crime tape is becoming part of the landscape. Bob McNamara, CBS News, Baton Rouge.

Kip Judice: 07:17 It wasn't looking very promising.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 07:21 So they went and they asked their crime lab-

Kip Judice: 07:23 Is there anything in a DNA profile that identifies race?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 07:26 … and we have the perpetrator's DNA. Can we look at that and say whether it's a White guy or Black guy?

Kip Judice: 07:32 The immediate answer we had was, no, there's not.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 07:34 You can't do that.

Kip Judice: 07:35 Not a ... There's not a marker, there's not a gene that-

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 07:37 Because race is not biological. Right?

Kip Judice: 07:40 However, there was some technology out there that was looking into it.

Tony Frudakis: 07:44 We're the first company I think in the world is infer phenotypes for forensics cases.

Jad Abumrad: 07:50 Who this?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 07:50 That's Tony Frudakis. He owns a company in Florida that sells tests, genetic tests, that he claims can be like an eye witness and tell you something about a person, what they look like.

Tony Frudakis: 08:01 Characteristics like high colors and hair colors and skin color.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 08:05 The cops in Louisiana took him up on it.

Kip Judice: 08:07 We submitted the suspect profile to them. And-

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 08:10 And when the test came back-

Tony Frudakis: 08:11 This particular case, the individual was primarily of African ancestry.

Jad Abumrad: 08:18 A Black guy?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 08:18 Yes.

Kip Judice: 08:18 Over 90%, likely that it was a Black male.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 08:21 I do think it's important to note that there were other lines of evidence that had been developing that made them think a Black guy was likely. But the DNA result, I mean, that was science.

Kip Judice: 08:30 Within three or four days after that state police called and said, we have a match.

Tony Frudakis: 08:35 The rest is history. He's since been convicted of two of the murders.

Jad Abumrad: 08:38 So, they caught the guy and he was in fact Black?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 08:40 Yes.

Jad Abumrad: 08:41 So does that mean that Tony Fru- what is it?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 08:44 Frudakis.

Jad Abumrad: 08:44 Tony Frudakis has somehow found the gene for race? That there is a race gene?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 08:49 It's much more complicated in that. And it all boils down to this idea of ancestry.

Male: 08:55 Ancestry by

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 08:56 Now you can go online to his company DNA Print and they will send you a kit.

Male: 09:00 With just a simple mouth swab you do at home you can discover your unique genetic ancestry.

Male: 09:05 Okay.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 09:07 My kit. It's like a little science kit.

Male: 09:10 Yeah?

Male: 09:10 We're listening to Jad Abumrad taking a DNA test while being interrupted by his wife.

Jad Abumrad: 09:14 I'm taking a DNA test.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 09:15 And it's got these like swabs-

Jad Abumrad: 09:17 Open one of these sterile swabs.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 09:20 You rub your cheek with it.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 09:26 You literally just send this through the mail to the DNA Print corporate headquarters in Sarasota, Florida. And I went there.

Female: 09:33 Hi.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 09:35 Hi.

Female: 09:35 How are you?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 09:36 Good. I'm Nell Greenfieldboyce.

Female: 09:37 Oh, Yeah.

Jad Abumrad: 09:39 So after the cheek cells arrive in Florida-

Male: 09:41 This is where items of evidence come.

Jad Abumrad: 09:44 I guess they run it through a bunch of machines. What exactly in the end are they looking at that gives them some sense of my race?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 09:53 Well, in your DNA there's lots of information. There's billions of different little DNA letters, letters, letters, letters, letters, letters, letters, letters, letters, letters, letters, letters, letters.

Robert Krulwich: 10:05 Can we play with this just for a second? If I were to have you recite all the letters in your DNA, one letter per second, you know how long that would take you to spell yourself?

Jad Abumrad: 10:14 An hour.

New Speaker: 10:14 No, no. It would take you-

Jad Abumrad: 10:16 Six months.

Robert Krulwich: 10:17 A century.

Jad Abumrad: 10:18 What?

Male: 10:18 [inaudible 00:10:18] a century.

Jad Abumrad: 10:19 Really?

Male: 10:19 To make it even more interesting instead of just you let's have you compared to me.

Jad Abumrad: 10:23 You mean like if we both read it at one per second?

Male: 10:25 Yeah. We would be absolutely identical for about 17 minutes before there'd be any difference between us.

Jad Abumrad: 10:33 Wow.

Male: 10:33 And every difference that there is.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 10:35 Whether it's like a little chemical T or a little chemical G or whatever.

Male: 10:39 Has a story behind it.

Jad Abumrad: 10:41 How do you mean?

Robert Krulwich: 10:42 Well, we all started in the same place together.

Francis Collins: 10:46 Well, the evidence is very good that the human race, as we currently know it had its origins in Africa.

Male: 10:53 According to Francis Collins, head of the human genome project.

Francis Collins: 10:56 In the neighborhood of a hundred thousand years ago with as few as 10,000 people.

Male: 11:00 But soon after that, humans began to fan out across the globe. Some of us went east into Arabia, some of us went up North across the Sahara into the Mediterranean area. All the while, all these people are having babies.

Male: 11:17 In the process, the DNA is getting copied over and over and over, parent to kid, parent to kid. But sometimes the copying isn't exactly perfect. So every so often you'll find the copying error.

Female: 11:31 C.

Child: 11:31 C.

Female: 11:31 A.

Child: 11:32 A.

Female: 11:32 T.

Child: 11:32 T.

Female: 11:32 A.

Child: 11:32 C.

Female: 11:33 No.

Male: 11:33 Yes, that one right there. Let's imagine that error-

Female: 11:37 A.

Child: 11:37 C.

Female: 11:38 No.

Male: 11:39 … occurred in Asia about 25,000 years ago. Imagine a Chinese woman had a baby and the baby was one letter different from the mommy. An accident. the A and the mom became a-

Child: 11:49 C.

Male: 11:50 ... in the baby. Then that C was handed down. [inaudible 00:11:53]. And thousand years down the road, I look into your DNA and I see that same mistake in the same spot. You know what I know?

Jad Abumrad: 12:02 What?

Male: 12:02 I now have a hunch that if I shook your family tree really hard, some Chinese ancestors would pop out. It's sort of like a souvenir that your ancestors handed you down in your blood that you carry with you in every cell in your body.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 12:17 So they've identified about 180 little variations in the DNA.

Jad Abumrad: 12:22 Little souvenirs.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 12:23 That people who share ancestry, share. I guess, is the way to put it.

Male: 12:29 Whose sample did you send him? Was It yours?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 12:32 Oh, I'm not going to tell you.

Male: 12:33 That's all right.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 12:33 You tell me.

Male: 12:34 We'll show you. We got it on a CD.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 12:36 So we leave the lab and we go down this hallway to his office.

Male: 12:39 We've determined that it is of alien origin. No, I'm just kidding.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 12:43 That would explain a lot actually. He pulls these things up on his computer screen.

Male: 12:47 I'll show you what your results were.

Jad Abumrad: 12:49 So what does it say? I'm dying here.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 12:50 Well, I guess before I tell you.

Male: 12:52 Okay. That sample was determined to be-

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 12:54 I want to know what you think. What do you think it's going to be?

Jad Abumrad: 13:02 Well, my folks are Arab light skin both of them. My dad's got some darker skin people on his side of the family. So if I had to guess, probably some European in there. Then on my dad's side I was thinking, well, they're probably like Greek or Turkish way back when. I wasn't really sure and I consciously didn't sort of look into it.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 13:19 Okay. Well let me just tell you that this test you took is not going to tell you countries.

Jad Abumrad: 13:23 Right, right.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 13:24 Okay.

Jad Abumrad: 13:24 I'm oddly kind of nervous, weirdly.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 13:27 Really?

Jad Abumrad: 13:27 Yeah. Just a little bit.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 13:29 So, you Sub Saharan African ancestry, what percentage are you thinking?

Jad Abumrad: 13:34 I'm going to guess 12?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 13:37 Zero percent.

Jad Abumrad: 13:38 Zero?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 13:39 Zero percent.

Jad Abumrad: 13:39 Huh? All right.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 13:40 Native American ancestry, 1%.

Jad Abumrad: 13:44 One?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 13:44 East Asian, 5%.

Jad Abumrad: 13:47 Wow.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 13:48 European, 94%.

Jad Abumrad: 13:51 Really?

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 13:52 Ninety-four percent.

Jad Abumrad: 13:53 Ninety-four percent European?

Male: 13:55 No, 94% pansy.

Male: 13:56 Note that the words that we're using here are pretty arbitrary.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 13:59 You should understand that his definition of “European” includes-

Male: 14:05 The Fertile Crescent or the Middle East.

Robert Krulwich: 14:07 So wait a second. If I'm a police … Remember we started this conversation and a cop was looking to describe a perpetrator.

Jad Abumrad: 14:13 Right?

Robert Krulwich: 14:13 So if I find out that Jad Abumrad is European, then I'm looking for someone who could be – it’s a huge range.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 14:21 We're looking at the computer screen now-

Jad Abumrad: 14:23 For example.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 14:23 You've pulled up a bunch of digital photos [crosstalk 00:14:25] …

Jad Abumrad: 14:25 When Tony Frudakis pulled up pictures of people with my exact ancestral mix-

Robert Krulwich: 14:30 Yeah.

Jad Abumrad: 14:30 … from this database-

Tony Frudakis: 14:31 Okay database. Here's some males, here's a female.

Jad Abumrad: 14:37 He brought up people with blonde hair, blue eyes.

Tony Frudakis: 14:40 These are all people that had this sort of mix.

Jad Abumrad: 14:42 Even people from Poland who had like really red cheeks.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 14:45 So these folks just look like pretty much like White folks to me.

Tony Frudakis: 14:50 [inaudible 00:14:50].

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 14:49 Because I got to tell … Let me show you the picture of the guy who actually gave the sample.

Male: 14:56 Now Mr. Frudakis does not know that Jad is a dark curly haired [inaudible 00:15:00] man.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 15:01 So this is the guy. He doesn't really know anything about his ancestry but his mother and father I believe are from Lebanon.

Tony Frudakis: 15:07 Although in this sample of maybe 20 people, it's just we don't have any samples of Lebanese in this particular-

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 15:12 But I guess I'm saying is for a cop. Someone who describes themselves as Lebanese versus Polish. I mean that would be a really big difference.

Tony Frudakis: 15:18 Oh, yeah. To make that sort of distinction you need different markers.

Robert Krulwich: 15:24 What does DNA actually tell you then?

Jad Abumrad: 15:25 Well, not a lot. That's direct. What he's doing basically is playing a guessing game based on ancestral percentages. Like for instance, I'm 94% European, 0% Sub-Saharan. He can plug that into his database, pull up the pictures and he will notice that nobody with those percentages is Black.

Jad Abumrad: 15:43 So he'll tell police this guy, probably not Black.

Robert Krulwich: 15:46 Just like at the beginning we said that the perpetrator there was pretty much not White.

Jad Abumrad: 15:50 Yeah. Now there is one thing he can read directly in our DNA.

Robert Krulwich: 15:54 What?

Jad Abumrad: 15:55 Eye color. So at the end of the day he can say I am not Black and I have brown eyes.

Robert Krulwich: 16:01 That's it? That's as far as he can go?

Jad Abumrad: 16:03 That's all he can tell you as a scientist. He does take it further.

Robert Krulwich: 16:06 What did he do?

Jad Abumrad: 16:06 Well, if he's got a DNA sample of a purp he can go to his computer database and say-

Tony Frudakis: 16:10 Okay, database.

Jad Abumrad: 16:12 Show me everybody who's got these exact same percentages, show me their pictures. Now, tell me what all of these faces have in common, visually. Like what's their average-

Male: 16:21 Nose, blood.

Jad Abumrad: 16:22 What's their average-

Tony Frudakis: 16:24 Shape of the ears.

Jad Abumrad: 16:25 How big are their skulls?

Tony Frudakis: 16:26 Skull shape.

Jad Abumrad: 16:27 See where this is going.

Robert Krulwich: 16:28 And what he tells the police look for-

Jad Abumrad: 16:30 Look for people who have this type of head, kind of ear.

Robert Krulwich: 16:33 But this isn't genetics now, this is just photo averaging.

Jad Abumrad: 16:36 Photo averaging. Yeah.

Robert Krulwich: 16:37 This isn't science, this is something else.

Jad Abumrad: 16:39 Right? But when you hear things like measuring skulls, measuring ears, it's hard not to think back to pretty nasty periods of our history, like the Eugenicists. They tried to composite pictures into one face, they measured skulls and they ended up inspiring the Nazis.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 16:56 Have people called you a racist?

Tony Frudakis: 17:05 Not once. Not once have I been called a racist. Not once.

Nell Greenfieldboyce: 17:06 That kind of surprises me. I'm just sort of wondering how do you think you've escaped that?

Tony Frudakis: 17:15 Are People critical of this? Yeah, I think a lot of scientists their first knee jerk reaction is that the poor masses out there aren't intelligent enough to handle this sort of information. They'll start climbing over one another and killing themselves so that we either, you know, the smart ones need to sort of obfuscate.

Tony Frudakis: 17:36 I don't think that works very well. People may be a lot smarter than we might give them credit for being.

Robert Krulwich: 17:45 I think he's onto something there.

Jad Abumrad: 17:47 What do you mean?

Robert Krulwich: 17:47 Well, there is tendency that people have when this subject comes up to say shh, we don't talk about that. I think people can talk about the real world and real differences respectfully and even with a certain amount of delicious interest.

Jad Abumrad: 18:03 Sure. Yeah.

Robert Krulwich: 18:05 Well, You say sure but there are lots of shushers everywhere.

Jad Abumrad: 18:08 You're not going to get me to stand on the side of shushing. It's just, I mean, science complicates things. Even now, this whole definition that science has of race being like ancestry or whatever, it just doesn't jive with how people live race.

Robert Krulwich: 18:23 You mean how people talk about it really?

Jad Abumrad: 18:25 Yeah. We'll take a look at this photo.

Robert Krulwich: 18:27 This one here?

Jad Abumrad: 18:28 Yeah.

Robert Krulwich: 18:29 Yeah.

Jad Abumrad: 18:30 You see the guy there?

Robert Krulwich: 18:30 Yes.

Jad Abumrad: 18:31 What race do you think he is?

Robert Krulwich: 18:32 He's Black.

Jad Abumrad: 18:33 Definitely Black?

Robert Krulwich: 18:33 Definitely. Oh, yeah.

Jad Abumrad: 18:35 How Black is he?

Robert Krulwich: 18:35 How Black is he? What kind of a question?

Jad Abumrad: 18:37 Yeah, just for a visual.

Robert Krulwich: 18:38 Black, Black.

Jad Abumrad: 18:39 How about Obama Black?

Robert Krulwich: 18:40 No, he's not. He's blacker than that.

Jad Abumrad: 18:42 So, he's unequivocally Black, right?

Robert Krulwich: 18:44 I don't know.

Wayne Joseph: 18:45 My parents taught us because they came from a segregated South you're either Black or you were White. There was no in between.

Jad Abumrad: 18:52 So, the guy you're looking at, the guy we just heard.

Robert Krulwich: 18:54 Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Jad Abumrad: 18:54 That's a Wayne Joseph. He's an education director in LA and he also on the side writes essays about race mostly for national magazines. One day, a couple of years back, he was watching TV.

Wayne Joseph: 19:07 And I happened to see a TV program highlighting the fact that a couple of DNA labs were actually doing racial testing on DNA.

Jad Abumrad: 19:15 A light bulb went on.

Wayne Joseph: 19:17 I said, well, this will be perfect for this essay.

Jad Abumrad: 19:19 He thought he tests himself, see what percentage of him was Black versus other stuff and then write about it. But what number did you think you would be?

Wayne Joseph: 19:27 The number I was thinking was 70 or 75% or more.

Jad Abumrad: 19:31 Seventy-five percent African and 25% who knows what?

Wayne Joseph: 19:35 So I sent away for the kit.

Jad Abumrad: 19:37 Swap both cheeks, put it in a vial, sent it back.

Wayne Joseph: 19:39 Then a few weeks later, I get back the results. First thing I did was I checked the kit number to make sure that they hadn't made a mistake and sent me someone else's results. But the kit number matched. I couldn't believe it. Fifty-seven percent Indo-European, 39% Native American, 4% Asian and 0% African.

Jad Abumrad: 20:04 Zero percent. As in zero?

Wayne Joseph: 20:07 Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Jad Abumrad: 20:08 Nothing?

Wayne Joseph: 20:08 I mean, I've lived 50 years as a Black man and I have no African genetically.

Jad Abumrad: 20:15 How did you make sense of that? Did it sink in all at once?

Wayne Joseph: 20:19 No. What happened was after a couple of days, I hadn't told my wife anything yet, I went to see my mother. I said, look, there's only one really logical explanation I can live with. It's okay. I love you. Just tell me the truth. I'm adopted.

Wayne Joseph: 20:37 She kind of giggled and she said, “Look, I can remember every pain I had having you. I can to still remember it”. I said, “Well, but then this doesn't make any sense”. She said, “Yeah, it's a little surprising, but I'm too old, too tired to be anything else”. So, that's just the way it is.

Wayne Joseph: 20:57 For my brother, when I told him the results, he said, “Wayne, that's your DNA, that's not my DNA. I'm a Black man”. And that's the end of it for him.

Jad Abumrad: 21:07 What about your wife?

Wayne Joseph: 21:09 Well, my second wife happens to be Jewish. Her response was, "What do you mean you're a Black man? I defied my mother to marry you. You've got to be Black."

Jad Abumrad: 21:21 Whoa. So she needed you to be Black?

Wayne Joseph: 21:23 Absolutely. Because she had told her mother at the time, look, I'm marrying Wayne. You're going to have to decide whether you're going to accept him or loss your daughter. It really threw me for a loop. You start thinking about your life.

Wayne Joseph: 21:40 There are certain decisions that are made in life based on who you think you are. Would I have married a Black woman the first time? Would I have decided to go to a Black high school.

Jad Abumrad: 21:50 Do you have answers to those questions? Would you have married a Black woman? Would you have gone to a Black high school?

Wayne Joseph: 21:55 Maybe not. How different would my life have been if I'd have known this 45 years ago?

Jad Abumrad: 22:10 Wayne Joseph is the director of alternative education for the Chino Valley School District in California.

Male: 22:17 Radio Lab is funded in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and The National Science Foundation.

Robert Krulwich: 22:26 Hi, I'm Robert Krulwich:. Radiolab is supported by Zip Recruiter. I don't know if you know anything about ZipRecruiter. Let's suppose you need to recruit somebody for your business, for your office. You could, I guess as friends, you could put an ad out for everybody in the world to read ZipRecruiter's ideas.

Robert Krulwich: 22:46 They have what they call a matching technology that presumably finds the right people for you and then goes and gets them to apply. And right now, Radiolab listeners can try ZipRecruiter for free at Once again that's

Olivia Fritz: 23:10 This is Olivia Fritz calling from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Radiolab is supported by Rothy’s. Rothy’s is the everyday flat for life on the go. It's stylish, classic, comfortable and comes in for fashionable styles for women--The flat, the point, the loafer and the sneaker.

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Jad Abumrad: 23:53 This is Radiolab. I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert Krulwich: 23:56 I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad Abumrad: 23:57 Today's program is about race. Okay, so where are we, what have we learned ? We've learned that scientists, when they talk about race, they don't really mean race.

Robert Krulwich: 24:04 No, they mean that you have a set of ancestors who lived in a particular place on this planet for a while, although they were there, they acquired certain features, skin color, hair texture, whatever. scientists won't go much further than just that.

Jad Abumrad: 24:16 But here's the thing, if you … Forget the lab scientist for a second. If you're a doctor and your job is to save lives, you can't help but notice that there are real differences between groups in terms of how healthy people are. If you want to treat that, you end up talking about race, and it never goes well

Jad Abumrad: 24:33 Let me tell you a story now, comes from our producer Soren Wheeler and it's about a drug called BiDil. So you popped a few BiDil this morning?

Soren Wheeler: 24:40 I did. I just wanted to test it out. It's supposed to … It loosens up the arteries that's supposedly so it's easier for the heart to pump. As a White man that's about to talk about race on the radio, I figured it's time to loosen up.

Jad Abumrad: 24:54 Okay. Introduce me to our main dude here.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 24:57 I'm doctor Jay Cohen, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Soren Wheeler: 25:02 This is him.

Female: 25:02 What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Dr. Jay Cohen: 25:06 I don't eat breakfast.

Jad Abumrad: 25:07 Tell me what he looks like.

Soren Wheeler: 25:08 Well, he's stocky, he's got a white beard. He's kind of got that wearied grave doctor look. Probably because he spent his entire career worrying about how to help people with heart failure.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 25:18 That's right.

Soren Wheeler: 25:19 Which for a really long time was kind of a lost cause.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 25:22 Oh, yeah. It was a hopeless disease. And once it developed, the implication was that the patient would die.

Soren Wheeler: 25:29 You're done.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 25:30 There was nothing much we could do but keep the patient comfortable.

Soren Wheeler: 25:33 But then-

Dr. Jay Cohen: 25:34 Back in the early 70s-

Soren Wheeler: 25:36 Jay had kind of a breakthrough.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 25:41 The aha moment was the first patient, bedridden patient, can't breathe easily, bubbling up with fluid in the lungs.

Soren Wheeler: 25:51 Jay gave this patient a combination of two drugs.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 25:54 And the moment we did that, this patient suddenly said, “My God, I can breathe easily for the first time in months”.

Soren Wheeler: 26:02 That fast?

Dr. Jay Cohen: 26:03 Oh, it's immediate.

Soren Wheeler: 26:08 He confirms the effect in a longer term trial over five years. He gets a patent. He finds a company, they put it in a pill and they take it to the FDA.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 26:15 And that's when the FDA said, no.

Jad Abumrad: 26:17 No?

Soren Wheeler: 26:18 No.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 26:18 That's what they said.

Jad Abumrad: 26:20 Why now? You just said it worked really well.

Soren Wheeler: 26:22 Well, the doctors on the review board, they said they thought the drug was pretty good.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 26:26 Yeah.

Soren Wheeler: 26:26 They even started using it with some of their patients. But they denied approval-

Dr. Jay Cohen: 26:30 Because it was not a big study-

Soren Wheeler: 26:32 The study was just too small.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 26:33 In the entire trial there were only 86 people-

Soren Wheeler: 26:36 That got the drug.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 26:38 We were disappointed, frustrated. We were using it, I was using it in my patients.

Jad Abumrad: 26:43 Drag.

Soren Wheeler: 26:44 Yeah. So he goes back to what he was doing before all this started, which was trying to figure out what the hell is going on with heart failure.

Jad Abumrad: 26:52 What the hell was going on with heart failure at that point?

Soren Wheeler: 26:54 Well, at the time scientist we're just starting to look at racial differences, when it comes to things like high blood pressure and heart problems that Alack Americans were suffering a lot more than White Americans.

Jad Abumrad: 27:07 I see. So he must've been hearing all this stuff.

Soren Wheeler: 27:08 This debate was going on out there and Jay was listening. So Jay started thinking, you know, he had all that old data and they had actually broken it up.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 27:16 By race. Everyone checked a box.

Soren Wheeler: 27:18 Black, White, American Indian, all that. They'd never bothered to look at that stuff.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 27:22 Never teased it out. And I said, we should go back into our database.

Soren Wheeler: 27:27 Because just maybe, maybe Black people respond differently to BiDil.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 27:32 Well, we thought it would be worthwhile to go back and look. We didn't know what we were going to find. We just went back and checked off those people who had said they were Black.

Soren Wheeler: 27:41 Jay’s assistant gathered up the data. When they looked at the numbers?

Dr. Jay Cohen: 27:45 Oh my God.

Soren Wheeler: 27:47 He saw a bump.

Jad Abumrad: 27:48 What do you mean?

Soren Wheeler: 27:49 Well, still just a small trial. But, in that trial the Black patients did better.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 27:53 Significantly better.

Jad Abumrad: 27:54 Really?

Soren Wheeler: 27:55 So he published, and a couple of weeks later he gets a call from a drug company and they say, we'd like to do something with BiDil.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 28:02 They would be willing to do a trial to demonstrate the efficacy of BiDil.

Soren Wheeler: 28:07 But here's the thing, they wanted to do the trial just with Black people.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 28:11 That seemed to be the path of least resistance.

Jad Abumrad: 28:14 Why would they want to limit it just the Black people?

Jad Abumrad: 28:16 Well, they could do a smaller study so it would be cheaper. And when it came time to sell the drug, ready made market.

Jad Abumrad: 28:22 All right, so they do this big study only on Black people.

Soren Wheeler: 28:25 Only in Black people.

Jad Abumrad: 28:26 What do they find?

Soren Wheeler: 28:27 An amazing result.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 28:29 We get a 43% reduction in mortality rate.

Jad Abumrad: 28:32 What. What?

Soren Wheeler: 28:32 In other words, if you were a Black person in this trial and you took BiDil, your chance of dying from heart failure was cut in half.

Robert Krulwich: 28:39 Whoa.

Soren Wheeler: 28:40 Roughly.

Jad Abumrad: 28:40 That's huge.

Soren Wheeler: 28:41 It's huge.

Jad Abumrad: 28:41 Yeah.

Soren Wheeler: 28:41 So they go back and in 2005 … That's Troy Duster, a sociologist at NYU.

Troy Duster: 28:46 The FDA approves this as the first racialized drug. Think about that, the first racialized drug. The first drug ever approved for racialized subpopulation.

Jad Abumrad: 29:02 After hundreds of years of looking for differences between Black people and White people, after the mapping of the human genome, here's the FDA saying we're different.

Troy Duster: 29:13 Some of us said this is a huge mistake.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 29:15 We knew this was a terribly sensitive issue.

Female: 29:18 As we move into the 21st century well aware of the terrible history of racial and ethnic categories what should we do?

Dr. Jay Cohen: 29:28 Yeah. We had a symposium.

Female: 29:30 I would like to welcome you all program-

Dr. Jay Cohen: 29:32 Here at the University of Minnesota.

Female: 29:34 We actually have a sold out crowd today.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 29:36 It was mainly aimed at attacking me.

Female: 29:39 I just don't think race is a scientific category.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 29:44 There was a very well known law professor, so hostile to the idea that she said, “I would rather die from heart failure than take BiDil”.

Soren Wheeler: 29:55 Well, that's not quite what she said.

Female: 29:57 I'd be terrified about a doctor making a diagnosis like that based on their view of me as belonging to a particular racial category.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 30:06 Well, but it goes on all the time.

Female: 30:08 That doesn't make it right. That's what I'm saying. [inaudible 00:30:10] right. It does.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 30:12 If you-

Female: 30:13 And these categories have, you know, it's … Look-

Dr. Jay Cohen: 30:16 You would object then to a doctor seeing an African American with anemia. I said if you went into the doctor's office and were anemic, the doctor would appropriately check you for sickle cell. Just a natural everyday phenomenon. She insisted, well that's wrong.

Female: 30:36 Either there's-

Dr. Jay Cohen: 30:37 Because sickle cell disease is not confined to Blacks.-

Female: 30:40 ... and misdiagnosed.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 30:41 Well, she is right, of course. But, the statistical likelihood of a white person with sickle cell disease is so low.

Female: 30:49 ... and damaging.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 30:50 But they're prevalence issues. There is a higher … We can look at a patient and help identify some processes of diagnosis and treatment that might improve our precision. To disregard that we need a better way to do it.

Female: 31:04 Well, but that's just it. I think-

Dr. Jay Cohen: 31:04 In the year 2005 that what we had.

Female: 31:05 But you know what? I think that if we … Seems to me that these racial categories are impeding good medical care and good biomedical research, they're not assisting it.

Robert Krulwich: 31:19 Well I don't get that at all. Why would declaring a difference impede? It seems exactly the opposite. If you know that a group of people are likely to get sick in a certain way, then you should target them and help them and give them the-

Jad Abumrad: 31:31 The question is do you know what you think you know I think is what she's saying. By looking at one target group are you somehow shutting yourself off from the real target group that you should be looking?

Robert Krulwich: 31:40 I don't know what you're talking about.

Jad Abumrad: 31:41 Okay. Let me give you-

Robert Krulwich: 31:42 We all know that Black people--

Jad Abumrad: 31:43 Let me give you an example.

Robert Krulwich: 31:43 Right.

Jad Abumrad: 31:43 Okay? When you go to the doctor-

Robert Krulwich: 31:45 Yes.

Jad Abumrad: 31:45 … and they put that thing around your bicep and they go [inaudible 00:31:48]-

Robert Krulwich: 31:48 Yes, the squeezing [inaudible 00:31:50].

Jad Abumrad: 31:49 Yeah, blood pressure. It's well know that Black Americans have much higher rates of high blood pressure, hypertension-

Robert Krulwich: 31:56 Yes it is.

Jad Abumrad: 31:57 … than White-

Robert Krulwich: 31:57 Which is my point that says-

Jad Abumrad: 31:58 Hold up.

Robert Krulwich: 31:59 If you know that-

Jad Abumrad: 31:59 Hold up. It can seem like it's caused by race or it's purely a racial phenomenon. But then I mentioned this to Troy Duster, I said, how do you explain this? Black Americans suffer like twice the amount of hypertension than White Americans.

Jad Abumrad: 32:11 Make the argument for me that this is somehow not an innate difference.

Robert Krulwich: 32:14 Okay. The best argument here is Richard Cooper's word.

Richard Cooper: 32:19 I'm Richard Cooper, I'm the chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine and epidemiology or Loyola.

Jad Abumrad: 32:24 Richard Cooper is a doctor and a researcher, and here's what he did. He went to poor neighborhoods in Chicago and methodically-

Richard Cooper: 32:29 House to house, taking blood samples-

Jad Abumrad: 32:32 … measured people's blood pressure. Then you took that data and compared it to other countries.

Richard Cooper: 32:36 Canada, Spain, Italy, United Kingdom-

Robert Krulwich: 32:39 That's huge.

Richard Cooper: 32:40 ... and Germany.

Robert Krulwich: 32:40 Eight nation sampling, 85,000 people.-

Jad Abumrad: 32:43 Eighty-five thousand people?

Robert Krulwich: 32:43 Eighty-five thousand. He then [inaudible 00:32:47] nations in terms of hypertension.

Jad Abumrad: 32:49 Because he want to know like who's got the highest rates? Who's got the lowest, and does this really have anything to do with race?

Robert Krulwich: 32:54 Right.

Jad Abumrad: 32:57 And?

Robert Krulwich: 32:58 At the very end, the nation with the highest rate of hypertension nome-

Jad Abumrad: 33:03 Drumroll please.

Robert Krulwich: 33:03 … was Germany.

Jad Abumrad: 33:07 Germany?

Robert Krulwich: 33:07 Germany.

Jad Abumrad: 33:08 Actually Richard Cooper says that Finland, Poland, and Russia are even worse.

Robert Krulwich: 33:11 Right.

Jad Abumrad: 33:12 Okay. How many Black people are in Russia?

Robert Krulwich: 33:15 Seven.

Jad Abumrad: 33:16 Probably seven.

Robert Krulwich: 33:17 The nation with the lowest rate of hypertension was Nigeria.

Jad Abumrad: 33:21 No kidding?

Robert Krulwich: 33:22 Yeah, and it's like this, it's not like this. It's like this.

Jad Abumrad: 33:24 You're putting your hands way apart from each other.

Robert Krulwich: 33:29 Your point being here what exactly?

Jad Abumrad: 33:32 If you're a doctor and you're just focused on the United States data you would assume that it has something to do with Race these high blood pressure disparities. So you're therefor A, miss all the Russians and Fins that came into your office. B, you would over treat the American Blacks. C, god forbid a Nigerian should walk in and they give him all these drugs he doesn't even need.

Robert Krulwich: 33:52 Well then what does cause the differences?

Jad Abumrad: 33:55 Like if it's not race what is it?

Robert Krulwich: 33:56 Yeah, it's not race what?

Jad Abumrad: 33:57 Diet.

Robert Krulwich: 33:59 Diet?

Jad Abumrad: 33:59 Yeah, diet.

Robert Krulwich: 34:00 Really?

Jad Abumrad: 34:01 According to Richard Cooper. I know it's not that exciting but that's what he says.

Robert Krulwich: 34:03 Well then what about BiDil then? You think that's wrong too?

Jad Abumrad: 34:07 No, I mean, but if you are the first drug ever to be approved for Black people, wouldn’t you want to know that your drug works better for Black people as compared to other groups?

Robert Krulwich: 34:17 Yes.

Jad Abumrad: 34:18 You want to be sure, right?

Robert Krulwich: 34:19 Yes. Well they only ever tested it in Black people. They never actually compared Blacks to Whites.

Troy Duster: 34:24 Yeah, well that's true. We don't know and we haven't gone back and studied a large white population. I personally believe that BiDil will work in White people as well. Maybe not to the same frequency. But I use it in my White patients.

Soren Wheeler: 34:39 Are you at all then upset that it's-

Jad Abumrad: 34:41 That Soren Wheeler again.

Soren Wheeler: 34:43 … FDA approved only for Blacks?

Troy Duster: 34:44 Well it's not getting to Blacks. I mean, that's the real tragedy.

Jad Abumrad: 34:48 What's he talking about?

Soren Wheeler: 34:49 Well in the end, BiDil kind of tanked.

Jad Abumrad: 34:51 Why?

Soren Wheeler: 34:52 You know, the way they priced and marketed the drug, all that kind of stuff. But, according to Jay, it was also because of opposition to the idea-

Dr. Jay Cohen: 34:58 To the concept-

Soren Wheeler: 34:59 … of BiDil.

Dr. Jay Cohen: 35:00 … that this is the drug for Black.

Troy Duster: 35:02 It's a crime that this lifesaving drug is not being as widely used as it should be. I'm very discouraged about that.

Robert Krulwich: 35:21 So, the takeaway here I guess is if a doctor or a scientist or a pharmaceutical company announces that there is a racial difference in the human family, check the footnotes.

Jad Abumrad: 35:33 Exactly.

Robert Krulwich: 35:34 On the other hand, I think an awful lot of us in our regular life get all excited about racial differences when we watch sports. Everyone notices, for example, in track and field.

Jad Abumrad: 35:45 Like why all the Jamaicans win.

Robert Krulwich: 35:47 Yeah.

Jad Abumrad: 35:48 It's always Jamaicans.

Robert Krulwich: 35:49 So we founded a Jamaican, our own Jamaican, Malcolm Gladwell, a writer.

Jad Abumrad: 35:53 He's sort of Jamaican.

Robert Krulwich: 35:54 He's Canadian Jamaican English. Also the author of a tipping point and, I don't know, all those bestselling books. We talked to him about his early days as a runner.

Malcolm Gladwell: 36:04 My running weight when I was 13 and 14 was about 105, 100.

Robert Krulwich: 36:08 So you like just kind of danced on the ground.

Malcolm Gladwell: 36:10 I am 30 pounds heavier than I was in my running prime.

Robert Krulwich: 36:13 Are you good?

Malcolm Gladwell: 36:15 Yes, at that age.

Robert Krulwich: 36:17 Yeah.

Malcolm Gladwell: 36:17 Am I good in the global sense, no. Was I good at 13? I was really good, I was all Canadian, yeah.

Robert Krulwich: 36:22 Oh, you were number one in your country in what event?

Malcolm Gladwell: 36:25 Thirteen hundred meters. [inaudible 00:36:26] age class track and field in Ontario in the 1970s was so overwhelmingly West Indian. In retrospect it’s hilarious to think back on it. I mean, you would go to these track meets and there's like reggae music playing the entire time and the stands are full of Jamaicans.

Malcolm Gladwell: 36:50 So you were dealing with this fact, you're 13, you're not very sophisticated. You're dealing with this fact that there just aren't any White people, it's all Jamaicans. Lanes one through eight are all Jamaicans. Right off the boat Jamaicans.

Malcolm Gladwell: 37:07 When you see … It was really funny. I remember there was a guy named Arnold Stots and Arnold Stots dominated the quarter mile for years in age class running.

Robert Krulwich: 37:14 Arnold Stots was a White guy?

Malcolm Gladwell: 37:15 He was a White guy and we all looked at Arnold and we said, “It's not gonna last. Can't last.” Sure enough, it didn't.

Robert Krulwich: 37:23 If Arnold wont make it because he does have the right stuff, the right stuff being whatever it is that Jamaicans got.

Malcolm Gladwell: 37:28 The question was how long can Arnold keep beating the Jamaicans. The answer is it cant be for that much longer. He was a tremendous sprinter. But, but we had this kind of unspoken prejudice that said if you weren't Jamaican it was hopeless.

Robert Krulwich: 37:41 Did you ever have an opportunity at the age of 14 to ascribe this to anything?

Malcolm Gladwell: 37:45 I mean, I began to kind of process it in a very, very crude, unsophisticated way. Then I would look at the world and I would see in the world Black people won all sprints. So I figure well maybe just Black people are faster than White people.

Robert Krulwich: 37:59 So in a very primitive young guy kind of way Malcolm was, I don't know exactly what the polite word for this is, but he was a racist, Berber chauvinist maybe, or just somebody who sees West Indians winning everything so he figures there's got to be a genetic advantage here because he could feel it in himself.

Malcolm Gladwell: 38:19 Listen, I had that gift. I was really, really good when I was 15 and 14 and 13. I was the best in Canada. I used to beat Dave Reid. Dave Reid went on to be-

Robert Krulwich: 38:28 You beat Dave Reid?

Malcolm Gladwell: 38:29 Dave Reid went on to be in the Canadian Olympic team.

Robert Krulwich: 38:31 Oh, really?

Malcolm Gladwell: 38:32 Yeah.

Robert Krulwich: 38:32 Okay. So that was the thing.

Malcolm Gladwell: 38:34 That was the caliber or runner I was then.

Robert Krulwich: 38:35 How old were you and Dave Reid at the time when you were beating him?

Malcolm Gladwell: 38:40 Fourteen.

Robert Krulwich: 38:42 Okay. Lets make that clear. But now that he’s older-

Malcolm Gladwell: 38:44 … and slower.

Robert Krulwich: 38:44 … and slower, he’s revised his thinking in this area.

Malcolm Gladwell: 38:49 I no longer am all that enamored of a kind of genetic case for Black athletic superiority. I think it maybe explained some tiny amount but it's not the real issue. Nature takes care of the fundamental things in the beginning and then as activities grow more involved and more complex individual choice starts to matter more and more and more and more.

Robert Krulwich: 39:11 When he says individual choice he's thinking of the moment when you're an athlete that's the last turn or maybe the last lap of a race.

Malcolm Gladwell: 39:17 When you run 1200 meters in the 1500 meter race or you've run six miles of a seven mile cross-country race you're beginning to suffer. Pain is about to start. You're in a position where you possibly can win if you exert yourself.

Robert Krulwich: 39:32 That's the moment, says Malcolm, when every athlete has to ask-

Malcolm Gladwell: 39:36 How much do I care? There's always a struggle. Do I really care? Does it matter to me?

Robert Krulwich: 39:43 Do you think that Mickey Mantle or-

Malcolm Gladwell: 39:46 Oh, I think everyone has it.

Robert Krulwich: 39:47 You think?

Malcolm Gladwell: 39:48 All athletes have that question. Some people say I do care and some people say I don't.

Robert Krulwich: 39:53 How you answer that question yes or no has very little to do with genes, says Malcolm.

Malcolm Gladwell: 39:58 That's not the critical difference between me and Tiger Woods. You know? It's that Tiger gets up to 5:00 in the morning and hits 10,000 golf balls before breakfast, that's the difference. Why does he want to do that and why is it inconceivable for me to do? There's your interesting story.

Robert Krulwich: 40:13 In Malcolm's case, he says he did love running.

Malcolm Gladwell: 40:16 You know, when you're that age, you really can't run forever. I'll never forget the feeling.

Robert Krulwich: 40:20 But he also loved reading books and he loved going to school and he loved thinking-

Malcolm Gladwell: 40:25 Ping pong.

Robert Krulwich: 40:25 He might've liked ping pong. I don't know.

Malcolm Gladwell: 40:26 My father comes from that glorious tradition of English amateurism which says you should do many things and none of them well.

Robert Krulwich: 40:33 All of which in that critical moment made answering yes I will put up with the pain and win this race a little bit more difficult.

Malcolm Gladwell: 40:43 I struggle with it and there was a moment when I had that conversation and I said I didn't care.

Robert Krulwich: 40:49 The moment happened when he was preparing for the Canadian National Championship.

Malcolm Gladwell: 40:53 Canadian championship.

Male: 40:54 Two of his friends who were also Black-

Malcolm Gladwell: 40:55 I go for a run with this guy Dave Reid who's this great runner of our generation.

Robert Krulwich: 40:58 The Dave Reid.

Malcolm Gladwell: 40:59 Yeah, and another guy named Chris Brewster, another great runner of my generation. At the time we would've thought of ourselves as equals.

Robert Krulwich: 41:06 But those guys didn't have as many options as Malcolm.

Malcolm Gladwell: 41:10 There's a famous hill called Telegraph Hill.

Robert Krulwich: 41:13 I know Signal Hill.

Malcolm Gladwell: 41:14 Steep is the steepest … It's like running up the steepest flight of steps you've ever-

Robert Krulwich: 41:18 [crosstalk 00:41:18] …

Malcolm Gladwell: 41:18 I mean, it goes up for miles.

Robert Krulwich: 41:19 Like San Francisco steep?

Malcolm Gladwell: 41:20 Yeah, goes up forever. The first day think we ran up in and I just thought this is ridiculous.

Robert Krulwich: 41:26 Because you're huffing and puffing or because-

Malcolm Gladwell: 41:28 Just like why would we do this. Like it just seemed crazy. Then the next day we went there, we ran seven miles to Signal Hill and then Dave Reid and Chris Brewster decided they wanted to run up the hill backwards.

Robert Krulwich: 41:38 Really?

Malcolm Gladwell: 41:39 Which is you just run seven miles at probably 5:45 pace. It's 6:00 in the morning and they want to run up this huge hill backwards. I said no and I went home. I didn't want to run anymore. I wanted to be on the debating team and I wanted to read books and I wanted to hang out with my friend Terry. I quit.

Robert Krulwich: 42:06 So what is left to say about these genetically based racial differences in your mind?

Malcolm Gladwell: 42:13 Very little.

Robert Krulwich: 42:14 So all the things that we've been talking about in this show maybe there is a tendency to get sick in a certain way, maybe some medicines work a little better for one group than another.

Robert Krulwich: 42:24 Let's say it’s [inaudible 00:42:25] true. You say it's true but it's not true enough to be anything but a very short story?

Malcolm Gladwell: 42:31 Yeah. I'll grant you all those things and then I'll roll my eyes and say I don't really care.

Jad Abumrad: 42:42 Malcolm Gladwell's the latest book is called “Outliers” and Radiolab will return in a moment.

Chad Kenickie: 42:49 This is Chad Kenickie calling you from my living room in Cincinnati, Ohio. Radiolab is supported in part by the National Science Foundation and by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

Chad Kenickie: 43:05 More information about Sloan, at Thanks.

Jad Abumrad: 43:11 Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert Krulwich: 43:17 I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad Abumrad: 43:18 This is Radiolab. Our topic today is race, what science can cannot tell us about race.

Robert Krulwich: 43:22 Now that we're towards the back end of the program-

Jad Abumrad: 43:24 The front end or back end?

Robert Krulwich: 43:26 We're at the front of the back end. We can confess that what we asked before, what could a scientist tell us that's hard and true about the biology of race.

Jad Abumrad: 43:34 Nothing.

Robert Krulwich: 43:35 No, it's better than nothing.

Jad Abumrad: 43:36 All right, something.

Robert Krulwich: 43:37 But, once you drop the science part of race and think of it as just a way of sorting people into uses and thems, then it gets interesting.

Jad Abumrad: 43:45 Or at the very least, more complicated.

Female: 43:47 I didn't know.

Jad Abumrad: 43:50 Here's an example. We're uptown Manhattan, it’s 1:00 pm, third period's about the start. We're at a charter school called Facing History which has about 150 kids, mostly Hispanic. We'd come because we'd heard that every year in the ninth grade they do this particular guessing exercise.

David Sharon: 44:06 Okay. All these microphones and other people that you guys see today, they are not in the room. You can ignore them like sometimes you want to ignore me. All right?

Jad Abumrad: 44:14 This is first-year teacher David Sharon. He tells his class of about 12 freshmen to pull up their seats into a semi circle thing. Same class style as always. Let's go.

Jad Abumrad: 44:23 To get on their race goggles.

David Sharon: 44:25 All right. So, we have an activity here called sorting people.

Female: 44:30 Why does it say [inaudible 00:44:31]?

Jad Abumrad: 44:31 After handing out some worksheets David kills the lights, flips on his overhead projector and immediately eight faces appear projected onto the wall.

David Sharon: 44:40 What I want us to do is go kind of one by one and try to decide, try to come to a consensus okay what race are these people based on looking at them. Then we'll test it out.

Jad Abumrad: 44:51 He explains they've got four choices – Black, White, Asian, Native American.

David Sharon: 44:56 So, why don't we start out with the first one, the woman on the top left.

Jad Abumrad: 45:02 Pink cheeks, light-skinned, bushy hair, big Filipino nose. At least that's how it looked me.

David Sharon: 45:08 Demaro what do you think?

Demaro: 45:10 White.

David Sharon: 45:11 Richard.

Richard: 45:13 White.

David Sharon: 45:13 Tasha, what do you think?

Tasha: 45:13 She just seems White but then when you look at her hair it just seems like that she's Black.

David Sharon: 45:18 David?

David: 45:18 I'm going to go with White.

David Sharon: 45:20 So what do we think for the man on the bottom left?

Jad Abumrad: 45:21 Mustache, borderline afro.

Male: 45:24 Asian.

Female: 45:25 Native American.

Jad Abumrad: 45:26 A vaguely ethnic version of Tom Selleck.

Male: 45:29 I'm picking between White and Asian.

Male: 45:31 White or Asian or Native American.

Male: 45:35 I think he’s Black.

Male: 45:36 Black.

Male: 45:37 Hispanic.

David Sharon: 45:38 We're actually not going to use Hispanic. Let's take a vote here. How many people say Black? Three, okay. White? How many people say Native American?

Jad Abumrad: 45:51 All right to cut to the chase, after eight of these faces, David revealed the results. Turned out, pink face girl was Black, Tom Selleck was Asian and, all in all, the class got to three right.

David Sharon: 46:01 Three out of eight.

Jad Abumrad: 46:03 Which thrilled David.

David Sharon: 46:05 What does this tell us?

Jad Abumrad: 46:13 One of the kids in the back of the class, a girl named Bianca, finally says, “Well what it tells us this activity-

Bianca: 46:20 It's retarded. Sorry. It's still good.

David Sharon: 46:22 Why?

Bianca: 46:23 Because it’s stupid.

David Sharon: 46:26 Be a bit more specific?

Bianca: 46:27 Okay. So, let's say that you had a White mother and a Black father, the child will come out Brown.

Male: 46:35 No, it'd come out gray.

Male: 46:35 Right.

Bianca: 46:36 How would it come out gray? No, it will come out brown. Okay, I'm not White or Black, I'm Dominican. My mother is light skinned like David's color and my father is dark-skinned and I came out a mixed color. I'm brown. So is brown a race? So I guess I'm brown then.

Jad Abumrad: 46:51 Interestingly in the cafeteria after class when we asked people how do they identify … This is going to sound like a dumb question, but what race are you? Most people said something like this.

Female: 47:00 Trinidadian

Male: 47:01 Ecuadorian.

Female: 47:01 Dominican.

Jad Abumrad: 47:02 They named the country.

Male: 47:03 Mexican.

Male: 47:03 Jamaican.

Male: 47:04 I'm Columbian.

Female: 47:04 Puerto Rican.

Jad Abumrad: 47:05 Almost no one said of one of those four official categories. If they mentioned it at all it was just to say that they're somewhere in between or they switch back and forth.

Male: 47:13 Half Puerto Rican, half Salvadorian.

Male: 47:18 I'm a mix of Black people and Hispanics.

Male: 47:18 I'm Mexican but I'm not 100% Mexican.

Male: 47:19 My spirit is Black. You get what I'm saying?

Male: 47:21 If I'm in my neighborhood, people see as Spanish. But if I got out to my grandmother's block people see me as White.

Male: 47:28 When I go back home to Cuba everybody oh that's the Black kid. But when I come here all of a sudden I change my race, so I become Hispanic.

Robert Krulwich: 47:34 Do you do that too?

Jad Abumrad: 47:36 Do I race shift like these kids? No. I get confused a lot.

Robert Krulwich: 47:39 You could pass as a Jew, I think, even though you're an Arab.

Jad Abumrad: 47:43 What? In New York, forget it. But what's interesting is these kids it wasn't like they were unaware of race. They're aware. It's just fluid for them because I guess so many of them can pass for different things. It become then all about what you wear, what you listen to, small things in the end.

Robert Krulwich: 47:58 But in some circumstances we all know this, the tiniest differences can suddenly mean everything. We talked to … We're going to switch locations here from New York to Baghdad in Iraq. We talked to an Iraqi guy named Ali Abbas who works as a translator as a journalist in Baghdad.

Ali Abbas: 48:14 Yeah, with NPR Baghdad office.

Robert Krulwich: 48:17 When you were growing up in Baghdad when you were kid did you know whether you were Shia or Sunni?

Ali Abbas: 48:21 No. The first time I knew that I was a Sunni or Shia in fact it was sixth grade. We were sitting after a class break and someone asked me if I'm a Sunni or a Shia like another kid. I remember it was Tikriti-kid because-

Robert Krulwich: 48:39 That's the village where Saddam Hussein grew up.

Ali Abbas: 48:41 Yeah. That's the town where Saddam grew up.

Robert Krulwich: 48:43 What did you answer?

Ali Abbas: 48:45 I answered I don't know.

Robert Krulwich: 48:47 Because you really didn't know?

Ali Abbas: 48:48 I really didn't know so they made fun of me and I returned home and they said to my mom am I a Sunni or Shia. The first answer from my mom was a slap on my face.

Robert Krulwich: 48:59 Really?

Ali Abbas: 49:00 Yeah.

Robert Krulwich: 49:00 Why?

Ali Abbas: 49:00 She said never ask about these things. You're a Muslim and that's all what you care about. But that was then, this is now.

Robert Krulwich: 49:09 Today, says Ali, in Baghdad you can't go around saying I don't know who I am. Now, you have to choose.

Ali Abbas: 49:16 Yeah.

Robert Krulwich: 49:16 Even if you don't want to.

Ali Abbas: 49:18 May 2007 a friend of mine, close friend of mine, he calls me and says Ali did you hear about what happened to me and I'm like no what happened. He said my father they kidnapped him. His father is an old guy, 62, was just in his neighborhood buying candies for his grandson.

Robert Krulwich: 49:36 Then he disappeared.

Ali Abbas: 49:37 Just disappeared. No one knows.

Robert Krulwich: 49:39 In Baghdad, when someone's kidnapped they usually don't come back. Usually the body just shows up in the morgue. So, what Ali's friend wanted is he wanted to go to Baghdad morgue to go and find his father. But the problem was his friend couldn't go alone.

Ali Abbas: 49:55 Because he’s Sunni. His name is Ahmad and the morgue is completely controlled by Shia.

Robert Krulwich: 49:59 If a Sunni man was trying to get his relative's body out of morgue somewhere along the line the Shia militia-

Ali Abbas: 50:05 They will check the names and they would ask him about something, deep Shi'ite religion questions. If he fails that so they would just lynch him.

Robert Krulwich: 50:13 They would what?

Ali Abbas: 50:15 They would take him out of the hospital to something and they kill and dump his body somewhere.

Jad Abumrad: 50:24 Can ask a really dumb question?

Ali Abbas: 50:25 Sure.

Jad Abumrad: 50:26 You're walking through Baghdad you're walking to this hospital you see a Sunni, you see a Shia, can you tell the difference with your eyes at all?

Ali Abbas: 50:34 Sometimes you can't really know.

Robert Krulwich: 50:38 But sometimes you could take advantage of this confusion to help offend. Ali, after all, was always helping journalists get around Baghdad and you never knew who was going to be asking you questions. Sometimes it would be a Sunni militia, sometimes a Shia militia.

Ali Abbas: 50:53 It's very hard to know.

Robert Krulwich: 50:55 So, journalist would go around the town with two IDs simultaneously. One would be a Shia ID, the other a Sunni ID.

Ali Abbas: 51:04 They're putting it like somewhere in their pockets. The right is the Sunni, the left is the Shia.

Jad Abumrad: 51:08 Wait a second. The right is the Sunni; the left is a Shia?

Ali Abbas: 51:11 Yes.

Jad Abumrad: 51:11 So if in that split-second you think this guy's Sunni you go right?

Ali Abbas: 51:15 If you're Shia you would go left. That's-

Robert Krulwich: 51:17 If it were me, I know how I'd die.

Jad Abumrad: 51:21 [crosstalk 00:51:21] …

Ali Abbas: 51:25 But it’s not really fun though.

Robert Krulwich: 51:29 Especially when your job on this particular day is to take your Sunni friend into a hospital controlled by a Shia militia. So Ali decided that to protect his Sunni friend Ahmad maybe the best protection would be a slight name change. When they went to the hospital they would call him Amar, not Ahmar.

Ali Abbas: 51:48 Ahmar is a pure Sunni name. Ahmar is something in the middle. Could be Sunni or could be Shia.

Jad Abumrad: 51:53 Is there different spellings?

Ali Abbas: 51:56 Different spelling, yeah. Different spellings.

Jad Abumrad: 51:58 they sound almost identical.

Ali Abbas: 51:59 Yeah. But, just the F or the A in the middle.

Robert Krulwich: 52:04 By adding that one letter, that one extra A, Ali hoped that would keep his friend alive.

Ali Abbas: 52:10 So we went there. I took him and my brother who was Shia, who's also a physician at that time came with us. He came with us and I told him not to call Ahmar Ahmar. I told him to call Ahmar, Amar.

Robert Krulwich: 52:21 So Ali and his friend and his brother using this new name got into the morgue where they were taken to a room where everybody sits to look at pictures of people who are dead.

Ali Abbas: 52:31 We sat in that computer room they call it where they're like seven computer monitors. There's someone on the side of the room while he's holding the mouse and he's moving with his finger the pictures, changing the pictures and people sitting on the ground.

Ali Abbas: 52:46 Probably 35 or 40 other people on the ground looking at the pictures.

Robert Krulwich: 52:50 Hoping not to see a picture of their brother or their mother or their father.

Ali Abbas: 52:56 So whenever there's a picture of one of the relatives you will hear someone crying, shouting, wailing. We were looking at the pictures, looking at the pictures.

Robert Krulwich: 53:04 Pictures after picture after picture.

Ali Abbas: 53:06 We finally found reached a decision that his father wasn't among the pictures. Suddenly his father's picture comes out. Then Ahmar started crying. My brother would say Ahmar don't worry. Ahmar, this is god's decision, this is god's dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. Then-

Jad Abumrad: 53:27 He's say no, Amar?

Ali Abbas: 53:27 Ahmar and I would hit him on his chest. Donut say this word. Donut say it. Because not only Ahmar will be killed it will be us as well.

Robert Krulwich: 53:39 But nobody in the room apparently heard him say Ahmar, the wrong pronunciation. So they got a number from the picture and then they had to go to a different part of the morgue to actually locate the body and then of course bring it home for proper burial.

Ali Abbas: 53:51 So we walked out from the computer room, we went to the refrigerator which is actually not a refrigerator. It's just hallways. All these bodies dumped on both sides of the hallway. As soon as you enter these hallways you can barely hold your breath.

Ali Abbas: 54:06 The smell, the order is so, so stringent. It's like it's impossible to bear. The whole ground is full of a thick layer of greasy blood. It sticks to your foot when you walk. It's like [inaudible 00:54:22].

Robert Krulwich: 54:21 It was a very long hallway. Ahmar was - he actually fell twice. We would stop him from falling down and we would slap him on his face, wake up, we got to keep going. So we would walk all the way down to find all these piles of body.

Robert Krulwich: 54:42 Then in one pile the guy who's wearing boots, the worker there, he would tell us I think your father's within this pile. He's like talking normal, he’s unbothered by all of this.

Ali Abbas: 54:54 He threw the bodies from this side and from this side and then he took Ahmar’s father from his arms and he just pulled him from underneath the pile. Ahmar didn't want to believe that this was his father. He didn't want to believe.

Ali Abbas: 55:08 He said I don't know. I don't think this is my father. I don't see him but the tag number was there.

Robert Krulwich: 55:14 Because the tag number was there, they knew it was Ahmar’s father.

Ali Abbas: 55:18 We came out and we thought that's it, we're going to take the body and go home. At that moment-

Robert Krulwich: 55:27 They were suddenly approached by two Shia militiamen.

Ali Abbas: 55:32 They were very obvious they are Shiites and they're from [inaudible 00:55:34].

Robert Krulwich: 55:35 From one of the most radical groups in Baghdad.

Robert Krulwich: 55:39 One of them said let me see your ID.

Ali Abbas: 55:41 Ahmar had to give him his physicians ID.

Robert Krulwich: 55:47 But that ID had his real name, his Sunni name on it.

Ali Abbas: 55:51 He looked at it. So Ahmar, he said-

Jad Abumrad: 55:56 He said Ahmar.

Ali Abbas: 55:56 Ahmar.

Jad Abumrad: 55:59 So he knew.

Ali Abbas: 56:00 He talked to his friend next to him. They kept whispering to each other about the ID and realized probably realized that's the moment when we are all going to die. Yeah, we're done.

Ali Abbas: 56:14 So immediately, immediately we started talking to them in a very loud voice. Listen guys, we're your colleagues here. Whatever you need come to the emergency room ask for me, I'm Dr. Ali Abbas and this is my brother [inaudible 00:56:27] Abbas to show them they're we're Shiites.

Ali Abbas: 56:29 We started talking in a very heavy Shiite accent. You can come at any moment if you want to the ER. If you have anything just tell us. Let us know. We're your brothers. Help us here.

Jad Abumrad: 56:40 [inaudible 00:56:40]?

Ali Abbas: 56:41 No, we just kept looking at their eyes [inaudible 00:56:45]. Thank God they gave us the papers back. We got Ahmar’s father out. He took him and buried him.

Robert Krulwich: 57:08 Ali Abbas has now left Baghdad. He's moved to Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood very proud of its mix of races and people from all over the world. But, remember Baghdad was a multicultural city as well for hundreds of years longer than Brooklyn.

Robert Krulwich: 57:23 So I asked him now that you're here, given what you've seen, what do you think about us?

Ali Abbas: 57:28 I would tell you something. The subway is my … I would sit in a subway car in Iran and looking at the people -- African American, Hispanic, White. I questioned myself. He's a Jew. He's not a Jew, he's Christian.

Ali Abbas: 57:43 I'm looking at the people and it's exactly this question that comes in my mind. How they're living together? How-

Robert Krulwich: 57:52 Does it seem like something that could explode?

Ali Abbas: 57:54 Oh, yeah. It's something that I always think. I mean, I look at them and look at all kind of faces and wondered how can this country hold that together.

Robert Krulwich: 58:17 That was Ali Abbas, also the translator for National Public Radio.

Jad Abumrad: 58:21 Okay. Time to go. is our website. is our email. I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert Krulwich: 58:29 I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad Abumrad: 58:30 Thanks for listening.

Female: 58:32 Radio Lab is produced by Soran Wheeler and Jad Abumrad. Our staff and crew is [inaudible 00:58:37], Jonathan Mitchell, Aaron Horne, Amanda [inaudible 00:58:40] and Jessica [inaudible 00:58:42] with help from Sally [inaudible 00:58:44]. Special thanks to David Shearing, Carey Donahue, Phyllis Glory and Alley Stanton, Stacy Abramson and the [inaudible 00:58:55] School.

Female: 58:56 End of mailbox.