Open Access Open Badges Debate

Human difference in the genomic era: Facilitating a socially responsible dialogue

Sarah Knerr13, Edward Ramos12*, Juleigh Nowinski14, Keianna Dixon15 and Vence L Bonham1

Author Affiliations

1 National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, 31 Center Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892 USA

2 Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health, National Institutes of Health, 12 South Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892 USA

3 Institute for Public Health Genetics, University of Washington, Box 357236, Seattle, WA 98195 USA

4 Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20201 USA

5 Columbia University, 2960 Broadway, New York, NY 10027 USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medical Genomics 2010, 3:20  doi:10.1186/1755-8794-3-20

Published: 26 May 2010



The study of human genetic variation has been advanced by research such as genome-wide association studies, which aim to identify variants associated with common, complex diseases and traits. Significant strides have already been made in gleaning information on susceptibility, treatment, and prevention of a number of disorders. However, as genetic researchers continue to uncover underlying differences between individuals, there is growing concern that observed population-level differences will be inappropriately generalized as inherent to particular racial or ethnic groups and potentially perpetuate negative stereotypes.


We caution that imprecision of language when conveying research conclusions, compounded by the potential distortion of findings by the media, can lead to the stigmatization of racial and ethnic groups.


It is essential that the scientific community and with those reporting and disseminating research findings continue to foster a socially responsible dialogue about genetic variation and human difference.