What Can the Slim Initiative in Genomic Medicine for the Americas (SIGMA) Contribute to Preventing, Treating, or Decreasing the Impact of Diabetes among Mexicans and Latin Americans?


  • Claudia Chaufan Temple University Press




In this commentary I set aside the potentially fruitful question of whether social scientists should be open to or reject genetic conceptions of race in research that purports to contribute to improving health and reducing health inequalities. I address instead the science underlying one such research endeavor: the Slim Initiative in Genomic Medicine for the Americas (SIGMA), which triggered the current debate. I argue that SIGMA, like similar studies, has nothing to add to current knowledge about how to prevent, treat, or decrease inequalities pertaining to common diseases such as diabetes, and that therefore there is no social value in pursuing them. I also engage conceptual problems with the notions of “genetic predisposition” and “heritability,” both of which I have discussed in detail elsewhere. The basic thrust of my argument is that (1) the nonadditive and developmental nature of complex phenotypes like diabetes precludes the empirical identification of whatever may be meant by “predisposing gene variants” and (2) heritability measures are useful only for selective breeding and therefore of no relevance to research in human health. I conclude that identifying genes presumed to “predispose” individuals or populations to diabetes and other common diseases is a fruitless enterprise, whether “predisposed” populations are organized around race or any other category.