Improving the use of race and ethnicity in genetic research: a survey of instructions to authors in genetics journals

Outram, S. M. and Ellison, G. T. H (2006). Improving the use of race and ethnicity in genetic research: a survey of instructions to authors in genetics journals. Science Editor, 29(3) pp. 78–81.



To explore the guidance provided by genetics journals on the use of race and ethnicity, this survey examined the instructions for authors and recent content of 120 journals indexed under “Genetics and Heredity” within the Web of Science. Only two of the journals had instructions for authors that directly referred to race or ethnicity, and both implicitly validated the genetic utility of ethnicity by encouraging its use to identify or classify genetic variation. The instructions for authors of five other journals referred to the American Medical Association’s Manual of Style or the “Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals” developed by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE); one more journal was listed on the ICMJE Web site. Both those more generic style guides had dedicated sections advising prospective authors to “justify” and “define” or “explain” their use of race and ethnicity. However, it is unclear whether any of the six genetics journals linked to either of the style guides actually intended authors to comply with their particular sections on race and ethnicity, particularly inasmuch as the instructions of three of the journals referred only to the sections of the style guides related to the formatting of references. Despite the paucity of guidance on race and ethnicity, from 1994 to 2004 55.8% of the journals had published empirical articles using “racial”, “ethnic”, or related census categories. In the absence of dedicated guidelines, the responsibility rests with journal editors to draw the attention of authors and reviewers to longstanding concerns over the reliability, validity, and sensitivity of using race and ethnicity in genetic research and to encourage critical reflection and debate and better standards of measurement and reporting.

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