A brief biography
Jonathan M. Marks, PhD, is a biological anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC). Previously, he has taught at Yale University and the University of California, Berkeley. His interests include human evolution, the anthropology of science, general biological anthropology, general anthropology, and the critical, historical, and social studies of human genetics, genomics, evolution, and variation.
Background: Marks received his Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences from The Johns Hopkins University in 1975. He attained his Master’s in Genetics in 1977 from the University of Arizona. While at the University of Arizona, he also received his Master’s in Anthropology in 1979, and his doctorate in anthropology in 1984.
While at the University of Arizona, Marks became interested in physical anthropology through William Rathje’s Tucson Garbage Project. It was here where Marks was also introduced to paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, who became an influential figure in Marks’ career.
Marks did his dissertation on chimpanzee chromosomes, receiving his PhD in anthropology in 1984. His post-doctoral position was in a molecular genetics lab at University of California, Davis at the start of the DNA sequencing era. His work concerned the evolution of primate hemoglobin genes. While at UC-Davis, he co-taught a seminar on the history of physical anthropology along with Henry McHenry. He also attended primatology seminars led by Sarah Hrdy.
Research and methods: Marks has written widely on the relationships between anthropology and genetics and anthropology and race. In Marks’ work, genetics is both a biological and cultural phenomenon embedded with various ideologies, values, and meanings. Genetics is often misused to justify racism, race being a biocultural construct imbued with cultural meaning, which makes race ‘real’ in a cultural sense but not in a genetic one. Nevertheless, as Marks (2009) writes in his book Why I am Not a Scientist, “One of the greatest misunderstandings of contemporary science is the idea that geneticists have anything reasonably authoritative to say about race.”
Marks also looks into genetic changes part of human evolution. In What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee, Apes, People, and Their Genes (2002), Marks argues that the 2 percent difference in DNA between human and chimps must be interpreted. In a separate piece, Marks (2000) writes, “It has been invoked to argue that we are simply a third kind of chimpanzee, together with the common chimp and the rarer bonobo; to claim human rights for nonhuman apes; and to explain the roots of male aggression…Actually, our amazing genetic similarity to chimpanzees is a scientific fact constructed from two rather more mundane facts: our familiarity with the apes and our unfamiliarity with genetic comparisons.”
Marks argues for the critical study of the production of genetic facts, which has historically been limited to methodological questions (Marks, 2013). Marks also calls for critical thought of the nature of science itself, which is often seen to be removed from cultural influence. Marks calls for, in other words, the anthropology of science. Marks (2009) writes:
“The study of nature is powerful, and power is cultural. Engaging cultural issues is essential for understanding science; it is not an antithesis of science, as spirituality is. An anthropology of science is relevant to understanding the history and present status of scientific theories, to evaluating the reliability of scientific claims, to understanding human evolution diversity, to making sense of the process by which scientific knowledge is produced and accepted, and to the effective dissemination and wide-spread application of scientific knowledge. An anthropology of science provides a frame for understanding science in a more comprehensive and accurate manner than is otherwise possible, and connects it to the world of human experience and social life, which ultimately is what makes science possible.”
In short, Marks uses interdisciplinary methods to historically, biologically, and socially examine human genetics, genomics, evolution, and variation.
Legacy: Marks has taught courses on creationism, the anthropology of science, human biology and culture, race and anthropology, history of anthropological theory, primatology, molecular anthropology, anthropological genetics, popular anthropological literature, and introductory courses in anthropology and physical anthropology. Marks has been awarded several awards for excellence in teaching, including the 1999 Mayfield Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching of Anthropology given by the American Anthropological Association.
At UNCC, Marks works with graduate and undergraduate anthropology students. Marks’ former students include Libby Cowgill (biological anthropologist at the University of Missouri), Deborah Bolnick (biological anthropologist at the University of Texas at Austin), Judy Kidd, and Amos Deinard.
Marks is the author of several books, including What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and Their Genes (2002), which was the winner of the 2003 W.W. Howells Prize from the Biological Anthropology Section of the American Anthropological Association, as well as the 2009 J.I. Staley Prize from the School for Advanced Research.
In 2012, Marks gave a TEDxEast talk in New York entitled “You Are Not an Ape!”
Marks, J. (2013). The Nature/Culture of Genetic Facts. In D. Brenneis & K. B. Strier (Eds.), Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol 42 (Vol. 42, pp. 247-267). Palo Alto: Annual Reviews.
Marks, J. (2009). Why I Am Not a Scientist: Anthropology and Modern Knowledge. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Marks, J. (2002). What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and Their Genes. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Marks, J. (2000). 98% Alike? (What Our Similarity to Apes Tells Us About Our Understanding of Genetics). The Chronicle of Higher Education.
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