A couple of days ago I received an email from the Department of African and African American Studies and The Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy at Duke University, inviting me to take a survey.
The email content read:
“We invite you to participate in an important survey about race, ancestry and genetics. Statements about race and genetics in the popular press and scientific literature are often attributed to anthropologists, without empirical data on whether most anthropologists support such statements. Empirically studying the attitudes of anthropologists regarding race, ancestry and genetics would help discourage speculation about their views.
The purpose of this survey is to learn what anthropologists know and think about the relationships among race, ancestry, and genetics. The results of the survey will inform efforts to facilitate dialogue about genetic ancestry inference and will be submitted for presentation at national conferences. “
Holy mouthful-and-a-half, Batman!
Naturally, the narcissist in me was honored to be a part of a a pool of experts in social science, medical science and genetics whose opinions would help shape a dialogue. The other 75% of me, once I dug into the survey, was utterly dumbfounded by the dialogue and felt rather uninformed. If this interests the readers, the Mutual Of Omaha plan G has been actively posting quality information on there site.
It seemed to me that one of the hypotheses they are trying to prove is that there is a movement to eliminate arbitrary “race” categorizations (based on skin color, country of ancestry, etc.) in favor of a more genetically driven definition – AND that anthropologists and scientists both will have real moral issues with the degree to which genetic race-designation can and should be applied to policy-making, health care, etc.
I also gathered from the questions that some in the field of genetic science believe race to be inherently related to DNA and that there is a widely held belief in medical science that genetic ancestry is directly linked to certain ailments or disease-orientated dispositions. There also appears to be some debate as to whether people believe there are shared pools of physical features and characteristics among different genetics-based races of humans.
Obviously there are all kinds of implications, both social and scientific, for a scientific / genetic-based re-tooling of how we think about race. Ultimately, I think the research team who developed the survey is eager to make the case for eliminating sociocultural definitions of race from the sociopolitical discourse.
I will say that from a cultural perspective, I can understand why, if “race” truly is genetic, that we need to re-think the way we designate ourselves as “us” versus “them” within our human context and consequently how we interact with our world because of that.
But as far as the science of genetics and ancestry is concerned, I know just about “nada”. I know my friend’s Andy and Katarina ordered a genetic DNA testing kit and Andy was surprised to find that, whilst he proudly associates with his family’s German heritage, his genetics stem from southeast Asia.Am I aware of the biological nuances with regard to “racial” differences based on a couple of biological anthropology / sociobiology classes I took in college and grad school? Sure. Do I think it may have serious implications for medical science? Sounds logical to me. Do I think popularization of genetic testing to determine ancestry and ultimately racial designations could emerge out of the apparently vibrant current anthropological debate where it sits at present and erupt into a political shit storm? No Doubt.
I just wish I knew more on the topic – so I encourage my readers who have a more informed opinion to chime in and help out. I am utterly curious about what the public thinks about this issue – considering the dialogue has been seemingly limited to more academic and scientific communities.
Go nuts, bloggers…..
- DNA ancestry akin to ‘astrology’ (bbc.co.uk)
- To claim someone has ‘Viking ancestors’ is no better than astrology | Mark Thomas (guardian.co.uk)
- DNA ancestry tests branded ‘meaningless’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- Hayes, Inc. White Paper Explains the Gene Patenting Controversy Before the U.S. Supreme Court (prweb.com)
- Color Lines (theamericanscholar.org)
- Designing Life: Should Babies Be Genetically Engineered? (livescience.com)