Monday, October 17, 2011

A negative perspective on the Genographic Project

This article is a bit older (sorry!), but I felt it warranted review. It is a response to the announcement of the Genographic Project from an indigenous rights attorney. In summary, the article is a classical sociocultural versus biological debate. She is worried that this project is too reminiscent of the Human Genome Diversity Project--a similar project from the '90s that failed to obtain national funding due to bioethical problems. While it is certainly important to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, I believe the author goes a bit too far in her claims that the Genograhic Project will harm these people and the cultures the people are trying to preserve. For example, she says "Despite the speculative nature of genetic research on human histories, the findings of the Genographic Project will carry the weight of science, which could be used to trump indigenous peoples' unique political status and rights".

There are two aspects of this statement that are troubling. The first is the claim that genetic research on human histories is "highly speculative". This shows a misunderstanding of what genetics can tell us. Admittedly, our methods are improving daily and have come a long way since 2005. This doesn't negate that in 2005 we still had quite a solid foundation for the Genographic project (much more solid than in the '90s, to be sure), which is being willfully ignored by the author. The second problem is the notion that big, bad science will come in and "challenge the 'indigenousness' or 'aboriginality' od certain indigenouse populations...". This reads to me like a case of sciencephobia. The notion that an institution like National Geographic will use science to harm indigenous populations is simply ludicrous. It also further reveals her misunderstanding of what kind of "genetic information" is being sought, and what it can tell us. Understanding migration patterns has no bearing on the sociopolitical concept of "indigenousness". In fact, the Genographic Project is directly assisting the preservation of indigenous culture, an example of which is shown HERE.

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