Thursday, July 17, 2008

Entry #177: Ten Commandments, for the Modern Day or the ethics of genetic engineering

From this week's Genome Biology on how to deal with genetic information:

1. All races are created equal
No genetic data has ever shown that one group of people is inherently superior to another. Equality is a moral value central to the idea of human rights; discrimination against any group should never be tolerated.

2. An Argentinian and an Australian are more likely to have differences in their DNA than two Argentinians
Groups of human beings have moved around throughout history. Those that share the same culture, language or location tend to have different genetic variations than other groups. This is becoming less true, though, as populations mix.

3. A person's history isn't written only in his or her genes
Everyone's genetic material carries a useful, though incomplete, map of his or her ancestors' travels. Studies looking for health disparities between individuals shouldn't rely solely on this identity. They should also consider a person's cultural background.

4: Members of the same race may have different underlying genetics
Social definitions of what it means to be "Hispanic" or "black" have changed over time. People who claim the same race may actually have very different genetic histories.

5. Both nature and nurture play important parts in our behaviors and abilities
Trying to use genetic differences between groups to show differences in intelligence, violent behaviors or the ability to throw a ball is an oversimplification of much more complicated interactions between genetics and environment.

6. Researchers should be careful about using racial groups when designing experiments
When scientists decide to divide their subjects into groups based on ethnicity, they need to be clear about why and how these divisions are made to avoid contributing to stereotypes.

7. Medicine should focus on the individual, not the race
Although some diseases are connected to genetic markers, these markers tend to be found in many different racial groups. Overemphasising genetics may promote racist views or focus attention on a group when it should be on the individual.

8. The study of genetics requires cooperation between experts in many different fields

Human disease is the product of a mishmash of factors: genetic, cultural, economic and behavioral. Interdisciplinary efforts that involve the social sciences are more likely to be successful.

9. Oversimplified science feeds popular misconceptions
Policy makers should be careful about simplifying and politicising scientific data. When presenting science to the public, the media should address the limitations of race-related research.

10. Genetics 101 should include a history of racism
Any high school or college student learning about genetics should also learn about misguided attempts in the past to use science to justify racism. New textbooks should be developed for this purpose.

Journal reference: Genome Biology (online, full text available here w/ abstract and everythang).

Above is an image from Hitler's foray into his ideal race.

Interesting paper (note: PDF) on Race Cleansing in America.

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