Monday, April 25, 2005

Tracing humanity's whakapapa

This month, National Geographic launched the genographic project, aimed at tracing human migration patterns using DNA. If successful, it would be a fantastic addition to our knowledge of human history. Unfortunately, it seems some people would rather not understand their own origins:

Dr Paul Reynolds of Auckland University's Maori research centre, Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, urged Maori to boycott the project because it implied that people's origins could be traced in their genes.

"This type of research is colonisation as usual," he said.

"Indigenous people will be saying we already have our stories about our origins, so we don't need a scientific rationale to justify our origins.

But while we have stories, it's nice to have confirmation. The only reason for opposing investigating those stories (whether through archeology or genetics) is because you know that those stories are untrue. But then if you know they are untrue, why believe them?

As for Dr Reynolds' first comment, the fact is that people's origins can be traced through their genes. Paternity tests are an obvious example. But it goes deeper than that. There are chunks of DNA which are stable between generations (being shared by both parents), which are altered only occasionally by mutatations. These mutations can be used both as genetic markers and as a kind of clock. With a lot of samples, we can find out how populations of the human species are related to one another, and trace the entire human family tree. And that's ultimately what this project is about: tracing humanity's whakapapa. Why would anyone be opposed to that?


I guess it's much the same as christians refusing to believe in evolution.

Posted by Rich : 4/26/2005 12:40:00 PM

Sometimes academics may try to protect humanity from itself.

This is particularly common in genetics. For example WHAT IF you found out that lets say maori are almost identical to asians ancestors a few hundred thousand years ago and LETS SAY koreans are found to be genetically predisposed to having higher average IQ's to the degree that a random korean will almost always be smarter than a random maori.

In that case some might say that racism becomes "justifyable" for example in employment - if that is indeed the case then do we want anyone to know? Afterall if they dont know they cant use it to create racism a constant flow of disinformation from academia might just be able to fight back the tide.

Having said that I dont really like this sort of academic deception - but I am aware of it and its basic justification.

Posted by Genius : 4/26/2005 07:14:00 PM

I think genius is on the right track here. Of course, scientific facts in no way justify racism or discrimination in-themselves. How can they? A fact can certainly be used to promote prejudice, but only in conjunction with other non-scientific beliefs, so it's barking up the wrong tree entirely to pre-emptively blame genetic research for any oppression of indigenous peoples that may happen because of bigots who pervert science. Some of the comments from the detractors of this study sound suspiciously like postmodernist thinking taken too far.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/27/2005 08:34:00 PM

I think we had better learn to deal with the possibility that some races are more intelligent than others, because it may very well turn out to be true. Or it may be that certain races tend to have different configurations of the various types of intelligence. The one thing which seems most unlikely to me is that all ethnic groups/cultures, everywhere, are absolutely equal across the entire spectrum of human achievement.

That said, we already know that among individuals, not everybody is equal. But we don't accept this as a justification for discriminating against individuals, even in cases where there is no doubt that a person is of below-average intelligence.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/28/2005 10:50:00 AM