Saturday, July 19, 2008

Human Genetics and Racial Categories

A new article "The ethics of characterizing difference: guiding principles on using racial categories in human genetics" caught my eye (Via Dienekes').

The scope of the paper as described in the abstract:
We are a multidisciplinary group of Stanford faculty who propose ten principles to guide the use of racial and ethnic categories when characterizing group differences in research into human genetic variation.

And the ten guidelines are:
Statement 1: We believe that there is no scientific basis for any claim that the pattern of human genetic variation supports hierarchically organized categories of race and ethnicity

Statement 2: We recognize that individuals of two different geographically defined human populations are more likely to differ at any given site in the genome than are two individuals of the same geographically defined population

Statement 3: We urge those who use genetic information to reconstruct an individual's geographic ancestry to present results within the broader context of an individual's overall ancestry

Statement 4: We recognize that racial and ethnic categories are created and maintained within sociopolitical contexts and have shifted in meaning over time

Statement 5: We caution against making the naive leap to a genetic explanation for group differences in complex traits, especially for human behavioral traits such as IQ scores, tendency towards violence, and degree of athleticism

Statement 6: We encourage all researchers who use racial or ethnic categories to describe how individual samples are assigned category labels, to explain why samples with such labels were included in the study, and to state whether the racial or ethnic categories are research variables

Statement 7: We discourage the use of race as a proxy for biological similarity and support efforts to minimize the use of the categories of race and ethnicity in clinical medicine, maintaining focus on the individual rather than the group

Statement 8: We encourage the funding of interdisciplinary study of human genetic variation that includes a broad range of experts in the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences

Statement 9: We urge researchers, those working in media, and others engaged in the translation of research results to collaborate on efforts to avoid overstatement of the contribution of genetic variation to phenotypic variation

Statement 10: We recommend that the teaching of genetics include historical and social scientific information on past uses of science to promote racism as well as the potential impact of future policies; we encourage increased funding for the development of such teaching materials and programs for secondary and undergraduate education

In my opinion, except statement 7, rest are not really important. Recently there was a study on "Indian population groups" and genetic link to diseases. I expressed similar feelings to one of the geneticists involved in the project. I feel a lot of effort (I guess that project took years to complete but wasn't accepted by major science journals) and money is being wasted on a field which may not have much relevance.

Though I am all for individual genetic horoscope, I must admit I don't have much idea about its usefulness.


Maju said...

Good that you reflected the original letter and not the distorted (almost unrecognizable) version at the New Scientist article.

If I'm not wrong, what you are traying to say is that local differences may be as important or more than "racial" ones, right? If so I can't but agree 100%.

Manjunat said...

I am saying disease stereotypes of "population groups" is not going to be helpful for an individual.

Maju said...

Guess it apllies mostly to diagnosis: if physicians can narrow what "risk groups" the patient belongs to, thay may increase their chances of a good diagonsis. Though it's probably true that may equally make it more difficult for those that dont belong to the risk groups of the disease they have.

For me it's that I just don't see races as very defining. Not more than aby other categories you can put any person in (IDK, things like Rajastani, female, pregnant, obese, having a schizophrenic aunt... whatever).