Today on Blogcritics

The Gene Race

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One of the more amazing breakthroughs in science is also becoming one of the more controversial. The further we delve into the mystery of who we are and what makes us that way through the study of genetics and D.N.A. results in answers being postulated to questions of racial characteristics that are making people uncomfortable.

From the earliest days of evolutionary theory people have tried to pervert scientific fact in order to prove the supremacy of one people over another. The social Darwinists of the early twentieth century extrapolated that rich, poor, and other social status indications were the result of natural selection; a survival of the fittest played out in society’s hierarchy.

Of course they and subsequent subscribers to supremacist theories, including the Nazis, only used supportive arguments, and discounted any facts that countered their theories. The Nazi myth of the pure Aryan bloodline arose from tales of Teutonic knights. (Interestingly enough new anthropological research has shown that Aryan’s were native to India not a people passing through from Europe and back again. see forward to Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series for more details)

Geneticists fear a similar recurrence of events with the new information they are uncovering. Until very recently it was thought that as little as only .1% of genetic code was pertinent to racial traits. That under the skin we were pretty much all the same. Not only have scientists started to rethink that original ratio and increase it up to .2% with the potential for it being as high as a full 1%, they are coming to realize the amount of influence that .1-.2% has is far greater then was first presumed.

By examining the D.N.A. of a particular person they are able to establish their exact racial breakdown based on previous definitions of country of origin. For example a sample can show that a person is made up of a mixture of German, West African and Native American racial types. They can even pinpoint the exact percentages of each strain.

While it’s tempting to see this as a breakthrough for crime detection, it has been pointed out that these figures do not definitively translate into physical characteristics. Even if a person has predominant West African genes it does not mean they will have the physical characteristics of an African American.

As an example of genetic quirks and throwbacks I would cite the example of a family of Mohawk Indians I know. While the parents are both dark skinned and black haired, along with one son, the other son has flaming red hair, green eyes and is as pale skinned as any European. Both sons are the birth children of the same parents, but one carries a regressive gene from some earlier generation. So although their D.N.A. samples would have a similar complexion(no pun intended) the two sons share few obvious physical traits.

But where this issue starts to get both serious and exciting is the topic of race specific traits. For example one anthropologist has postulated that Ashkenazi Jews(ones of European decent)have a gene which passes along traits of higher intelligence then other Europeans. They claim that over a thousand years of laws that pushed them into business forbidden Christians caused a type of natural selection that had those fittest to thrive in an intellectual capacity prevailed.

By stating the possibility that intelligence could be a genetic trait, and that different races could have different genetic potential for achieving higher intelligent quotient the racial supremacy can of worms is opened. As more scientist delve into the genetic map in an effort to discover hints to how certain deceases are passed from one generation to another, more racially specific data is being uncovered.

While the merits for discovering how and why certain deceases are passed and whether or not a certain race’s immunity can be replicated are obvious. What need is there for us to figure out why one type of people can run faster then another? What common good is being filled by that information?

Furthermore when you consider how young the human race is( the oldest being around 120,000 years old), the amount of time passed for any significant distinctions to have developed through genetic mutations is limited. The difference between the human genetic code and a gorilla’s is only 1%. So how much real differences can have developed between humans in our limited time on earth. There is more genetic variation between two frogs sitting side by side in a swamp then two humans.

Solely studying genetics discounts far too many factors. Even in the example cited of the Ashkenazi Jews the role of environment and social conditions was cited as being the reason that the “smart gene” developed. This does not mean that other races given the same situation would not respond in the same manner. If it had been people of African decent would not the same thing have happened?

But instead of looking at it from this angle the scientists said let’s see why Jews are so smart. Instead of developing a general hypothesis which would have said what effects does this type of environment have upon the evolutionary process in humans, they deliberately limited the study to one racial group based upon a generalized stereotype.

Until they are able to reproduce identical environmental conditions for all genetic possibilities to react too, how can anybody postulate one group is smarter, or faster, or anything better or worse then anybody else. It is irresponsible to make statements like this without qualifying them in some manner.

This type of information is too important to be dealt with in a trivial manner. It is reprehensible that scientists are utilizing racial stereotypes as a basis for research. To claim that Ashkenazi are genetically smarter,(If you ever met my mother’s family that argument would fall apart in front of your eyes) or that Kenyan Blacks are inherently faster based on information from a still inexact science falls into the province of trying figure out how many angels one can fit on the head of a pin. One seriously has to wonder what motivated this research in the first place.

scientific information was taken from articles in the Globe and Mail dated Sat. June 18th and June 25th/05 written by Carolyn Abraham. They are the first of two articles dealing with race and genetics that are being run in the paper for the next couple of weeks. If you are able to access the paper either on line or in hard copy they are well worth reading. gypsyman

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Can you provide any specific links to such research?

    Since the difference, genetically, between humans and the two/three other species of great apes in homionoidea, is between 2% to 5%, some of this genetic data could be correlated with that from apes.

    Furthermore, there is not complete agreement on whether the human gene is entirely of African origin, or whether there was multiple strands that later merged into homo sapiens, thus the genetic markers of different people could provide varying data based on their ancestral origins.

  • http://www.pippensqueak.blogspot.com gypsyman

    Aaman,
    The best I can do is direct you to the globe and mail which is where I did my reading on the subject. The two articles I read summarised data from a variety of studies that have occured around the world over the last couple of years.
    Most of the source material has been puvlished in specific scientific journals only so far, and some of it was based on interviews with people involved in ongoing research that has yet to be published.
    This is what’s so dangerous about this work right now, is that people keep jumping to conclusions long before all the results are in.
    The articles I was reading stated that only two years ago scientests assumed that because the percentage was so small for inherited traits that we were all the same, now they can’t even agree on what the percentage may end up being, what the significance of the results are, etc. etc.
    By publishing conclusions now I believe they are behaving in a precipitous and dangerous manner, especialy with such a sensitive subject.
    The Globe and Mail’s address is http://www.globeandmail.com, and the articles are in the Health and Science section. Unfortunately they work on a subscriber basis.
    But anyone who would like to read the articles is free to drop me an email and I’ll give them my username and password and they can pretend to be me. I believe that they also have a two week trial period that is free, but they ask for a credit card number so you have to make sure and cancell before the two weeks expires so you don’t automaticaly become a member

    cheers
    gypsyman

  • Nancy

    There’s a slew of really interesting genetics studies coming out now in the science lit, but on the subject of genetics & intelligence, one interesting factor in the western cultures (if they ever examine this aspect) should be (according to the Jewish study) that general population intelligence in western countries should be lowered, since for the past 100 years only the brightest, healthiest males were selected as military recruits, and then killed off in the massive wars during this time period, leaving the genetic ‘losers’ to be the breeding stock (I myself have never figured out why they should do it this way and not the other way around; logically it does not compute). Now this may be fallacious reasoning, as the population pool left is/was too large to feel the effects of detrimental selection, but it’s a good question. Logically it does not make sense, I must admit, to kill off the most intelligent and healthy members of a gene pool, of whatever species. No one who raises critters that I know would kill off the ‘good’ ones and breed from the weaker ones. Like it or not, humans ARE animals and follow mendalian laws just like any other critter.

    Query: is it still eugenics when the only criteria are general genetic good health issues, and not race, religion, or any other factor? Does it make sense to continue to allow everyone to breed at will, including & especially those who have high-probabilities of debilitating genetic defects or “undesirable” traits, such as histories of high disease/condition, insanity, criminal, or retardation rates? Is it ever acceptable to even consider eradicating thru genetics such problems as inherited diseases or retardation?

    This in turn raises questions about just what traits are genetically determined, and what level is considered unacceptable. For example, probably most criminals are created by a combination of nurture & surrounding circumstances, but there are small examples of unsettling evidence that in at least a few instances, the criminal tendencies to undue violence, socio/psychopathy, etc. are in fact genetic. At one point in the not too far distant past, it was surmised that an extra ‘Y’ was an indicator of an inherent criminal tendency. In fact, it has been persuasively argued that there is an entire class of persons who have been recognized as being overwhelmingly and predominantly responsible for violence, i.e. men, courtesy of testosterone, which of course is genetic.

    No one wants to discuss the problem of eugenics and genetic health, due to its horrific history at the hands of the Nazis, and the possibility – actually being realistic, the probability – of its misuse at the hands of any government or authority, but I think it’s en route anyway, altho how it will end up being implemented is anybody’s guess. Perhaps by the insurance companies; multinational corporations are barely restrained from unilateral behavior as it is, by current governments. I think it’s only a matter of time before the massive insurance and/or health industries start pushing openly for some sort of scale value of each individual’s ‘viability’, and justify it by citing a need for cost control – which outrageous as that is, the government doesn’t seem to mind. Indeed, they do it now, they just aren’t able to use genetic profiling yet.

    Thoughts/comments on any aspect of the above?