Friday, June 25, 2010

Genographic or xenophobic?

On the surface, it seems odd that anyone would oppose a study of mankind's footprints and paths. 

But National Geographic's Genographic Project will probably always face the element fear. There are tribes, particularly in Alaska, who fear potential consequences of the project. My interest is, of course, solely as a very curious individual who has always been interested in origins and migratory routes. Almost all my childhood friends are descendants of immigrants, if not immigrants themselves. Even Native Hawaiians were once new to these islands. We all came from somewhere else. But this New York Times story notes how the concern about discovering DNA denominators that cross oceans and mountains could have political repercussions, inadvertent as they may be in purpose. 
"What if it turns out you're really Siberian and then, oops, your health care is gone?" said Dr. David Barrett, a co-chairman of the Alaska Area Institutional Review Board, which is sponsored by the Indian Health Service, a federal agency. "Did anyone explain that to them?"

There are all kinds of points and counterpoints to be made. It's unfortunate that the project may not proceed without obstruction. But ideals are simply temporary. Reality always kicks the gall out of idealists, and there is red tape — and sensitivity to an issue like health care — to weave through. A more recent word from the project's leader, Spencer Wells:
"Many of the crises we see in the 21st century, I would argue, have their roots in the dawn of the Neolithic," he says. "We spent an enormous amount of time as hominids and as primates living as hunter-gatherers. That is the natural way for us to live, and we're suddenly living in this profoundly unnatural way, and we're still in the process of adapting to it and working out how to live with it."

(See the series here.)

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