Saturday, February 12, 2011

Race, Science, & Choice

You’ve perhaps seen more science-related discussions from me lately. That’s because I’ve been following Alondra Nelson’s twitter page sociallifeofdna, which often leads me to interesting information about science and technology.

I’ve been looking at a few topics related to genomics, and so I took a few notes from a recent interview on Radio Boston about the exhibit “RACE: Are We So Different.”

In the interview, Alondra discusses the implications of the human genome project and points out that “it’s an occasion, I think, for us to think in new ways about race and science.” She extends by noting the recent history of genomics and why we might want to give thought to the choices we make about what we focus on in scientific results:
There’s this incredible moment where we use all of this technology and all of this genius to decode the human genome and to really sort of codify in important ways the fact that we’re 99.9% alike, the human species, right?

But at the same time, those tools bring with it the possibility of parsing in new ways the one tenth of percent in which, you know, individuals and populations might vary. And so one of the things I would want people to take away is to think about that decision as a choice that societies and communities make. We make a choice to look at the 0.1% rather than the 99.9%.

And you know there could be some arguments that will remain to be seen about whether or not that 0.1% is where medical utility might lie, and it might be practical to do so. But it’s just a general kind of broader issue the fact that we concentrate on the 0.1% I think should be noted as a choice that we make.

And there are other societies where people are struggling to get immunization, to get access to anti-viral medications and the like, where the 99.9% is a lot more important.

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