Robert Sapolsky asserts that humans have one trait that best defines and distinguishes us from other species: the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in our head, and yet continue on in the face of it.
New Scientist’s headline “‘Ten Commandments’ of race and genetics issued” possibly falls into the overly-clever-but-unnecessary category of journalistic wordplay. They took the easy way out; ashamedly, it grabbed my attention.
Mapping the human genome has raised many ethical questions about choices — controversial issues ranging from designer babies to personal privacy rights. But, the issue of using this greater level of genetic detail as a basis for racial stereotypes and discriminatory policies, well, that’s a quieter issue that perhaps has more pervasive reprecussions.
Stereotypes, such as the native physicality of African-American athletes, may be born out by such data, but we may not be taking into account the cultural and social factors that contribute to these conclusions. Because the data may feed our preconceptions and appear to be logical, the scientific methodologies may not be scrutinized as critically as they could be.