In the giant 'Europeans are far more anti-science than Americans' file, we can now add another section on racism.
Science can use genetic testing to understand risk factors - some groups have a greater risk than others - but that means interested groups can also do other things with the results. Europe is terrifically racist, you will never hear a racial slur, much less a stadium-wide chant, at an American sporting event but you are guaranteed to have them at the EURO CUP 2012 tournament. Western Europe is at least trying to drive it out and all those 'end racism' banners are a puzzle to western football viewers but at least they care.
Yet now racists have a new weapon; genetics.
In the early part of the 20th century, benevolent progressive elites sought to use heredity to curtail promiscuity, crime and mental defects. They called it eugenics and it was wrapped in the latest science claims. In the 1930s, after a hard-left ruling party in Germany started doing very bad things in the name of science, eugenics fell out of favor.
But genetics understanding is much stronger now. So strong it can even be used as a political sideshow. Rather than testing for disease, a member of parliament from the Hungarian far-right Jobbik party recently used a genetic test to attempt to prove his ‘ethnic purity’. A company called Nagy Gén scanned 18 positions in the his genome for variants that it said were characteristic of Roma and Jewish ethnic groups and concluded that Roma and Jewish ancestry were ruled out.
Das Jew?!? Photo: Shutterstock.
A little strange, though there are segments of American science media that would love to have the ability to test for Republican genetic risk factors; they could require anyone getting a job in science media to show their genetic purity in the same way. Fortunately, scientists here ridicule people who attempt to hijack biology for their culture war, and it's only groups like the Center for American Progress that buy this stuff anyway. But it's more serious business in Europe, because a lot of people there actually believe it.
The European Society of Human Genetics (ESHG) had to issue a statement saying genetic testing to establish racial origins for political purposes is scientifically and ethically invalid and should be condemned. Professor Joerg Schmidtke, President of the ESHG, wrote, “This is a gross distortion of the values of genetic testing, which is intended to be used to diagnose disease rather than to claim racial purity. In addition, the test proves nothing; it is impossible to deduce someone’s origins from testing so few places in the genome. I am sure that clinical geneticists worldwide will join me in condemning this scandalous abuse of a technology that was developed to help the sick, rather than to promote hatred.”
Hungarian scientists are equally nonplussed that this is happening.
Professor Béla Melegh, President of the Hungarian Society of Human Genetics wrote, “We were shocked to hear that a laboratory authorised to carry out genetic analysis for diagnostic purposes carried out such a test. Not only does it not serve a diagnostic purpose, but it has been used to create tension between people of different ethnic origins. We are asking the Hungarian government to prosecute the company concerned under the 2008 law on genetics, and to take action to ensure that similar abuse of genetic testing cannot take place in our country in future.”
I'm not sure this can be a violation of any law - the MP could simply claim he had a test for health reasons and happened to note 18 interesting genetic characteristics. What needs to happen is not for there to be more laws, but for Europe to stop engaging in a la carte science, picking and choosing what is real science and what is nonsense based on their pet cultural beliefs.
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