Nationality is not genetic

October 13, 2009 at 2:00 am 5 comments

Mouth swabWhat the? Am I living in some parallel universe? One occupied by a pack of racist, fear-mongering dudes? One in which nationality and ethnicity are being viewed as one and the same thing (which they’re not)?

I’ve come across another whacko project. At first, I thought the date was April 1 but this seems to be no April Fools’ joke. And it seems that the UK has once again lost the plot. Not content to surveil the heck out of its poor citizens, the UK is now proposing to – wait for it – use DNA and isotope analysis of tissue from asylum seekers to evaluate their nationality. Yes folks, you read correctly – to evaluate nationality.

The Human Provenance pilot project was launched quietly in mid-September 2009 (yeah, if it was announced there would have been a revolution!) by the U.K. Border Agency and will run until June 2010.  Can you believe that asylum-seekers (including children)  are being subjected to mouth swabs for mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome testing and isotope analyses of hair and nail samples in an effort “to help identify a person’s true country of origin.” The program is voluntary so they say. But asylum-seekers are not likely to say “no thanks” because saying no would mean the boot out of the UK (ah, actually that might be a good thing).

Now, it’s true that refugees have been desperately trying to get to the UK from the French port of Calais, just as more boatpeople have been attempting to get to Australia. So some examination of who is a legitimate asylum-seeker might be necessary.  However, the project seems to be confusing nationality with ethnicity.

One aim of the project is to find out if asylum-seekers claiming to be from Somalia are actually from another African country such as Kenya. As one super-smart geneticist points out:

“genes don’t respect national borders, as many legitimate citizens are migrants or direct descendants of migrants, and many national borders split ethnic groups.”

And a pioneer in human DNA fingerprinting has this to say: “The Borders Agency is clearly making huge and unwarranted assumptions about population structure in Africa; the extensive research needed to determine population structure and the ability or otherwise of DNA to pinpoint ethnic origin in this region simply has not been done. Even if it did work (which I doubt), assigning a person to a population does not establish nationality – people move! The whole proposal is naive and scientifically flawed.”

Worse than being naive and scientifically flawed, there’s an echo of eugenics and Nazis ringing in my ears with this project.  Didn’t those whacko Nazis use nose calipers to “scientifically” determine ethnicity?

Science Insider is asking some very sensible questions about this project – a prime one being who is conducting the test and analysing the results? Some Border Agency official who’s been given a 20 minute crash course in validating DNA?? And some well-known geneticists and isotope specialists are making their thoughts loud and clear here.

And I’d ask: have the Border Agency dudes considered for one moment the issue of traumatising a child? Many children from Africa are the product of rape, so the child’s father may not in fact be genetically related.

This is the sort of daft stuff I fear: idiots and third-rate pseudo-scientists messing around with technology, wasting taxpayers money, in their misguided, paternalistic attempts to profile, surveil and control. In the absence of public debate and a legislative and policy framework to guide and supervise their actions, this is just bad science and morally wrong. Asylum-seekers are not guinea pigs to be subjected to lab tests.

It seems that public outcry and criticism from geneticists and scientists has whacked the UK Border Agency over the head enough to make them retreat – DNA evidence will still be collected but analysed later and will not currently be used for individual case decisions.

Mmmm…at least the whole debacle reveals what idiots are out there in Government and what whacko ideas they come up with.

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Entry filed under: Airport security, Rant, Surveillance society. Tags: .

GFC: lessons learnt APF: WTF?

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. creativespark  |  October 13, 2009 at 6:52 am

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    “A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist — that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating — but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also — since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself — unshakeably certain of being in the right.”
    Notes on Nationalism by George Orwell, 1945
    http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/nationalism/english/e_nat

    Reply
  • 2. A. H. O. Thabeth  |  October 14, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    I have created a petition at the Number10 web-site in the hope of stopping this, you may “sign” it here

    http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/BorderAgency-DNA/

    Reply
  • 3. thinkingshift  |  October 14, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    thank you A.H.O. Thabeth for the link to the petition. I encourage anyone who is concerned about this misguided project going ahead (even in a watered-down form) to sign in. Let your voice be heard.

    Reply
  • 4. Genetic Nationalism  |  December 2, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Funny how culturalists want to play down genetics, because it shatter their weak understanding of nationalism.

    Humans will eveolve along genetic lineages, any forms of nationalism other than genetic is temporary and have no evolutionary future…

    Reply
  • 5. Genetic Nationalism  |  January 28, 2010 at 3:46 am

    Genetic Nationalism protects to interests of genetic species

    In our biolgical history no species ever stops evolving & decides to become one group, they evolve into more species…get with the program or go extinct

    Reply

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