July 14, 2008 A multi-disciplinary group from Stanford University (California, US) has proposed ten principles to guide the use of racial and ethnic categories in genetic research.
The guiding principles have been proposed to attempt to minimise the misinterpretation and misuse of human genetic variation research. The group included members of the humanities, social and life sciences, law and medical schools at Stanford University. It was led by Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, who explains why these principles are important: "Since the completion of the Human Genome Project, research focused on human genetic variation has intensified. This has rekindled debate about the connection between genetic traits and human 'racial' differences".
The principles include a declaration that the group does not believe that there is any scientific basis for hierarchically ordered categories of race or ethnicity and a recognition that racial and ethnic categories are created and maintained by socio-political contexts and change over time. The group cautions against "making the naïve leap to a genetic explanation for group differences in complex traits, especially for human behavioural traits such as IQ, tendency to violence or degrees of athleticism".
According to Lee "The gene remains a powerful icon in the public imagination and is often misunderstood as being deterministic and immutable. Furthermore, history reminds us that science may easily be used to justify racial stereotypes and racist policies".
The authors believe that their guiding principles constitute one step in an ongoing, open dialogue about these concerns and hope that they will encourage responsible practices.
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- Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, Joanna Mountain, Barbara Koenig, Russ Altman, Melissa Brown, Albert Camarillo, Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Mildred Cho, Jennifer Eberhardt, Marcus Feldman, Richard Ford, Henry Greely, Roy King, Hazel Markus, Debra Satz, Matthew Snipp, Claude Steele and Peter Underhill. The ethics of characterizing difference: guiding principles on using racial categories in human genetics. Genome Biology, (in press)
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