Thursday, April 22, 2010

How Far My Ownership Goes.

The New York Times has a story about a Native American tribe that has sued The University of Arizona and reclaimed some blood samples taken from the tribe because the DNA was being used for research other than that which was initially discussed. They discuss the legal issues, and, as with most popular stories about science clashing with dogma, the only argument presented in favor of the science is that it's "good science," and that progress demands that we make concessions in the degree of control individuals have in the data that they submit.

One of the biggest issues is that the DNA indicates a link between the tribe and people making the trek over the Bering land bridge, which doesn't exactly jive with the tribes creation story (shocker!) that says that they were plopped there to be the Grand Canyon's defender.

This isn't a matter of moral or ethical problems. If a research institution wants to be tender and understanding with dogmatic beliefs, then that's their choice, but not their legal or ethical obligation. The blood was taken, and the DNA is nothing more than information, now. They have more blood, they haven't "lost" any DNA. The University didn't take it from them. The situation is similar to a researcher telling a man that, if he has a blue string in his pocket, he's, I dunno', psychic. The man empties out his pocket and the researcher finds many strings of different colors. None blue, but the researcher remembers the colors that he did see. If the researcher then writes a paper on those other colors, what harm has there been?

There are certainly a great number of ethical issues with DNA, especially as our ability to analyze it gets ever-greater, but this story is not one of them. The Universities actions did not diminish the tribe or its people. They did not steal anything. They did not harm the people. Just because a group of backwater, uneducated people don't like science clashing with their official story of their creation is not a basis for a fucking law suit.

Indian Tribe Wins Fight to Limit Research of Its DNA (

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