All your genes belong to the tribal council!

By Razib Khan | September 28, 2011 8:51 pm

Dienekes has already commented on this, but I thought I would go over Ewen Callaway’s piece, Aboriginal genome analysis comes to grips with ethics. It’s not surprising that this was written. Even if you take Keith Windschuttle’s position when it comes to Aboriginal-European contact you can’t escape the reality that Aboriginals did not fare so well in the interaction. In fact, they don’t fare so well today in Australia. The life expectancy gap between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals in Australia is most conservatively estimated at 10 years (do remember that the majority of indigenous Australians are mixed-race). In the racialized physical anthropology of the early 20th amongst the colored peoples Aboriginals occupied the lowest circle of hell. Because of the robustness of their physiques it was argued they were the most primitive exemplar of humanity. Perhaps relic H. erectus.

Here are some interesting sections of Callaway’s article:

…Researchers who work with Aboriginal Australians are now expected to obtain consent not only from the individuals concerned, but also from local and sometimes state-wide groups representing Aboriginal communities across Australia.

A Danish bioethical review board did not believe it was necessary to review the project because it viewed the hair as an archaeological specimen and not a biological one, Willerslev says. However, after his team sequenced the genome, an Australian colleague put Willerslev in touch with the Goldfields Land and Sea Council, a body based in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, that represents the 5,000 or so Aboriginal Australians living in the region where Haddon collected the hair sample. In June, Willerslev flew to the region to describe his project to the organization’s board and to seek its approval. He says that if the board had rejected his proposal, he would have ended the project and left the genome unpublished.

Stepping away from the specific issue of Australian Aboriginals, the case of the “ownership” of genetic information is peculiar. As a “thought experiment” I have addressed the issue of whether identical twins have “rights” to each others’ genomes. For example, if one identical twin put their genotype into the public domain, would the other be within their rights to object? For that matter, people who put their genotypes in the public domain are partially exposing their whole families. Do they have to go ask for permission? Obviously I don’t think so. I didn’t ask my siblings or my parents.

So the issue of group veto or endorsement of the genotyping of individuals, living or deceased, is not a general consideration. It’s a matter of politics and sociology in very specific circumstances. In particular those groups which are labelled “indigenous” in Western societies, and so given particular distinction as the “first people.” Ultimately it reduces down to power politics. Consider for example what the Cherokee nation recently did to its black members. Just because people are indigenous, or there is a tribal council instead of a town council, does not exempt them from the common venalities of political leadership classes. Though there has been a history of “body snatching” by Western scholars in the Americas and Australia, the current respect and considerations given ancient materials which might have DNA has more to do with the possibility that those results might refute the standing of a given group as autochthons. As a practical matter DNA results probably won’t change a thing, but there is always a risk that it might introduce an element of doubt as to the legitimacy of the privileges and rights conferred on those who trace their lineages from the first settlers of a given locale.

More broadly, there is a whole world of “activists” who are themselves not indigenous who have a vested interest in ginning up controversy, and demanding that all the ethical issues be examined from every which angle (they are of course the best judges as to which issues must be tackled before science proceeds). I’ve addressed this before. In short they’re basically academic demagogues. What I’m talking about was on display during the Darkness in El Dorado controversy. Unlike indigenous people themselves these activists will always move on to a new cause to stoke the fires of their righteous indignation. In the 1990s this set was outraged over the Human Genome Diversity Project, but today that enterprise is a great success accessible to all. Did disaster and darkness ensue? Of course not. And the original critics are now fixated upon more profitable targets.

Going back to the issue about Aboriginal genetics, and the genetics of indigenous people more generally, it is in the medium run irrelevant what institutions decide. By institutions, I mean tribes, governments, NGOs, and even academics. If a scientific group avoids human genetic research for political reasons, the probability is that another group at some point in the future will take the project. And when it comes to human genetics the typing and analysis is cheap and easy enough that motivated amateurs can do it themselves. There are certainly enough white Australians with some Aboriginal ancestry that a synthetic genome could probably be reconstructed just from them at some point. Perhaps less ethically if someone wanted to they could probably obtain genetic material by surreptitious means.

Which brings me back to the question of Australian Aboriginals. One of the primary fears, implicit or explicit, about doing biological work on this group is that scientists might report results which would have a chance of dehumanizing them. Dehumanization, broadly construed, is not a problem necessarily. As I’ve noted people found that Europeans had a few percent Neandertal quite funny last year because Europeans haven’t been victims of dehumanization for the past few centuries (read the accounts of Muslim or Chinese observers from before 1800, and you do see clear dehumanization of Europeans in their perceptions). In contrast, Australian Aboriginals have been dehumanized. So how does the result that they might be ~5% admixed with a very distant human lineage change our perceptions? I don’t think it changes much at all. The problem is that people, wrongly I believe, perceive that political and social views have some deep metaphysical basis when they often do not. Scientific racism in the 19th and early 20th century did leverage science, but the racialized sentiments ascendant in the age of white supremacy were first and foremost about values. In the 16th century the partisans of the views of Bartolomé de las Casas succeeded in convincing the Iberian monarchies that the indigenous people of the New World deserved protection from predatory European settlers. But the reality is that the de jure status was flagrantly violated for centuries de facto. In the ideal the Amerindians of the New World were granted the protection of the Spanish monarchy as Christians, but in practice they were treated in a beastly manner by the American Spaniards and their Creole descendants.

Quibbling about the rights and responsibilities of scientists in a given field is not always unimportant or futile. But in the area where genetics and ethnology intersect too often people overestimate the power of genetics to totally reshape how we view ourselves, and how we view other human beings. The reality is that we are what we are, before and after we find out what we are in a more scientific and abstruse fashion. How we behave toward other human beings is less a matter of good science and more good character.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genetics, Genomics
  • Shay

    Why do researchers need to get the approval of bureaucrats & other unnecessary middlemen (“local and sometimes state-wide groups representing Aboriginal communities”)? The individuals’ approval should suffice. Also, what happens if Aboriginal groups differ in their views regarding a particular research study? Which entity represents the “true” Aboriginal interests? It could lead to researching shopping around for a group to bless their project.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    that’s my general attitude. but…liberal individualist assumptions are sometimes violated with aboriginals:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article1966996.ece

  • Daniel

    From my experience, Aboriginals in Australia are quite anti- anyone not Aboriginal. This issue of giving permission to genetic sampling may be a misguided attempt to avoid any possible dehumanisation, or a misguided attempt to prevent data showing another group was there before them, but either way it is misguided.
    I do think it’s all political, which is funny seeing as how the Aboriginals are always harping on about the need for reconciliation.
    I doubt any ‘Tribal Council’ would have any legal say over an individual donating dna.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #3, there are many things in the world one could study. scientists will avoid hassle and bad press usually. so activism can result in change.

  • Justin Giancola
  • Sandgroper

    I think it’s hilarious – they’ve done exactly the right thing, and modern science has won.

  • Onur

    I think it’s hilarious – they’ve done exactly the right thing, and modern science has won.

    They haven’t done exactly the right thing; rather, they have made a terrible mistake. Only if the researchers had published the Aboriginal whole genome analysis results without obtaining the consent of the Aboriginal elders (what else are they?), without even feeling need for such a ridiculous thing, they would have done exactly the right thing and modern science would really have won. By asking for the permission of the Aboriginal elders for the publication of their analysis results, the researchers have set a bad example for future researchers who will try to collect samples from Aboriginals and even from other “indigenous” peoples of the world, make their analyses and publish their results.

  • Sandgroper

    No, Onur, you’ve got it completely wrong. You couldn’t get it more wrong if you tried.

    For the people who are alive, the researchers got their individual consent. For the dead guy, there were no descendants to consult, so they went to the relevant representative council – the council’s research officer determined that the dead man had given his hair sample of his own free will, so the council also gave their consent.

    They (both the researchers and the council concerned) have established exactly the right principle – that it is for the individual to decide.

  • Ian

    Conspiracy theories work because people feel disenfranchised, are disconnected from power. People who believe that the government is coming to take away their guns, or who believe that HIV was created in a US government lab, or who believe that climate scientists are ‘in it for the money’ don’t believe what they believe because they are stupid. The claims that are made about “the government” (or “big business” or the Illuminati,…) come from people they see as knowing “the truth” about [whomever] (tribal leaders, pastors, Glen Beck). And they don’t only lack the ability to verify the truth claims that are being made, they can’t fathom how they’d begin to go about verifying such a claim.

    When someone makes claims about climate scientists being in it for the money, or part of some vast conspiracy, I’m inclined to laugh it off. I know climate scientists. I know academics…in fact, I’m far more connected to them than I am to Rick Perry or Jim Inhofe. On the other hand, faced with the claim that 9/11 was a conspiracy (back before Trutherism had been solidly debunked) I would have had to weigh my distrust of the Bush Administration against the “degrees of separation” between me (or the news sources I’m inclined to trust) and the people who would have to know, if there actually had been a conspiracy. I don’t know Colin Powell, but I know people who do. On the other hand, if someone claims that HIV was created in a secret CIA lab (again, back before its genetics were so well known) that’s an idea that’s much more difficult to reject out of hand because of the “secret CIA” element. I could conclude its implausible, but I could not draw a line of trusted connections from me to the purported event.

    All that is a long, drawn-out way of saying that it’s pointless to try to make sense of something like this from the perspective of the average reader of this blog. What aboriginal Australians have experienced goes beyond what even African Americans have experienced. The last of the ‘Stolen Generation’ is in their 40s – the current tribal elders may have been among those children or had their own children of relatives children taken away. If you’ve experienced the government taking your children, you’re unlikely to trust them when they say “we just want some DNA”. And even if you meet the researcher, get to know them, come to trust them, you don’t know their distant bosses at some far-away institution, you don’t know what’s really going to be done. And you don’t know enough to separate the truth from the rumours. Not to mention that if they do follow the news, they may have a valid reason to be concerned – if someone patents a gene that’s unique to the community, future researchers trying to work on that gene may have to pay licence fees to some distant corporation.

  • Ian

    Now there’s a scary thought – genetic patent trolls…

  • Sandgroper

    For the avoidance of doubt, the regional land councils are legally constituted bodies established to represent the legal interests of Aboriginal people. They are not ‘elders’.

  • Grammar Police

    fare not fair

  • Ian

    Er…what’s the difference? Can people be elected to leadership positions without the tacit agreement of entrenched social networks? Can someone who lacks the appropriate connections, someone who hasn’t “proven themselves”, instead leverage money or fame into being elected to lead these bodies? “Conventional” (Western) politics favours people whose integration into the wider, national political network – either that, or it rapidly assimilates upstarts. Traditional political organisation favours “elders” – people whose stature comes from success and prominence in the local community and in networks of kinship and past cooperation.

    Now, obviously I don’t know anything about these councils. By saying that they are not “elders”, are you saying that the people elected to these councils are of the former type? Or is this distinction mostly semantic?

  • Jacob Roberson

    Gonna follow Razib OT for a sec here, about what the OK Cherokee did. On the one hand, I wish they wouldn’t go throwing the black Cherokee out. Not right etc. OTOH an American court is ruling over the OK Cherokee? Any Indian tribe? WTF? And the irony of a treaty being enforcable AGAINST an Indian tribe, while the Indians have never been able to get a treaty enforced FOR them, is hilarious and sad at the same time.

  • Insightful

    Jacob, the irony (at least for me) about throwing the black Cherokee out is that most of the Cherokee I see can literally pass for white!

  • Onur

    Sandgroper, who are the Aboriginal tribal elders (yes, they are tribal elders and nothing else) to decide whether the hair DNA results should be published or not? They are not even among the known relatives of the owner of the hair. In fact, there is no known relative of the owner of the hair; the guy is completely anonymous.

  • Sandgroper

    Ian: Aboriginal ‘elder’ has a particular meaning, not the more general meaning that you describe. It originally meant storyteller (an important job in a society with no written history, written record of plant pharmacology, and a host of other things). It has subsequently been somewhat abused to make it mean all kinds of vague invented things.

    The regional councils are not groups of ‘elders’ as such, they are bodies constituted to represent the legal interests of indigenous people. Lawyers and such. Trained people. Experts, for want of a better word. People qualified to do a job by virtue of more than just being old and making some claim to being Aboriginal. You can get degrees in this stuff at the university I attended, in the school of indigenous studies. Most of the students are indigenous, obviously, and most of the staff are.

    Whatever. The salient points I am trying to elucidate are (1) In the case of the living people who gave samples, the researchers consulted no one but the people themselves, who gave their personal consent. They did not consult any elders or anyone else. The individuals might have sought advice privately before giving consent, but that was their prerogative. (2) In the case of the man who gave a lock of his hair in 1920, who is now deceased, he could obviously not give consent. And he had no descendants who could be legally charged to give consent on his behalf. So the researchers did the correct thing and consulted the official body legally charged with representing his interests. They concluded that he had given the sample freely, probably with some understanding that it was for some public scientific purpose, and so on his behalf, they also gave consent. In effect, they concluded that it was his own personal decision to give a sample of himself, and they were honouring his decision.

    Why I’m gleeful is that they specifically did not go round consulting various vague but vocal groups of elders and others claiming to have a stake in it all over the country, saying this had serious race-wide implications and that the individuals concerned did not have the right to do it, muttering darkly and in a paranoid manner about all of the terrible things the data could be used for, and arguing about it inconclusively for decades – they cut straight through all of that and went straight to the business end, and got a short, sharp (and correct) decision that will be recognised in a court of law. So it’s now a legal precedent. And, de facto, they have also established that in the case of someone still living, the right to give consent rests with that person and no one else.

    These are very important landmark principles. I haven’t heard any shouting about it, but presume there will be some, but whoever does the shouting will have to show why (1) it was not enough for the correct legal procedure to be followed, and (2) that it was in some way harmful to Aboriginal people (which it obviously wasn’t – a lot of people with Aboriginal ancestry will be delighted to get a bit of a fix on their distant ancestors. It does absolutely nothing to erode their place as the original inhabitants of Australia prior to European settlement and annexation of land.)

    They’re grasped the nettle, and scored one for science, and for the individual rights and dignity of Aboriginal people, and all of us with Aboriginal ancestry. With all the ensuing argument that could flow from this, people will do well to remember that this decision was made by the Aboriginal people themselves, and that to presume they did not know what they were doing is to presume too much and to be disrespectful. Also that it is a matter of individual rights which have protection under the law.

    Sorry, that’s a fair bit more than I wanted to say. But I do think Dienekes and Onur have got the wrong end of the stick on this one because they have not understood the process – this is a good outcome for science. In my view, it would have been wrong both ethically and tactically for them to proceed in the case of the deceased individual without seeking legal consent, even though strictly they were operating outside of that legal jusrisdiction.

  • Onur

    Sandgroper, you fail to show why obtaining the consent of an Aboriginal council in your parlance and a group of Aboriginal tribal elders in my parlance is necessary or at least the ethically right thing to do to publish the genetic results of a deceased Aboriginal with no known legal inheritor.

  • http://theunsilencedscience.blogspot.com/ nooffensebut

    I agree with the activists that scientists and other people who deal in facts will hurt their cause. In 2009, activists for the Maori responded to a controversy that the warrior gene is more common in Maori than in whites. They responded by saying that it is more common in Chinese people than in Maori based on data copied in error from a previous study. They are introducing errors into peer-reviewed journals that would not pass lay journalistic standards.

    You will also notice that their arguments underwent a disingenuous paradigm shift. Historically, their view was that diversity is superficial and resulted from too short a period in evolutionary terms to affect “complex behaviors.” As evidence mounted that genes that contribute to diversity, like the warrior gene, also affect those “complex behaviors,” their view shifted to a belief that genetic ethnic differences are so profound that those differences cause specific alleles to behave differently in different populations. They latched onto a single weak study that made huge leaps with partially unpublished data of a sample with an unspecified ethnic makeup. Evidence existed then and has grown since that specific alleles, including the one in question, affect “complex behaviors” in a diversity of populations. That underlines the notion that if they really believed what they say, they would want more research to prove that they are right. They seek less research.

  • Bente-Marie

    Scientists like to think of themselves as pristine children of nature and cloak themselves in the ideology of the scientific methodology to protect themselves from harmful contact with nurture. The ethical issues that are raised by Callaway and by this blogger have a background, past and present, in human brutality that democratic societies can not afford to ignore, even if some scientists want to.

    The solutions to these issues are usually messy, but ignoring — or even worse, placing oneself above — the horrors from which they have evolved is jejune, if not shameful.

    I have no comment on the outcome of this particular case, as I am a pædagog, not a scientist.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    “fare not fair”

    that’s what i originally put, and someone emailed to correct me. usually i take my readers’ word at it don’t and think much. can someone clarify this? i don’t have much time now.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    “the Aboriginal people themselves”

    who are these “aboriginal people”? are they are a hive mind which comes to perfect unity of purpose and intent? :-) no, they’re like other people. let’s not pretend that the decisions of a collective, and those empowered to represent the preponderance of the collective, are analogous to individual consent. they’re not. the key issue is whether individuals could be blocked from giving their DNA because of group memebership. the rest is commentary.

  • Kiwiguy

    ***So the researchers did the correct thing and consulted the official body legally charged with representing his interests. ***

    From their website it seems they are recognised in terms of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). This relates to land use. How does this retrospectively relate to an individuals hair from the 1920′s?

  • Mutant Dragon

    I agree — it should ultimately be an individual decision. I’m not clear on why “state-wide groups” should have veto power on an individual’s decision to donate (or withhold) samples for research.

  • Sandgroper

    #22 – Legally, no.

  • FF

    It’s fair to say they did not fare so well.

  • Sandgroper

    #23 & 24 – The regional land councils provide legal representation to Aboriginal people over quite a wide range of matters.

    Let me see if I can explain the connection in this case. As I see it, the Danish researcher had an ethical obligation (or at least was well advised, if he wanted to avoid legal wrangles) to determine whether the deceased man who gave the hair sample in 1920 had any known living descendants, before publishing the man’s genome. The right people to approach to do that were the land council – they have the local knowledge and people connections, access to records, and resources on the ground to be able to establish that. If they had found that the man did have surviving descendants, and in the event of a dispute, they would have provided the legal evidence of descent, and legal assistance to the descendants.

    Having found that he didn’t, and having concluded that he gave the sample of his own free will, they said ‘no problem’. There was no one for them to legally represent.

  • Onur

    Let me see if I can explain the connection in this case. As I see it, the Danish researcher had an ethical obligation (or at least was well advised, if he wanted to avoid legal wrangles) to determine whether the deceased man who gave the hair sample in 1920 had any known living descendants, before publishing the man’s genome. The right people to approach to do that were the land council – they have the local knowledge and people connections, access to records, and resources on the ground to be able to establish that. If they had found that the man did have surviving descendants, and in the event of a dispute, they would have provided the legal evidence of descent, and legal assistance to the descendants.

    Having found that he didn’t, and having concluded that he gave the sample of his own free will, they said ‘no problem’. There was no one for them to legally represent.

    Are you telling what actually happened or what happened “as you see it”?

  • Sandgroper

    I’m telling what actually happened.

  • Onur

    I’m telling what actually happened.

    Could you give references for it?

  • Sandgroper

    No, I was sworn to secrecy by the elders.

  • Onur

    No, I was sworn to secrecy by the elders.

    I have asked you a serious question.

  • Sandgroper

    And I’m not interested in being interrogated.

  • Onur

    And I’m not interested in being interrogated.

    I didn’t interrogate you, I just kindly asked you a question. It is fine if you do not answer my question, but don’t expect me to buy your summary of the events that came prior to the publication of the hair DNA results.

  • http://3lbmonkeybrain.blogspot.com/ Mike Keesey

    “Fair” is never a verb.

  • Sandgroper

    I’m not asking you to buy anything. I don’t care what you think.

  • S.J. Esposito

    I feel like the point of people being afraid of the science dehumanizing a group of peoples is a bit hypocritical and really has no place in the scientific arena. Turn it on it’s head: if the general idea was that scientist shouldn’t sequence a certain genome for fear of humanizing a certain peoples, than many would be in an uproar and cry out. The sword has two edges, and if the science is done in an unbiased and correct manner, and yet the results tend toward a dehumanization of a certain population, well then so be it.

  • http://cteg.berkeley.edu/~nielsen Rasmus Nielsen

    As one of the authors of the Rasmussen study discussed here, it has been interesting to follow the discussion. If you want to know more about our thinking about this, you can take a look at my web site: http://cteg.berkeley.edu/~nielsen/blog/

    Here is a snippet:

    Khan’s arguably very American perspective on this, is that only individual consent can matter. The opinion of tribal councils or any other institutions regarding release of personal genetic information is irrelevant. There is no reason to consult such institutions – only the individual matters. An entirely defensible position. It is certainly the position of the legal community in America and perhaps most of the scientific community. But there are a couple of reasons why the story in this case is a bit more complex. First, as noted in one of the online comments on Khan’s blog, the genome sequenced was from a deceased individual with no identifiable descendants. We could not obtain informed consent from the donor or from his family. In our opinion, the correct thing to do was then to consult with the local representatives of the group to which the donor belong. After considering different options we determined that the Goldfields Land and Sea Council was our best option. Secondly, and most importantly, there is a several hundred year old tradition for exploitation of indigenous people by anthropologists. Anthropologists have repeatedly failed to recognize the rights of indigenous people. This dark historical relationship between indigenous people and anthropologists, makes it particularly important to involve the local indigenous communities in scientific studies. Our approach was to reach out to the local tribal council to work with them in the interpretation and presentation of our results. I strongly believe that is the right thing to do and I hope other geneticists will do the same thing in the future when working on questions relating to indigenous people. I am not advocating granting particular institutions the power to veto studies that individual members of the community consent to, but I would encourage researchers to involve the local community as much as possible. You do that out of respect for the local community and to promote and enable a good relationship between indigenous people and the scientists who wish to learn from them.

  • dave chamberlin

    Australia is a fascinating place that has always served as a refugium for life forms that have gone extinct elsewhere. It also has the same advantage of northern Africa in that much of the contintent has the ideal bone preserving environment, it is very arid. It flat out pisses me off that we do not yet have the genomes of the original Tasmanians and other groups that just happened to have survived near enough to the present that their DNA has been preserved in their bones. What we are talking about is recapturing our long lost history as a species and nobody has the right to supress it or claim that somehow they own it.

  • Sandgroper

    And in this case no one has done that.

  • Onur

    Mr. Nielsen,

    What has horrified me most is Mr. Willerslev’s statement that he would have ended the project and left the genome unpublished if the Aboriginal council board had rejected his proposal. This is something unthinkable from a scientific and academic point of view. No person or organization has any right to veto publication of the genetic results of a deceased person with no identifiable legal inheritors. You have made a terrible mistake by asking for the permission of the Aboriginal council for the publication of the genetic results, because by doing that you have set a bad example for future researchers who will try to collect samples from Aboriginals and even from other “indigenous” (indigenousness is an unscientific concept, so I am using the word indigenous in quotation marks) peoples of the world, make their analyses and publish their results. What if various “indigenous” groups try to veto scientific study of deceased “indigenous” individuals from their region with no identifiable living legal inheritors using your appeal for permission as a justification for finding in themselves the right to veto such scientific studies? Have you considered the long-term effects of your decision for the scientific community?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    What if various “indigenous” groups try to veto scientific study of deceased “indigenous” individuals from their region with no identifiable living legal inheritors using your appeal for permission as a justification for finding in themselves the right to veto such scientific studies? Have you considered the long-term effects of your decision for the scientific community?

    well, sandgropper said that the vetoes are not binding. that makes a big difference. in the USA the situation is more complicated because of nagrpa, which is a legit and legal way that tribal leadership can interpose themselves between researchers and finds. the fundamental weirdness of this though is that some of these native people deny the findings anyway if they happen, so it’s all irrelevant to them (some of the aboriginal’s in the australian shrugged off the findings as a ‘whitefella story’).

  • Onur

    well, sandgropper said that the vetoes are not binding. that makes a big difference.

    But Mr. Willerslev and his team seem to take the vetoes more seriously than Sandgropper. So I am not so sure whether Sandgropper is telling the truth.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #43, look at the post on dr. nielsen’s blog. it’s pretty clear that there wasn’t any fiat power compelling them. they simply thought that that was the right thing to do. you can disagree with whether it was the right thing to do, but no one compelled them in that. i think one can make the reasonable case that in the short term this sort of respectful consultation increases the chances of cooperation from various groups who would otherwise be reluctant. though i think in the medium term it probably doesn’t matter, because of the likely ease of getting and analyzing genetic material.

  • Sandgroper

    Razib, to be clear, remains do get returned in Australia. The land council’s deliberations in that respect are really relevant. If they had found a reason not to support the research, and if the researchers had ignored that, the council could have made legal representation – we will never know the outcome of that, because it didn’t happen. No one can legally prevent an individual willingly giving a sample while alive, and in this case the sample concerned had been transported outside of Australian territory, but it never got to any legal test relating to that. It seems clear from what the researchers have said that it wouldn’t have under any circumstances.

    If they had not consulted, they might well have got a legal challenge, although I’m hypothesising. They did consult, and they consulted the right people. Now there is clearly no point, it’s fait accompli.

    Everything I have read about this persuades me that everyone directly concerned has behaved ethically, correctly and responsibly, and they have got a good outcome which can only be beneficial.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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