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Monday, October 8, 2007

More Science You Won't Like

Sometime in the last couple of posts I said that science has a history of telling people things they don't want to hear. I have a couple for today that fit that uncomfortable category.

Firstly Wired Magazine reports that police in Louisiana have recently identified the race of an unknown rapist/murderer using DNA. This sort of thing has been attempted before, with mixed results, but combining larger numbers of genetic markers with massive databases now gives the police the capacity not only to identify the race of the donor of any unknown sample, but this unknown's ethnic background. In the New Orleans example, the eye witnesses identified the suspect as "white", and, given the limited nature of police resources, law enforcement eliminated all African Americans from their suspect list. The DNA racial ID allowed the cops to quickly find the true criminal. The problem is our social history of racial identification, coupled with a dodgy racial theory of inferiority and superiority. The whole concept of race has little or no basis in scientific taxonomy. We are all Africans, related to waves of H. Sapiens nomads that left Africa about fifty thousand years ago. Without jet travel to mix the gene pool population groups concentrated genetic markers along geographic lines ethnic groups via mutation and selection for survivable characteristics. Racial politics of the 19th and 20th century made skin color a big deal in sorting out who would pick the cotton and chop the sugar cane, and who would sit on the veranda and sip mint juleps in white linen suits.

Not covered in the article, there is the definite probability that in the near future anyone can be traced by genetic markers, even if the person in question has never had a genetic test. If you have an uncle, brother, or any other blood relative with their markers in the data base, that person can be identified. Since there is a larger number of Americans of African decent in the prison system, the data base will over-represent those individuals. At some point the legal system will require that everyone be genetically mapped. Nothing else would be fair.

Secondly Scientific American sums up the recent research on spirituality and the god sense in the human brain. In the article several researchers have located the specific area of the brain that emits the sense of "presence" of the spiritual matrix to which the subjects held. Be it Buddhist, Christian, Moslem, or whatever excitement of that area gives the subject a truly spiritual experience. What is this going to mean to the religion business? I would like to think that everyone would try the spiritual exciter and shrug, saying, "Oh. That's what all that presence of god thing was." Actually I suspect churches and mosques will have God-O-Meter headset in every pew. Times of great spirituality have coincided with times of great social unrest.

Cut and paste for a better explanation:
http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=434D7C62-E7F2-99DF-37CC9814533B90D7

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