Lahn: “Let’s Celebrate Human Genetic Diversity”

Steve Sailer, Steve Sailer's iSteve Blog, October 8, 2009

From Nature, October 8, 2009:

Let’s celebrate human genetic diversity

Science is finding evidence of genetic diversity among groups of people as well as among individuals. This discovery should be embraced, not feared, say Bruce T. Lahn and Lanny Ebenstein.

A growing body of data is revealing the nature of human genetic diversity at increasingly finer resolution. It is now recognized that despite the high degree of genetic similarities that bind humanity together as a species, considerable diversity exists at both individual and group levels (see box, page 728). The biological significance of these variations remains to be explored fully. But enough evidence has come to the fore to warrant the question: what if scientific data ultimately demonstrate that genetically based biological variation exists at non-trivial levels not only among individuals but also among groups? In our view, the scientific community and society at large are ill-prepared for such a possibility. We need a moral response to this question that is robust irrespective of what research uncovers about human diversity. Here, we argue for the moral position that genetic diversity, from within or among groups, should be embraced and celebrated as one of humanity’s chief assets.

The current moral position is a sort of ‘biological egalitarianism’. This dominant position emerged in recent decades largely to correct grave historical injustices, including genocide that were committed with the support of pseudo scientific understandings of group diversity. The racial-hygiene theory promoted by German geneticists Fritz Lenz, Eugene Fischer and others during the Nazi era is one notorious example of such pseudoscience. Biological egalitarianism is the view that no or almost no meaningful genetically based biological differences exist among human groups, with the exception of a few superficial traits such as skin colour. Proponents of this view seem to hope that, by promoting biological sameness, discrimination against groups or individuals will become groundless.

We believe that this position, although well intentioned, is illogical and even dangerous, as it implies that if significant group diversity were established, discrimination might thereby be justified. We reject this position. Equality of opportunity and respect for human dignity should be humankind’s common aspirations, notwithstanding human differences no matter how big or small. We also think that biological egalitarianism may not remain viable in light of the growing body of empirical data.

Many people may acknowledge the possibility of genetic diversity at the group level, but see it as a threat to social cohesion. Some scholars have even called for a halt to research into the topic or sensitive aspects of it, because of potential misuse of the information. Others will ask: if information on group diversity can be misused, why not just focus on individual differences and ignore any group variation? We strongly affirm that society must guard vigilantly against any misuse of genetic information, but we also believe that the best defence is to take a positive attitude towards diversity, including that at the group level. We argue for our position from two perspectives: first, that the understanding of group diversity can benefit research and medicine, and second, that human genetic diversity as a whole, including group diversity, greatly enriches our species.

I think a third argument is even more important: all truths are connected to all other truths, so if you aren’t allowed to think about a major truth, much of the rest of your thinking will be faulty.

For example, say Lahn was a physicist writing to undermine the ban on mentioning gravity in physics classes:

Let’s celebrate gravity!

Science is finding evidence of gravity. This discovery should be embraced, not feared, say Bruce T. Lahn and Lanny Ebenstein.

A growing body of data is revealing the existence of gravity. It is now recognized that despite the many situations in which gravity is not relevant, in many others it is important (see box, page 728). The physical significance of gravity remains to be explored fully. But enough evidence has come to the fore to warrant the question: what if scientific data ultimately demonstrate that gravity exists at non-trivial levels? In our view, the scientific community and society at large are ill-prepared for such a possibility. We need a moral response to this question that is robust irrespective of what research uncovers about gravity. Here, we argue for the moral position that gravity, from within or between planets, should be embraced and celebrated as one of humanity’s, not to mention the Solar System’s, chief assets.

The current moral position is a sort of ‘mass egalitarianism’. This dominant position emerged in recent decades largely to correct grave astronomical injustices, such as the Moon’s subordinate status relative to the Earth. Similarly, gravity has been used to drop rocks on enemies, to pour burning oil on the besiegers of castles, and to chop off heads with the guillotine. Also, gravity has been misunderstood by scientists in the past, such as Aristotle. Mass egalitarianism is the view that the Moon doesn’t really go around the Earth because the Earth has more mass than the Moon, it just looks that way to ill-informed, hate-filled observers who haven’t been adequately educated in modern sensitivities about mass equality. Proponents of this view hope that, by promoting a belief in mass sameness, the Moon will cease orbiting around the Earth and both will hover motionlessly relative to each other in complete equality.

We believe that this position, although well intentioned, is illogical and even dangerous, as it implies that if you stepped off the edge of the Grand Canyon, you’d just hover in the air. We reject this position. Equality of respect for planetary and subplanetary dignity should be humankind’s common aspirations, notwithstanding planetary differences in mass no matter how big or small. We also think that the nonexistence of gravity may not remain viable in light of the growing body of empirical data.

Indeed.

[Editor’s Note: “Let’s celebrate human genetic diversity,” by Bruce T. Lahn & Lanny Ebenstein, can be read on-line or downloaded here. There is a charge.]

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