Category: Ethics

Only dishonest mental gymnastics can hold up the hypothesis of race ‘science’

One man made thousands — possibly hundreds of thousands — of children sick. Many of them died and many will continue to die, because one man passed bad science off as legitimate.

In 1998 Andrew Wakefield published an article in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, which found a link between the combined mumps, measles and rubella vaccine and autism. It was a lie but it took more than a decade for the journal to fully retract that paper. It has been thoroughly debunked but today some parents still refuse to vaccinate their children, and a large part of that fear is based on one scientist whose lie had the protection of the scientific academy for 10 years.

But what happens if false science had been held to be true by most scientists for decades, even centuries?

Scientific racism is not new. These days, we refer to it as a pseudoscience — a convenient way to paint as crackpots those who use science to justify (usually their) racial superiority.

The label of pseudoscience, mostly reserved for tinfoil-hat wearers worrying that they might fall off the edge of the flat Earth, allows us to pretend that race science wasn’t mainstream, that Western science didn’t throw funds and time and expertise into defining races, that scientists didn’t use “empirical methods” to show that different races came with different characteristics, some of which had more value than others.

But science has a lot to answer for about race. It was and continues to be the barracks behind which racist beliefs fester. It also helped to build the walls in the first place.

 

For the rest of the article, visit the Mail & Guardian.

Ethical issues dog genetic testing and biobanks

IT COULD change the way disease is diagnosed and treated: millions of human tissue samples, their information stored in vast databases, allowing health researchers to trawl for patterns.

The patterns could point to disease risk among population groups, and could one day lead to the possibility of personalised medicine. This sort of research is particularly important for Africa, whose populations are caught between infectious diseases, such as malaria, on the one hand, and lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, on the other. Africans have historically been neglected in the field of genetic research.

“The unique genome dynamics in African populations have an important role to play in understanding human health and susceptibility,” Wits University’s Prof Michele Ramsay, chairwoman of the South African Society for Human Genetics, wrote in 2012.

For more, find the article — originally published in Business Day — here.

The Murky Morality of Biobanking

Biobanks are in short supply in South Africa, a place whose inhabitants have some of the greatest genetic diversity in the world. These repositories of human tissue, used for health research, could save lives as scientists find links between diseases and population groups – and, possibly, cures to currently untreatable diseases. But in giving consent for researchers to use your tissue, you are in effect also giving consent on behalf of your parents, family members and children – and possibly all those who share your genetics.

Biobanks are “a major advance in terms of science and technology”, says Professor Ames Dhai, director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics at the University of the Witwatersrand.

A bank containing hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions, of samples with the donors’ medical and demographic information would allow scientists to conduct research with the possibility of statistically significant results. This could pave the way for personalised medicine tailored to South Africa’s population.

 

For more, find the article — originally published in Mail & Guardian — at http://mg.co.za/article/2015-09-03-the-murky-morality-of-biobanking