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August 30, 2005

Genetics and Affirmative Action

This week's CGREAL newsletter is now up online, but I neglected to cite one news item that's of particular interest: the NY Times magazine's feature on the really new issues (rather the old, familiar ones of abortion and gay rights) that the Supreme Court, and John Roberts, might face in the coming years.

This includes such CGREAL-related topics as genetic screening and reproductive cloning, financing of enhancement and genetic therapies, and gene patents, all issues which many have seen looming on the horizon, but which yet have before the Court.

What I was surprised to see on the list was the impact of DNA on affirmative action. While there has been a lot of the recent work of the Population Issues group has focused on how genetics is both challenging and reinforcing our traditional concept of race, its role in affirmative action has not been discussed.

How might genetics change affirmative action? One scholar suggests genetic tests may be required to prove minority status as increasing numbers fight over shrinking resources.

I'm not convinced. I'm sure that affirmative action will come before the Court again soon, but I don't think genetics will significantly change the debate. The issues around affirmative action programs are about the inherent fairness of racial preferences, not about the validity of individuals' racial identities or histories.

The increasingly popular genetic ancestry tests (which are of questionable value) do uncomfortably recall the infamous one-drop rules, and they could bee potentially misused, though not only for affirmative action. And the question of race is certainly being complicated by genetics.

rsp10 August 30, 2005 02:22 PM