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Bad news on sex selection in new UN studies

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on November 1st, 2007


A series of new studies by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) documents the persistence and spread of skewed sex ratios and sex selection in Asia. According to a regional demographic analysis [pdf], the problem is not confined to India and China. In 2005, South Korea, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia also reported severe sex-ratio imbalances.

The report characterizes this situation, which began to emerge in its current dimensions during the late 1970s, as "a new demographic regime of gender discrimination" - one that has "never before been recorded in demographic history." If the sex ratio in Asia were the same as elsewhere in the world, it says, about 163 million more women would be alive there today.

According to the executive summary,

The ramifications of such an imbalance will not only continue for decades, but will affect an enormous proportion of the Asian population. While men of marriageable age will suddenly find a dramatic shortage of potential brides, it is girls and women of all ages who will truly feel the brunt of this dynamic [from] forecasted increases in gender-based violence, trafficking, discrimination and general vulnerability of women and girls.

Separate studies of Vietnam and Nepal [pdf files] conclude that sex ratios in those countries aren't troubling now, but that the availability of prenatal screening could change that soon.

The reports were prepared by UNFPA for this week's 4th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights in Hyderabad, India. This year the biennial gathering brought together more than 1200 participants from NGOs, governments, funding agencies, the United Nations, and media.

UNFPA, which has recognized sex selection as a facet of violence against women since the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, has produced a six-minute video on the subject titled Girls Gone Missing in Asia.





Corporate Genomics and Creepy GeneBook

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on October 25th, 2007


23andMe may be the most high-profile entrant into the much-anticipated potential market for personal genomics, but it's not the only one. David Ewing Duncan recently profiled it and its chief competitor, Navigenics in the business publication Portfolio. After reading this, David Hamilton at VentureBeat (and formerly of the Wall Street Journal), is skeptical of Navigenics:

If what the Portfolio piece depicts is even close to the truth, however, what these startups bring to market could be far more restricted - not to mention expensive - than most of us have probably imagined.

Let's put it this way: How would you feel about a company that offered to scan your genes, only to lock up most of the information it finds so it can charge you thousands of dollars a year to dribble it back out to you? I'm not sure the term "personal genomics" would even apply here - it sounds to me a lot more like "corporate genomics," in which getting access to your genome would require handing it over to a company that assumes it knows better than you do which parts of your genome you're entitled to see.

And he seems a bit disturbed by 23andMe's plans:

Of course, the idea of sharing your DNA with others via a new online social network - GeneBook? - might seem to many people every bit as creepy as the idea of corporate genomics seems to me.

Read all of Hamilton's piece, "Will 23andMe and Navigenics lock up your genome and charge you for the key?"





Why is Andrew Sullivan rolling his eyes?

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on October 24th, 2007


Andrew Sullivan – libertarian conservative pundit, gay Catholic, prolific blogger – quotes CGS’s Patty Berne via a ColorLines article, in a blog post he titles Genetics and “Race.”  Sullivan expresses his irritation at her reminder of the history of science and racism, complaining that, “My eyes roll when they don't glaze over.” He goes on to pledge his allegiance to “fact” and “truth.”

Sullivan has been here before. In 1994, as editor of the New Republic, he gave prominent and respectful coverage to the argument advanced in The Bell Curve that Blacks are less intelligent than Whites and Asians. His comment on that decision: “The notion that there might be resilient ethnic differences in intelligence is not, we believe, an inherently racist belief.”

As Jim Naureckas pointed out at the time, “In fact, the idea that some races are inherently inferior to others is the definition of racism. What the New Republic was saying – along with other media outlets that prominently and respectfully considered the thesis of Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein's book – is that racism is a respectable intellectual position, and has a legitimate place in the national debate on race.”





Watson as wake-up call: When genetics endorses a new eugenics

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on October 22nd, 2007


The world now knows about the blatant racism of the twentieth century's most famous geneticist. Those tracking the story have also learned of James Watson's other assorted bigotries - his denigration of "ugly girls," "stupid" children, and "fat people"; his endorsement of paying rich people to have more children and aborting affected fetuses when tests for a "gay gene" are developed.

But that's not all. Though neither media nor blogosphere have noted it so far, Watson - and a small but disturbing number of other prominent figures - have over the past decade been actively promoting a renewed program of eugenics, this time using twenty-first century reproductive and genetic technologies.

The new eugenics crowd is hardly coy. Various among them have explicitly endorsed "seizing control of our [human] evolutionary future" and "engineering the human germline." Back in 1998 they held a high-profile conference - covered on the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post - to plan how to make this high-tech eugenics "acceptable" to the American public.

At that event, Watson called for "mak[ing] better human beings" by "add[ing] genes." A few years later, he advised that "Hitler's use of the term Master Race" should not make us "feel the need to say that we never want to use genetics to make humans more capable than they are today."

Those familiar with the Center for Genetics and Society are aware of these travesties; in fact, CGS's formation in 2001 was prompted in large part by the urgent need to counter them. Thus we've collected a fair sample of revealing Watsonisms. We've compiled these, and ask that anyone who has others send them to us.

Here are a few other accounts of Watson's eugenics advocacy:





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