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  Anthropology, Genetic Diversity, and Ethics 
 
 
A workshop at the Center for Twentieth Century Studies  
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee  
 
 
 
Session Two:
Questions and Answers

Q: [inaudible] 

O'Rourke: I don't want to put words in anybody's mouth.  I don't, I'm not sure, that the representatives from the Corporation perceived great benefit from the project, nor do I think they perceived great risk, and we talked about risks, at least as I could articulate the risks that I felt ought to be risks, in a general sense, of the analysis of ancient DNA: population specificity, finding that the prior population was genetically different from the modern population, things of that nature; identification, self-identification, ancestry, [inaudible] that might be caused by the kind of results we would present.  We discussed those issues at some length.  My impression is that the Corporation simply felt that the risks were not great, and the benefits weren't great.  They do have an active interest in the history and prehistory of their communities, their population.  They have a number of very active Aleut ethnohistorians, one who is working with the project, particularly in the component of the study of patterns of variation in the contemporary Aleut population.  There seemed to be a sense that there wasn't much risk, probably not a lot of benefit, a lot to be gained, but maybe some, particularly with respect to increasing the amount of ethnohistoric research that was being done in communities, because the research project will support some of that, in addition to, as an adjunct to and part of the genetic research, and a general interest in population history seemed to be appropriate.  I would point out that although the Corporation has given its permission to proceed with the project, they requested -- and I took this as a requirement during our conversations; I still take it as a requirement, although it did not appear in the written letter that was sent approving the project -- that prior to collecting additional skeletal specimens from the museums where curated, in conversation they asked that we visit each local community nearest to where those skeletons had been recovered archaeologically, mostly from the 19-teens to the 1930s, and seek the permission of local leaders in those individual communities, which of course we will do.  Although that was not required in writing, it was in conversation, and I take that seriously myself.  Assuming that the project is in fact funded, we will be doing that prior to any new data collection. 

Q: [inaudible] 

O'Rourke: Not that I know of.  One of my fears is, there are clearly implications for priority peoples in geographic regions that might be attached to the results of ancient DNA [research].  I personally do not think that's appropriate, in part because the amount of genetic material that we currently [inaudible] is simply, in my mind, completely inadequate to address those kinds of questions.  I think that's just an inappropriate use of these kinds of data.  It may not be inappropriate in [inaudible].  I would also point out something that Rika mentioned, and that is sample size issues, and that's always a problem with ancient DNA.  In our work, I've not been [inaudible] working on individual samples, individual specimens, in the ground, but even scientifically, the value of many, single, individual specimens is extremely limited.  I do think the scientific value of larger samples from, that are well [inaudible], well dated, et cetera, is much greater.  And our samples range from a small sample of about 47 to 50 upwards of two to three times that in some of the projects [inaudible].  So we really are trying to assess variation in a more reliable way, as best we can.  the samples are highly [inaudible] as well, and that's another issue.  The ancient samples should not be construed as representing the kinds of populations that some of us recognize in regard to the modern world.  They are individual samples, and [inaudible]. 

Q: [inaudible] 

O'Rourke: Mine are not, no.  I've never seen a [inaudible] specimen, [inaudible] and I don't think any of the stuff that we're working on is at all relevant to that. 

Q: [inaudible] 

O'Rourke: To the degree that our data speak to those issues, the answer is yes.  I think we have an obligation as we see statements that we think are erroneous and are scientifically not valid, [inaudible], we have an obligation to [inaudible].  Especially if we can provide data to show that is not true, that the claims are not true, or at least have little empirical support. 

Q: [inaudible -- re: NAGPRA] 

Kaestle: I think there are two issues here.  One is [inaudible], and [inaudible] NAGPRA.  There's not necessarily [inaudible] proof required, although  we're assuming [inaudible].  But I think also that archaeologists are [inaudible remainder of response]. 

O'Rourke: Thank you, we will reconvene in a while.

 
 
 
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