It would seem like sweet poetic justice if James Watson were found to be 1/8th African, but I’m afraid I don’t quite believe it. This is news coming from a company called deCODE genetics, an Icelandic outfit that analyzes an individual’s racial background on the basis of various genetic markers. While I can buy the claim that they can assess the distribution of various alleles in populations, I really dislike the game of trying to work in reverse and assign the fraction of a race to an individual.
The problem is compounded by the increasing improbability of the company’s claims. Watson is also 9% Asian. He’s got a 31% lesser chance than average of getting asthma, and a 2% greater chance of prostate cancer. These kinds of numbers are meaningless when applied to individuals. We don’t even know all the genetic factors that contribute to the various diseases listed, so it’s ludicrous to pretend they can quantify the total risk for a single person that way. While I’ve got no problem thinking there are shared alleles percolating through African and European populations, there are much more reliable ways of determining that a person has an African great grandparent.
(via Accidental Blogger)