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Health

Science is sufficient for any inference

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJune 15, 2010 1:15 AM

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Because I'm a generally somewhat more anthropocentric in regards to my interest in the "squishy science" I am often amused by the wide range of inferences that people make when presented with a set of scientific results. Naturally, when I talk about the genetics of Jews it gets a lot more heated. You did not see most of the extremely bizarre comments which kept coming in as I simply marked them as spam. But I thought I would point to how different individuals can derive totally contradictory inferences from the same posts in two weblog reactions. These two bloggers link to my posts as summaries of the research. First:

...A recent study suggests that Jews are tied by more than common religion, we have the same genetics. While even some Jews have fought the notion that there is a Jewish race, it is something I am happy to embrace. I am no scientist or geneticist, but it is clearly obvious through recent research that we do, in fact, have a common genetic link. This has been discussed in a second article as well. While it is complex research, the data speaks for itself. Alan Dershowtiz has said it. Martin Luther King Jr. has said it. And I have said it again and again. If you hate Jews, you do not hate a set of beliefs. You do not hate a country. You are a racist. Period.

Conversely:

I knew Mr. Razib Khan will show his true self eventually, and he did. Despite his protestations to the contrary, he objectively is working for the goal of de-legitimatizing Israel by falsifying scientific data to prove that Jews are not a distinct people with shared identity but a collection of descendants of various South-European ethnic groups. Naturally, this theory is welcomed by various Arab scoundrels with their claim that Israelis are newcomers from Europe, and that Palestinians (Arabs, that is) are closer to original ancestors than “occupiers”-Jews, therefore they have legitimate right to kick Israelis from their homeland and take it for themselves....

I probably disagree with the details of the conclusion of the first post (I think there is something a bit weird personally about the importance of an anti-Israel stance in many circles if one isn't a Palestinian or a Muslim, but I don't think it has to do with racism). But the second post is plainly false in its assertions about my post. The individual probably didn't read the post linked in the criticism, as I state that "Jewish groups share a lot of the genome identical by descent." I doubt you have to be super well versed in scientific terminology to get the drift of what I'm talking about. But another issue in the second post is that the poster doesn't seem to care much about Mizrahi Jews; it's clear that this group has little European ancestry, and they obviously weren't European colonizers. I know that Leftist and Arab/Muslim critics of Israel do focus on the state's Ashkenazi Jewish secular Zionist origins, and many Leftists have applied to the white/non-white dichotomy onto Israeli society somewhat inappropriately (Jews being white, Arabs being non-white). One tendency which crops up in comments & questions about Jewish genetics which I've noticed is the implicit substitution Ashkenazi Jew for Jew. Again, as if non-European Jews are a triviality which can be dismissed out of the rhetorical equation (this is certainly not the case in Israel where about half the Jewish population is of non-European origin). This is the sort of thing which makes me generally skeptical that any given scientific result necessarily entails a set of policy or value positions. Over and over I've seen the same scientific data leveraged into supporting diametrically opposing normative stances. Clearly then the science isn't driving the logic of the core argument; rather, science is a handmaid which is brought on after the fact to lend an air of authority, and the glamor of its cultural prestige.

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