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Experts Call For Ethical Guidelines On Sensitive Genetic Research

TAIPEI, TAIWAN, May 2nd, 2023- The Ethical Implications of Social and Behavioral Genomics published a report from a working group of 19 scholars in the field, stating that research comparing groups based on race, ethnicity, or genetic ancestry must have a strong justification to be considered ethical for conducting, funding, or publishing.

One of the most controversial aspects of social and behavioral genomics is the potential for genetic research to reinforce existing social inequalities and discriminatory practices, particularly when it comes to sensitive traits.

For example, some worry that research into genetic differences between racial groups could be used to justify racist policies or reinforce harmful stereotypes. Similarly, research into the genetics of sexual orientation or gender identity could be used to stigmatize or discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals.

There is also concern that genetic research into complex social behaviors could be oversimplified or misinterpreted, leading to misguided policy decisions or harmful interventions. For instance, if genetic research suggests that certain behaviors are largely determined by genetics, policymakers or healthcare providers might be tempted to adopt a "genetic fatalism" mindset, assuming that these behaviors are immutable and cannot be changed through social or environmental interventions.

Finally, there is concern about how genetic research could be misused by commercial entities or governments for profit or control. For example, insurance companies could use genetic data to discriminate against individuals with certain genetic traits, or governments could use genetic data to monitor or control certain populations. These concerns highlight the importance of conducting social and behavioral genomics research in an ethical and responsible manner, with careful consideration given to the potential risks and benefits of such research.

The report laid out several recommendations for conducting research into fraught social and behavioral genetics topics in an ethical manner. These include engaging with stakeholders, justifying the use and definition of "populations," justifying phenotype definition and measurement, conducting studies with adequate power, replicating findings in hold-out samples, conducting within-family analyses where possible, and extending research benefits to diverse people. The report also made several recommendations for better communicating research into these topics, including developing a "key points" box and further diverting misinterpretations or misuse via FAQs, videos, and careful press releases.


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