Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Xenophobes for Labor?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-10-14

It looks like (in Britain, but probably coming soon to the antipodes) that the Labor government is crawling up to xenophobes, (HT: Nature Human Genetics Special 2009, yep Nature… the gold standard of science journals) using methods that would give Mengele and Hitler wet dreams.

The UK government has already introduced dodgy genetic tests that it says will separate the illegal aliens from the citizens… even though the prestigious Nature reckons that not only is the science completely wrong, the government could well be lying about the program getting the tick of approval from scientists, but that the program will actually harm science itself, making research harder.

The Nature editorial "Genetics Without Borders" has the teaser:

A UK government scheme to establish nationality through DNA testing is scientifically flawed, ethically dubious and potentially damaging to science

And a few snippets, after which I’ll add a few thoughts, including some Australian context.

So it was with understandable incredulity that researchers received a plan by the UK Border Agency to use genetics to determine nationality – specifically, the origin of asylum-seekers claiming to be from war-torn Somalia." The agency’s pilot programme, which began last month, aims to determine whether some 100 individuals really are Somali nationals

The border agency says that the project has undergone scientific peer review, although it is difficult to say by whom: several geneticists contacted by Nature saw a preliminary proposal from the UK government in 2007, and warned that it was unlikely to work.

If it is allowed to continue, it could easily lead to a public backlash in the very populations that geneticists need to study to understand human origins and the genetic underpinnings of disease. Geneticists, and indeed all scientists, should decry the plan and make it clear that the science does not support it.

OK, the tests are for SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, a change in a single letter of the DNA, and described in layman’s language in the SNP FAQ at the Human Genome Project), individually useful few a few diseases (like Sickle Cell), and the theory goes that looking at a range of them will pin down exactly where someone comes from, and thereby determine whether they are an "illegal" or not.

The logic is so blatantly dumb that every UK government politician and official knowing just what is covered in the preceding paragraph should know it is wrong AND unjust.

First, mobility of people between places makes any inferences as to geographic origin fuzzy except when looking at large areas with little external migration, or the "Hatfield and McCoy" areas of the US where everyone is a banjo-picking cousin (first, second AND third, all at the same time) of everyone else.

Mind you, those groups that also only marry within their own clique across geographic boundaries, often by marriages that are at least semi-arranged for many decades if not centuries will look to SNP profiling as if they all came from the same street!  (This is when you think about groups like the ultra-orthodox Jewish group Addas, although in that case, any excuse to turf them all out of the country is a good one.)

And just because you look like you came from the same street doesn’t imply much about immigration status: just because you entered a country with a proper visa has no predictive value about the way your former neighbor entered the same country, and vice versa.

So why would the UK government do this, except to stop votes going to the British National Party, which appeals to British equivalents of what we’d call xenophobic bogan Hansonites?

And you can bet our own Howard-in-ALP-clothing PM is watching with interest, given the similar actions and rhetoric KRudd is showing to the previous government as far as refugees are concerned (see this over at The Punch by the national director of Amnesty International) and given the way the KRudd/Wrong climate policies ignore scientists and economists (see "Penny Wong the Climate Science Sceptic" over at LP and originally from Crikey, as well as my own "Rudd on Climate: Cant not Kant" 2009-10-13).

If the New FascistLabor Party in the UK gets away with this, expect our popular HowRudd to use this to negate any "soft on illegal queue-jumping reffos" jibes from the far-right major parties.


5 Responses to “Xenophobes for Labor?”

  1. Guy said

    Unfortunately I think this is a real hot button issue for a large proportion of the population. It’s tempting to describe what seems to be the broader community view on asylum seekers as low-carb White Australia.

    Let’s face it, we are by majority a centre/centre-right country. I too would like to see some real leadership on this issue from Rudd, but there is no doubt that Labor feel they a walking a tightrope between appearing too weak and appeasing their centre-left base.

    The media doesn’t help matters – whipping up hysteria whenever a boat full of asylum-seekers wobbles into our waters.

  2. Let’s face it, we are by majority a centre/centre-right country.

    That’s a paper thin facade. Australians want the government to make their lives easier and they’ll give any level of control to the government to get it. Tall poppy syndrome is also strong so tax the rich and give it to me, and let’s eat them while where at. Anyhow, xenophobia is quite at home in ‘teh left’ just as much as it is in the right. I think you’d find plenty of the grass roots labour movement has a strong xenophobic streak, and the unions do their best to put a nice veneer over it, just stopping short of calling ‘Asians out’ by saying ‘jobs for working families’.

  3. Dave Bath said

    Reckon you’re right about the ALP voters who are "Hansonite" (Hanson took votes directly from the ALP, as well as being used as a Howard stalking horse)

    “Give any level of control”…. gee… must be depressing for a full-on libertarian like yourself! Sympathies for the frustration with what could be termed “Lobots” (a number of connotations work), or what in Huxleyan vocab could be labelled Happy Gammas.

  4. A. H. O. Thabeth said

    I have created a petition at the Number10 web-site in the hope of stopping this, you may “sign” it here

  5. Guy said

    Michael, I regard anyone with xenophobic views as by definition from the right/centre-right – including members of the Labor Party. Its a more difficult situation when it comes to the union movement, because most union members in primary and secondary issues today are in direct competition with cheaper labour for their livelihoods, and tensions are high.

    In a lot of cases, these racist or quasi-racist attitudes that you allude to stem from the situation they find themselves in and wanting to protect their way of life, and a genuine belief in the superiority of Australian industry.

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