Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Burden of Proof Sits on the Party Making the Affirmative Statement

theatlantic |  Jedidiah Carlson was googling a genetics research paper when he stumbled upon the white nationalist forum Stormfront. Carlson is graduate student at the University of Michigan, and he is—to be clear—absolutely not a white nationalist. But one link lead to another and he ended up reading page after page of Stormfront discussions on the reliability of 23andMe ancestry results and whether Neanderthal interbreeding is the reason for the genetic superiority of whites. Obsession with racial purity is easily channeled, apparently, into an obsession with genetics.

Stormfront has been around since the 90s, which means it’s been around for the entirety of the genomic revolution. The major milestones in human genetics—sequencing of the first human genome, genetic confirmation that humans came out of Africa, the first mail-in DNA ancestry tests—they’re all there, refracted through the lens of white nationalism. Sure, the commentators sometimes disagreed with scientific findings or mischaracterized them, but they could also be serious about understanding genetics. “The threads would turn into an informal tutoring session and journal club,” observes Carlson. “Some of the posters have a really profound understanding of everyday concepts in population genetics.”