Saturday, April 24, 2010

Supai Indians get upset over nothing, ASU pays them $700,000

In the New York Times:
Members of the tiny, isolated tribe had given DNA samples to university researchers starting in 1990, in the hope that they might provide genetic clues to the tribe’s devastating rate of diabetes. But they learned that their blood samples had been used to study many other things, including mental illness and theories of the tribe’s geographical origins that contradict their traditional stories.

I'm going to sound like Martel for just a moment: The Havasupai Indians should have been told that they could take their "traditional stories" and stick them [insert your choice of location]. They have no special right to revoke permission to use genetic materials collected from blood samples, and none to be secure in their fairytales.

That the Board of Regents paid them a $700,000 settlement is a violation of their fiducial duty to the taxpayers and to ASU's donors, and also a violation of their responsibility to ensure academic freedom for graduate students and faculty. A consent form is a consent form. End of story. As reported in Nature, no misconduct was found by an independent investigation.

What was at question in the Indians' lawsuit was whether or not someone who handed over samples could retroactively revoke consent and extort money from the taxpayer. Instead of settling the suit, ASU should have fought it to victory, enabling further such claims to be summarily dismissed.

The expression "Indian giver" has just taken on new life, and new meaning.

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