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Duly Noted

Thursday, Dec 27, 2012, 7:43 pm

The Crackpot Plan to Analyze Adam Lanza’s DNA

By Lindsay Beyerstein

The local medical examiner has announced a plan to analyze the Newtown shooter's DNA. Mark my words, this won't end well.

This an approach worthy of an 18th century cabinet of curiosities. Collecting weird speciments isn't science. The ad hoc analysis of one person's genome can't tell us anything about the causes of violence.

If the researchers wanted to start an anonymized gene bank of DNA from violent criminals, that might eventually be of some scientific value. In that case, multiple samples could be compared to various control groups.

Prediction: They'll find that Adam Lanza had DNA. The researchers, or the publicity-hungry medical examiner, or ill-informed journalists will seize on whatever they happen to find as evidence of a link between that gene and violence.

To make matters worse, they'll probably start by looking for genes that are already associated with stigmatized conditions like autism or schizophrenia. Expect this approach to deepen stigmas without advancing our understanding. It's an invitation for researchers to confirm our society's preexisting prejudices without explaining anything.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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