Roderick R. McInnes, ASHG Presidential Address: “Culture, the Silent Language Geneticists Must Learn to Speak”
Roderick R. McInnes
I first wrote the blog entry below last November, a reaction to an important address given November 3, 2010 at the American Society for Human Genetics (ASHG) by outgoing president, Rod McInnes of McGill University. President McInnes's address, Culture: the Silent Language Geneticists Must Learn--Genetic Research with Indigenous Populations, was published in the March issue of The American Journal of Human Genetics 88, 254-261, March 11, 2011.
You can see the first ten minutes of President McInnes's address here on YouTube. Or you can go to the ASHG Web site and pay to view the entire address. Unless you were at the meeting. You should then have been sent login information.
11/03/2010 (original post date)
I am here at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) annual meeting in Washington D.C. for the much anticipated (in my corner of the world) Presidential Address by outgoing society president, Roderick R. McInnes (McGill University, Canada).
Before sharing some of the exciting highlights of that speech . . . Whoa, the ASHG exhibit hall C is kitted out like a Las Vegas show, or one of those glitzy evangelical mega-churches that have risen up in U.S. American culture since the 1980s. Except these performances are subdued and precise. No instruments or singers. (Although Prez McInnes cracked some good jokes depicting the differences between U.S. Americans and Canadians.) Audience members created a nice low murmur fitting for the dimly lit cavernous convention hall. Blue and teal cloth draped from on high to the floor with huge ASHG logo and artsy looking double helix to backlight the plenary session stage. Gigantic overhead screens run advertisements for upcoming academic and industry meetings, and eventually show the speakers' slides. There is seating for maybe a couple thousand in here. All of this and yet no wireless. Tweet plans disrupted.
While Dr. McInnes speaks of the language of "culture," I think "distributive justice" and more "democratic science," but our sense of the details and recommended changes to research ethics--which are well under way in some quarters--seems shared. Before recounting just the highlights of his talk (he'll publish it in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics--AJHG). I want to thank him again for taking on this topic, and for taking it up so seriously. Pressure has been mounting for years from indigenous critics of genetic research, but meaningful change will also have to come from within the field. Judging by McInnes' citations and they synthetic nature of his account, he reads considerably outside of his specialty areas, delving into cultural anthropology, law, and genome ethics and policy. He put together a coherent narrative for non-specialists in genetic research ethics of why the time is now, as he put it, for genetics researchers to "get inside the metaphorical tent of the indigenous populations" they study.
After cautioning the audience that we should be hesitant to judge earlier genetic studies of indigenous populations by today's ethical standards (heads nodding all around me), McInnes provided highlights of genetic research on indigenous groups contested by those people--i.e. on the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribe from Vancouver Island, Canada and the Havasupai Tribe in Arizona. In these two cases consent was obtained and blood drawn for biomedical research but later used for human migrations research and, in the case of the Havasupai, additional stigmatizing biomedical research unwanted by the tribe was funded. McInnes also noted the smaller controversy that surrounded the Genographic Project's blood draws in Alaska in which researchers were asked to return DNA samples until concerns about inadequate informed consent were rectified.
McInnes highlighted different indigenous cultural beliefs about DNA--some think it is sacred. As late Hopi geneticist Frank Dukepoo put it, "it is part of the essence of a person." Genetics findings may also displant the origin narratives of indigenous peoples (and, I would add, key events in colonial history). If I can expand beyond what Dr. McInnes said, such narratives give indigenous peoples values for living, narrate our common history, cohere us as peoples with common moral frameworks, and tie us to sacred land bases. Both creation and colonial narratives circumscribe our geography, family relations, governance, and identity. Genetic knowledge, fascinating as it is, should not trump these weighty factors.
Beyond “cultural” concerns, McInnes highlighted the imperative to constitute research benefits and outcomes in broader terms. And then researchers need to pay attention to how indigenous peoples and not only researchers also accrue those benefits. Citing the Estonian Genome Project, McInnes noted the types of benefits that communities in that country expect to receive from that research, e.g. better healthcare, better healthcare delivery, technology development, economic development, and jobs. “Why,” he asked, “should aboriginal populations expect less?” Touché.
Importantly, McInnes called attention to the need for researchers to respect aboriginal jurisdiction of genetic research on their peoples. He paraphrased Deborah Harry of the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB)--that indigenous peoples are not so much anti-research as they are pro-indigenous rights. Illustrating that some research communities are ahead of others on these fronts he gave us the lowdown on the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Guidelines for Health Research Involving Aboriginal People. CIHR is the Canadian equivalent to our National Institutes of Health--NIH. A few of the highlights of those guidelines:
1. Researchers should understand and respect Aboriginal world views.
2. Researchers should agree to Aboriginal jurisdiction.
3. Communities should be given the option of a participatory research approach.
4. Community consent plus individual consent.
5. DNA is "on loan" to researchers until its return is requested. All secondary uses must be re-consented. (McInnes cited Canadian geneticist Laura Arbour's work and approach to collaborative research throughout the talk. For those of you unfamiliar with her work, check out her "DNA on Loan" article.)
6. Pre-submission community review of publishable papers. (Key point: this review is not to block research findings from being published but to contextualize findings and correct any inaccuracies. This can help avoid stigmatization and other problems. See my Genographic/Seaconke Wampanoag entry for more on how indigenous review/input into publications makes papers more rather than less rigorous.
7. Intellectual property benefits, education, and capacity building in research process should be addressed in a research agreement.
There is a lot more in the CIHR guidelines. What is more, they are in line with changes to research approaches advocated by indigenous critics for years now south of the Canadian border. Check back again. When it’s available, I’ll provide a link to Roderick McInnes’ published address in the AJHG. He also made some interesting points about lessons learned from research on indigenous populations being applied to genetics research ethics with communities more broadly.
With Dr. Rick Standiford I am co-organizer of the spring colloquium series in our department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC-Berkeley. See the file below for a complete list of speakers. Broadly speaking, Rick has invited speakers who focus their research and professional work on the intersection of science and natural resource management policy in California and beyond. The speakers I have invited tend to cross into the field of Science and Technology Studies, especially as related to environment, and including "animal studies." Some of them also do research that falls into the field of Native American and Indigenous Studies. Several of our speakers will highlight the role of collaborative research among natural and social scientists/humanists and the role of communities in participatory research.
The colloquium always happens on Mondays (holidays and spring break excepted) at 4 p.m. (4:10 Berkeley time actually) in Mulford Hall, room 159 on the north side of the UC Berkeley campus. We finish about 5:15.
Jeff Mount, UC Davis
On Monday, April 18 we heard from Professor Jeff Mount of UC Davis Department of Geology. Mount's talk was entitled "Managing California's Water: From Conflict to Reconciliation." Mount is also the Founding Director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. From the UC Davis Web site, I poached the following explanation of Jeff Mount's work:
As the Roy Shlemon Chair in Applied Geosciences, I am engaged in the issues facing the management of California’s water and the rivers that carry it, both now and into the future. My job is to use my background in geology to think about water over the long-term and at very large scales, and to impart this approach to students here at UC Davis. My goal is to identify and help minimize future water and river management crises in California, whether from scarcity or flood. It does no good to simply identify problems; solutions need to be crafted and offered in order to be effective. I am lucky enough to be at UC Davis, one of the best universities in the world when it comes to water. Many of us here are committed to the same goal of helping California manage an inevitable, but uncertain future. We also realize the great value in providing a neutral voice in the tempestuous debates over water, and educating the next generation of water problem solvers. If not us, then whom?
At left: the Birth of Ka'ahupahau, guardian shark of Pearl Harbor (photo: J. Goldberg-Hiller)
On Monday, April 11, we heard from Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller and Noenoe Silva, both of the University of Hawaii's Political Science department. Their talk, "Sharks and Pigs: Animating Hawaiian Sovereignty Against the Anthropological Machine," explored Native Hawaiian cosmology as it informs relations with such nonhumans. Are there lessons to be learned for imagining alternative "natural resource management" regimes from cosmologies in which nonhumans are in fact relations to humans, and not only biolgoically but socially? Silva and Goldberg-Hiller also contextualized their work in relation to recent "posthumanist" strands of scholarship that seek to disrupt the division between human and animal. They made the link between such dualisms and the relegation of certain humans within colonial history to the realm of the less human, to the realm of the animal. Violence towards animals (e.g. the State of Hawaii's spectacular massacre of sharks historically as part of its demonstration of its sovereignty) is linked to violence towards those humans (e.g. indigenous peoples) who have been historically linked to animality. The speakers argued that there are real implications for who and what gets to live and die, for whom and what is made killlable in the human/animal split. Furthermore, their work asked us, the audience, to consider what other kinds of regulatory and scientific regimes might be possible when we consider that such a split is not "natural," but political and cultural?
On Monday, April 4, we heard from Shirley Laska (Professor Emerita of Sociology) and Kristina Peterson (Ph.D. candidate) both of the University of New Orleans. Their talk was entitled "The Role of Participatory Action Research (PAR) in Support of the Response to a Multi-Hazard Convergence: Coastal Louisiana and the Engaged Citizen." Laska is the founding past director of the Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology at the University of New Orleans (UNO-CHART). For 25 years, she has conducted applied research on the social/environmental interface, natural & technological hazards, and disaster response, especially long-term recovery and risk reduction. Since Hurricane Katrina, her work has been focused specifically on lessons to be learned from the event, especially in the realm of community recovery and hazard resiliency both in the urban and non-urban setting. This work emphasizes Participatory Action Research in both slow onset – coastal land loss and sea level rise --and abrupt major disaster events – hurricane Katrina and the BP oil leak. She is the 2008 recipient of the American Sociological Association’s Public Understanding of Sociology Award.
Peterson is a PhD candidate in Urban and Regional Planning and a researcher with CHART. Her professional and academic work is based in citizen participation problem solving as it pertains to reducing vulnerability and increasing community resiliency especially following disasters. For the past six years, she has worked closely with traditional and indigenous coastal communities in Louisiana addressing issues directly related to Hurricanes Katrina/Rita, Gustav/Ike as well as the BP oil disaster. Peterson engages in a Freirian participatory action model of research, which emphasizes the trust relationships and mutual knowledge building between community members and academics. She served as the project manager for a recent research grant with a Louisiana coastal fishing community to develop indicators of community resilience. She is a fellow in the Society for Applied Anthropology and was the recent recipient of the William Gibson Environmental award. Peterson lives in Houma, Louisiana were she pastors Bayou Blue Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). One of her current projects is helping coastal communities form a Gulf coast regional citizens action council (RCAC).
Monday, March 28 we heard from preeminent feminist philosopher of science, Professor Sandra Harding (UCLA), author of Sciences from Below: Feminisms, Postcolonialities, and Modernities (2008) and Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women's Lives (1991). Following is her talk abstract.
Must All 'Real Sciences' Be Secular? Rethinking Secularism for Multicultural Democracies
For more than a decade, the surprising religious commitments of Western secularism have been documented from a variety of perspectives. Western secularism turns out to be grounded in distinctively Christian, Protestant assumptions. Yet the secularity of modern Western sciences is supposed to contrast them with other cultures' religious/spiritual systems of knowledge of nature and social relations. However, a multicultural democracy must not permit one of its subcultures to direct state policy against other subcultures. How are relations between supposedly secular modern Western sciences and religiously embedded indigenous knowledge systems implicated in this kind of analysis? How, if at all, is the reliability of modern Western sciences damaged by the discovery of their "religious unconscious"?
On Monday, March 14, we were joined by Rob Atwill, Professor and CE Specialist in the School of Veterinary Medicine and the Director of the Western Institute of Food Safety and Security (WIFFS) at the University of California, Davis for a timely talk, "Interface of Environmental Quality and Food Safety: A Case Study of the Salinas Valley E. Coli Issue." (photo courtesy of UC Davis, http://annualreport.ucdavis.edu/2007/food_safety.html). Dr. Atwill gave an interesting overview of the interactions between rangeland practices, wildlife habitat, and produce cultivation in the Salinas Valley and other areas of California. The majority of some forms of produce consumed across the U.S. are cultivated in this "tiny valley." Atwill contests charges of cow-calf operations contaminating spinach fields based on proximity (or lack of it) between cattle operations and leafy greens production, and based on weather patterns, and soil and plant monitoring results. Wildlife contamination of fields, he asserts, is a more likely hypothesis. He asks then, "How can we insure microbial food safely in this environment?" And why did we ever think that we could insure sterile growing conditions? While grazing operations, he explains, are trying hard to accommodate rules and practices of the produce industry but it's difficult due to a patchwork of operations in the California agricultural landscape. All of these problems are spurring a lot of interdisciplinary research in agricultural extension. He ended with a question about pursuing litigation continuously against the growing industry, what will end up is a landscape plowed over. One audience member wanted to shift the conversation to one of small-scale growing---that these pathogen outbreaks don't happen except in large-scale growing, in bagged products. Atwill pushed back a little bit, noting that small-scale growers could experience the occasional contamination and illness. They're not selling to thousands of consumers across the country, thus causing an "outbreak." This was a fascinating and challenging talk for a social scientist with absolutely no background in this area. I left this talk thinking about the difficulties of insuring a risk-free, precisely managed landscape with this large-scale level of production.
On Monday, March 7, we were joined by Jenny Reardon, Associate Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz in Sociology and in the Center for Biomolecular Sciences and Engineering. Jenny is the primary organizer of the Science & Justice Working Group at UCSC. Her talk, "Science and Justice: Experiments in Collaboration," will outline UCSC's Science & Justice initiative including their Science & Justice Training Program, an effort to train graduate students from different programs to undertake together interdisciplinary research projects. In our department of ESPM the potential is great for interdisciplinary work, but simply inhabiting the same department is not necessarily sufficient to spur deep interdisciplinarity. Jenny focused on the nuts and bolts of the UCSC program, including the opportunities and challenges to crossing often difficult language and methodological barriers as well as physical barriers (i.e. space and who owns it) between disciplines and fields.
Sibyl Diver (photo: J Kamata)
On Monday, February 28, our own ESPM Ph.D. Candidate Sibyl Diver (Stephanie Carlson lab) spoke on co-management of Salmon Fisheries among tribes and the state in the Pacific Northwest. Her talk focused on issues of both cultural and ecological restoration and sustainability as well as the complex issues of governance and tribal sovereignty involved. Thanks to all of the students, faculty, and postdocs from ESPM and from across campus as well as interested community members who turned out for the talk. You were an engaged audience. We had a great Q&A session afterward. There is so much interesting research and applied work going on in this department. It is great to share it with people beyond our administrative structure. Sibyl is an example of how ESPM graduate students can lead the way down a path of rigorous interdisciplinary research.
Tomorrow morning, Tuesday, Feb. 22 ESPM's own Professor Carolyn Merchant, environmental historian and eco-feminist will give a guest lecture on scientific method historically and its aim to have dominion over "nature," often represented as woman. Merchant is a compelling and knowledgeable speaker. Class starts promptly at 9:40 in the Life Sciences Annex (LSA) 101. Please be on time. There are always a few extra seats for others (grad students, fellow faculty, other interested locals) who want to stop by.
ESPM Assistant Professor Carolyn Finney will speak in my ESPM 151 class this morning@ 9:40 in LSA 101. "This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land: People and Public Lands Redux." Check out this funny video she shares in this lecture: "Black Hiker" http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/24b56caf3e/black-hiker-with-blair-underwood. There are always a few extra seats for anyone local interested in coming by.
Co-Design of Tribal Housing as Expression of Tribal Sovereignty (and Situated Knowledges): ESPM 151Guest Lecture, Feb 10, 2011
ESPM 151 students and interested others, please be sure to attend a guest lecture in my undergraduate class this coming Thursday. We meet from 9:40-11:00 in LSA 101 (be on time, no entrance after 9:45). Dr. David Edmunds, environmental director for the Pinoleville Pomo Nation (Ukiah, CA) and Ryan Shelby (UC Berkeley Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. Candidate) will discuss the conceptual framework and practical process of meaningfully co-designing tribal "green" housing. Edmunds and Shelby will highlight a (to date) three-year collaboration between UC-Berkeley architecture and engineering faculty and students, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Pinoleville Pomo Nation (PPN) citizens to create culturally and environmentally sustainable housing on the PPN reservation in Mendocino County. Edmunds and Shelby are aware that our class has been working through feminist science studies frameworks such as Donna Haraway's concept of "situated knowledges" and Sandra Harding's "standpoint theory" and "strong objectivity." They/we will attempt to apply those frameworks to the PPN-UC-EPA collaboration in order to show how theory elucidates life.
The Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) is looking to hire up to three current undergraduate or graduate students for three interesting internships, one for the spring semester 2011 and two for summer of 2011. All three positions will be held at ILTF's offices in Little Canada, Minnesota. The spring internship is a part-time position of approximately 5-10 hours a week. Beginning and ending dates are negotiable. Salary will be $15.00 per hour. As temporary employees of the Foundation, the position is not eligible for employee benefits. This position provides the ideal candidate with an opportunity to learn more about Indian culture and land issues facing Indian nations throughout the United States. The summer internships are full-time positions over the course of 10-12 weeks (400 hours). Beginning and ending dates are negotiable. Salary will be $15.00 per hour with potential additional funds for living and relocation expenses.
The SING Workshop is now accepting applications from Native American, Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native, or Canadian First Nation applicants (all expenses paid for those who are accepted). See http://www.igb.illinois.edu/conference/sing for complete instructions as well as information on the curriculum, advisory board members [I am one], and sponsors. According to the website, the goals of the program are as follows:
In a guest editorial in Anthropology Today, UC Berkeley anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes describes her experience and that of other faculty from across UC Berkeley who expressed concerns this past May when we first learned about the College of Letters & Sciences (L&S) 2010-11 "On the Same Page" (OTSP) program. Instead of the usual freshman experience centered around reading and discussing an important book (we all know how hard it is to get students to read . . .), the Deans in L&S plus Professor of Genetics Jasper Rine arranged to send DNA testing kits to 5500 incoming freshman for genetic markers related to ability to metabolize alcohol, lactose, and folic acid. The idea was that a more hands-on educational experience would gain more student involvement. I've tweeted every article I've come across on this topic so interested readers can review the archives of NDN_DNANotes for links to many articles in the press. As such, I won't recap the program and the full array of critiques. Scheper-Hughes provides a quick overview in her editorial of concerned faculty's collective worries: inadequate informed consent of less powerful subjects, i.e. of students studied by professors, unclear biological samples management practices, possible breaches of privacy, lack of sufficient genetic counseling to understand test outcomes, the ultimate medical uselessness of the tests, and more. I'll add that a less than optimal educational experience and ill-informed consent was guaranteed when "ethics" discussions were added after scientific aspects of the program were designed and implemented.
I just want to note a couple of aspects of Sheper-Hughes's editorial in sending readers its way: 1) she calls attention to the expedited review by Berkeley's Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects (CPHS) of the DNA testing program while CPHS seems diligent in reviewing the field research of anthropology faculty and grad students to the point of delaying it; 2) Jasper Rine's response to the editorial characterizes Sheper-Hughes's response as inaccurate "opinions." Funny, since she documents the informed critiques of expert ethics and science policy faculty from across campus. Professor Rine also notes that "the few critics of this programme declined repeated invitations to participate by contributing their views through lectures or through participation in panel discussions that were part of the programme." Not quite right. Many of us did decline to participate in panels and a program that was already scripted according to premises with which we disagreed. However, others did take part in panels. I did a guest lecture for Dean Schlissel's (a major proponent of the program) freshman seminar and engaged in lengthy email correspondences with him to suggest productive changes to the program (none of which seemed to be taken up). Scheper-Hughes taught a freshman seminar related to the program. Not going along with the prescribed script is in fact a much more engaged and productive form of involvement, one--it can be argued--that enhanced the educational quality of the project.
On a related note, James Clifford, Professor Emeritus of History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz, recently spoke at UC Berkeley about the state and role of the humanities in the university today. Clifford's talk--while not addressing OTSP in any way--helps shed light on the difficult conversations we had around the Berkeley program. Clifford addresses the divide between the better funded and more powerful natural sciences and the humanities in the university. He explains that "real dialogue can only take place between equals. And we [the hard sciences and the social sciences/humanities] are not equals in the contemporary university. This is a fact and a growing trend, driven by material, political and economic forces. . .The so-called STEM Fields (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) enjoy an unprecedented hegemony in the University. Their epistemological and methodological opposition to the 'liberal arts' grows ever more extreme, and more intolerant." With the interpretive, and not positivist turn in the humanities that Clifford describes--the turn towards explanations of phenomena and the world that are always contingent, partial, and located in specific standpoints--the different camps in the university have a difficult time conversing. We too in the humanities and social sciences do not always work hard enough to bridge conceptual divides. We can do better. But ironically, better understanding "hard" science disciplines and histories and the power they wield over and effect in the world is in fact what motivates many of the scholars who critiqued OTSP. We are alternately critical and very interested in technoscientific fields, but we were not a group that is science phobic. We were collectively bioethicists, science studies scholars, historians and anthropologists of science. Yet conversation did not work in the case of OTSP. We were simply not equals in terms of our power within the university. And the program proceeded with very little change. At least this is my well-informed "opinion."
There have been sensationalist claims in the press during the last week following the publication in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology of Ebeneserdottir et al's A New Subclade of mtDNA Haplogroup C1 Found in Icelanders: Evidence of Pre-Columbian Contact? Following the press, I was prepared to read an article that way over-reached the evidence in its concluding claims about the presence of a "Native American mtDNA lineage" in Iceland. However, the authors are fairly circumspect in their hypothesis. They conclude the article as follows: "The mystery surrounding the geographical origin of the Iceland C1e lineage will remain until additional members are found in other populations--ancient or contemporary. Until then, we propose that the most likely hypothesis is that the Icelandic voyages to the Eastern coastline of the Americas resulted in the migration of at least one Native American woman carrying the C1e lineage to Iceland around the year 1000."
The authors are even more circumspect in their abstract: "The C1 lineage was present in the Icelandic mtDNA pool at least 300 years ago. This raised the intriguing possibility that the Icelandic C1 lineage could be traced to Viking voyages to the Americas that commenced in the 10th century. In an attempt to shed further light on the entry date of the C1 lineage into the Icelandic mtDNA pool and its geographical origin, we used the deCODEGenetics genealogical database to identify additional matrilineal ancestors that carry the C1 lineage and then sequenced the complete mtDNA genome of 11 contemporary C1 carriers from four different matrilines. Our results indicate a latest possible arrival date in Iceland of just prior to 1700 and a likely arrival date centuries earlier. Most surprisingly, we demonstrate that the Icelandic C1 lineage does not belong to any of the four known subclades of haplogroup C1. Rather, it is presently the only known member of a new subclade, C1e. While a Native American origin seems most likely for C1e, an Asian or European origin cannot be ruled out."
Why can Asian or European origins not be ruled out? The authors note that the particular C1 lineage found in Iceland is "exceedingly rare" in European populations where mtDNA variation has been the subject of "dense sampling." This therefore "weighs against a hypothesis of antiquity in Europe." However, C1e has not to date been found among Native American populations. (C1a has been found only among East Asians, and C1b, C1c, and C1d only among Native Americans). But that is not a good indication that the Iceland mtDNA C subclade did not originally derive from an individual from the Americas. Native American populations are under-sampled. It could be here. The authors note a second possibility for its lack of presence here: "Given the rather drastic population size reductions that resulted from the actions of Europeans after 1492, it is quite possible that the C1e lineage was once carried by, but has now been lost from, contemporary individuals with Native American matrilineal ancestry." In short, genocide (my word, maybe not theirs) and disease may have killed off all of the C1e carriers here. Okay, so it is more likely that C1e arrived in Iceland via a body that came from what we call "the Americas" rather than via a human body that traveled from "Asia" or "Europe."
Now, I am not sure why Europeans and their descendants consistently rule out the possibility of human beings from other continents being able to travel vast distances pre-Columbus of their own accord and mindfully, i.e. as more than mammals just accidentally wandering far from home as they followed food (e.g. C1e in Iceland MUST be traced to the Viking voyages). We do have evidence to the contrary of non-European peoples' navigational skills. But leaving that bit of cultural myopia aside, the hypothesis of these anthropological geneticists is not unreasonable. But neither does it justify the interpretations in the press. Witness the ridiculous headlines:
Time Magazine (11/26/10): More Proof that Vikings Were First to America
AFP (11/17/10): Vikings Brought Amerindian to Iceland 1,000 Years Ago: Study
RedOrbit.com (11/18/10) DNA Shows Viking, Amerindian Link to Iceland
I like this one a bit more, it leaves the question of agency an open one, which it is, i.e. who decided to travel and why.
Daily Telegraph (11/16/10): First Americans 'Reached Europe Five Centuries Before Columbus Voyages'
The lesson is not to rely too much on the popular press for your understanding of new scientific findings. I hate to bash science reporters--I know a couple of really good ones, and good venues. I especially like the UK-based New Scientist, usually. This time however they rely on the AFP take and write that Vikings Brought First Native American to Europe. Expected more of you New Scientist.