“It’s just horrifying,” said Ethel Brooks, a Romani scholar and chair of the department of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “But of course, it’s all things we’ve known and suspected.”
Now, a group of scientists has argued this research, which has made the Roma the most intensely studied population in Europe over the past 30 years in forensic genetic journals, is rife with ethical issues and may harm the Romani people.
For five years, a team of researchers in Germany and the United Kingdom pored over more than 450 papers that used the DNA of Roma people to understand how geneticists and other scholars obtained, interpreted and shared that genetic information. Their analysis, published Wednesday in an op-ed in the journal Nature, revealed many instances of clear misuse or questionable ethics.
In 1981, when scientists in Hungary sampled the blood of Roma people incarcerated in Hungarian prisons, they classified prisoners as Romani based solely on their appearance, which the authors of the new paper argue is unscientific. In 1993, another group sampling Romani DNA concluded that there were three distinct ethnic groups in the country, drawing a line between “the genuine Hungarian ethnical groups” and “Jews” and “Gypsies” — a research premise the authors of the new paper argue was racist. In the 2000s, papers on the genetics of Roma people still referred to the group with the outdated term “Gypsy,” which is considered a slur, or with pejorative terms such as “inbred” or “consanguineous.”
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