Scientists horrified at “flawed” chemical nationality tests

This is the sort of thing you learn preparing a workshop for the “hard sciences”… Chemical tests are to be used in the UK to check if asylum seekers are really from where they say they are.

Basically, it seems that analysing the isotopes of, say, a Bordeaux wine can tell you if it really came from the region its label says or if it’s a fraud. Analysing isotopes can determine where confiscated drugs originate. And now the UK has launched a pilot project to determine where asylum seekers come from – by analysing their isotopes (e.g. through hair, fingernails) and DNA. The problem is, say the scientists, that immigrants travel and move. This sort of analysis can only trace the last few months.

CAMBRIDGE, UNITED KINGDOM—Scientists are greeting with surprise and dismay a project to use DNA and isotope analysis of tissue from asylum seekers to evaluate their nationality and help decide who can enter the United Kingdom. “Horrifying,” “naïve,” and “flawed” are among the adjectives geneticists and isotope specialists have used to describe the “Human Provenance pilot project,” launched quietly in mid-September by the U.K. Border Agency. Their consensus: The project is not scientifically valid–or even sensible. (Sciencemag)

German article. Update: After the outcry, the border agency has pulled back its plans.


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