April 5, 2002


All Things Considered (NPR) had a story yesterday that seemed to suggest that first cousins who mate do not have a significantly greater risk of having children with birth defects than those of us who eschew consanguinity. But when the lead researcher explained the study, it sounded to me like her numbers were screwy. So we called in Charles Murtaugh, the blessed bio blogger, to clarify the situation :
On NPR, the lead researcher was implying that there was an "insignificant" increased risk, but the study actually suggests that the risk nearly doubles -- it's just that it goes from a very low number (around 4%) to another very low number (around 6%).

Just another example of the media's selective use of statistics. If it were shown that driving an SUV brought about a similar increase in the risk of fatal accidents, do you think the front page of the New York Times would proclaim that there are "Few risks seen to SUV passengers"?

Mr. Murtaugh goes on to differ with me over the moral implications of the issue, and he makes entirely valid points. I do have one question though : I'm an evolution skeptic but I wonder if it's a good idea to limit the gene pool in the way that such intermarriage would tend to do?
Posted by Orrin Judd at April 5, 2002 9:32 AM
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