Monday, October 15, 2018

Elizabeth Warren and Minority Status

Early in her career, Elizabeth Warren listed herself in an online database used for law school recruitment as a minority law professor. At several later points in her career she was described by her university as a Native American law professor, presumably because she told them she was. Her explanation has been a family tradition of a Cherokee ancestor several generations back.

She has now released the result of a DNA analysis finding a Native American ancestor six to ten generations back. Six generations would make her 1.5% Native American. According to Wikipedia:
in a sample of 187 European Americans from State College, Pennsylvania, there was an average of 0.7% West African genetic contribution and 3.2% Native American genetic contribution ... . 
If that result is typical, Warren has at most about half as much Native American ancestry as the average European American.

Did that qualify her as a minority law professor?

Donald Trump apparently said at some point in the past that "I will give you a million dollars, to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian ..." Various people are complaining that he is no reneging on the offer.

I don't think ancestry of between 1.5% Native American  and .1% Native American qualifies for being an Indian. By that standard almost all white Americans are black, almost all black Americans are white, and almost all, black or white, are Native Americans. 


Lewis said...

I too find this absolutely ridiculous.

David Friedman said...

Do you interpret her releasing the information as evidence that she believes that most voters are innumerate, won't realize what six to ten generations back comes to? I think her original claim was a Cherokee great grandmother, which would be three generations, but it might have been one further back.

Alann said...

I read that her family always said one of her great-great-great grandmothers (or something) was "at least partly" Native American (Cherokee and/or Delaware).

As far as I can tell, the following story is consistent with all the known facts: she checked two boxes on a form for the AALS directory (because her parents always said she was part Native American and she quite reasonably believed them); AALS listed her as "minority" or "of color" or something; later Harvard was under pressure to show that they had minority faculty, and some administrator (without asking her, and probably against federal guidelines) decided to count her that way. There's evidence that it never gave her any particular advantage in her academic career.

I think she would have been better off just letting the issue die, rather than publishing the results of the genetic test.

I don't think Trump is obliged to give a million dollars to the charity she named, since he said he would do so if a DNA test showed that she "is an Indian", not if she had any ancestors at all who were.

All of which is just distractions, of course. I regret even taking the time to write this.

I've had a bit of distaste for Warren ever since her claims that GE and other big companies "don't pay a dime in taxes", but I'm pretty sure I'll be voting to reelect her (after doing some last-minute research about her and her challenger(s)) because Trump.

Attempting to be a Skeptical Thinker said...

I think she got exactly what she wanted out of this. An uncritical and friendly media outlet immediately ran this story as clear vindication of her claims. Anything after that first round of positive endorsements will be dismissed as sour grapes or partisan rhetoric. Don't believe your lyin' eyes...

Laird said...

Making such a claim on the basis of nothing more than oral family tradition, when it was clear that if there were any such ancestor it was several generations back, and to use that to take advantage of the desire of universities to hire "minorities", is outright fraud. She is no more "native american" than I am, probably less, and I know that I am 50% Swedish. Had she merely made an off-hand remark that she had some Cherokee blood, and not used that to advance her career, It would be another thing entirely. But that's precisely what she did. She lied for personal gain, plain and simple.

Two more points: First, the "analysis" didn't actually use any native american DNA, so its validity is highly questionable. That tiny bit could be Peruvian. And second, the Cherokee nation has strongly asserted that she is not of their tribe; DNA "evidence" is not acceptable. They seem to be annoyed and embarrassed by the whole thing.

This whole episode puts her utter lack of character onto public display. You're right: she would have been far better off to let whole thing this die a quiet death.

brekinapez said...

I know some people show remnants of Neanderthal DNA. Should they seek reparations against Homo sapiens for the genocide we caused their race?

Bruce Adelstein said...

I'm no fan of EW's politics, but the report listed statistically significant p values (and adjusted p values). It noted that the long strand of DNA (13.4CM long) that she shared in common with Native Americans was not found in Europeans. (She also had several shorter strands that indicated Native American ancestry that were not as significant.) So we have a regular statistical problem -- a small estimated value but with high statistical significance. There are lots of technical ways of attacking this -- sample size, correlation between Native Americans in Peru, Mexico, and Colombia with those in the US -- but presumably the Stanford geneticist who did the report took all of this into account.

The 2003 study you mentioned (which is here used 31 - 34 "AIMs" or Ancestry Information Markers. which are individual loci with high differences in frequency between populations. In contrast, because we have better and cheaper technology now, EW's study used 764,958 sites -- a much bigger data set obviously.