Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Are blondes/redheads dying out?

In 2002 there was a series of stories in the press announcing that blondes were dying out. A typical story from the BBC:
Blondes 'to die out in 200 years'.
The proposed mechanism for this loss of blondes was simply that the gene was recessive

..too few people now carry the gene for blondes to last beyond the next two centuries.   The problem is that blonde hair is caused by a recessive gene.

But, as we saw today, Hardy and Weinberg cleared that up for us over 100 years ago. An allele will not decline in frequency simply because it is recessive.


The story appeared to originate with the World Health Organization, although suspiciously, no scientists were named. It subsequently turned out the whole story was dubious if not fake. The WHO eventually issued a press release: 

''W.H.O. has no knowledge of how these news reports originated,'' said the organization, an agency of the United Nations based in Geneva, ''but would like to stress that we have no opinion of the future existence of blonds.''

Because news stories tend to have a cyclical life of their own this story has resurfaced a number of times since 2002.

Skip forward a few years  to 2005 and a series of press reports on a similar fate for redheads:
Gingers extinct in 100 years, say scientists
This time the story can be chased back to a misreporting of a story in National Geographic and the 'Oxford Hair Foundation' - funded by a manufacturer of hair dye.

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