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September 17, 2007


I don't know much about 23andMe but I do know they are involved in DNA ancestry testing which suggests they are selling a whole lot of snake oil themselves. MSM, especially Nick Wade, bear heavy responsibility for over interpreting the meaning and significance of our genes--as an example Wade's piece today on the "genetic" basis of "do unto others." Many things change over time but that doesn't necessarily mean they change because of biological evolution. Much of this kind of reporting reflects a new social Darwinism. On the breast cancer issue: On 11 Sept. this year the NYTimes ran a front page piece about Myriad Genetics' new direct-to-consumer advertising campaign to sell genetic tests for BRCA1 and BRCA2--the so-called "breast cancer genes." Given the complexity of interpreting the presence or absence of these genes (they only account for 8-10% of all breast cancers; depending on the mutation the bearer has a 35-80% lifetime risk of contracting breast cancer) many people, including (according to numerous studies) physicians, are ill-equipped to make sense of the test results. The tests are over $3000. Selling them may be good business but it is hardly good medicine or even, necessarily, good science.

Harry Shearer has said for years that the best way to protect your own genetic code is to copyright it. Then, if someone wants to use it, they have to pay.

Blue, 23andMe's primary mission, as advertised anyway, is in the realm of personal medicine: doing exactly the kind of interpretation of clients' DNA sequence that you correctly note many patients and even physicians are not equipped to make themselves.

I haven't seen anything at all about them doing DNA ancestry work. Where did you get that from?

As to the role of organized media in people's misunderstanding of science... I don't have a strong opinion on the particular article you mentioned, but it's right that misrepresentations of science abound in the organized media. One can debate whether it's really their fault, or scientists' fault for leaving it in the hands of non-experts to explain their own work.

dead last, can I copyright my phone records, too, to keep the FBI from snooping on them?

In the future, your date is going to be doing a little more than just "googling" you.
(Or at least until Google releases GoogleDNA.)

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