Last week I posted Don’t buy AIBioTech Sports X Factor kit! I laid out my rationale explicitly:
I’ve been pretty vocal about the impending specter of genetic paternalism in relation to personal genomics, which I believe to be futile in the long term, and likely to squelch innovation in the United States in the short term. Like any new product category there’s a lot of hype and confusion in the area of personal genomics, but I think it’s important that we allow some mistakes and misfires to occur. Innovation and creativity isn’t failure-free.
With that said, I also think it is incumbent upon the personal genomics community, if there is such a thing, to “police” the flow of information. I have seen references in the media to a new personal genomics kit, Sports X Factor, selling for $180, from AIBioTech. My initial intent was to ignore this, as there is real science and tech to be covered. This is just another case of a biotech firm trying to leverage public confusion and gullibility into revenue. But if I think such a thing, I should make my opinion known, shouldn’t I?….
My intent was to come up high on Google searches for the firm and product which they’re selling. I don’t want to drive the firm out of business or anything like that, and I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know if I think what they are selling with Sports X Factor kit is technically fraudulent (though I don’t think it is). But I wouldn’t recommend this to my friends. $180 is not a trivial sum in my world. Unlike some I don’t think genetic information is horrible or incredibly precious information which only “professionals” should have access to. I just don’t think that the price is right. Too many of the media stories have a tendency to focus on the terror of people finding out about their genetic predispositions, but I think the truth of Sports X Factor kit is more banal: it is just not a product with results worth the money you are shelling out. Standard economics, not bioethics.
Today I got this strange comment from someone who works for AIBioTech, the firm which produces Sports X Factor, defending the product:
You are very welcome to your opinion, and if you don’t want to buy it then DON”T. From what I can see, you are no more qualified (“degrees”? BS? MS, PHD?) to offer an opinion on whether the test is valid than anyone else. Just because you have a blog, it does not make you an expert on sports medicine. But when someone has the opportunity to find out if they or their child is at risk of sudden heart attack on the playing field, who are you to say that they should not do it? The market will decide if the test is valid, not you.
The individual goes under the handle “PHDGrl,” and unless this person is impersonating someone else’s identity, she does have a Ph.D (I looked at her Facebook profile). But more importantly she works for AIBioTech, as confirmed also by an IP trace. I don’t personally have an issue about people in a firm wanting to defend their product. Frankly one of my problems with the product they’re selling is that there’s a lack of transparency to my mind about the methods they’re using to calculate their scores, so they could have addressed that issue more thoroughly than in the material they have on the web.
As it is, the criticism was really weird in my opinion. It is moderately relevant that I do not have a doctorate, all things equal, so that’s fine. But I do think I am more able to offer an opinion on whether the test is valid “than anyone else.” Not only am I a relatively large consumer of personal genomics services (I’ve had almost everyone in my family typed, on my dime), I have done a lot of detailed analysis of the raw data of friends & family (as well as the over 100 individuals in the African Ancestry Project). As for the last two sentences, I thought it was pretty clear that I am biased toward letting the market decide. Opinions offered on this weblog are part of the process of the market deciding. As would be a full-throated defense of the product from AIBioTech representatives. I also think parents have the right (as do children) to know about clear and present health risks which genotyping can ascertain. I just don’t think that at $180 AIBioTech’s product is a good value proposition for the average consumer. Unlike some I don’t think Sports X Factor information is likely to cause grievous harm to the psyches or physiques of parents and children who get their results back. I just think that the damage done to the wallet definitely isn’t worth the informational return for the vast majority of their customers.
On the one hand I appreciate AIBioTech “pushing the envelope.” But pushing the envelope should be accompanied by an awesome product. I don’t think Sports X Factor is an awesome product.