Spontaneous genomic F.U.D.

By Razib Khan | November 8, 2011 11:25 pm

Patron saint of gene-F.U.D.

F.U.D.  “Fear, uncertainty and doubt”. It generally refers to a feeling or sense which is driven by exogenous forces. Corporations and movements intent on reinforcing some status quo. But when it comes to personal genomics one issue I’ve noted and observed is spontaneous and endogenous F.U.D. As if humans naturally have an aversion to “playing God.” Usually when I mention personal genomics and there’s skepticism it’s really inchoate. People have a feeling that they should be scared. Their caution tends be really strange, almost passive aggressive. “I don’t know about that…what do you think? It seems like a lot.” When I inquire deeply there’s often irritation, because the feelings are rather unformed. This isn’t like abortion, where most people come to the table with talking points drilled into them by a generation of cultural wars.

But to me the most surprising thing has been the fact that this tendency manifests even in people who know genetics. People for whom genetics is their “bread & butter.” Usually I can reason with these people to offer up a cogent and explicit argument against personal genomics (they exist, though I disagree with them), but it’s often like pulling teeth. The feeling is prior. It reminds me of David Hume’s general observation of the subservience of reason to passions. More specifically, Adolf Hitler looms large in so many genetic domains. But like animal rights, vegetarianism, and anti-smoking, I suspect the Nazi taint will eventually be marginalized by clear and present rationales in the case of personal genomics and applied biological science more generally.

Image credit: German Federal Archives

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Personal Genomics
  • http://www.rishon-rishon.com David Boxenhorn

    The scary thing is that people are often more wrong than a random number generator.

  • Sandgroper
  • Charles Nydorf

    The traditional culture of genetic medicine, heavy, doom-laden and privacy obsessed is not compatible with open culture of genomics.

  • Arthor

    Maybe such FUD is a subliminal but calculated conclusion that personal genomics may some day become advanced enough to unearth the “skeletons in the closet” of individuals, for example closeted homosexuality, or a tendency to cheat, or a tendency towards dark or violent thoughts. The FUD would then be a function of evolutionary advantage; actively working against personal genomics is mentally linked with the ability to continue playing one’s cards close to the vest.

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/index.html Mustapha Mond

    Every well educated person knows very well that “applied biological science” in the form of actively modifying the human genome will lead to unspeakable horrors. From Mary Shelley and H.G.Wells through Aldous Huxley and Fred Saberhagen, prescient authors have predicted our fate.

    What can be invented always will be invented. It is our inexorable fate. Future developments will make Dr. Mengele seem quaintly benign.

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/index.html Mustapha Mond

    “Maybe such FUD is a subliminal but calculated conclusion that personal genomics may some day become advanced enough to unearth the “skeletons in the closet” of individuals”

    I can see an immediate demand for adding genotyping to online dating services. In addition to the existing phenotyping via photographs, and the determination of status via education and wealth, the ability to more precisely quantify what was quaintly called “good genes” or good “breeding” back in 1950’s America would be quite popular. In addition to avoiding pathological recessive gene matches (a la 23andMe even now) the knowledge of the non-existence of sub-Saharan African and/or Ashkenazi genes in a prospective mate would be something a lot of people would pay good money for.

    Of course many other ethnicities can be just as picky about “purity” of bloodlines. It is not for nothing that the Japanese and Germans have not been allowed to have their armies back even yet. Rather than NAZI F.U.D., the average human’s unease with breeding goes back to the very beginning of the concept which was of course the Neolithic revolution itself. The specificity of it all with whole genome typing naturally makes people nervous, as well it should.

    The first of the real horrors after dating services will probably be widespread sterilization prior to puberty. Cloned armies of cyborg hunter-killers will come a bit later. The best case scenario for humanity will be a sort of Tokugawa Shogunate/Brave New World where all breeding is under strict control of the state while it tries to hold on fighting off the fully intelligent machines. In the worst case scenario humanity will go the way of the Krell.


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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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