The oracle of personal genomics

By Razib Khan | May 1, 2012 10:28 pm

The Awl had a rather unoriginal piece up recently, Everything I Didn’t Learn From Taking A Personal Genome Test (this is part of a genre which will probably crest in the next few years, before widespread genotyping becomes common, demystifying the whole enterprise). Misha Angrist has a pretty levelheaded response. There are two things I would like to emphasize:

1) A non-trivial minority of people do receive actionable information from personal genomic results. By and large I am skeptical of individual risk prediction, and I communicate that skepticism to friends. But in one case a friend ended up with a large effect macular degeneration mutation. Before he had signed up for testing I told him to sleep through the risk prediction part. I don’t do that now. Chances are there won’t be any surprises. But some serious information will be received by 1 in 10 to 1 in 100.

2) The “recreational” part having to do with stuff like ancestry inference is actually pretty robust. You could, for example, market an analytic and visualization which shows how closely related you are to near relatives. This isn’t going to be earth-shattering, but I do think that there’s a lot more fun angles out there that are there for the taking. A more professional version of GEDmatch.

MORE ABOUT: Personal genomics

Comments (4)

  1. Good comments – it’s true and logical, if you think about it, most people will get unexceptional results, of course, it has to be like that… except where the genetic aspect (vs other contributors like diet etc) is strong, as in AMD, and for this most common form of blindness in the elderly, there will be a significant number in the young, with quite a high risk – (including me!)

    There is a lot of trashing of these companies for “exploiting ignorance about genetic determinism for profit” but maybe the researchers spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer $$ for yet more GWAS of common diseases have been rather more exploitative, and costly to us all?

  2. Charles Nydorf

    I don’t understand why the Awl author feels the need to exhibit his lack of scientific curiosity and unwillingness to participate in scientific research.

  3. #2, he had the ton fashionable in some ironic/hipster circles.

  4. Chad

    What is the reason for all the animus against personal genomics? There is a large group of educated individuals who are very opposed to it for reasons other than privacy/insurance. They argue from the standpoint of its “ineffectiveness” but even the more sophisticated examples of these are overall ignorant of the science or exaggerate the failures.

    Is it because geneticists hyped the promise too much, too early? That everyone is just disappointed by the fact that we haven’t cured Diabetes and Heart disease? I’ve seen this in some scientists. In some cases it seems almost like a bitterness (perhaps having been stuck on a failed PhD project?) which makes me think that maybe they were a bit naive when they jumped in. I don’t think that simple disappointment of this type can explain such widespread and seemingly active opposition. I somehow doubt that the people who write these sorts of articles are the type who are moved by wasteful government spending on something they deem a failure…….they don’t strike me as the type who are concerned with National debt or anything like that.

    So is there a deeper motivation? Is ideology? Maybe they are wedded to a Blank Slate view and ideologically oppose any form of genetic determinism?



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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


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