Fear not the gene!

By Razib Khan | October 4, 2012 12:33 am

John Hawks points me to a critique of NPR coverage of personal genomics. In defense of NPR they seem like Physical Review Letters in comparison to other media, such as the BBC. But I do wonder what the causality here is. Does the media lead us to the proposition that “genetics is scary”? Or is it the public which demands these stories?

Meanwhile, as some are expressing worry, technology keeps pushing forward:

A faster DNA sequencing machine and streamlined analysis of the results can diagnose genetic disorders in days rather than weeks, as reported today in Science Translational Medicine.

Up to a third of the babies admitted to neonatal intensive care units have a genetic disease. Although symptoms may be severe, the genetic cause can be hard to pin down. Thousands of genetic diseases have been described, but relatively few tests are available, and even these may detect only the most common mutations.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Personal Genomics
MORE ABOUT: Personal genomics
  • Charles Nydorf

    The media reflects the traditional culture of genetic medicine which has its gloomy, secretive and fearful side.

  • Dm

    The most fearful comment in the NPR blog is penned by a fellow social conservative, Katherine Kip
    Because of genetic testing, I have been turned down for long term care insurance. The scary part, I don’t actually have the disease, I am a carrier for it and the insurance company point blank attributed that to the reason they declined my coverage

    Most casual readers will probably imagine that she was denied health insurance, something which is illegal under Genetic Nondiscrimination Act, GINA … because it’s everyone’s fear in the US, loosing health insurance benefits. Long-term care policies (far less important for most of the Americans but still very important for people with poor health prognosis) aren’t covered by GINA, and people are routinely advised to purchase the long term and/or life policies before doing any genetic testing, just in case.

    But most of the scary things about genetic testing I’m aware of don’t come anywhere close to discrimination or progeny design. They stem from poor interpretation of the results, and from our miserable ability to understand probability and statistics.

  • April Brown

    I think the public demands the OMGZ0R TEH SCARY stories – otherwise how would SyFy manage to keep producing such classics as “Mansquito”?

    (Alas, no Syfy on Russian basic cable, just hilarious stories about how the aliens are in cahoots with the Illuminati.)

    In reality, I can’t see how the study of genetics could really alarm anybody. We’ve been living, for all of human existance, with fallout from genetic diseases, so just being able to explain them should if anything make it all less alarming. On the other hand, I would make a lousy journalist.

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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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