December 2, 2013

FDA v. 23andMe

The Food & Drug Administration is cracking down on the genetics testing company 23andMe. Alex Tabarrok offers the libertarian perspective.

Allow me to offer a historical perspective: Back in 2000 President Clinton, along with scientists Francis Collins and Craig Venter, wildly oversold the near-term medical benefits of the Human Genome Project, while simultaneously implying that Race Does Not Exist because Science. Bill Clinton orated on June 26, 2000:
We are here to celebrate the completion of the first survey of the entire human genome. . ... With this profound new knowledge, humankind is on the verge of gaining immense, new power to heal. Genome science will have a real impact on all our lives -- and even more, on the lives of our children. It will revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases. 
In coming years, doctors increasingly will be able to cure diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes and cancer by attacking their genetic roots. ... 
After all, I believe one of the great truths to emerge from this triumphant expedition inside the human genome is that in genetic terms, all human beings, regardless of race, are more than 99.9 percent the same. ...  
Francis Collins: I'm happy that today, the only race we are talking about is the human race. (Applause) ... 
Craig Venter: The method used by Celera has determined the genetic code of five individuals. We have sequenced the genome of three females and two males, who have identified themselves has Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian or African American. We did this sampling not in an exclusionary way, but out of respect for the diversity that is America, and to help illustrate that the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis. 
In the five Celera genomes, there is no way to tell one ethnicity from another. 

You could excuse Clinton's and Collins' weasely words on race as not quite saying what everybody thought they were saying, but Venter went there directly and said something he must have known at the time was not just midleading, but false.

This single press conference set back public understanding of the human sciences considerably.

The irony is that, so far, much of the utility of genome analysis has been in racial genealogy — e.g., “Oh, well, I guess I’m not part Cherokee like family lore claims.”

By the way, 23andMe is cofounded by the wife of Google Guy Sergey Brin, who is generally not somebody you want to irritate, even if your parent organization has ICBMs like the FDA's does. I wonder if the FDA's decision to finally take public action against 23andMe now had anything to with the recent news that Mrs. Brin will soon not be Mrs. Brin anymore?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

>>"I wonder if the FDA's decision to finally take public action against 23andMe now had anything to with the recent news that Mrs. Brin will soon not be Mrs. Brin anymore?"



There you go again, noticing patterns and attempting to connect all the dots.

Superman said...

The FDA’s threat to regulate genetic tests in 2010 made me spitting mad so I put that spit to good use and became a 23andMe customer. Well worth it, if only to point out to my wife that contrary to all evidence I am in fact only 2.2% Neanderthal.

Neanderthal admixture was, if anything, a major factor in boosting our intelligence. It's amazing how many intelligent people are so deeply ignorant of evolution.

Anonymous said...

>>"Neanderthal admixture was, if anything, a major factor in boosting our intelligence. It's amazing how many intelligent people are so deeply ignorant of evolution."




Well, that was eons and eons ago. Can't really expect that bright guys, who can't even recall the details of what happened to them last week are going to give much mind to eons, now can we?

sunbeam said...

"By the way, 23andMe is cofounded by the wife of Google Guy Sergey Brin, who is generally not somebody you want to irritate, even if your parent organization has ICBMs like the FDA's does."

Oh come on. The only reason guys like this can exist, is because they are allowed to exist.

Think Putin would have many problems with a guy like this? Saddam Hussein? Even Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro? Meyer Lansky, Al Capone, insert your Mexican drug lord here...

Radzan Whatever-his-name-is?

All it takes is a situation where no one believes in the system anymore. Then the special circumstances that enable guys like this to amass this kind of wealth safely go away. I'm pretty sure we have the most autistic set of super wealthy people in world history. In the past you would have had to be the scion of a hereditary system, or a very good judge of people to amass this much.

Now even a dork can roll with the Rothschild set.

For as long as it lasts anyway.

You've got no shortage of tough talking people on this site (well maybe less than most, but still pretty common, it's an internet thing).

But make Mr. Brin a field problem, one with Phat Lewts along the way, and Mission Whiskey at the end...

Well I don't know much about him, but my feeling is he wouldn't have the stones or moxie to deal with a bunch of torpedoes on his ass.

Carlos Slim for sure, but not him.

Of course he doesn't have to worry about it here. Or trying to run that business in China. But we pretty much talk on this site about how things are changing.

Man's a dinosaur, just doesn't know it yet. And one day the time may be right for the hard men again.

Kibernetika said...

No matter who some of the monied principals here may be (Brin4iki, i tak dalee ;) this consumer/commodity genetics analysis will continue.

elvisd said...

“Oh, well, I guess I’m not part Cherokee like family lore claims.”

I guess there wasn't an unlimited supply of full-blooded Cherokee great-grandmothers, after all. Lots of bored Southerners are going to be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

I actually got the 23andMe test a couple years ago, but sort of got bored with it even with the recurrent updates.

As expected, the disease odds-calculations weren't particularly revealing: e.g. I am 10% more likely to go blind in old age (macular degeneration). So?

The ancestral history is more interesting, esp. for clients of mixed backgrounds.

RobertW said...

More proof that the FDA is an unaccountable, rogue organization that should be dismantled.

Anonymous said...

By the way, 23andMe is cofounded by the wife of Google Guy Sergey Brin, who is generally not somebody you want to irritate, even if your parent organization has ICBMs like the FDA's does.

More proof that Google is an unaccountable, rogue organization that should be dismantled.

Whiskey said...

Steve China told Google to get out. They are stil out. Their wealth is fragile and guys like Gates and Zuck and Brin act as if their wealth could go away any moment.

Anonymous said...

After all, I believe one of the great truths to emerge from this triumphant expedition inside the human genome is that in genetic terms, all human beings, regardless of race, are more than 99.9 percent the same. ...

And we share about 98 percent of our genes with chimps and about 60 percent with tomatoes.

MC said...

"I wonder if the FDA's decision to finally take public action against 23andMe now had anything to with the recent news that Mrs. Brin will soon not be Mrs. Brin anymore?"

In all sincerity, your conspiracy theories terrify me with their simple plausibility.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the problem was the concept of home DNA testing IN GENERAL. wouldn't want the beta males to get any ideas about testing for paternity fraud.....

Anonymous said...

I found out at the age of 44 via 23andme that I was the result of an affair my mother had when she was 20. I googled and briefly talked to my biological father and he's a loser with illegitimate kids.

It was a horrible discovery my mother had admitted to my father and they both agreed to forget about. Suddenly I also learned that not only my loving father, but his entire family has no biological relationship to me. I also have to keep this a secret to my elderly grandmother who would be crushed and whom I have long confided in.

I've somewhat gotten over it, but it is one of the most traumatic and aunguishing experience I've ever had.

I can't blame my mother for her act when she was 20 as she is now well into her 60s, and it did result in my birth. Keeping it a secret was the right thing to do. And my estimation of my father is now even higher, just as I learned that I share none of his genes.

So I instead blame 23andme and hope the FDA shuts them down.

Anonymous said...

Where to begin?

1. "Big Data is going to make us all healthier." If that doesn't send a shiver down your spine, you aren't paying attention.

2. She has no office and started/stopped drinking 4 bottles of coconut water daily.

3. Sergey is combating the possibility of early Parkinson's by exercising and drinking coffee. That is $99 well spent.

Steve in Detroit

pat said...

Pity. A 23andMe subscription makes a great Christmas present. I gave one to my cousin last summer. I guess I'm going to have to revert to Internet watches.

I see that the feds are publicly worried that some girl will read her genome and be motivated to cut off her breasts so as to avoid breast cancer. I can't say that that worries me much. People that stupid don't spend a $100 on a genome scan.

I took my 23andMe report (actually only the first 45 pages) to my doctor when I went in for a routine physical. We had a good laugh together about its medical relevance for an individual.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

As others have pointed out, nouveau riche nerds like Brin are simply not a threat, or even on the radar of, the Putins and other such genuine power-brokers of the world. Let Google overstep it's bounds and they will find themselves snapped back into reality by these same forces.

Tech zillionaires are not the "Master's of the Universe" they might think themselves, as strongmen still make the rules.

Anonymous said...

"You've got no shortage of tough talking people on this site"

Seen any neo-con sites lately? I can confess to having slummed on one post-911. It was full of burly, straight-talkers who lived on nothing but hotdogs with blue and red striped ketchup. Anyway, when I found myself at a regional get-together I thought I had the wrong venue - stumbled into a Sideways premiere or something. I was leaving when a slightly built version of Woody Allen stuck out his hand: 'Hellfire Drone...'

Gilbert P.