DNA testing is qualitatively different than family historyJul 19th, 2011 | By Trey | Category: Health, Learning
I am an advocate of DTC DNA testing. I believe the short and long term benefits of DTC and ubiquitous DNA testing far outweigh the cons. I’m in that camp with many other scientists, writers and bloggers.
But I am also not blind to the pitfalls of ubiquitous DNA testing from invasions of privacy to information that was once hidden that now is openly accessed. Many advocates of DTC seem to minimize these pitfalls, even to the point of suggesting that DNA tests are little different than what we already have.
Here’s the problem, as I’ve noted before the government already has an excellent predictor of your predisposition to violence: your birth certificate. Genetic information only adds value on the margin, many of the things we can predict about people, from height to I.Q. to personality, are reasonably predicted by easy to access genealogical and sociological information.
This seems to me self-evidently incorrect.
This is akin to saying “Google search just adds value on the margin, many of the things we can find about the world are in library card catalogs.”
Agreed, family history information has strong predictive value . But that is a painstaking, labor intensive proposition. Not “easy-to-access.” It’s not in the ‘birth certificate,’ but rather in an exhaustive search of family records and data. Even if there are no adoptions, paternity questions, missing or misleading information, the effort needed to create an exhaustive and predictive family history of all known propensities is daunting to say the least. It’s not that it’s not doable, but it is labor intensive. I have a very well-documented family history and I’ve spent lots of time building a health and sociological profile of that history. Gathering the health history of both parents and 4 grandparents alone was time-consuming, and there is no one better placed than I to gather that information. Yet, faulty memories, missing documentation and other issues made the creation of a family health history (that captured as much useful information as necessary) both time-consuming and incomplete. Often even recent relatives are reported of dying of “cancer” or “natural causes.” In building a family health history, this sketchy information can be less than useful for a health professional or an individual. This says nothing of a ‘sociological’ history of behaviors and environments. There is also, of course, the other end of the spectrum, our adopted daughters for whom we have little or no family health and sociological information.
The point is, though a theoretical family health history might be, right now (and this is an operative phrase) as good or better a predictor of health information than DNA tests, it is labor intensive and deeply flawed method for gathering information for healthcare provider or individuals, doubly so for governments.
In contrast, DNA testing costs a hundred or so, now takes little real effort and provides the individual (healthcare provider or government) with easily accessible extensive data, an ease of access and to an extent a family history rarely, if ever, provides. Additionally, as more research is done, more health information will be gleaned from that data that could never be gathered from a family history. Sociological information is an entirely different animal. Sociological information, from propensities toward violence to environment raised it, has the same issues when it comes gathering information for a specific individual.
And, importantly, DNA tests reveal information that a family history often never can.. specifically related to family histories themselves. From adoption, to paternity issues, to ethnic issues, DNA tests reveal information with real-world consequences that a family history and the ‘birth certificate’ never will.
DNA testing is qualitatively different than family history