A few months ago, a fellow skeptic told me he was considering personalized genetic testing and wondered what my opinion was on the service. The idea is that any consumer who desires can send a DNA sample to a company, like 23andMe, and get a report back on various genetic risk factors. Sounds like a good idea, but it is based on the fallacy that “more information is better for you” and, more specifically, that knowing about risks will alter your behaviour.
In a way, this direct-to-consumer service is trotting out that old American obsession with freedom: these are my genes, so I get to know. You can’t come between me and my biology.
The problems with personalized genetic testing are many: the communication of risk factors to a population that is statistically illiterate; the lack of subscription to quality control and assurance standards; and the revelation of risks that may not be clinically actionable and will only cause anxiety. Oh and, as mentioned before, the fact that knowing what you have to do rarely translates to action.
If you don’t believe me, go read Dr. Christopher Labos’ piece in the Gazette: it’s short, sweet, and well argued.
And then listen to us bicker as we tackle common medical misconceptions on The Body of Evidence.