Giving credit where it is due
"The mission of the Dolan DNA Learning Center is to prepare students and families to thrive in the gene age," said [David A.] Micklos, [executive director of the Dolan DNA Learning]. "We envision a day when all elementary students are exposed to principles of genetics and disease risk; when all high school students have the opportunity to do hands-on experiments with DNA; and when all families have access to genetic information they need to make informed health care choices. The center at Clemson will serve South Carolina, preparing students and families for the future."
Legislators should be added to this list of people that need to prepare for the future. After a presentation at the Annual Meeting of Women in Biotechnology in late 2002, ethicist Arthur Caplan took a question from the audience about whether genetic testing would someday become routine during visits to the doctor. Here is part of his response:
"And molecular medicine will [get absorbed into the diagnostic culture] too. Someday if we don’t screw this up, I do believe you will go to the doctor’s office and get your molecular printout and be told that these drugs are bad for you, and those drugs are good for you, and this is a risk thing for you, and you should do this and that for your lifestyle change, and all that. And that’s great; I think that day is great. But I think it’s far off. People are not, we just mapped the genome. Most people don’t know where their genes are. Most people don’t want to eat genes. Most people think. I went and talked to a group of legislators about something and I asked them where their genes are, and about a quarter of them thought they were in their gonads. It’s partial credit. About a quarter of them thought they were in their brains. Which is very optimistic. And then, half of them knew they were kind of scattered around their bodies.
But I always laugh, I’m sorry to insult journalism here for a second, but you know all those pictures they show you of DNA on Time magazine? No o ne knows where that stuff is. They have no idea. It’s like, and then we have this DNA thing and we replace it, and this is what genetic engineering is. We take the segment and we move it over here. And people are thinking, where is that? Where is that going on? I mean, is that like in my head or in my testicles or what are they talking about? I mean, they don’t know. So, a while for that to come. A while is what I would say. Not soon. The industry has to position itself for a lot of ignorance. A lot of fear, and some fear-mongering. There are critics of genetics out there all
over the place who want to use that to slow the industry down. For a variety of reasons."
It is important, as a society, to encourage some degree of scientific literacy. For individuals eager to maximize personal well being, health literacy is an obstacle even for the educated. These two indexes are of course interrelated.
Here is the info for Caplan’s paper quoted above:
Arthur Caplan "Are We Ready for Mass Genetic Testing: Ethical and Social Hurdles" Annual Meeting of Women in Biotechnology. October 16, 2002. (Meeting transcript in pdf)