Life imitates satire–and scholarship

Two recent items, one funny, one thoughtful:

  • Over at Cognoscenti, a blog sponsored by WBUR in Boston, Darshak Sanghavi writes about the problems with meta-analysis of clinical trials. I agree with the basic principle that meta-analyses need to be handled with more care than they probably are, but I smiled when I reached the end:

The researchers found the meta-analyses would have led doctors to adopt useless treatments one-third of the time, and to reject helpful therapies another one-third of the time. After this debacle, why would anyone take the findings of meta-analyses very seriously?

Unfortunately, people do. In only the past month, various meta-analyses have been published in all manner of medical journals, arguing the magnesium can cut colon cancer rates, new drugs stop clots in heart rhythm problems, cholesterol drugs reduce cancer, and my recent favorite, that a gene called Pol-9 turns people into Republicans.

Pol-9, of course, was invented here at Genotopia, where truth lies. Sanghavi apparently didn’t get the pun of the specific allele involved being called Bol-X (“bollocks”). Never mind the meta-analysis: here’s the satire.

We live for such moments.

  • Second, over at The DNA Exchange, the genetic counselor Bob Resta has written another trenchant reflection on the profession he loves, titled provocatively, “Resistance is futile: a new paradigm for genetic counseling?”. Genetic counseling began as a way to help patients cope with genetic disease (as well as determine paternity and racial membership). Is the rapidly dropping cost of genetic testing leading to a situation in which everyone is a patient? Is this a good thing?

As I write in The Science of Human Perfection, elite biomedicine is indeed leading directly to such a situation. The Dean of Education at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said recently that a principal goal of genetic medicine was to identify “latent disease,” and treat it before it starts. When I asked him who, under that scenario, was a patient, he smiled broadly and said, “We are all patients now.” I find this not a little creepy, and so does Bob.

Full disclosure: Bob’s piece concludes with a nice plug of my book and Alexandra Stern’s new history of genetic counseling, Telling Genes (which I plan to review here soon). Aside from whatever nepotism is called when it’s between colleagues, Bob’s piece is important reading.

UPDATE: Here’s another article on eugenics and genetic counseling, just out today, from blogger Adam Turner.

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