I Got My Personal Genome Mapped and It Was Bullshit
Last Friday, the FDA forced personal genomics company 23andMe to stop marketing its tests to the public in their current form. Before the order came in, customers would send a spit sample to the firm, who would sequence the DNA and look for genes indicating a risk of up to 254 diseases and conditions, providing a breakdown of any issues.
The FDA cited a lack of supporting evidence for some of the claims made and expressed particularly serious concern over their assessment of the BRCA gene, which is linked to breast cancer, suggesting 23andMe’s tests might result in false positives that could lead to women undergoing traumatic and unnecessary surgery. The FDA’s actions have led to an explosion of opinion across the science blogosphere, but in all of that commentary a big question remains unanswered: What exactly is the point of personal genomics?
My first experience with the industry came about three years ago, when I was offered the chance to have a test done with Navigenics, a firm since taken over by a biotech firm called Life Technologies. Being a curious sort of guy, I jumped at the chance. A sample tube arrived via Fedex a few days later, which I duly spat into and sent back for analysis.
The results came back in the form of a sort of “wall of death”—a breakdown of all the things that might harm or kill me over the coming decades, detailing how likely I am to have each condition. Drilling into the figures, I can see that I have a higher risk of prostate cancer than 95 percent of the population and a 1 in 5 chance of developing Alzheimer’s—twice the average risk. So I’ll probably get cancer, but on the plus side I’ll be too forgetful to care about it.
Since Edward Snowden’s disclosures about widespread NSA surveillance, Americans and people everywhere have been presented with a digital variation on an old analog threat: the erosion of freedoms and privacy in exchange, presumably, for safety and security.
Bruce Schneier knows the debate well. He’s an expert in cryptography and he wrote the book on computer security; Applied Cryptography is one of the field’s basic resources, “the book the NSA never wanted to be published,” raved Wired in 1994. He knows the evidence well too: lately he’s been helping the Guardian and the journalist Glenn Greenwald review the documents they have gathered from Snowden, in order to help explain some of the agency’s top secret and highly complex spying programs.
Right up until 9:14 PM on November 22nd, 1987, what appeared on Chicago’s television sets was somewhat normal: entertainment, news, game shows. That night, as usual, Dan Roan, a popular local sportscaster on Channel 9’s Nine O’Clock News, was narrating highlights of the Bears’ victory over the Detroit Lions. And then, suddenly and without warning, the signal flickered up and out into darkness.
Tinder’s popularity rises with the increasing number of lonely people in the world. Largely capitalizing on the solitude of the city-dwelling 20-somethings who form the majority of the app’s users, it has reduced the human romantic experience down to its most basic level. Your iPhone flashes up a picture of a stranger’s face. Put your thumb on it and swipe left if you don’t want to have sex with them; swipe right if you do. If you’re the kind of puritanical moralist who has issues with that, then fuck you. When you’re little more than a faceless urban speck, wedged in that sticky interim period between formal education and a living wage, techno-dogging offers a welcome distraction.
However, I was still a little surprised when my friend forwarded me this invitation to an official Tinder “Launch Party” in London, England:
Why was this party occurring over a year after the app’s actual launch? Maybe the launch was going to serve as an inaugural huzzah for a sort of Tinder elite, a pool of the most right-swiped people in Britain. Maybe the people who run Tinder just want to renew the hype around it after a couple of months of the media talking it to death. Could it perhaps be an orgy? Obviously I had nothing better to do that evening, so I went down to take a look and find out what Tinder’s finest really thought of Jack, 24, Peckham.
In the wake of the original Silk Road’s closure, everything became a little turbulent for its users. First, they had to get used to not getting high-quality, peer-reviewed drugs delivered direct to their sofas. (Though presumably they didn’t stop getting high, instead forced back to the “mystery mix” street dealers and surly ex-Balkan war criminals who have spent years filling cities with drugs at night.) Some users were pissed off that they’d lost all the Bitcoin wealth they’d amassed, or that paid-for orders would go undelivered, while small-time dealers freaked out about how they suddenly lacked the funds to pay off debts owed to drug sellers higher up the food chain.
Viable Silk Road replacements have been few and far between. Project Black Flag, one marketplace purportedly created to fill the void, appears to have been a scam. The site’s owner recently closed up shop and made off with a load of Bitcoins without sending any product out to customers. Another alternative, Sheep, has been plagued with security worries, with many vendors deciding to hold off until a more stable site is launched.