FDA v. 23andMe And Human Differences


The Food & Drug Administration is cracking down on the genetics testing company 23andMe. Alex Tabarrok offers the libertarian perspective.

Allow me to offer a historical perspective: Back in 2000 President Clinton, along with scientists Francis Collins and Craig Venter, wildly oversold the near-term medical benefits of the Human Genome Project, while simultaneously implying that Race Does Not Exist because Science. Bill Clinton orated on June 26, 2000:

We are here to celebrate the completion of the first survey of the entire human genome. . … With this profound new knowledge, humankind is on the verge of gaining immense, new power to heal. Genome science will have a real impact on all our lives — and even more, on the lives of our children. It will revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases. 

In coming years, doctors increasingly will be able to cure diseases like Alzheimer`s, Parkinson`s, diabetes and cancer by attacking their genetic roots. … 

After all, I believe one of the great truths to emerge from this triumphant expedition inside the human genome is that in genetic terms, all human beings, regardless of race, are more than 99.9 percent the same. …  

Francis Collins: I`m happy that today, the only race we are talking about is the human race. (Applause) … 

Craig Venter: The method used by Celera has determined the genetic code of five individuals. We have sequenced the genome of three females and two males, who have identified themselves has Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian or African American. We did this sampling not in an exclusionary way, but out of respect for the diversity that is America, and to help illustrate that the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis. 

In the five Celera genomes, there is no way to tell one ethnicity from another. 

You could excuse Clinton`s and Collins` weasely words on race as not quite saying what everybody thought they were saying, but Venter went there directly and said something he must have known at the time was not just midleading, but false.

This single press conference set back public understanding of the human sciences considerably.

The irony is that, so far, much of the utility of genome analysis has been in racial genealogy — e.g., “Oh, well, I guess I’m not part Cherokee like family lore claims.”

By the way, 23andMe is cofounded by the wife of Google Guy Sergey Brin, who is generally not somebody you want to irritate, even if your parent organization has ICBMs like the FDA`s does. I wonder if the FDA`s decision to finally take public action against 23andMe now had anything to with the recent news that Mrs. Brin will soon not be Mrs. Brin anymore?