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I am less likely to support environmental laws – not

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2021 at 12:30 pm

I while ago, I uploaded my 23andMe data to Genomelink. Partly because 23andMe stopped reporting traits, partly because I was curious and partly because I just finished writing up my genetic counseling master thesis where consumer genetics was a central topic.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to practice much genetic counseling and 23andme still doesn’t have traits, – so I continued following my Genomelink-results as a way to keep me on my toes. The reports they make are questionable at best and horrifically misleading at worst. No better way to sustain interest than reading things that upset you – … right ?

The latest example is my genetic result-report on “Views on Environmentalism”. Based on two SNPs (rs1397924 and rs4902960), according to Genomelink, I am “less likely to support environmental laws by the government, and that regulations for the environment are needed.”.

So, this was a report that immediately fell squarely into the “misleading” category even before I started fact checking, – hence sorted into a box that already contained “Dog allergy” (which they claim I don’t have while I do), “Vulnerability to Computer Frustration” (which they claim I don’t have, but everybody does, – especially me) and “Left-Handedness” (which they got wrong).

The good thing though, – and the reason I keep looking into these results, is that it got me looking into behavioral genetics. A cool, but also scary field of research. There is a genetic component to all behaviors studied to date and the nature/nurture interaction is particularly fascinating when it comes to genetics in the social sciences.

A really good intro into one of those interaction mechanisms is the story of the MAOA-gene. Again misleading, this gene has been called the “warrior gene”, because one finds a link between MAOA-variants and aggression. However there is strong evidence to support that these agression effects will not manifest unless there’s a environmental trigger (like being abused or paid money to be cruel):

“These findings suggest that some behavioral traits are co-dependent on (1) the possession of genetic risk and (2) exposure to environmental stressors in order for them to manifest.”

Tanksley PT, Motz RT, Kail RM, Barnes JC, Liu H. The Genome-Wide Study of Human Social Behavior and Its Application in Sociology. Front Sociol. 2019;4:53. Published 2019 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fsoc.2019.00053

So, when it comes to your predisposition to a certain behavior, your genetic risk may never be exposed, or conversely your lack of risk may never benefit you, unless you experience that external trigger.

The nicest possible way then to interpret this clearly wrong conclusion from my Genomelink report, is that I just haven’t experienced that environmental trigger to turn me into a climate-denialist.

Turns out however, that the paper cited for the finding, by Genomelink themselves, directly warns about making conclusions such as those made. Here it is:

“In summary, our molecular-genetic–based estimates of heritability partially corroborate the twin-based estimates and suggest that molecular genetic data could, in principle, be predictive of preferences. Our other results, however, suggest that excitement about the practical usefulness of molecular genetic data in social science research needs to be tempered by an appreciation that much of the heritable variation is likely explained by a large number of markers, each with a small effect in terms of variance explained. As a consequence, for economic and political preferences, much larger samples than currently used will be required to robustly identify individual SNP associations or to generate sizeable predictive power from many SNPs considered jointly.”

Benjamin DJ, Cesarini D, van der Loos MJ, et al. The genetic architecture of economic and political preferences. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109(21):8026-8031. doi:10.1073/pnas.1120666109

No sizeable predictive power. Sorry Genomelink: no sigar, not even close.

I’ll keep supporting that “regulations for the environment are needed” then.

How the fit is never perfect

In Uncategorized on July 1, 2020 at 12:26 pm

Isn’t it sad that we let so many people convince themselves that their biology somehow does not fit with their appearance ?

Your appearance is other people’s measure of you. How you feel is your own measurement of the quality of your body and surroundings.

Those two measurements will never perfectly align. Both beauty and disaster is in that difference.

If you eliminate the potential for disaster wouldn’t you also remove any possibility to discover the beauty ?

Bjørn Båsen - 2 Artworks, Bio & Shows on Artsy

Artist: Bjørn Båsen

Call stupid out, get stupid back

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2019 at 12:12 pm

So you call someone stupid, chances are they will respond accordingly.

You know because when someone calls you stupid you are likely to act stupid, even if you know it’s not the best response.

Så if you call otherwise privileged white people stupid you shouldn’t be surprised that they act to elect king of stupid as a response.

We have been asking for this.

Seeing what is happening in world politics today, I promise I for one have learned. I will never be calling people stupid again. It is lazy, plain dumb and never the solution to anything.

I’ll take the challenge of discussion no matter how stupid the opponent.

Bilderesultater for stupid people"

The Age of Age

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2019 at 3:17 pm

In the series “Books I want to write, but can’t because I lack the skills” comes the science fiction novel “The age of Age”. A book about how life changes when biological age substitutes for chronological age.

What happens when you are 18 years old, but your biological age is 15 and you have to wait three years to receive the adult benefits that people around you are receiving, – including the 15 year old brother of a friend whose biological age is 18 ? What happens when a 22-year old male gets juvenile sentencing for his violent crime because his biological mental age is only 15 ? Is it fair that the 65 year old man is denied a surgical procedure because his biological age of 80 makes him too old to medically qualify ?

Bilderesultat for ageing

It is a Science fiction-ish plot, but the technology is near future. I know because one of the projects our lab is involved in is the making of a biological-clock assay based on DNA-methylation patterns. There currently are a lot of these projects…. And consequently calculators for both healthy-life and death …..

All kinds of good things can come out of this of course. My own testimony is a happy one:

I tested my DNA and compared it with some of my frozen 10-year old DNA (yes, as a lab-nerd I have lots and lots of my old DNA hanging around  in freezers).

The old sample was taken just after I had quit smoking. I had been a heavy smoker for many years. So comparing my 10 year-old heavy-smoker DNA and my current DNA, I had only aged 6 biological years in the last chronological 10-year period. It is not unreasonable to conclude that this particular methylation pattern seems like a strikingly good marker for the positive effects from quitting the cigarettes.

With a lab-test that gives you such compelling results, the potential impact on unhealthy behavior is obvious. Also, since you can continuously monitor your progress, you now have a much better tool to measure actual effects on the diet- and lifestyle-changes you choose. That would hopefully put a lot of snake-oil vendors out of business.

But, biological clocks may not be all good. Like any other DNA-test it comes down to how you use the result, … who gets access, and …how they use it. It seems to me that this test is more prone to abuse by authorities or commercial interests, than almost any other genetic test out there.

Not sure of the awareness around this though. I happily share my 23andMe-results or exome-sequencing to almost anyone because I have always struggled to see the damage that can be done to me by misusing that particular data.

I would however be much less willing to share my biological age. I would argue that most science fiction stories depend on some kind of misuse of power, usually within some form of autocratic social structure. The book-idea above however does not require an apocalyptic or tyrannic future. The only requirement for the age of age scenario is to keep the focus we currently have on cost-saving and efficiency in our justice and health systems.

Epigenetic measures of biological age will soon become the best tool to reliably monitor changes you do to your life. Since this is something most of us will probably want to do, there is potential for its widespread use. Keeping your biological age a secret will then become more than vanity,  – it may be the only way to avoid age-discrimination.

Plastic Fantastic

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2019 at 1:44 pm

In my social media feeds, this picture has been appearing a lot lately:

69279157_497053494421347_7591158309532830024_n

Image credit, instagram: @guarl351

Because I read “plastic trash” where it says “trash”, my mind entered the following train of thoughts.

First, please do not behave like animals. Animals may not leave plastic trash, but they are extremely unhygienic, and they behave violent towards each other. Why would disease and violence on the beaches be better than (plastic) trash ? For some reason the first solution often launched towards any man-made problem is to return to the natural state of things. But, “natural states of things” involve: Disease, Violence and early Death. Why is that so hard to remember ?

So in moving away from this natural state of things humans invented plastics. Which became so popular we created a pollution problem. This particular problem makes for very descriptive emotion evoking pictures of animals stuck in plastic products like Seals in fish nets and turtles in six-pack holders. Which is bad, and should be dealt with in terms of reducing our consumption of single use plastic products.

But for some reason plastic pollution is bundled together with environmental problems. Over-consumption is a problem where plastic products play a large part, yes. But, consumption is a general environmental problem because the energy spent making new products exhausts our resources and increases the CO2-levels in the air. Plastics as a specific product, is not in itself an environmental problem. It’s a pollution problem. There’s a difference.

Most plastic products break down very slowly. For all practical purposes it’s almost inert. It’s ugly yes, but except for the poor turtle in the six-pack ring, not very harmful.

As a result of its inertness, the carbon (that came from oil and gas originally) in plastics is not released into the air as CO2 unless we actively break it down. Which means that plastic products often are more environmentally friendly than alternative materials like paper. Especially if you reuse it a couple of times and don’t burn it afterwards.

So I’ll end my train of thought by quoting Susan Ruffo who points out another one of the pitfalls we humans constantly happily jump into.

“You know,” she says, “we have a history as a species of solving one problem with great intensity, only to figure out that we’ve created another one.”

And, conclude by appealing to everyone to be human, not succumb to animal behavior like over-consumption, and to keep using the (plastic) solutions that so effectively removes us from the natural state.

Scapegoating

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2019 at 1:41 pm

My father wrote a book. It is about how a bureaucrat in the department for industry in my country was singled out and blamed for a mining-accident in the autumn of 1962. In this particular accident 21 people were killed. The book is in Norwegian, so unless you for some strange reason, are familiar with the language, you just need to go with the brief summary provided in this text.

Due to poor working conditions and I guess, a general lack of focus on safety, there were plenty of other accidents in the 50s and 60s in both the mining industry and other industries.  In my fathers book, which is one of many on the subject, the theory is that a combination of massive attention from the press, the current political climate and economical mining-interests, prompted the need for someone to take the fall for this particular accident. A strategic game was therefore set in motion where the bureaucrat in question was used to shift the blame away from those who were really responsible for the lack of safety: those with potential for political or financial gain.

I had discussed the book with my father many times before he finally sat down and finished it (he had begun working on it many, many years ago). It was a recurring theme in our conversations because it is not only an interesting case, it is a beautiful example of how using a scapegoat can be scaringly efficient. And because scapegoats are everywhere, – it seems we all need someone to blame for any/everything.

A scapegoat (like “the immigrants”, “the jews”, the term “INCEL” or any other cultural/ethnic/religious group/person/expression) is central to so many horrible events in our present and past. The abundance of the phenomenon suggests some kind of a societal/cultural/biological human reflex-response as noticed by thinkers much more schooled in philosophy than me (one of many many refs here). It has its own verb: “Scapegoating“, which can be explained as a societal/psychological responsive act efficiently giving someone else the blame that should have been yours.

Much more more important and scary though: Scapegoating works excellent if you want to avoid fixing the problem at hand with actual solutions. The true beauty/evil of scapegoating is that we fool ourselves into believing that the problem goes away with the elimination of the goat.

It doesn’t. Of course it doesn’t.

Scapegoating is in its essence, very efficient denial. We all need to fight our cultural/biological urge to accept blatant blaming (ha ! alliteration) and look hard at what, actually, in real life, caused the problem.

If I ever write a book, it will be as a sequel to my fathers book. It will explain how we fall victim to scapegoating over and over again. As a society and as individuals. It will include relevant terrifying historical examples of errors to stop us from repeating them. I want it to tell the story of the hero who has understood how he subconsciously feels the need to always blame someone, even when all it achieves, is to serve a bad purpose. It tells the story of how he has found a way to successfully suppress that urge in himself. The book shall inspire us all to follow his example.

I’ll never be talented enough to do that though, so if anyone out there are up to the task: go ahead – you’ll make the world a better place.

And please hurry, we need it soon.

800px-monument_died_kings_bay

Memorial at Kings Bay. Photocredit: By Superchilum – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22725527

Miss one lose double

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2018 at 12:21 pm

There are 5 unlabeled glasses of wine from 5 different wineries in front of you. Your research-task is to do a blind tasting and assign each glass to the correct winery.

You guess wrong on one of the glasses.

If the rules are that all of the glasses must have a winery assigned, the consequence is that you are forced to answer the wrong winery for two of the glasses.

There are three ways you can report this result:

1. 3/5 correct

2. Missed two glasses

3. Missed one glass

Which illustrates how you can choose to publicly report research results depending on the reader response you want to evoke. Headlines you can choose range from “Most people guess right when wine tasting” to “People cannot reliably taste the difference between wineries”.

So most science news headlines are inaccurate one way or the other.

If you gather data from a study-group, you risk reporting headlines like “4/5 wines identified correctly in wine-tasting test”, which is an impossible result given your study set-up (only 5/5, 3/5 and 1/5 are possible outcomes).

So some science news headlines are wrong.

If you in your effort to fix these problems in your study, open up for the possibility that your research participants can report their “lived experience” from the wine tasting, you risk ending up with headlines like “A wine for any occasion – how differences in wine tasting experiences are dependent on gender and social status”. Which is probably stretching how much you can generalize from your data, but nevertheless probably correct given how you decided to do your data-analysis.

So some science headlines are confusing and possibly misleading.

Fact remains though: You guessed wrong on one of the glasses

So, my plea. Be a rational and skeptical reader. Please don’t forget the underlying facts and please ensure open access to the data so that anyone and everybody, can scrutinize if they wish.

I am writing this to eliminate disease

In Uncategorized on October 27, 2017 at 10:25 am

I am running this marathon to aid victims of disaster.

I am walking across this continent to correct unjustice.

I am climbing this mountain to support cancer research.

No !

Best case: You have this unreasonable personal thing you want to do and you need an excuse.

Worse case: You are exploiting whatever issue at hand to get funding.

 

Bilderesultat for everest cancer

Quote of the Month – Climate change vs. Genetically Modified Crops

In Uncategorized on June 1, 2017 at 8:20 am

This months quote is provided by Cornell Prof. Sarah Davidson Evanega, a mother of three children, an environmentalist and a plant scientist:

“You cannot at the same time uphold the scientific consensus around climate change and deny the scientific consensus around the safety of GM crops.”

You can of course argue that this is not entirely true since politics to fight climate change and politics to stop GM-agriculture are both driven by fear over worst case scenarios.

She nevertheless, has a really good point. The quote perfectly exemplifies how we choose our scientific facts to suit whatever political means we want to support.

A christmas revelation

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2016 at 10:17 am

Well, two revelations actually.

Yesterday I set out to watch Westworld.

HBO, for some reason, sort the episodes from bottom to top. Me, not always the master of clever, thought through decisions, pressed the top episode.

As I was watching the season finale, thinking it was the first episode, I thought to myself “Wow, this was an intricate and elaborate way of starting out, I hope at some point they explain the plot a bit more”. They didn’t. So I watched the whole season finale, and then I stopped watching Westworld.

From this I got two revelations:

  1. There’s a lot of time to be saved watching just the last episode.
  2. In the Michelangelo picture “The creation of Adam“, God sits within a human brain. We create God in our brains, not the other way around – this should be obvious to everyone and not really the revelation in itself. The revelation, rather, is that Michelangelo managed to communicate this right under the noses of the Christian authorities, in the centre of their power houses,  – and managed to get paid for it. What a great man Michelangelo was.

 

P.S

The shape around God, the angels and saints, may also be interpreted as a uterus. In this interpretation the green vail symbolizes an umbilical cord. Combining the two interpretations leads to the conclusion that not only is God a figment of our imagination, but the offspring we produce are god-like. Michelangelo comes full circle: We are the gods of our minds.

Merry christmas

Creación de Adán (Miguel Ángel).jpg