On BioScience and Life and Such

Posts Tagged ‘communicating science’

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.


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.

What really happened to will

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2010 at 11:28 am
The no free-will bus campaign
Image by morgantj via Flickr

There’s a lot of talk about free will these days.

Following these discussions the following questions occur to me:

1. Is will incarcerated ?
2. If so, why ?

You shouldn’t free anything or anyone just on a hunch….

More accurately:

3. Is freedom a term that can adequately describe the state of our will ?

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A Scientific Communications Manifesto

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2010 at 10:58 am

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Science icon
Image via Wikipedia

We need to improve the trust in science and scientists. Steven Hill has a recipe for how.

A series of posts on Testing hypotheses…. lists 7 things that would improve trust in science and scientists. This list strikes me as containing all the essentials, and if I may, I’d like to propose that this list becomes the Scientific Communications Manifesto. Below you’ll find the list and links to all 7 posts. Please, go read, it’s probably some of the best few minutes ever spent (if you are a scientist, that is).

We need to get this message out and work for acceptance for taking these measures in the scientific community. If successful, public perception of the importance of science and what science is about may get a long needed overhaul.

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Nothing is ever absolutely negative

In Uncategorized on October 31, 2009 at 1:19 pm

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Homer Simpson exclaiming the famous quote
Image via Wikipedia

On a late Friday afternoon

Quality control department:  “You missed the last two samples in this dilutions series”.

Me:  “Yeah, that’s kind of why we use dilution series – to find our detection limit”.

Quality control department: “But, even though very diluted, those two samples were positives. That means this was an error and needs an error-report”.

Me: “Well no, we define a limit where we can be 99,99% certain that we can reproduce a positive result, these dilutions will be well below that limit”.

Quality control department: “But, that means that you can newer be 100% sure of a negative answer”.

Me: “That’s correct, although the concept you are touching upon (the lack of absolute negation/negativity) is valid for any test and consequently, of a philosophical nature”.

Quality control department: “Then we can never give out a negative answer, at least not without saying that there’s a chance it may be positive after all”.

Me: in silence “¤%%”&&¤…doh” and out loud “”Would that be wise ?”.

Quality control department: “We believe so !!”.

Please notice the use of the word “believe”.

So there you go, hit in the face by the same arguments that created the vaccine-autism wars, the ID vs. natural evolution discussion, the religion meets atheism quarrel……..you cannot prove the absence of something, ergo – it must be there. The mother of all fallacies, but impossible to scientifically refute.

I’ll keep trying though.

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How to have your cake, eat it, and then complain

In Uncategorized on September 20, 2009 at 3:26 pm

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WASHINGTON - JULY 09:  Giant panda Tai Shan ch...
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First: State that most of our genome is junk.

Second: When more and more promoters, enhancers, repressors and other regulatory elements are discovered, claim that this of course was not included in the definition of “most of the genome”. The perfect excuse because it means you’ll never be wrong.

Last: Complain when the press does not understand that “most of our DNA” actually meant “much of our DNA , but with a lot of exceptions” and that science reporters don’t intuitively know which exceptions these are.

Post written using the zpen in dire agony over extremely poor science communication from the same persons who most eagerly criticize science communication from others.

Paper in question added to junk DNA coffin post.

Update: response from Professor Laurence A.  Moran here.

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They say men haven’t evolved towards domestic use

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2009 at 2:11 pm

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Male symbol. Created by Gustavb.

Image via Wikipedia

First off, I have to admit that my scientific knowledge is a bit sketchy on this one. Nevertheless – my impression is that there is a (scientific ?) consensus out there saying the following:

The nature of men is that of the restless promiscuous hunter. Evolution has provided pressure towards maximizing the spread of male genes through procreating with as many women as possible. This way the number of offspring one man can obtain is maximized. Apparently observations supporting this view are the vast amount of sperm cells produced in the male reproductive organs and the continuous (not cyclic) nature of this sperm-production. The logic is, I think, that the production of all these sperm cells would be futile if destined for only one woman with a cyclic reproduction cycle. So far so good.

Consequently, the masculine “nature” is continuously compromised in our modern monogamous lifestyle. Male infidelity is often excused using the arguments above. The same arguments also makes domestic life and caring for the family into a compromise with “natural” masculinity.

Still good ?

Even if making as many offspring as possible seems like a good strategy to pass on (male) genetic material, isn’t it possible that another strategy would work just as well.

You could argue that continuous sperm production is present to counter a single woman’s unpredictable cycle, – or compensate for miscarriages, – or compensate for children born by this woman dying young (not so rare in those older days). This make-one-woman-pregnant-many-times strategy could potentially lead to as many offspring, themselves reaching reproductive age, as the multiple partner strategy.

If you buy into that last argument, there is no reason why the selective pressure on men has been towards domestication and taking maximal care of his one-woman family. And, against inclination towards infidelity.

I’m so sorry for ruining our excuses here my fellow men, but the whole man-as-a-hunter-excuse has been bugging me for a long time. I find it hard to understand why such an idea has been elevated to universal truth. I believe a need for behavioral excuses has overridden scientific rigor on this one. Anyone who can convince me otherwise is more than welcome.

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A couple of more things we didn’t communicate that well

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2009 at 2:50 pm

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I am putting together a list of things lost in translation between science and the public. The full list is compiled here.

Following a couple of discussions on friendfeed on exercise and dieting, I’ve come across two more items, they are:

9. Any kind of exercise will help you lose weight (When the truth is that the exercise needs to be extensive and the right type, if weight loss is to be expected).

10. Carbohydrates and fat are bad for you (When the truth is that we need a balanced diet containing both fat and carbohydrates).



Too much of anything – even a good thing – is bad. So is too little. – That goes for lack of exercise, but it also goes for too much/wrong exercise. Too much carbohydrates- bad, too little – also bad. Too little vitamins – bad, too much vitamins – also bad.

Balance on the other hand is what results in healthy living. Balance: – in exercise and rest – and in nutrients.

This has been known for centuries. And, it’s proven by science. Contrary to what many may think, life science is seldom about labeling something “good” or “bad”. Rather, it’s about trying to find what makes the right balance.

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Here’s why I get fat when I exercise (part II)

In Uncategorized on August 13, 2009 at 1:01 pm

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WEIFANG, CHINA - JULY 24:  An overweight stude...
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The last couple of months I have lost about 8 kg


Previously, I had unsuccessfully been trying to lose weight by exercising more (Previous posts on this subject: “I get fat when I exercise, is that normal ?“, “Huge or tiny, either way I am being tricked“, “It’s the thinking that makes you fat stupid” and “Here’s why I get fat when I exercise“).

So this time I decided just to eat less. Not a different diet, just less of the same, and every other day I would skip a meal (lunch or dinner).

The new strategy worked like a charm, and I was planning on blogging my dieting results when I reached the 10 kg mark. But, then I read a veritable bashing of this TIME Magazine piece on how exercise does not necessarily help you lose fat. The criticism of this article I found very unfair. After all TIME was only telling us to put less faith in exercise as a dieting tool, – that’s fair enough isn’t it ? Besides, the points made in the article fit very well with my own experiences. Then a discussion on friendfeed followed, which I found very useful.

The TIME piece probably jumps to conclusions. The study he comments on does not support the conclusion that exercise makes you put on weight. Also the extrapolation of conclusions on adults based on data from studies on children may not hold water. However, the message that the TIME article conveys: the amount of exercise most people regard as sufficient to lose weight may act to the contrary, still hold true.

Looks like the consenus from the discussion is that exercise can help you lose weight, but it needs to be extensive (more than one hour more than 5 days a week) and it needs to be the right excersise (altough I believe the jury is still out on the effect of low-intensity exercise).

So, I’ll keep on skipping lunch and generally eat less, until I for some strange reason, should get enough time on my hands to prioritize 1-2 hours of exercise every day.

Downside is that I feel hungry a lot. Upside is that this may just possibly help me live longer.

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Toll as free marketing material II

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2009 at 1:38 pm

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A follow up to this post where marketing material from SABiosciences was presented. It turns out they now have PowerPoint slides for free download too (sign-in needed). A great example of how industry (including their sales/marketing departments) can participate in spreading knowledge. And great as a resource for those of us who need a cascade-slide for explanation every now and then. You can use these slides in academic non-commercial settings as long as you mention (acknowledge) the company.

Pathway example

Go here for downloading.