Re: The gap between information and understanding

The amount of information in a 'personal genome' overwhelms our ability to interpret it (and can be expected to do so for some time). I think this 'understanding gap' creates some ethical pitfalls for those providing genomic information and for those using it.

What responsibility do test providers in conveying genomic information? In an ideal world genetic counsellors would help patients understand what their genomes might predict, but few people have the specialist training required. Even so, it is important to avoid  just sending anonymous computer-generated report that tells them they have an incurable genetic disorder. People don't generally handle probabilities very well, and may fear extreme but rare events more than things that are much more likley to affect them. When people are making life changing decisions based on genetic data who will be there to help them?

Knowledge changes over time, so it is worth considering whether information providers have a responsibility to update thier analysis (to correct mistaken predictions for example). It is certainly necessary to ensure that any genome information is in a portable format, so patients are not tied to one company for answers and can seek second/updated opinions.

How do we ensure information is 'fair and balanced'. Researchers often focus on defining genetic elements that confer increased risk of disease susceptibility far more than on decreased risk, so there is a real danger that this biases any personal genome report to be just a collection of bad news (the good news may not be recognized). Any links between data providers and those selling treatments also raise concerns about what information is highlighted.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Is this why time speeds up as we age?

We take fewer mental pictures per second.

(MPH Photos/giphy/yShutterstock/Big Think)
Mind & Brain
  • Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
  • In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
  • The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
Keep reading Show less

New alternative to Trump's wall would create jobs, renewable energy, and increase border security

A consortium of scientists and engineers have proposed that the U.S. and Mexico build a series of guarded solar, wind, natural gas and desalination facilities along the entirety of the border.

Credit: Purdue University photo/Jorge Castillo Quiñones
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The proposal was recently presented to several U.S. members of Congress.
  • The plan still calls for border security, considering all of the facilities along the border would be guarded and connected by physical barriers.
  • It's undoubtedly an expensive and complicated proposal, but the team argues that border regions are ideal spots for wind and solar energy, and that they could use the jobs and fresh water the energy park would create.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.