Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Genetic Research: Watson or Spears?

After resisting the temptation to comment on the Watson scandal, I'm giving in ... and if I'm going to "muckrake", I think there's no better time to add Britney Spears to the mix. The Nobel laureate (Watson not Spears) probably deserves the broad public reprimand he's currently recieving for his racist comments. Hsien-Hsien Lei of Eye on DNA provides a good summary of how genetics bloggers are responding and both the BBC and The New York Times have reported his comments and their consequences. Meanwhile, the scandal has re-ignited attention to his controversial ideas about genetic research and contemporary eugenics; for a sample, see Michael Gerson's Op-Ed column in the Washington Post, "The Eugenics Temptation".

If anything good emerges from this uproar, let's hope that it includes a healthy discussion of the social implications of genetic research and the future of predictive health care. For example, this event gives us the occassion to explore the impact of this and similar scandals on the public's opinion of genetic and biomedical research? According to Google Trends the search for [james watson] may be reaching its peak for the last three years:

How will this sharp increase in the public's attention to Watson's notions change (if at all) the effort to recruit potential research participants? At his best (or worst) I'd bet that Watson always loses to Spears:

But who is more likely to participate in genetic research? Britney's news junkies or Jim's? - J.O.

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