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Brainwashing in High Places: Genes and Disease

Posted Apr 16 2009 11:04pm

From an article by Nicholas Wade in the NY Times:

Since the human genome was decoded in 2003, researchers have been developing a powerful method for comparing the genomes of patients and healthy people, with the hope of pinpointing the DNA changes responsible for common diseases.

This method, called a genomewide association study, . . . has been disappointing in that the kind of genetic variation it detects has turned out to explain surprisingly little of the genetic links to most diseases.

Wade means the genetic variation is surprisingly poor at distinguishing healthy people and sick people. That is the empirical result.

Unlike the rare diseases caused by a change affecting only one gene, common diseases like cancer and diabetes are caused by a set of several genetic variations in each person.

This is the faith-based statement. Wade knows this how? What about the possibility that cancer and diabetes are caused by environmental differences? That there are consistent environmental differences (e.g., dietary differences) between those who get cancer and those who don’t?

I know of no evidence that common diseases like cancer and diabetes are caused by several genetic variations in each person. I know of a lot of evidence that they are caused by the wrong environment — lung cancer caused by smoking, for example.

Preachers say: If you do X, you will go to heaven. In other words, do something that helps me (the preacher) now and you will benefit later. It has been an effective argument. This is what the geneticists have been doing. They say to granting agencies — who believe what they read in the NY Times — if you give us money now we will find the genetic basis of Disease X. Just as there was no clear reason to believe the preachers’ claims, there was no clear reason to believe the geneticists’ predictions. Which unfortunately for them can be shown to be wrong.

The success of my self-experimentation at solving common problems led me to think the environment is more powerful than NY Times readers, or at least NY Times reporters, had been led to believe. Good news for people with problems but bad news for scientists who want large grants. My research was essentially free.

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