An article in The Awl by Russell Brandom sighs disappointedly about commercially available personal genome testing (“Everything I Didn’t Learn From Taking A Personal Genome Test”). Misha Angrist, early personal genomics adopter, reacts to the piece on his GenomeBoy blog, “Of hairballs and long hauls”.
I agree with most of Misha’s post, and I especially started cheering when I read his final point:
Some of my postmodernist friends tend to look down their noses at genetic ancestry testing. I would argue that they are genetic determinists. Why assume that genetic information is so omnipotent as to irrevocably unravel ones identity? Why must one narrative trump another? Because its TECHNOLOGY! Its GENETICS! It is ALL POWERFUL! Please. Its just another way of looking at ones ancestry. And learning about genetics: I would argue that Henry Louis Gates has done as much to stir public interest in genetics as anyone or anything since the Human Genome Project. For realz.
Data demystifies. The ancestry determinations aren’t great, but you know what? People – including nonprofessionals with an avocation in genetics – are improving them every day, both showing their limits and inventing new ways to sift information out of genomes.