can genomics tell me who I am summary

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PSYC 3110
Kieran O' Doherty

Can Genomics Tell Me Who IAm? • Recent developments in genome-wide scanning and sequencing technologies, simultaneously testing multiple genomic loci in order to provide their customers with a variety of “personalized” genetic profiles • Suggest that the appeal to “genetic essentialism” – the view that our genomes do intrinsically define our personal identities, as secular substitutes for the “soul” – is actually key to understanding why online companies attract consumers to genetic testing • Basically, despite knowing how bad a genetic essentialist view is for how people view themselves, genetic profiling companies use these essentialist views to advertise their services • Author believes that their business models represent the confluence of three different currents within contemporary Euro-American culture: o The distinctly pre-modern search for a naturalistic understanding of individual identity in a pluralistic world o Thoroughly modern cachet of genomics as a science o Post-modern emphasis on radical individual self-determination • Information collected for the hypothesis of the article comes from genetic profiling companies’websites • Article goals: o Examine how the companies link – explicitly or implicitly – genetics and various aspects of identity in their advertising o Put the link of genetics and identity into broader social context o Discuss risks related to identity that arise in online DNAtesting Direct-to-consumer DNAtesting through the lens of identity • Online consumer genomics companies advertise that they offer wide variety of DNA based information • First category of information is genealogical information that is pertinent to ancestry and ethnicity, paternity, extended relationships, and individual uniqueness • Second category of information is designed to help customers improve their health in indirect ways, through nutrition and lifestyle • Third category of information offered by companies like DNADirect advertise disease risk testing and pharmacogenetic tests designed to complement or inform regular medical care • Some companies also say that they offer all three services • All companies link genetics and personal identity, suggesting also that their tests can provide information that is unique to them/customized to the client. • Reinforcing their ads with messages that suggest access to personalized information allows one to fulfill an obligation to take personal responsibility for one’s own health and lifestyle • Companies also state that the personalized information will provide clients with fundamental philosophical insights into their identities o “Genomics might be what philosophers have been looking for all along” • Some companies suggest that genomics can offer “personalized medicine” that focuses on the uniqueness of each individual’s genome, promotes a reductionist form of individual atomism • These views suggest that the genome can perform all the philosophical functions of the soul in providing an ontological basis for our unique identities We believe that people’s similarities are just as important as their differences • Growing number of companies that use genomics for ancestry tracing also underscore the role of family lineage and group membership in personal identity o Suggest that genes are more important than one’s culture or heritage that defines them as a person  Essentialist view • These companies advertise that clients are apart of a network of their ancestors that reach thousands of years back, playing on the existentialist view that individualism can be alienating and uniqueness can be lonely (quite opposite from other companies that advertise how great it would be to have personalized and individual genomic data) • Claiming that client’s share their essential features – genetic vulnerabilities, predispositions and peculiarities – with many others The search for identity in a pluralistic, virtual world • All types of genomic companies find it useful to give their services important links to their clients “narrative identity” – the identity that is based on stories about a person that are created by the individual themselves or the community to which they belong • Ethical and social implications of human genome research that people should not invest much personal meaning in the results of DNA-based results because the social risks of genetic information are rooted in forms of genetic essentialism • Article suggests that there are three cultural currents at work: o Pre-modern interesting in elaborating a naturalistic account of personal identity o Amodern enthusiasm for science o Apost-modern emphasis on radical individual self-determination and attitude of amused self-objectification with respect for our increasingly “online” lives Am I the author or the discoverer of my identity? • Personal identity is central in society • Determined to discover how we can define our identities within a pluralism of worldviews • Pluralism challenges traditional frames for identities – family, ethnicity, and religion • Individualism is evidently important in western societies • Genomic science has become the key to self-knowledge in the twenty first century, or so would these companies like people to believe • The idea is that someone’s essential self is not a matter of existential choice, but one of empirical discovery - and that can be comforting and attractive to some • Basically companies claim that you can discover who you are through genetic testing – “genes do not lie” • Companies are claiming that genetics are more important than culture or heritage in defining who you are, that it is merely up to your genetics o “By analyzing your genetic code, you can unlock secrets of your ancestral heritage” o “These DNAtests can tell you where on earth your ancestors originated and traveled – your unique geographical and racial heritage” The cachet of genomics • The prospect of a discoverable natural identity is made more attractive to consumers if it is driven by high profile, mainstream science • The publicity accompanying the success of the Human Genome Project has given way to genomics being considered a high status and powerful science, positioning it to legitimize claims about personal identity – and consumer genomics take advantage of this o “Your DNAis analyzed using the latest in DNAtechnology” • This suggests that science is now always correct, trustworthy, and individually empowering • Companies are exploiting people trust in science The post-modern cyber-self • Companies know that some customers are sophisticated enough to see the essentialist view they are advertising
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