I’m running a few months behind schedule on this on but I finally remembered. It’s a meme for you, Dear Reader, to take more than the usual spotlight you enjoy at this blog. This is especially for you lurkers (in case you didn’t notice, the email field can be filled with nonsense like dev@null.com). For the the veterans, yes I know who you are but feel free to update us on any changes in the way you interact with the blog…especially if you’ve lost touch with the content, been dismayed or just decided that I’m not who you thought at first, ideas-wise.

So, to work!

1) Tell me about yourself. Who are you? Do you have a background in science? If so, what draws you here as opposed to meatier, more academic fare? And if not, what brought you here and why have you stayed?

2) Have you told anyone else about this blog? Why? Were they folks who are not a scientist?. Ever sent anything to family members or groups of friends who don’t understand your career?

3) How did you find us and how do you regularly follow us? through Twitter, Facebook and/or other beyond-RSS mechanisms?

[This is all the fault of Ed Yong. Head over the the last iteration to see all the gory details and links to prior comment threads.]

23andme and the Cold Case

August 15, 2013

By way of brief introduction, I last discussed the 23andme genetic screening service in the context of their belated adoption of IRB oversight and interloper paternity rates. You may also be interested in Ed Yong’s (or his euro-caucasoid doppelganger’s) results.

Today’s topic is brought to you by a comment from my closest collaborator on a fascinating low-N developmental biology project.

This collaborator raised a point that extends from my prior comment on the paternity post.

But, and here’s the rub, the information propagates. Let’s assume there is a mother who knows she had an affair that produced the kid or a father who impregnated someone unknown to his current family. Along comes the 23 and me contact to their child? Grandchild? Niece or nephew? Brother or sister? And some stranger asks them, gee, do you have a relative with these approximate racial characteristics, of approximately such and such age, who was in City or State circa 19blahdeblah? And then this person blast emails their family about it? or posts it on Facebook?

It also connects with a number of issues raised by the fact that 23andme markets to adoptees in search of their genetic relatives. This service is being used by genealogy buffs of all stripes and one can not help but observe that one of the more ethically complicated results will be the identification of unknown genetic relationships. As I alluded to above, interloper paternity may be identified. Also, one may find out that a relative gave a child up for adoption…or that one fathered a child in the past and was never informed.

That’s all very interesting but today’s topic relates to crimes in which DNA evidence has been left behind. At present, so far as I understand, the DNA matching is to people who have already crossed the law enforcement threshold. In fact there was a recent broughha over just what sort of “crossing” of the law enforcement threshold should permit the cops to take your DNA if I am not mistaken. This does not good, however, if the criminal has never come to the attention of law enforcement.

Ahhhh, but what if the cops could match the DNA sample left behind by the perpetrator to a much larger database. And find a first or second cousin or something? This would tremendously narrow the investigation, wouldn’t it?

It looks like 23andme is all set to roll over for whichever enterprising police department decides to try.

From the Terms of Service.

Further, you acknowledge and agree that 23andMe is free to preserve and disclose any and all Personal Information to law enforcement agencies or others if required to do so by law or in the good faith belief that such preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to: (a) comply with legal process (such as a judicial proceeding, court order, or government inquiry) or obligations that 23andMe may owe pursuant to ethical and other professional rules, laws, and regulations; (b) enforce the 23andMe TOS; (c) respond to claims that any content violates the rights of third parties; or (d) protect the rights, property, or personal safety of 23andMe, its employees, its users, its clients, and the public.

Looks to me that all the cops would need is a warrant. Easy peasy.

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h/t to Ginny Hughes [Only Human blog] for cuing me to look over the 23andme ToS recently.

tl;dr version: Your Humble Narrator is a sexist pig apologist for the old school heteronormative stultifying patriarchal system, hates women, resents his spouse and would leave his kids with the dogcatcher at the slightest excuse.

More after the jump….
Read the rest of this entry »

Are you kidding me people?

I swear to God the world is messing with me.

The BM may have a point about discrimination in a science setting and the way people make unthinking and covert assumptions.

I get that.

But Oprah was apparently refused a close look at a handbag “handbag” on sale for £22,500. Even in Eurocash that’s a lot of money. (Apparently she was in Switzerland to attend the wedding of Tina Turner, who is awesome.)

Naturally the world turns to debating whether the clerk in question steered Oprah (who she didn’t recognize) away from the spendy blingy bits because of her race or weight.

I’m sure most of you grasp that Oprah could buy the entire business.

Winfrey, 59, who runs her own TV network, earned $77 million in the year to June 2013, taking the No. 1 spot on the Forbes most powerful celebrity list last month, the fifth time she has headed the annual ranking.

It would be good to have a conversation about the assumptions made about people of color and those who are not the standard shape that indicates “rich” (whateverthatmightbe).

On the Twitts you can follow that on #myoprahmoment

For me….I can’t get past the fact that Oprah was shopping in a place that even HAD a “handbag” that costs £22,500.

I just can’t.

Ass umptions in science

August 8, 2013


BikeMonkey Guest-Post
I’m attending a small-ish scientific meeting that includes quite a number of scientists that I do not know very well. So take this with a grain of salt… I would hesitate to blame the person making the screwup for anything beyond that.

As with many meetings this one includes a very overt and obvious attempt to both include a more diverse population that might otherwise be included and to engage the trainees. The former goal is evidenced in part by the specific mention of several travel awards that were designed to diversify the place. The latter goal is evidenced by overt pleas from the organizers for senior faculty to chat up the youngsters and the instructions to the session chairs to prioritize the questions and comments from trainees.

The representation of women in the podium presentations and session chair slots is good, so I’ll assume some behind the scenes concern with such factors.

So far, so good.

Admittedly, the attempt to take questions and comments from trainees first during the discussion period after each and every talk is a bit awkward, to say the least. But it comes from a good place and is addressing a worthy goal.

Then a session chair make a small mistake. He identified someone in the audience as a trainee and handed the mike over for the first questions.

The scientist in question was not a trainee.

Mistakes happen, right?

Except this is the only one I’ve seen happen so far* and there are certainly a number of youthful-ish looking faculty here. Perhaps they are all well known to the session chairs and this particular commenter is not.

Still.

It will not surprise you one bit to learn that this person misidentified as a trainee was a woman.

It will not surprise most of you to learn that this person dresses in a rather put-together and more fashionable than average manner.

She also happens to be rather attractive….some might say rather significantly so.

but she’s also not by any stretch of the imagination young. In fact this person is at least a scientific generation above me, although I do not know for sure what her age is. Admittedly, and in the session chair’s defense, this person looks quite a bit younger than she probably is, particularly on quick glance.

But still. It boggles my mind that anyone would immediately think “trainee” rather than “faculty”.

This person is, as it happens, of a very recognizable ethnicity that is underrepresented in science. Of an appearance that might be readily assumed to be the subject of the aforementioned travel awards designed to enhance diversity, not just at this meeting but at numerous others ones.

It’s kind of a thing to see a bunch of underrepresented trainees at scientific meetings.

As I said, I don’t know everyone here well and I do not know the session chair in question at all.

What I do know is that it looks very bad when some old guy assumes that an underrepresented minority and female member of the audience is a trainee when she is very clearly of an age in which the proportion of trainees is low and the proportion of faculty is high.

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*this is most of why I haven’t stopped fuming about this.