DNA kits by mail order – accuracy of determining your ancestry?

DNA kits

You’ve seen these advertisements on TV. Get one of these DNA kits, give them a sample of your DNA along with a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and mail it to one of the DNA testing companies. Wait some time, and they send back information about your ancestry, potential diseases, and other information.

There seems to be a strange belief that if these DNA kits say you’re 28% German, or 37% Italian, or 13% Japanese, it speaks the truth. Anecdotally, I’ve had boatloads of friends get this test done, and they take pride in their new or confirmed ethnicity. And I won’t even go into the scares some have had from the presumptive medical diagnoses made from some genetic marker found in the result.

We’re going to focus on the ethnic testing aspect of these DNA kits. But without a doubt, there’s a lot of concern out there about those tests leading to inaccurate medical diagnoses. Many genetic diseases, like diabetes, don’t have a purely genetic cause, but generally there’s a combination of genetic and environmental basis.

23andMe, one of the leading companies in mail order DNA kits, has had a roller-coaster relationship with US FDA. After all of the back and forth, the FDA has stated that 23andMe can market their tests for genetic testing, but cannot market them as diagnostic tests. I’m not sure the public will see the difference in that.

However, I’m going to focus on what bothers me about these tests – they are becoming the basis of some kind of scientific racism. We are highlighting, and sometimes misrepresenting, patterns of differences in human species by a sampling of genes.

Let’s take a look at these DNA kits – how they do the testing. How they determine these racial/ethnical characterization. And how one should interpret the results. Continue reading “DNA kits by mail order – accuracy of determining your ancestry?”

Vaccine legislation in the USA – a state by state analysis

vaccine legislation

One of the most successful pieces of vaccine legislation in recent years has been SB277 in California, which eliminated personal belief exemptions (PBE), that allowed a parent to exclude a child from immunization requirements for school based on the parent’s personal beliefs, including religious objections.  These PBEs had been used and abused by anti-vaccine parents to exempt their school-aged children from most, if not all, vaccines.

Other than California, only West Virginia and Mississippi have such strict prohibitions on these PBEs that they are effectively not allowed as a method to refuse vaccines before a child enters school. But many other states are considering vaccine legislation that could improve vaccine uptake. Unfortunately, there are also states on the other side of the equation that are considering laws that reduce restrictions on personal belief exemptions.

The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), which seems to conflate “information” with misinformation about vaccines, claims that there are 134 vaccine bills being considered in 35 states. I wish!

I thought we would could take a look at current vaccine legislation being considered by various states that could potentially increase vaccine uptake in those states. Then we’ll take a look at those states pushing legislation that might decrease vaccine uptake. This should provide real information about what’s going on with these laws, instead of the alternative facts from the vaccine deniers at NVIC.

Continue reading “Vaccine legislation in the USA – a state by state analysis”

Gardasil vaccine safety – under attack again by a false authority

Gardasil vaccine safety

Here we go again – another lightweight “science paper” attacking Gardasil vaccine safety. Now, I have to spend time debunking it because we all know that this new article will be used as “proof” that Gardasil is dangerous.

As I have written dozens of times, there are precious few ways for us to effectively prevent cancer. Exercise regularly. Eat a balanced diet. Stay out of the sun. Quit smoking. Don’t drink alcohol. And get vaccinated against hepatitis B and the human papillomavirus (HPV). That’s it. No kale blueberry almond milk shake is going to suddenly make your risk of cancer drop to zero. Avoiding gluten, cleansing your colon, or smoking a joint will have no effect on your risk of cancer.

But the HPV cancer preventing vaccine, known as Gardasil, is a well-researched, scientifically-based medication to prevent a long list of cancers. So we’re going to take a critical look at this new article. Continue reading “Gardasil vaccine safety – under attack again by a false authority”

Nine vaccine questions from an anti-vaccine activist

vaccine questions

Some of you may remember the nine vaccine questions from anti vaccine activists answered so capably by Dr. Mark Crislip. Apparently, anti-vaccine activist Lowell Hubbs (who spends a lot of time trolling the comments section of this website) came up with his own set of nine new vaccine questions – which have no more validity than the original nine. In a post titled “9 Questions For The Pro-Vaxers” – to which I would rather not link here, but if you come across it, you will recognize it (we decided that few the thousand readers of this post shouldn’t have any incentive to click on a link to his website).

Let’s take a look at Hubbs’ nine vaccine questions, and provide the appropriate answers.

Continue reading “Nine vaccine questions from an anti-vaccine activist”

Ten thousand years of GMO foods – making inedible edible

Ten thousand years of GMO foods

One of the tropes of the anti-GMO movement is that nature does it better for food, a logical fallacy. In other words, they believe that our ancestors’ foods are somehow better than our GMO foods. Of course, this belies the fact that there are over ten thousand years of GMO foods – it’s really not something that showed up during the last century or so.

People seem to endow “nature” with a special status that is ridiculous. Evolution proceeds along a random process where environmental changes select for certain mutations over time (and yes, I’m oversimplifying the process), which is called natural selection. Moreover, there are random mutations that just occur that provide no benefit to the organism, although they might in the future because of some environmental change.

Nature has no goal. It has no guidance. It has no underlying value of good or evil. Unless you believe that some higher being controls it, and at that point, you’re a creationist, claiming that “nature” is better than the alternative is basically ridiculous.

So, we’re going to talk about how genetic modification has moved from the early days of waiting for a random, beneficial mutation to the modern world of genetic modification.

Continue reading “Ten thousand years of GMO foods – making inedible edible”

GMO genes transfer to humans – debunking a myth

gmo genes transfer to humans

A pseudoscience pushing website (which occasionally tosses in stories about real science) is trumpeting a primary research study (published several months ago) that may, or really may not, indicate that plant GMO genes transfer to humans. They claim that DNA may survive intact in the digestive tract and show up in the bloodstream.

In case you’ve ignored this area of false controversy, genetically modified crops are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Of course, all types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes.

Based on some of  the worst science available, the anti-GMO activists have condemned GMO foods as being dangerous. Unfortunately for the anti-science side, there is actually no science supporting these anti-GMO claims, and the vast scientific consensus says that GMO foods are safe to humans, animals and the environment. Continue reading “GMO genes transfer to humans – debunking a myth”

Gardasil DNA and aluminum – myth debunking time

Gardasil DNA and aluminum

Here we go again. Anti-Gardasil activists and other vaccine deniers are attempting, once again, to make specious claims about the HPV anti-cancer vaccine. This time claiming that Gardasil DNA and aluminum somehow interacted to kill a young child.

This time, it’s a claim filed in United States Court of Federal Claims Office of Special Masters, as a part of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), that an injection of the Gardasil vaccine lead to the death of a young male the next day.

As tragic as that death is, and all children’s deaths are tragic, let’s take a look at the evidence being used here. Of course, I’m not a Special Master in the Federal Court System (admittedly, I want that title), I’m not an attorney (nor do I pretend to be one on the internet), and the NVICP has some complex rules and decisions processes. It’s never simple, and remember, the NVICP, or any court for that matter,  lacks the privilege of deciding what is good science.  Continue reading “Gardasil DNA and aluminum – myth debunking time”

Review of 10 years of GMO research – they’re safe

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs or GMs) are one of the most well studied areas of biological and agricultural research. However, one of the tactics of the GMO refusers is that “there’s no proof that GMOs are safe.”

Typically, in a debate, the side making the assertion (those that say GMOs are unsafe) are responsible for the evidence that supports their contention. But, the anti-GMO gang relies upon the Argument from Ignorance, trying to force the argument to “if you can’t prove that they’re safe, they must be unsafe.”

Even though arguing with logical fallacies is rarely productive, I did provide an exhaustive list of high-quality peer-reviewed GMO research articles that clearly stated that genetically modified crops are safe. But that’s never enough. Continue reading “Review of 10 years of GMO research – they’re safe”

Richard III found under a parking lot–are we sure?

RichardIIIUnless you were living under a parking lot, you probably heard that the remains of King Richard III had been uncovered under a parking lot in Leicester, England. Richard III, who was King of England for only two years, 1483-5, died in the Battle of Bosworth Field, which was essentially the last battle of the civil war Wars of the Roses, the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York that raged across England in the latter half of the 15th century. The leader of the winning side, the Lancastrians, was Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who became the first English monarch of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VII (and whose son included the infamous Henry VIII and granddaughters were Mary I and Elizabeth I). Richard was unceremoniously buried, which, over the centuries, was itself buried under the city of Leicester.

According to historical records, Richard III developed idiopathic scoliosis during his childhood, which was mocked by Shakespeare in his tragedy, Richard IIIContemporary historians wrote that Richard was killed by several blows to the head with swords and his helmet might have been knocked off during the battle. (Interestingly, Richard was the last British monarch to have died in battle.)

From these pieces of evidence, scientists from the University of Leicester drew upon historical evidence of both the scoliosis and the battle wounds and compared them to the skeleton found under the parking lot in Leicester. The scientists stated that the skeleton was Richard III “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Continue reading “Richard III found under a parking lot–are we sure?”

Review of Prometheus on “Why Evolution is True”

From Guest post: Sigmund pans the movie “Prometheus” (spoiler alert) « Why Evolution Is True.

I rarely do this (well, never), but here is another scientific review of Prometheus from “Why Evolution is True” blog. The comments are especially fun to read, because clearly some individuals don’t take kindly to critiques of this rather average movie.

 

Guest post: Sigmund pans the movie “Prometheus” (spoiler alert)

Sigmund is becoming a regular around here, and has contributed a review of the new SF (or is it “SciFi”?)  film Prometheus, which has generated a lot of buzz. He didn’t like it, largely because it’s scientifically inaccurate. As always, readers who have seen the flick should weigh in with their own opinions.

Film Review – Prometheus  (spoiler warning!)

by Sigmund

The film ’Prometheus’, the first return to science fiction for director Ridley Scott since Blade Runner, is supposedly a prequel to his famous 1979 movie ‘Alien’ and is therefore a major event for sci-fi geeks. As it opened a week earlier in Europe owing to the start of the European football championship, I’ve had a chance to see it (twice!) and can offer a personal opinion of the movie without, I hope, giving away too much of the plot. But if you intend to see the movie soon and don’t want to read any spoilers, I’d advise avoiding reading any further. Continue reading “Review of Prometheus on “Why Evolution is True””