Why I didn’t do 23andMe

I had a free voucher from the summer, but decided not to go ahead with a saliva test.  Here are my reasons:

1. I thought there is option value and I can always do a test later, for a better and more accurate service.  (I hadn’t thought of the FDA shutting the whole thing down, but still I expect the service will return in some manner, if only under another corporate banner or from overseas.)

2. I thought the “worry cost” of negative information would exceed the benefit of whatever specific preventive measures I might take.  Most useful ex ante preventive measures, such as diet and exercise, are fairly general in their application and I didn’t think there was likely much to be learned about specific measures for specific potential maladies.  And here is an interesting short piece on the likelihood of false negatives.

3. One might take more preventive measures with one’s ex ante and more uncertain knowledge than with one’s ex post and more certain knowledge.  For instance an absence of negative information might have encouraged me to slack on exercise, to the detriment of my eventual health outcomes.

4. I wouldn’t describe privacy concerns as my major worry, but at the margin still they counted for something.  I felt eventually this service would prove equivalent to making my genome public information, via something called GenomeLeaks or the like.  Why do that without having a better sense of its longer-run implications?

I’m glad I didn’t do it, glad I had the choice to decline to do it, and I am still feeling no temptation to do it in the future.  I do feel a slight amount of guilt for not contributing to a future “Big Data” project, but so be it.  I also am glad I am not contributing to some of the inevitably unethical uses to which eugenics will be put, and that is more than a counterbalance, given that I expect no practical benefit from reading my own test results.


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