Genetics: A Double Edged Sword

More than a decade ago, the scientific community completed what was once deemed an impossible task: researchers from around the world finally decoded the entire sequence of the human genome. With this accomplishment, the “cost of sequencing dropped dramatically – from $3 billion for the first human genome to [just] a few thousand dollars today” (Wojcicki, “Know Your Genome: What We Can All Gain from Personal Genetics”). Although the plummeting numbers on these DNA price tags may not mean much to the general public, the implications of this breakthrough are life-changing. Indeed, the most recent advances in genetic research have just made it possible to answer the question “who are you?” in the most definitive way possible – a person’s past, present, and even future all available at our fingertips. Furthermore, with this data, leaps and bounds can be made to cure disease, eliminate crime, and even pave the way for improvements in the way people live, the likes of which the world has only ever seen in science fiction. But what does this all mean for the concept of identity? Can the genetic information that is extracted and analyzed really define who someone is as a person? Not as a biological being, but as an individual? This very dilemma is one of the most debated issues of the 21st century, and as the world moves ever further into the future, this question will no doubt become more and more prevalent. Thus, it is vitally important to understand how and why the use of genetic information can be both a blessing and a curse, and more importantly, what society should do when confronted with such deeply ethical matters.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” Even though Uncle Ben may not have intended for his famous line to become the principle behind genetic research, it definitely reflects many of the ethical concerns regarding this new technology. DNA databases, government genomic records, and public access registries to sensitive genetic information are all growing in number in an effort to crack down on criminals and develop new treatments for disease. On the contrary, what may be just as terrifying as a bloodthirsty serial killer or a growing tumor, is the fact that authorities can abuse the power of “DNA to accumulate information on people’s racial origins, medical history, and [even] psychological profile” (Lawless, “Spread of DNA Databases Sparks Ethical Concerns”). And yet, even with these concerns in mind, more and more government DNA databases are adopted by nations around the world. These databases consist of DNA profiles – information extracted from biological samples like cheek swabs – and are represented by a 20 digit serial code that includes an indicator for gender. In other words, a person’s identity can be, and has already been reduced to mere numbers, like those on a credit card. The only difference is: a credit card number has never at any point so absolutely defined a person’s identity. In 2010, the United Kingdom established the “world’s first national DNA database, which… contained over 5 million” of these DNA “fingerprints,” the majority of which were taken from “those who [were] suspects in investigations,” even if the individuals were later found to be not guilty (“What Is the DNA Database?”). As such, this DNA database essentially contains profiles on thousands upon millions of the innocent population, giving authorities access to sensitive genetic information that can be misused by employers or healthcare insurance companies if given the chance – a chance that may just be within their reach.

Literally:

A researcher analyzes a DNA sample to extract sensitive information about its owner

A researcher analyzes a DNA sample to extract sensitive information about its owner

Whereas large amounts of genetic information, like that stored in DNA databases, can help solve crimes and treat diseases, it is also highly possible that this information can fall into the wrong hands. For instance, imagine a well-qualified, hard-working job applicant who just had a smooth interview and subsequently the shot of landing the position of her dreams. However, when her desired employer calls her the next time, it isn’t to congratulate her on a new offer, but to tell her that they have rejected her based off genetic information implying her risk of breast cancer. Apparently, the company just can’t afford the resources to train an employee who may not be working continuously for a very long time. On the other hand, imagine an older individual who although has been in good shape for the majority of his life, would like a more reliable medical insurance plan as he nears retirement. However, he later finds out that he is being denied coverage not because of his age or because he is presently unhealthy, but because his DNA samples taken from a government database indicate an increased chance of Alzheimer’s disease in his near future. These scenarios may seem improbable and extraordinarily unjust, but with greater advances in genetic research and a stronger emphasis on the storage of DNA “fingerprints,” both screening for the risks of hereditary diseases as well as accessing this information from simple government databases have become far easier than ever before, allowing employers and insurance companies to take full advantage of who they hire or who they insure (“Liberty, Privacy, and DNA Databases”).

Two cartoons illustrating the potential genetic privacy breaches of the near future

Two cartoons illustrating the potential genetic privacy breaches of the near future

With this kind of genetic data and the sheer amount of it in one place, what’s stopping the public from discriminating against each other on the basis of genetics? What’s preventing health insurance organizations from withdrawing their services due to unfortunate medical risks? And most of all, what’s prohibiting society from defining who and how someone should be through inferences made through their genetic identity? What’s more, many would even argue that the use of DNA databases and the analysis of the information gathered from the general public is a violation of many essential rights, including the right to privacy, the right to physical and moral integrity, the right not to declare, and the right to health and liberty, just to name a few (Guillén, “Ethical-Legal Problems of DNA Databases in Criminal Investigation”). These concerns have become so great and so pertinent that a law has already been passed in an attempt to address foreseeable issues in the days to come. According to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 or GINA, “it is illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because” of their DNA profile (“Genetic Information Discrimination”). Indeed, GINA not only prevents individual health insurers from using a “person’s genetic information to set eligibility requirements [and]… premium… amounts,” but it also forbids employers from basing their “decisions about hiring, firing, job assignments, or promotions,” on any acquired genetic data. Nevertheless, this doesn’t solve everything. GINA unfortunately cannot provide protection against life, disability, or long-term-care insurers, nor can it prevent discrimination based on current or manifesting genetic conditions (“The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA): A Discussion Guide for Clinicians”). Seeing as how the majority of these issues stem from either the risk of diagnosing a long-term disability or the slow development of a life-altering condition, the extent of GINA’s protective influence is fairly limited. Thus, no matter how many steps are taken to mitigate these controversies, they very much still exist, and will continue to further down the road. In the end, as troubling as any type of privacy breach may sound, the truth of the matter remains the following: the ethical concerns and the practical benefits surrounding the use of genetic information are two sides of a double edged sword. The real question is, which edge is sharper?

One of the first steps taken to protect individuals from genetic information abuse

One of the first steps taken to protect individuals from genetic information abuse

Although the privacy concerns associated with genetics are no doubt problematic, few can deny the revolutionary benefits that come about from this new technology. The use of DNA today is an important tool to help clear the name of many innocent suspects, suspects who would have been punished irreversibly for crimes they never committed (Lawless, “Spread of DNA Databases Sparks Ethical Concerns”). In fact, since the advent of DNA testing in criminal investigations, “there have been 321 post-conviction DNA exonerations in [just] the United States,” as shown below, and this growing number only scratches the surface of how much forensics practice has aided Interpol internationally” (Massie, “DNA Exonerations Nationwide”).

As the use of DNA in criminal investigations increase, so do the number of innocent exonerations

As the use of DNA in criminal investigations increase, so do the number of innocent exonerations

Furthermore, as the number of innocent suspects exonerated through DNA evidence increases, so too does the number of suspects correctly apprehended for the crimes they did commit. Using genetic information to solve criminal investigations is a relatively straightforward process: if a suspect has already been identified, then a simple comparison between his DNA to the samples found at the crime scene can easily determine his culpability. On the other hand, if a suspect has not been identified, then the advantages of a government DNA database become apparent. The genetic information found at the crime scene can be compared to the DNA profiles that are on record, and in that way determine possible suspects to be taken in for further questioning (“Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology: Using DNA to Solve Crimes”).  As such, the use of “DNA fingerprinting” in criminal investigations has completely revamped how society approaches crime solving. From the case in 1999 in which “New York authorities linked a man through DNA evidence to at least 22 sexual assaults” to the case in 2002 in which DNA evidence allowed for the identification of the individual behind a series of rapes and murders, it is clear that the addition of forensics analysis to the criminal justice system has been a successful venture.

As impressive as these accomplishments may be, where genetics research has made the most impact is in today’s medical field. Hundreds upon thousands of people in society have depended on genetic information to screen and diagnose for diseases in their imminent future, and many more are seeking personalized treatment in preparation for whatever conditions may arise. In fact, through the analysis of patient DNA with genetic testing, doctors are able to provide clear medical benefits regardless of the test’s results: if tests are negative, then patients can rest assured knowing they are relatively safe, and if tests are positive, then the necessary preparation for whatever disorder may arise can begin early, allowing for the greatest chance of survival once the time comes. For example, by evaluating how patients react to certain drugs, genetic research can “help them prevent harmful side effects” when it really counts “…and [even] potentially avoid preventable deaths” (Wojcicki, “Know Your Genome: What We Can All Gain from Personal Genetics”). But there’s more. With this type of preparatory information, genetic testing is also able to influence the next generations to come, both by advising parents on lifestyle habits in the future in regards to having children as well as by screening newborns in order to identify possible disorders that may manifest early on in their childhood (“Genetic Testing”). In these ways, the use of genetic information can save countless lives, and improve the conditions of many more as well.

Gene therapy, or the modification of an individual’s genes in order to correct genetic abnormalities, has become the most popular topic in today’s medical field. With this strategy, the potential to treat many of the diseases that were once deemed incurable becomes a reality, especially as the applicability of this therapy itself allows for endless possibilities. Gene therapy, as shown below, consists of identifying specific mutations involved in the disease to be treated and creating a suitable replacement for that part of the genome. Then, by using engineered viral or non-viral vectors, this recombinant DNA can be delivered to the body’s cells to isolate, replace, or regulate the particular DNA element that was originally responsible for the patient’s condition. These vectors will repeat the process from cell to cell, slowly repairing the genome through the spread of adjacent areas until a significant portion of the patient’s cells have regained normal function, effectively treating the individual of his or her disease.

A virus carrying the modified gene ventures into the cell to repair its genome

A virus carrying the modified gene ventures into the cell to repair its genome

Indeed, gene therapy has already demonstrated promising results treating several types of immunodeficiency diseases, including cancer, and is on its way to treat many more. However, “long-term treatments for anemia, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy…cardiovascular disease, [and] diabetes” still remain elusive today (“Gene Therapy and Cell Therapy Defined”). It is only by dedicating a greater public effort to advancing this technology – and learning more about the human genome – will it be possible to apply this strategy’s benefits to many of these crippling diseases and more.

In the end, there are hardly any other alternatives that can offer as much to the world as genetics do, but will the advantages truly outweigh the disadvantages? Does knowing that a cure for diabetes may be waiting to be discovered in the human genome make up for the threats to privacy and personal security? According to some of the world’s most renowned media sources, it seems genetics may just be the more popular choice. But should it be?

Popular magazines depicting the potential of genetics research on their covers

Popular magazines depicting the potential of genetics research on their covers

In order to assess general knowledge and opinion regarding genetics research, a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey or NHANES was completed in June of 2006. Since this survey consisted of more than 5000 home interviews with randomly selected individuals above the age of 20, it is reasonable to assume that such a large sample size may serve as an adequate representation of the United States population. During the survey, individuals were asked for their consent to the collection and storage of their biological samples to be used for future research, assuming their samples would be used for genetic studies (McQuillan, “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience”). The participant’s responses as to whether or not they would agree to such an idea were recorded and the rates of consent were then cross examined with sociodemographic factors, such as ethnicity, gender, and age . Furthermore, NHANES was repeated across several rounds, in 1999-2000, 2001-2002, and finally in 2003-2004, each time with the same number of participants, in order to record the changes in public opinion over time (McQuillan, “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience”). In this way, a comprehensive evaluation of the general attitude towards the use of genetic information in the US can be acquired relative to several different factors, while general support or disapproval regarding genetics can be measured as it progresses through time. As a result, very interesting patterns were extrapolated from this data, and by examining these trends, a more accurate idea of the nation’s take on the use of genetic information can be acquired (McQuillan, “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience”). Thus, the information garnered by this survey will ultimately determine the need for more accessible education on this topic, the extent to which more advancements should made towards adopting the use of genetic information, and whether or not there should be greater limitations to genetic research in order to protect individual rights and freedoms.

Surveys across 3 different rounds showing increasing consent rates for genetic research

Surveys across 3 different rounds showing increasing consent rates for genetic research

One of the most prominent trends that can be observed from the data collected from NHANES in Table 2 is the significant increase in consent rates across the three different rounds, 1990-2000, 2001-2002, and 2003-2004 (McQuillan, “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience”). These rising values indicate that the general population is becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of donating personal biological samples to be used for genetic research. In fact, assuming that the same pattern has continued since the publication of this survey, it is safe to conclude that the percentage of individuals who would be willing to allow the collection and storage of their biological samples today is even closer to or approaching 100%. Nevertheless, it is important to note that in the 2003-2004 survey, participants were not told that their samples could be used for genetic research. Therefore, the dramatic increase from a 90.1% consent rate in 2001-2002 to a 98.4% consent rate in 2003-2004 cannot be explained by an increase in public acceptance of genetics research (McQuillan, “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience”). What can be deduced from these results, on the other hand is that even though people are increasingly comfortable, or at least more lenient, with the continuation of this technology, there is still some uneasiness associated with DNA collection. This anxiety is what prevents the majority of individuals from consenting, and should be taken into account if genetics research is to be more widely incorporated into social protocol.

Although public opinion of genetics research may be improving, as seen by the results from year to year, certain sociodemographic groups tend to be less comfortable with the idea than others. In the 1999-2000 survey round, non-Hispanic blacks compared to other ethnic groups, non-Hispanic whites, Mexican American, and other, had the lowest consent rates. Additionally, in the 2001-2002 survey round, female participants had significantly lower consent rates than male participants (McQuillan, “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience”). These two groups, blacks and females, tend to be marginalized by institutions far more frequently than other social groups, and as such may be the reason for their unease. In other words, it is a distinct possibility that due to their increased weariness of racial and gender discrimination, these participants opted not to participate with the genetic testing provided by NHANES in fear of potential genetic discrimination in the future. This issue, fortunately, can be addressed with more stringent laws on genetic discrimination as well as greater education on the relatively safe usage of this information for its many benefits. This way, society can take steps to make sure that the advantages of this technology can be available for all people and not just for those who are more comfortable with giving such personal data to medical authorities.

NHANES demonstrates the recent public perspective on genetics research: even though consent rates are generally increasing to a fairly large percentage, there are still some individuals, mainly blacks and females, who are unable to reconcile the benefits of this technology with the risks to their personal and social well-being. With that in mind, it is difficult to distinctively say whether the public is truly for or against genetic testing. However, what can be determined is that as stricter regulations are proposed to protect against genetic information abuse, the more likely it will be that this technology benefits more people than it hurts. This notion should remain the guiding principle for DNA use in the days to come; it is only by showing the public that there is nothing to be afraid of, that society can finally capitalize on how much more can be gained with the use of genetic information. Perhaps by then, the double edged sword can become the instrument of society’s future accomplishments and not a threat upon those who wield it.

 

Works Cited

“Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology: Using DNA to Solve Crimes.” N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

Alana Massie. “DNA Exonerations Nationwide.” Innocence Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.

Catherine Doss. “College of Science Magazine Explores Genetic Medicine, Cancer Therapies.” VirginiaTech: Virginia Tech News. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.

“DNA Exoneree Case Profiles.” Innocence Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.

“Gene Therapy and Cell Therapy Defined.” American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy. N.p., 2011. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

“Genetic Information Discrimination.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.

“Genetic Privacy.” N.p., 2 Oct. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

“Genetic Testing.” Medic8. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

“GINA: Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.” Web.

Guillén, Margarita et al. “Ethical-Legal Problems of DNA Databases in Criminal Investigation.” Journal of Medical Ethics 26.4 (2000): 266–271. jme.bmj.com. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

“How Does Gene Therapy Work?” Genetics Home Reference. N.p., 9 Dec. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

“Is This How We’ll Cure Cancer?” Forbes. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

Jill Lawless. “Spread of DNA Databases Sparks Ethical Concerns.” The Big Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.

Kravets, David. “Court OKs Taking DNA From Felony Arrestees.” WIRED. N.p., 23 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

“Liberty, Privacy, and DNA Databases.” The New Atlantis. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

McQuillan, Geraldine M., Qiyuan Pan, and Kathryn S. Porter. “Consent for Genetic Research in a General Population: An Update on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Experience.” Genetics in Medicine 8.6 (2006): 354–360. http://www.nature.com. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

Saporito, Bill. “The Conspiracy To End Cancer.” Time. healthland.time.com. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

“The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA): A Discussion Guide for Clinicians.” National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics. N.p., 2014. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

“TIME Magazine — U.S. Edition — January 11, 1999 Vol. 153 No. 1.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

“TIME Magazine — U.S. Edition — January 17, 1994 Vol. 143 No. 3.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

“What Is the DNA Database?” webpage. N.p., 19 Apr. 2010. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

Wojcicki, Anne. “Know Your Genome: What We Can All Gain from Personal Genetics.” The Guardian 13 Mar. 2013. The Guardian. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.

You Shall Not Pass Through the #GamerGate, Woman

Getting together with your friends and playing Super Mario on your beloved Nintendo 64 gaming console used to be nothing more than an innocent childhood activity, and although it may have been considered “geeky” or “nerdy,” it was fun and harmless nonetheless. However, this all changed when a recent controversy swept through the gaming community, a controversy that has altered the way society views gamers permanently. Instead of just being geeky, gamers are now considered sexist. Instead of just being introverted, gamers are now considered violent. And instead of just being able to enjoy an afternoon defeating King Bowser and rescuing Princess Peach, gamers are now misogynistic males that relish the sexualized and demeaning image of their “damsel in distress.” Of course, not all gamers are like this, contrary to public opinion, and many others are female as well, but due to what happened on the Internet in August of 2014, the world’s image of the innocent boy or girl playing videogames is forever lost. This controversy is now known as #GamerGate.

The scandal started when the ex-boyfriend of indie game developer, Zoe Quinn, publicly accused her of having an intimate relationship with a video game journalist from the news site Kotaku in order to receive positive reviews on a game she had just recently developed (Young, “The Gender Games: Sex, Lies, and Videogames”). This then led to a significant outburst of public harassment, hate, and sexism towards Quinn and her supporters, which eventually intensified into death threats and doxxing in a viral, internet conflict on Twitter dubbed #GamerGate, an allusion to the political Watergate scandal of the 1970’s (Seitz, “What Is GamerGate? Here’s An Explainer For All The Confused Non-Nerds Out There”).

The #GamerGate controversy goes viral on Twitter in an explosive way

The #GamerGate controversy goes viral on Twitter in an explosive way

However, apart from the unacceptable treatment Quinn was subjected to, the #GamerGate controversy, more importantly, brought to light many of the gender issues portrayed in videogames themselves, such as the recurring “damsel in distress” tropes, the highly sexualized imagery and depiction of women, and other more offensive female roles meant to meet male fantasies (Young, “The Gender Games: Sex, Lies, and Videogames”). In fact, an active feminist, Anita Sarkeesian, who has frequently spoken out about these issues in her YouTube video series, “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” also received many of the same threats that have been used to harass Quinn and her supporters.

Anita Sarkeesian's Youtube Video Series, "Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games"

Anita Sarkeesian’s YouTube video series, “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games”

At this point, the gaming community was in flames. Between the individual gamers who were participating in Quinn and Sarkeesian’s harassment and the innocent ones who were receiving as much blame and criticism as their guilty counterparts, gamers everywhere were unsure of how to feel about the unnecessary backlash they were now receiving. (Young, “The Gender Games: Sex, Lies, and Videogames”). Today, the #GamerGate controversy has essentially blown over, but the implications of what this scandal represents is still very much relevant and important to what is left of the gaming community, especially as society picks up the remaining pieces of “geek culture” and decides how to move forward into the future.

Some of the biggest problems that #GamerGate has brought to the public’s attention are the media ethics issues in gaming journalism (Seitz, “What Is GamerGate? Here’s An Explainer For All The Confused Non-Nerds Out There”). Setting aside the triviality often associated with all things gaming, the legal issues in this area are highly concerning. According to Erik Kain of Forbes magazine, “the press should be covering the industry to protect the consumer,” yet it seems as if the gaming journalists are increasingly and excessively close to the developers they should be objectively reporting on; this leads to ethical questions on the validity of gaming journalism and the poor business practices this industry has utilized in the past (Kain, “GamerGate: A Closer Look At The Controversy Sweeping Video Games”). On the other hand, the most important issue to be addressed in #GamerGate’s wake are the unsettling social perspectives of those in the gaming community. As of August 2014, gamers are characterized by rampant misogyny and ignorance: people just don’t realize how demeaning some of their actions – and even viewpoints – are. If a female game developer is accused of scandal, she is forced to endure intense public harassment, even if she never committed the crime. If a female gamer asks for less sexualized videogame content, she becomes a threat to male geek culture, even if she would just prefer more clothing on her online avatar. And if a feminist speaks out about these issues, she apparently deserves to die, even if she was merely giving her opinion on a particularly inflammatory topic. These alarming sentiments are perfectly represented in Stephen Colbert’s report on #GamerGate below, his biting sarcasm a welcome reminder to how ridiculous this dispute has become (Seitz, “What Is GamerGate? Here’s An Explainer For All The Confused Non-Nerds Out There”).

Stephen Colbert’s Report on the #GamerGate Controversy

On the contrary, the underlying concerns are not about the ethics surrounding gaming or even gaming journalism, but rather about the misogyny harbored by many men, gamers or not. Indeed, as Anita Sarkeesian describes to Colbert in the following video, #GamerGate is just a “way to reframe the fact that this is actually attacks on women… not about ethics in game journalism” but a method of “terrorizing women for being involved in this industry” (Seitz, “What Is GamerGate? Here’s An Explainer For All The Confused Non-Nerds Out There”). In other words, it isn’t just gamers who practice and support these sexist ideals, but rather all men in general who are attempting to use this controversy as an excuse to exercise their self-imposed, male-dominated space. Unfortunately, the question of whether this is an issue that can be solved relatively soon is still up in the air.

Anita Sarkeesian’s Response to Colbert Regarding #GamerGate

Due to the nature of the matter and the fact that #GamerGate developed into an internet conflict as a result of public misogyny and harassment from the gaming community, solutions to such a controversy are extremely complex. No one action or change can occur to prevent so many people from acting the same way in the future, especially as the sexism observed during #GamerGate seems to be intensely ingrained within the perspectives of a significant portion of not only the gamer population but the general male population as well. With that said, greater awareness and better education on these issues should be provided to the public to combat the ignorance and misogyny of the individuals who participated in harassing Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and their supporters. However, merely “teaching” these so-called “misogynerds” about gender equality will only scratch the surface of issues seen from #GamerGate (Kain, “GamerGate: A Closer Look At The Controversy Sweeping Video Games”). Instead, the large gaming industries like Valve, EA, Rockstar and more should play a greater role in supporting female participation in game development and journalism. Rather than allowing these types of conflicts to get out of hand, the very companies that created this generation of gamers should take a greater responsibility to reprimand and prevent the continued endorsement of misogynistic perspectives. Thus, by forcing the geeks to see geek culture as gender equal, as shown to them by the very entities that provide them geek culture, small steps will be taken to ensure that Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian will be among the last of female gamers who will need to pass through the ridiculously sexist #GamerGate to merely have their voice heard.

Works Cited:

“[Image – 823968] | GamerGate.” Know Your Meme. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.

Kain, Erik. “GamerGate: A Closer Look At The Controversy Sweeping Video Games.” Forbes. N.p., 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Sarkeesian, Anita. “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” Kickstarter. N.p., 17 May 2012. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.

Seitz, Dan. “Stephen Colbert Took On #GamerGate In Glorious Fashion.” UPROXX. N.p., 30 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Seitz, Dan. “What Is GamerGate? Here’s An Explainer For All The Confused Non-Nerds Out There.” UPROXX. N.p., 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Young, Cathy. “The Gender Games: Sex, Lies, and Videogames | RealClearPolitics.” N.p., 9 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Genetics: A Double Edged Sword

More than a decade ago, the scientific community completed what was once deemed an impossible task: researchers from around the world finally decoded the entire sequence of the human genome. With this accomplishment, the “cost of sequencing dropped dramatically – from $3 billion for the first human genome to [just] a few thousand dollars today” (Wojcicki, “Know Your Genome: What We Can All Gain from Personal Genetics”). Although the plummeting numbers on these DNA price tags may not mean much to the general public, the implications of this breakthrough are life-changing. Indeed, the most recent advances in genetic research have just made it possible to answer the question “who are you?” in the most definitive way possible – a person’s past, present, and even future all available at our fingertips. Furthermore, with this data, leaps and bounds can be made to cure disease, eliminate crime, and even pave the way for improvements in the way we live, the likes of which the world has only ever seen in science fiction. But what does this all mean for the concept of identity? Can the genetic information that is extracted and analyzed really define who someone is as a person? Not as a biological being, but as an individual? This very dilemma is one of the most debated issues of the 21st century, and as the world moves ever further into the future, this question will no doubt become more and more prevalent. Thus, it is vitally important to understand how and why the use of genetic information can be both a blessing and a curse, and more importantly, what society should do when confronted with such deeply ethical matters.

One of the first steps to protecting individuals from genetic information  abuse

One of the first steps to protecting individuals from genetic information abuse

“With great power comes great responsibility.” Even though Uncle Ben may not have intended for his famous line to become the principle behind genetic research, it definitely reflects many of the ethical concerns regarding this new technology. DNA databases, government genomic records, and public access registries to sensitive genetic information are all growing in number in an effort to crack down on criminals and develop new treatments for disease. However, what may be just as terrifying as a bloodthirsty serial killer or a growing tumor, is the fact that authorities can abuse the power of “DNA to accumulate information on people’s racial origins, medical history, and [even] psychological profile” (Lawless, “Spread of DNA Databases Sparks Ethical Concerns”). With this kind of data, what’s stopping the public from discriminating against each other on the basis of genetics? What’s preventing health insurance organizations from withdrawing their services due to an unfortunate medical history? And most of all, what’s prohibiting society from defining who and how someone should be through inferences made through their genetic identity? These fears have become so great and so pertinent that laws have already been passed in an attempt to address foreseeable, future issues. According to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 or GINA, “it is illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information” (“Genetic Information Discrimination”). Nevertheless, this doesn’t solve everything. No matter how many steps are taken to mitigate these controversies, they very much still exist, and will continue to further down the road. In the end, as troubling as any type of privacy breach may sound, the truth of the matter remains the following: the ethical concerns surrounding the use of genetic information is only one side of a double edged sword. The real question is, which edge is sharper?

Although the privacy concerns associated with genetics are no doubt problematic, few can deny the revolutionary benefits that come about from this new technology. Not only does the use of DNA allow for a more effective means of apprehending criminals, but more importantly, it also clears the name of many innocent suspects, suspects who would have been punished irreversibly for crimes they never committed (Lawless, “Spread of DNA Databases Sparks Ethical Concerns”). In fact, since the advent of DNA testing in criminal investigations, “there have been 321 post-conviction DNA exonerations in [just] the United States,” as shown below, and this growing number only scratches the surface of how much forensics practice has aided Interpol internationally” (Massie, “DNA Exonerations Nationwide”).

As the use of DNA increases, so do the number of innocent exonerations in court

As the use of DNA increases, so do the number of innocent exonerations in court

However, as impressive as these accomplishments may be, where genetics research has made the most impact is in today’s medical field. Hundreds upon thousands of people in society have depended on genetic information to screen and diagnose for diseases in their imminent future, and many more are seeking cures to current disorders through gene therapy as well. Among those who can and are currently benefitting from genetics are individuals living with cystic fibrosis, breast cancer, Parkinson’s, diabetes, and even heart disease, but there’s more. By evaluating how patients react to certain drugs, genetic research can “help them prevent harmful side effects…and [even] potentially avoid preventable deaths” (Wojcicki, “Know Your Genome: What We Can All Gain from Personal Genetics”). In the end, there are hardly any other alternatives that can offer as much to the world as genetics do, but will the advantages truly outweigh the disadvantages? Does knowing that the cure for cancer may be waiting to be discovered in the human genome make up for the threats to privacy and personal security? According to some of the world’s most renowned media sources, it seems genetics may just be the more popular choice. But should it be?

Popular magazine covers depicting the medical potential of genetics research

Popular magazine covers depicting the medical potential of genetics research

In order to assess general knowledge regarding genetics research, an online survey accompanying a short informational passage will be distributed to a selection of students that attend Harvard University. Data collection at Harvard is advantageous both because of ease of access as well as the assumption that the general populace at a university of higher learning is more aware of such controversial issues. Surveys will include questions regarding student opinions on whether genetics should be actively pursued and whether there should be greater limits prevent the abuse of genetic information, etc. Ultimately, this information will be analyzed to formulate an estimation of where the future of genetics may lie, and hopefully provide an accurate representation of public knowledge and opinion.

 

Works Cited:

Alana Massie. “DNA Exonerations Nationwide.” Innocence Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.

Catherine Doss. “College of Science Magazine Explores Genetic Medicine, Cancer Therapies.” VirginiaTech: Virginia Tech News. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.

“DNA Exoneree Case Profiles.” Innocence Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.

“Genetic Information Discrimination.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.

“GINA: Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.” Web.

“Is This How We’ll Cure Cancer?” Forbes. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

Jill Lawless. “Spread of DNA Databases Sparks Ethical Concerns.” The Big Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.

Saporito, Bill. “The Conspiracy To End Cancer.” Time. healthland.time.com. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

“TIME Magazine — U.S. Edition — January 11, 1999 Vol. 153 No. 1.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

“TIME Magazine — U.S. Edition — January 17, 1994 Vol. 143 No. 3.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

Wojcicki, Anne. “Know Your Genome: What We Can All Gain from Personal Genetics.” The Guardian 13 Mar. 2013. The Guardian. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.

The Hypocritical State of Race on the Internet: Reading Summary and Discussion Questions

Whether the Internet should be treated as a raceless domain is still a question that is intensely debated today. Many individuals speak of the Internet as a place without judgment, a territory without stereotypes, and a safe haven without discrimination; however, the online behaviors of the people who are proposing these claims are entirely hypocritical. On one hand, social networking participants of the same race “object to the notion that they can be reduced to shared… racial or ethnic characteristics,” calling attention to the “diversity of personalities, appearances, and interests” within their group instead (Byrne 18). On the other hand, other participants actually “play active roles in reinforcing some of” the ideas behind a racially divided internet, as they often demonstrate – and demand of their fellow group members – very definitive characteristics of being “Asian, black, or Latino,” including familiarity of the group’s history, ability to speak the language, or even acceptance of their distinct beliefs (Byrne 30). This conflict has only created a façade of openness to other ethnicities while merely increasing the exclusivity of certain internet populations. How then should we actually view the web? Should there be limits to prevent the perpetuation of racial stereotypes on the Internet? And if so, why is it that the vast majority of internet users find it so easy and so natural to continue doing just that? It is in these cases that one realizes that “the dissolution of racial identification in cyberspace is neither possible nor desirable” – rather, this may just be how humans beings are (Byrne 15). Or is it?

To be instantly stereotyped, and then subsequently discriminated against is never a pleasant experience; it is even less so when the mere color of one’s skin turns what could have been an insightful and otherwise enjoyable interaction into one full of hurt feelings. However, the harder one tries to avoid the racial labeling that still persists in the 21st century, the more it seems to show up. Even Google, what many would consider as one of the most reliable and objective search engines, has played its role in perpetuating racial stereotypes, as seen below (Jones, “Google: A Stereotype”).

Google's search bar unintentionally generating racist or stereotpical assumptions

Google’s search bar unintentionally generating racist or stereotpical assumptions

Fortunately, with the advent of social networking and an increase in the number of active internet users speaking out against this issue, more and more people are questioning the “connection between country and culture or skin color, personality, and intelligence” (Byrne 18). Instead of poking fun at the idea that all Asians are nerds, the Internet now increasingly denounces such assumptions. Instead of laughing at the notion that all Latinos are illegal immigrants, the Internet now increasingly rejects such beliefs. And instead of accepting the stereotype that all Blacks are uneducated, the Internet now increasingly criticizes such ignorance. Indeed, it has become almost commonplace for outspoken individuals to point out both the “richness of… racial identification but also its potential inadequateness” (Byrne 18). A striking post by labellalatina1001 on the site, MiGente, perfectly reflects this sentiment:

“It seems every other day I get that annoying question: ‘What are you?’ Well, human of course. My nationality? Well, American, born and raised. ‘No, I mean, really, what are you?’ What question is really being asked here?” (Byrne 30).

The Internet is slowly combating the racial stereotypes that have been ingrained within society, gradually breaking down the restrictions that the Internet has previously used to wrongly identify and separate different ethnic groups. Indeed, by understanding how the small half-truths from various cultures have grown into the far-fetched identities that are used to label individuals on the basis of skin color, one can eventually learn to be more open-minded. Thus, with the hope of a more tolerant future, perhaps the Internet will finally be able to see past the superficial characteristics that come with the concept of race to instead acknowledge the value of the individual inside.

Although there has been a continuous move against racial stereotyping, it seems that a large majority of the same Internet participants are also promoting the opposite, choosing instead to congregate in groups of the same race and attempting to discourage “outside” influence. These communities have developed into large race-based sites online, the most prominent including AsianAvenue, BlackPlanet, and MiGente (Zhao, “Ethnic Social Networking Sites”). But why? Why do people so consistently require these types of groups to socialize in? How do members of these sites reconcile their resentment towards racial stereotyping with their racial exclusivity? More importantly, what makes them so quick to dismiss others with the very stereotypes they just preached against?

MiGenteCropped

BlackPlanet

AsianAveCropped

Some of the largest race-based social networking sites online

For better or for worse, this type of behavior is actually not altogether surprising. People tend to congregate with those they feel the most comfortable out of a shared sense of understanding, yet what makes this problematic is that while doing so, these individuals are also labeling others in order to either accept them or reject them. Indeed, “our minds are hard-wired to categorize information and create mental shortcuts” (Jacobs, “How Stereotypes Take Shape”). This biological process that we as humans depend on, is what eventually causes “nuances and complications…to be discarded,” leading to “shorthand thinking” that unknowingly “label[s] all, or most, members of a particular ethnic group” (Jacobs, “How Stereotypes Take Shape”). As David Brooks of the Atlantic so aptly put it, “we all pay lip service to the melting pot, but we really prefer the congealing pot” (Brooks, “People like Us”).

Knowing that segregation is such a natural occurrence, it is difficult to blame just anyone for being ignorant. With that said, the question of whether or not it is okay to use race as an identifier remains a prevalent issue to be addressed. How then should racial stereotyping be treated on the web? Should something be done to either promote or limit the use of race as an identifier? And whichever direction one may support, why is that that “direction” is more correct over the other? The truth of the matter is, there may never be an adequate answer to satisfy everyone on this issue. So long as people understand what is happening and how they should appropriately act and react, then there may just be some progress towards a more cohesive Internet community.

 

Works Cited:

Brooks, David. “People like Us.” Atlantic Sept. 2003: 29-32. The Atlantic Monthly. Web. 3 Oct. 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/2003/09/brooks.htm&gt;.

Byrne, Dara N. The Future of “Race”: Identity, Discourse, and the Rise of Computer-mediated Public Spheres. Ed. Anna Everett. Cambridge, MA: MIT P., 2008. Print.

Fontaine, Smokey. “What Is BlackPlanet, Really?” The Urban Daily. Interactive One, 24 Nov. 2008. Web. 4 Oct. 2014. <http://theurbandaily.com/2008/11/24/what-is-blackplanet-really&gt;.

Jacobs, Tom. “How Stereotypes Take Shape.” Pacific Standard: The Science of Society: n. pag. Pacific Standard: The Science of Society. Web. 3 Oct. 2014. <http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/knowledge-process-information-scotland-stereotypes-take-shape-86697/&gt;.

Jones, Tiffany. “Google: A Stereotype.” WordPress.com. Automattic, 2 Dec. 2009. Web. 4 Oct. 2014. <http://mulattodiaries.com/tag/racial-stereotypes/&gt;.

Zhao, Qilan. “Ethnic Social Networking Sites.” Masters of Media: New Media and Digital Culture. N.p., 4 Nov. 2007. Web. 4 Oct. 2014. <http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/2007/11/04/the-surplus-of-ethnic-social-networking-sites/&gt;.

Life in an Increasingly Digital World

The bright colors on the screen danced before my eyes as if controlled by magic, the small cursor I struggled to control flitting from one character to another in the interactive video game I was playing. I was not more than six years old then, but I can still remember the first time I ever used a computer. My parents had just purchased the newest and most advanced system we could buy at the time, which honestly isn’t much by our standards today, but as I watched the pixels on the screen respond to the slight touch of my fingertips, I became more and more enamored by the wonderful technology that had just entered my life. Very soon it wasn’t just video games that captured my attention – it was the Internet. However, the Internet I was so excited to use when I was in grade school was nothing more than just the bare bones of what we take for granted in our modern society. Connecting to the Web back then was a tedious process, one that took more than just a few seconds. I still remember the horrible screeching sound our old, AOL dial-up service would emit as it fought its way onto the World Wide Web. And even when we were finally connected, the slow, idling internet service we paid for came at the price of our phone lines. Of course, it was all worth it in the end, even the fact that we were forced to use Internet Explorer. From looking up pictures for my elementary school projects to finding new video games to try out, everything about the Internet revolutionized how I saw the world. Since then, I have grown even more attached to computers and all of the online capabilities that these ever shrinking and ever more-portable devices can do, but I don’t see this attachment as a crutch. We live in the digital world of the 21st century, and I am happy to be a part of it all, from its humble beginnings to wherever it may take us.

Today, the Internet is more than just a place we can find pictures for school projects or video games to pass the time. It has become, for better or worse, the main avenue in which we can socialize with one another. I first started out depending on email to contact my friends, writing out the long messages online somehow more exciting than just calling them with a phone. However, before I knew it, even emailing became a thing of the past, at least for casual conversation. What took over was an enormous collection of different social media tools, ranging from AOL Instant Messenger or AIM to GoogleTalk or “gtalk.” I remember spending hours on my computer typing furiously into multiple, different chat-boxes, each one “pinging” away as my friends responded. It was also then that I used “emoticons” for the first time and learned how to shorthand basic, English words to make them even easier to spell out. By the time I had reached middle school, I was already hopelessly addicted to social media, but little did I know that just a few years later in high school, a small, start-up company would revamp how I would see the Internet once again. Facebook and all of its novel applications hit the ground running with everyone I knew. People who had never touched social media before were getting their own sites and for once in our time, even “adults” relented and jumped on the bandwagon. When I discovered that the majority of my own high school teachers had Facebooks of their own, I knew this new social media craze was here to stay – and it definitely has.

Just a few of the many instant messengers that were popular a few years ago

Just a few of the many instant messengers that were popular a few years ago

For many, the Internet has grown into more than just a fun addition to their lives – it has become their identity both out of convenience and ease. In fact, these individuals choose to place their personal information online so that access to various accounts, numbers, and addresses are constantly at their fingertips. For me, although I recognize the many benefits of doing the same, I personally am not willing to risk the security of my information for the ease of access; due to this reason, very little of my personal identity is stored online, especially because no one can ever be entirely sure who views or even owns the data on the Web. As such, out of fear of identity theft and potential invasions of privacy, two prevalent issues detailed by Michael Kranish of The Boston Globe, I keep a conscious handle on my use of the Internet (Kranish, “IRS is Overwhelmed by Identity Theft Fraud”).

The enormous number of identity theft cases every year is no trivial matter

The enormous number of identity theft cases every year is no trivial matter

But this doesn’t mean I resent what the Web can offer. Every year, technology takes countless steps forward into the future, and no matter how we as consumers decide to use what is available to us, the Internet, computers, and other digital devices will forever serve a prominent – and valuable – role in our lives.

Works Cited:

Kranish, Michael. “IRS is Overwhelmed by Identity Theft Fraud: Billions Wrongly Paid out as Scammers Find Agency an Easy Target.” Boston Globe [Boston, MA] 16 Feb. 2014: n. pag. Print.

Kumar, Ramesh. “Instant Messaging Software: Which One is the Best?” FindASoft. FindASoft, 28 Apr. 2013. Web. 12 Sept. 2014. <http://findasoft.com/instant-messaging-software-which-one-is-best/&gt;.

RetroHead92. AOL (Sign on – Dial Up). YouTube. YouTube, 18 July 2012. Web. 12 Sept. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1UY7eDRXrs&gt;.

Barlow, Jennifer, and Nancy Ozawa. “More than 12 Million Identity Fraud Victims in 2012 According to Latest Javelin Strategy and Research Report.” Javelin Strategy and Research: Strategic Insights into Customer Transactions. Greenwich Associates, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 12 Sept. 2014. <https://www.javelinstrategy.com/news/1387/58/More-Than-12-Million-Identity-Fraud-Victims-in-2012-According-to-Latest-Javelin-Strategy-Research-Report/d,pressRoomDetail&gt;.