Another article demonstrating exactly how conditioned we have become to accept the philosophy of DNA determinism (and it is a philosophy, it is not a science, though it is supposedly based on science). The surprise and shock that is expressed at what should be a common sense and more than obvious conclusion (environmental factors are just as, or more important, then gene sequence in complex disease outcome) is astounding. I have written about this issue on occasion before and have linked a piece here, but the topic deserves a wider audience.
I think ultimately it goes back to the fact that people have an aversion (a fear even) of the complex, the hard to understand, the fuzzy, the unknown (with apologies to H.P. Lovecraft — the non virulent racist version, no apologies for the other one). Environmental factors role in any given disease process are, more often then not, all of those things. Meanwhile DNA sequence data is easy to obtain, well understood, crystal clear, and its role almost entirely or entirely known for many diseases, with more becoming known everyday about its role in others. In addition to its simplicity genetics has the great advantage of being fixed and unchangeable. I can’t change my DNA therefore anything that is the direct result of it is “not my fault.” DNA is rapidly becoming the most popular excuse the medical community and the everyday person has for laziness or simply refusing to change. Government and industry particularly love DNA because it gets them off the hook for all manner of potentially disease causing activities. Why worry about pollution or mercury or any other environmental toxin, pollutant, or food contaminant when it is really DNA that determines your health outcomes? The med/pharm/drug industry loves DNA determinism because it is eminently treatable with drugs or or other costly medical interventions while “treating” environmental factors is free for everyone or something the government will pay for (but not to them). The medical research community love DNA determinism because studies can be easily designed, data easily obtained or collected, and paper after paper published on the role of DNA in any given disease. After all who wants to have so sign up patients, put them in some exercise program they are not going to follow anyway, or try and make them alter their diet, for a study that is going to need to last ten years to collect a bunch of data that might be useless in the end, when I can hop on any number of freely available DNA sequence databases, download a shit ton of sequence data overnight, run it through my bioinformatics and stats packages, and publish a paper next week? I will take option 2 every time if I am a researcher (which I am) because I want to keep my job. Also, could the sentence prior to the last one have been any longer? Damn.
With everything DNA determinism has going for it, it’s no wonder it is rapidly becoming one of the most popular, uncritically accepted (non religious), philosophical positions the world has ever seen. In the developed western world that may already be the case, at least among the non technical/scientific public. A disturbingly large portion of the scientifically literate and highly educated fall in to this group as well. The easiest explanation is not the same as the simplest explanation, and neither are the same as the correct explanation. Sometimes, most times in fact, explanations are complex and difficult and fuzzy. Sucks, but such is the nature of life.