23andMe was founded by Anne Wojcick and named for the 23 pairs of chromosomes that comprise the human DNA. She created the company because she believes people should have access to their biological data. The FDA disagrees and now her company is in a tussle with the government. The federal agency worries that, as yet, too much of DNA research is subject to guesswork and that false information could result. They also worry that some data shouldn’t be revealed without a doctor present – like discovering your DNA doesn’t align with your father’s or you have a marker for a debilitating disease. (“Code Breaker,” by Dr. Peter B. Bach, TownandCountry, March 2015, pgs. 124-126, 200.)
In her defense, Wojcicki points out that the public has access to much of their medical information, already. Not only are their health records available, but wearable technology makes it possible for them to monitor their heart rate, their sleep habits, the number of steps they take in a day and the amount of calories they consume. Wojcicki feels it’s too late to put the genii back in the bottle. The public will find ways to obtain personal information without the FDA’s blessing. (Ibid pg. 124)
I’m sure Wojcicki is right about the public. They will find a way to circumvent government intervention. Even so, I doubt it will provide significant insight into human behavior. Take, for example, an article that appears a few pages later in the magazine. There, editors attempt to describe the differences in style among American, Italian and French women. Are the differences real, and if so, are they the result of DNA or culture? (Town&Country, March 2015, pgs. 163-167.)
The writers don’t answer the DNA question, but they are confident the differences exist. American women, for example, are noted for “high-low’ dressing. They garb themselves in cashmere and silk, but the image is casual, as if they might be going out to mow the lawn. Italian women, on the other hand, go for the sensual and seductive, dressing to emphasize that beneath their layers of clothing, they are both nude and tanned. (Ibid, pg 167) French women, too, like telegraphing their sensuality, but they are seldom revealing, preferring to be fashionable. French women, according to these experts, are aloof. They would never, ever reveal beauty secrets, the addresses of favorite shops and would never be caught dead in rubber flip-flops. (Ibid pg. 164).
At first, these generalizations seem to be created with too broad a brush stroke. But take a step back and the canvas rings true. Is it DNA or culture that gives them their commonality? In the case of French woman, I suspect it’s DNA. Rich or poor, I’ve seen these women strolling the streets of Paris or working in shops. Whatever their station in life, they exude an air of superiority that can bring a man to his knees. I think of them as cats. They move with confidence even if the fur coat on their backs is old and the only one they own.