The Consortium conducts original research, serves students and faculty, and advances public dialogue and understanding on emerging issues at the intersection of science and society.
A report from the NBC affiliate in Boston sheds light on an aspect of mail-in DNA kits that may surprise some users: when you sign the paperwork to obtain the results, you're often granting a "perpetual, royalty-free, world-wide, transferable license" for the data. The company in this example is Ancestry, but in an interview Glenn Cohen of Harvard Law School's Petrie-Flom Center noted "that kind of language is probably buried into the informed consent or the forms you sign almost every time you've donated blood or had a blood test." In a statement, Ancestry said they will "not share DNA data with third party marketers, employers or insurance companies," and they allow users to delete their DNA results and/or ask the company destroy the sample from which the results were derived. They also store your DNA without your name. However, these policies are not included in the contract users of Ancestry DNA are required to sign. Consumer protection attorney Joel Winston is quoted in Slate saying “Even if you’ve never used Ancestry.com, but one of your genetic relatives has, the company may already own identifiable portions of your DNA.” Issues related to shared family genomics and privacy have been explored by Consortium Chair Susan M. Wolf and her co-investigators, resulting in a major symposium on the subject.
The latest revision to the Common Rule released in January exempted studies using "benign behavioral interventions" – such as those typically used by social scientists – from the level of oversight required for medical research with human participants. This news was welcomed by some who have long chafed against what they see as excessive scrutiny of their studies. In an article about the changes, the New York Times reports about an op ed published in the Chronicle of Higher Education; in it, co-authors Richard A. Shweder, an anthropologist, and Richard E. Nisbett, a psychologist, celebrate the easing of oversight, noting "Socrates himself would probably roll over in his grave if he knew about the hoops his academic heirs in the humanities, law, and the social sciences have been jumping through." However, famous studies like the Milgram and Stanford prison experiments demonstrate the extremes to which social science research can go. Tracy Arwood, assistant vice president for research compliance at Clemson University, notes: "Researchers tend to underestimate the risk of activities that they are very comfortable with," particularly when conducting experiments and publishing the results is critical to the advancement of their careers. Read the entire New York Times article here.
More than 60 Minnesota children, mostly from the state's large Somali-American community, are infected with measles. The outbreak is a direct result of efforts by anti-vaccine activists such as Andrew Wakefield, the discredited researcher behind the film Vaxxed, who has visited Minneapolis and met with Somali parents. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the rate of measles immunization among Somali-American children has plummeted from rates as high as 92% in 2004 to just 42% today. Alarms were sounded in 2008, when it was reported that a disproportionate number of Somali-American children were participating in a preschool program for those diagnosed with autism. Some members of the Somali-American community have been alarmed by claims that autism can result from the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, concerns shared by a significant portion of the general public despite efforts by public health workers to combat that perception. An article in Snopes details how one discredited anti-vaccine study was recently published, then unpublished, by two academic journals, digging into the "suspect statistics and devil-may-care attitude toward methodological design" in the paper. Meanwhile, Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American legislator in the US, is working with the Minnesota Department of Health to encourage vaccination and rebut myths about autism, an effort that is showing results.
Gestational surrogacy has been available in the US since at least 1976, and over the past 40 years an increasing number of people have sought women willing to carry a baby to term for them. According to an article in The Economist, "Though the number of children born globally each year through surrogacy is unknown, at least 2,200 were born in America in 2014, more than twice as many as in 2007" – despite calls by feminists and religious leaders to regulate or ban the practice outright because they consider it exploitative. Among the reasons is the lack of clear regulations across state and national lines, which allows those who want to hire a surrogate to move their search to different countries when they confront obstacles; the article notes, "rather than ending the trade, tighter rules are simply moving it elsewhere." Read the entire piece here.