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Prejudice and ignorance in the New Age

Kjetil Korslund's review of my book is a catalog of the worst prejudices and clichés against biomedicine, writes author Bjørn Vassnes.

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

COMMENT by Bjørn Vassness:

New Time is admittedly the newspaper to the most knowledgeable party in the Storting, but I still did not think it was possible to use state support for as much foolishness and dishonesty as the newspaper's employee Korslund performs in his article «The wonderful new world of biology». But the article is perhaps a good picture of the scientific phobia and antiquity that characterizes SV at the moment.

The article is a directory of the worst prejudices and clichés against biomedicine. The title is taken from Huxley, subtitles like "The Boys from Brazil", "Tabloid bioethics", "Disinformation to the public", "The gene for yours and the gene for dat" and "St.Darwin still popular", are actually illustrative of the level of knowledge and argumentation of the author.

Korslund writes much about the fact that the media mostly presents simplified and "misrepresented" "happy news" from biomedical research – but gives no examples, except one. And this is for safety's sake: he writes that "in the late 1960s, a possible link between the XYY chromosome and criminal behavior was widely reported around the world. This theory was falsified as early as the early 1970s, but not many people are aware of this.

First off is not XYY one chromosome, but a combination of three, and not least: two copies of the "male" chromosome Y. This is usually only one of the males, and the extra chromosome causes some problems. It is expected that en of a thousand men have this combination. What Korslund refers to is a 1965 article that indicated men with the XYY combination were overrepresented in the Scottish prison under study (seven out of 197 inmates, which is far more than one in a thousand). This has never been "falsified", as Korslund claims. However, what has been discussed is whether this over-representation is due to a higher level of aggression or other factors, such as lower intelligence (which XXY carriers often, but not always) have.

Korslund's only "witness to the truth" on how "uncritical" research journalism is, is otherwise a 1987 American book, in which the author "shows" that such journalism "is often uncritical". Again without giving examples. Otherwise, notice the use of the word "shows", as in the case of talk natural sciences research journalism is a sign of uncriticality!

Most of Korslund's "criticism" is directed at something no biologist or medical practitioner claims: that there should be one gene for everything: "the homo gene", "the obesity gene", "the breast cancer gene", etc. in Icelandic deCode he tells us something "new": "The problem is that most common diseases are multifactorial. A particular gene variant need not be more than one of many relevant factors behind a disease picture. " Something that everyone who works with medical genetics has realized decades ago, is freely used as proof of how foolish they are!

That one gene alone can not explain, for example, schizophrenia, does not mean that genetic research is useless, as Korslund seems to argue for. It is the same as saying that there is no point in learning anything about how the car engine works, because there can be so many things that go wrong anyway. Relationships between gene variants and diseases – also those that have a lifestyle as a co-cause – will be one of the most important tools for future medicine. Korslund believes that genetic testing for serious diseases will be "totally wasted", and thus reveals that he himself is the genetic determinant: "If you have the genes for a disease, there is still nothing to do." But it is precisely those who know that they are predisposed to a disease that benefit from this knowledge: There are few diseases for which it is not possible to reduce the risk. This is exactly what will be the medicine of the future: That you can more purposefully prevent and fight diseases, because you have knowledge of your own genetic predisposition. But the fact that he has no knowledge of any of the most important things in today's biomedicine does not prevent Korslund from condemning it.

Korslund ends with a strange tribute to the totalitarian philosopher Plato, whom he believes "holds the style", while the circulation rate of natural "truths" is ever faster. With this he shows that he has not understood how scientific knowledge-building takes place, as well as a naive belief in the "truths" of philosophy. The reason why Plato, with its elitist views on, among other things, slaves, women and the "berm" still "keeps the style", is that philosophy and the human sciences just do not have the mechanisms of self-criticism and renewal that natural science has. No naturalist claims that they manage the Truth, but the critical, collective knowledge accumulation that has characterized the natural sciences since Galilee has nevertheless provided us with much knowledge we can rely on. Even Korslund certainly takes flights occasionally. And he certainly won't refuse help from biomedicine the day he needs it.

That the article is unknowable is as far as expected from New Time. More unexpected is the dishonesty: Korslund tries to cast doubt on the thoroughness of my book by writing that "the book has neither a bibliography nor a register" – and "forgets" to mention that it has complete source references, which is probably the most important thing. A bibliography in a field where there are almost no books (this is the first in Norwegian and one of the first in the world) there is not much point in. At least not in a popular science book, and that is perhaps what Korslund means when when he writes it is "something vulgar" – again without giving a single example. It's so much easier to just spread characteristics.

Bjørn Vassnes, author of The Renewable Human stem cells and the quest for eternal life.

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