Friday, July 26, 2019

RadioLab on embryo selection in IVF

I'm in this RadioLab podcast covering genetic selection of embryos in IVF. Apologies to SSGAC, Robert Plomin, Ian Deary, James Lee, Tom Bouchard, and countless other dedicated scientists for the impression given that progress in genomics of cognitive ability is largely my work. See last paragraph below.

This is the email I sent to RadioLab this morning:
Hi Pat and Michelle,

Congratulations on a high quality podcast. I thought you were admirably fair and balanced. I also thought the production (esp. the music) was excellent.

My main comment is that the juxtaposition between my remarks and Benjamin's is misleading: when he says 60-40 or 55% chance of rank ordering properly, that is a very different question than identifying an outlier who is, say, among the 1% highest in risk. We are not trying to rank order embryos, but to warn against unusual risk of a medical condition.

To use the SAT analogy, given two kids with scores 1250 and 1200, only some of the time does the 1250 kid end up with a higher GPA. (You can't predict rank order very well.) But if the engineering dean admits an SAT 770 kid (i.e., a negative outlier compared to the average score of, say, 1300 among engineers) in his freshman class, he knows the likelihood is high that the kid will struggle. Benjamin is talking about the first scenario, and I am talking about the second.

Finally, I realize that to hook listeners you had to make me the focus of the episode. But I want to make clear that many scientists contribute to this work, which I feel will ultimately be beneficial to our species and civilization. I am just a small part of a worldwide research endeavor.

Best wishes,
For more on recent progress in genomic prediction, see The Diffusion of Knowledge.

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