Thursday, May 10, 2018

All of Us. Huh?

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Environmental & Science Education
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

I don't have television but happened to be at a place that had a television on Sunday morning (May 6) when Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH was interviewed about a new big data initiative known as All of Us.

The place is noisy at this time of day (early morning) and I had a hard time hearing everything and couldn't get closer to the television screen which was suspended on the wall. 

Here is the "gist"and one reaction.

From one million volunteers (maybe a few more), all of whom will be self-selected, it is expected that there will be a fundamental change in medical care of a very large population. Our current population is in the neighborhood of 325 million.

I'm not a qualified/experienced experimental designer/researcher but had a huge doubt. It sounded like snake-oil to me. Way too good to be true. The big one for me was the sample: size and representativeness. Will it really represent all of us?  It can't! The cost is not pocket change: $1.4 billion.

I don't know a lot about genomics or genetics (enough to be dangerous) but do know that there will be huge differences in ages, lifestyles, urban-rural, male-female, ethnic diversity, environmental factors, etc. In any event such a study calls for some sort of stratification if the data are be analyzed so that interesting information can be teased from the data. Possible causality is quite another thing, a reach. I don't see how this design can provide this..

I don't need to remind you but read my comments with a grain of salt no matter my specchlessness.  This initiative is coming from a major and respected research institution with considerable expertise on experimental design or at least this is my impression.

See what you think after watching this slick video from NIH.

Hope or hype?

PS--I'm going to scout around before I send this to see whether a more informed geneticist than me can provide a more trustworthy analysis and comment.  I found one immediately and while I should completely revise this and have checked first, I'm too lazy. Besides why not let you read it in its wonderful entirety. It is informed and thoughtful. Thanks to Ken Weiss, Pennsylvania State University.

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