Troubled by Heterogeneity?

Questions for public health, heritability studies, and personal genomics

Peter J. Taylor, University of Massachusetts Boston, , and Fulbright fellow, CES, U. Coimbra.
Lecture at IBMC, Porto, 9 Nov. 2012

Biomedical researchers could be more troubled by variation, particularity, or, more generally, heterogeneity. From the perspective of sociology of science, my broad contention is that research and its application are untroubled by heterogeneity to the extent that populations are well controlled. Such control can be established and maintained, however, only with considerable effort or social infrastructure, which invites more attention to possibilities for participation instead of control of human subjects. These theses are illustrated in a set of short cases, which address fluoridation in the USA, prophylactic low-dose aspirin, genomics as a biomedical revolution, PKU, "missing heritability," gene-environment interaction in behavior, and personalized medicine.

Visual aids IBMC12.pdf
Audio (alas, it appears that the recording is lost -- please review the visual aids, but stay tuned for email about a substitute reading)


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Elbow, P. 1981. Writing with Power. New York: Oxford University Press.
Massoglia, M. P. (2003). Genomics and ‘The Promise of Tomorrow.’ Visions (Wake Forest University School of Medicine) Winter/Spring (Source of Venter 2003 quote)
Paul, D. (1998). The history of newborn phenylketonuria screening in the U.S. Promoting Safe and Effective Genetic Testing in the United States. N. A. Holtzman and M. S. Watson. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press), 137-160.
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Taylor, P. J. (2009). "Infrastructure and Scaffolding: Interpretation and Change of Research Involving Human Genetic Information." Science as Culture 18(4): 435-459.
Taylor, P. J. (2010). "Three puzzles and eight gaps: What heritability studies and critical commentaries have not paid enough attention to." Biology & Philosophy 25(1): 1-31.
Zuka, O., E. Hechtera, et al. (2012). "The mystery of missing heritability: Genetic interactions create phantom heritability." PNAS 109(4): 1193–1198.

Supplementary sources (for lunchtime & other conversations)

Taylor, P. J. and J. Szteiter (2012). Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement. Arlington, MA, The Pumping Station. (available as paperback through regular online outlets, and also as pdf through
Biology in Society: Critical Thinking course,