Overselling genomics award #7: Ron Davis & Forbes for PR presented as "essay"

Wow.  Just saw this tweet by Dan Vorhaus:

So I decided to check it out. The piece is titled It’s Time to Bet on Genomics and it is, well, just completely in appropriate.  Sure – it does take on an article that itself was over the top in downplaying the power of genomics (see Erika Check Hayden’s article about that issue here).  But then Davis goes on to write about a company founded by an ex post doc of his for which Davis is one of the advisors (he does kindly let us know this, but still …).  And what he writes he is a big big pile of fluff with no evidence presented.  Among the lines in the “essay” I find disturbing:

  • One of the most interesting of these is being developed by Genophen
  • Genophen’s application is rather breathtaking in its ambition.
  • Genophen’s “risk engine”—a simple term for some very complex data mining and computer modeling—will map your risk factors against the world’s vast library of medical research and then offer up a personalized set of behavior and treatment recommendations that can help you reduce those risks . . .  and even prevent disease itself.
  • We are now at the point where genomics-enabled medical technology can run various what-if scenarios and show you whether diet, exercise, medication, or some other factor or combination of factors has the greatest statistical likelihood of reducing that risk. The information can then be visually displayed through charts and graphs and made available to patients and their doctors via secure web-based portals.
  • But instinctively I believe it to be true, and anecdotally Genophen’s first trial provided some confirmation.
  • “The trial changed my life,” one female participant who wishes to remain anonymous told me.

All of this without any link to a paper, without any data, without any real details.  Shameful.  Not saying genomic medicine does not have a lot of promise.  But this “essay” is so excessively focused on PR for one company that there is no reason to have any faith in anything said in it.  I am therefore giving Ron Davis and Forbes my coveted Overselling Genomics Award (#7).  Plus I think Forbes deserves some sort of award for “Publishing PR” but I will have to think one of those up.  This piece almost certainly never should have been published at Forbes.Com without many many more caveats.  Yuck.

UPDATE – here is a screenshot from the Forbes Web site.  It is marked as “Forbes Leadership Forum” … hard to tell whether it is meant as an essay, editorial, op-ed, or what.

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

4 thoughts on “Overselling genomics award #7: Ron Davis & Forbes for PR presented as "essay"”

  1. Hi Jonathan,

    I've been following you through Twitter for about 6 months now, as I appreciate your perspective on the future of genomics.

    I believe you'll see more overselling, as companies in this evolving space have to make bolder claims to get funded.


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