This post provides a reminder of the importance of healthy scepticism in a world where technologies and companies are founded on little more than hype. The revelation that scientists have been making the same predictions about the potential for predictive medicine for the last 100 years is particularly sobering.
I believe, however, that hype has a place and is probably necessary - in tech and biotech.
The promise of huge outsized rewards for present risk has enabled companies to be funded, new technologies to be commercialised and, ultimately, technological progress. While the promise of technologies like CRISPR Cas9 may not be realised in full, these technologies (and countless others) have, to a certain extent, been made possible by hype.
Recently, I read an article promising that medical genetics will soon deliver ‘a world in which doctors come to their patients and tell them what diseases they are about to have’. Treatments can begin ‘before the patient feels even the first symptoms!’ So promises ‘precision medicine’, which aims to make medicine predictive and personalized through detailed knowledge of the patient’s genome. The thing is, the article is from 1940. It’s a yellowed scrap of newsprint in the Alan Mason Chesney Archives at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore... In 1940, genes were made of protein, not DNA. Textbooks stated that we have 48 chromosomes (we have 46). Looking back, we knew almost exactly nothing about the genetic mechanisms of human disease.