David Cox on Dangers of Genomic Research
  David Cox     Biography    
Recorded: 02 Jun 2003

I think that there’s a number of them. One of the biggest dangers that can come from genomic research is people making up theoretical dangers that aren’t real dangers. And that falls into my category of Chicken Little the sky is falling when the sky is not really falling. People love those kinds of dangers because that they sort of scare you like a horror movie does. But it’s a real danger because it blocks the utility of technology from improving human life. So I have very little tolerance with the people that are professional doomsayers and come up with theoretical dangers that aren’t practical. So that’s the first type of danger.

The second type of danger is from the scientists themselves that stand up and over promise. And what they do is that they oversimplify the situation. They say we have the genes and now we’re basically going to apply them to medicine and cure disease. Without a clear pathway of the timeline or of what the difficulties are for doing that. So that is equally as much of a danger as the people that are talking about how the sky is falling. Both of those are really bad news.

The third danger though is us not talking to the community as a whole about what the applications of DNA should be. So that it’s often talked about well we have to protect the public. The public isn’t babies. They are you and me. And we don’t need paternalism to figure out which kind of information we want to use. What we need is communication and people talking back and forth to one and another. So in aggregate we decide the problems and the question we want to work on. So that I think that not respecting people is a real problem. So right now we have informed consent in this country. But signing a piece of paper is not the same as respecting people’s desires on things. So I think that from—the issue of not being in communication with “the public” is that what we need to do is understand the principles that we’re trying to do. The ethical principles that we’re trying to respect and not just the pieces of paper and the regulations that we have to fill out. So that the—not being in communication with the public and understanding the major ethical principles, that’s the third risk. Now you notice these are conceptual risks that I’ve talked to you about. They’re whole categories. They’re not risks about bad stuff that’s going to happen to people. There is bad stuff that can happen if you basically get fired from your job because you’re discriminated against by genetic information. If you can’t get health insurance because you find out that one of your family members has a disease. But I must tell you if we try and solve those problems one at a time at that lower level without a higher level framework of the dangers we’re not going to solve them. And I think that that higher level of framework is-of those three points that I tried to make aren’t paid enough attention to.

David Cox received B.A. and M.S. degrees from Brown University and M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington. From 1980 to 1993, Dr. Cox held faculty positions in the Departments of Pediatrics, Biochemistry and Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. In 1993, he became Professor of Genetics and Pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine as well as the Co-director of the Stanford Genome Center.

Dr Cox was a co-founder of Perlegen, and has been Chief Scientific Officer of the Company since its formation in 2001. He has served on several international and national councils and commissions including the Council of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC). He presently serves as a member of the Health Sciences Policy Board of the Institute of Medicine. Dr Cox's honors include election to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cox was a member of one of the first groups to begin sequencing the human genome. His relationship with Watson developed from his interest in Cox’s innovative approach to sequencing, called radiation hybrid mapping.

He attended the 68th Cold Spring Harbor symposium to celebrate the completion of the rough draft of the human sequence.