Inside AJHG: A Chat with Kyle Brothers and John Lynch

Posted By: Sarah Ratzel, PhD, Science Editor, AJHG

Each month, the editors of The American Journal of Human Genetics interview an author(s) of a recently published paper. This month, we check in with Kyle Brothers and John Lynch to discuss their paper, “Analogies in Genomics Policymaking: Debates and Drawbacks”.

AJHG:  What caused you to start working on this project?

KB and JL:  For years we’ve noticed that the analogy between genomics and imaging has been a driving factor in policy discussions on disclosure of secondary findings. We started to wonder: What are we missing by focusing so much on imaging? That led us to start thinking about analogies and how they are used in policy debates more broadly.

AJHG:  What about this paper most excites you? 

KB and JL: This is our second paper taking lessons from the field of rhetoric and applying them to policies related to the ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) of genomics. The focus of this work is not so much on which policy options are the best ones, but on how we go about making arguments in those policy debates. Our goal is to help disentangle some of the counter-productive dynamics that are at play in these kinds of debates, and hopefully help everyone understand others’ perspectives with clarity and fairness. In other words, we don’t want to people to talk “past each other”. We think (and hope!) that will lead to more productive policy discussions, and ultimately to policies that folks feel comfortable with.

AJHG: Thinking about the bigger picture, what implications do you see from this work for the larger human genetics community?

KB and JL: We would love to see this work inspire others to look critically at the way we debate about policy related to genetics and genomics. There are still a huge number of critical policy issues that need to be addressed – from the way specific labs handle issues, all the way up to federal statutes. We think if the community took a little more time to think about how we debate about these issues, we could have discussions that are far more productive.

AJHG: What advice do you have for trainees/young scientists?

KB and JL: The ELSI community and the community of genetic and genomic scientists have had extraordinarily productive collaborations over the past two decades. But for the next generation, we’d love to see more young scientists who are “bilingual” when it comes to science and ELSI issues. So we’d encourage trainees and young scientists to seek out mentors with experience in the domains of ethics, law, science/health communication, or other social science disciplines. By adding an additional set of skills and knowledge to their quivers, we can engage in more productive discussions on policy related to genetics and genomics.

AJHG: And for fun, tell us something about your life outside of the lab.

KB and JL: This work grew out of a conference held in Cincinnati, Ohio. We started talking about these issues as a part of a panel presentation, and we realized our very different perspectives allowed us to see these issues in a way that no one was discussing at the time. We’ve now been working together for several years, primarily as a “passion project”.

Kyle Brothers, MD, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the University of Louisville in the Department of Pediatrics and is also affiliated with the Institute for Bioethics, Health Policy and Law.  John Lynch, Ph.D. is an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Communications at the University of Cincinnati.


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