Genetic Modification Justification?

When looking back over trends of the past, the media tends (in my opinion) to either ignore or drastically discount the role it plays in shaping cultural opinion and outlook. As an example, see this page at the BBC.

On the chance that it changes, the large headline for the page's article is:

Baby Size Linked to Cancer Risk

Larger babies have higher risk of developing certain cancers in adulthood, research suggests.

While, to the right we see the "SEE ALSO" section that points readers to articles with the following titles:

Thin babies 'face diabetes risk

Tiny babies go on to flunk exams

Both small and large children appear to have a number of hurdles ahead of them. How big are the risks?

The researchers found that each increase in birth weight of 450g was associated with a 17% increase in lympathic cancers, and a 13% increase in digestive cancers, including stomach, colorectal and pancreatic cancer.

Of course, what they fail to relate is that this is, most likely, a percentage increase in a child's Relative Risk Ratio. As such, it must be remembered that this increase is in a likelihood for contracting certain cancers as compared to the likelihood in a group of average sized babies. That is to say, a normal child isn't free from the risk while a larger child now appears to be closing in on 50/50 chances for cancer. This reports a percentage increase over an original value (say, from .1%, or 1 in 1000 originally to .117%, or 1.17 in 1000).

Beyond the glossy reporting meant, I'm sure, to "make people aware of the risks", this is the kind of thing that could send parents towards the "yes" column when considering genetic engineering of children. I mean to take no public position on this; rather, I just want to point out that since people aren't that hot at comprehending the extremes of values or percentages and thus tend to inflate or discount the information when evaluating, reporting such as this will only contribue to a fearful population looking to confront such issues with means that could be too aggressive for the problem.


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This page contains a single entry by published on February 7, 2005 2:30 PM.

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