January 26, 2014

How happy are 23andMe customers?

In October last year, I joined several of my colleagues at the Sanger Institute to order a bunch of direct-to-consumer genetic testing kits from 23andMe. The reason for the batch order was the associated discount. The total cost per person turned out to be around $130, of which $80 were for the kit and $50 for shipping from California to England.

Most of us received our data earlier this month, and I thought that it could be interesting to learn what my colleagues, all of whom probably know more about genetics than the average person, thought of their experience. This is why I asked them to fill in a small survey. Here are the results.

Results of a survey of 16 23andMe users at the the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Click on the figure to enlarge it.

The results are largely self-explanatory. In the following, I am elaborating on a few points that may not be obvious.

Everyone thought that the test was worth what they had paid for it, and 7 out of 16 changed their diet, exercise or lifestyle habits as a result. Respondents generally thought that 23andMe did a good job in presenting the data.

We ordered in October 2013, before the FDA told 23andMe to stop providing health-related results, which meant that we were able to get ours. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of diseases the test returned information on. For the most severe ones, such as Alzheimer's, users had to click through a series of questions affirming that they really want to see their results. This is due to the potentially severe impact of these variants. For example, those who have two copies of a specific APOE gene variant are around ten times more likely develop Alzheimer's. 13 out of 16 respondents chose to see their data on these potentially high-impact variants.

Generally, people thought the health section of their test was interesting. The same cannot be said about the ancestry section, which provides information about genetic origins of the user's family. This result is likely to cause concern for 23andMe, as they have been asked by the FDA to stop providing health information and as a result are now concentrating on ancestry information. A majority (11 out of 16) users thought that 23andMe should not be regulated by regulatory authorities like the FDA.

Do you have any thoughts on the survey or on 23andMe? Please feel free to share them below.

January 19, 2014

Do you still care what I've been reading?

As promised, here are the tweet-summaries of the non-fiction books I've been reading last year, in no particular order:

The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills
Slashing healthcare budgets decreases the quality of healthcare. You don't say (The Body Economic, by David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu)

The Genius of Dogs - Discovering the Unique Intelligence of Man's Best Friend 
You think your dog understands you? Not a coincidence: That's what it was bred for (The Genius of Dogs, by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods)

If Dogs Could Talk: Exploring the Canine Mind
Wolves have scent glands on the balls of their feet (If Dogs Could Talk, by Vilmos Csányi)

The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else 
If you want  people to get rich (i.e. own lots of property), you need good property rights (The Mystery of Capital, by Hernando de Soto)

The World Until Yesterday
Traditional societies got some things figured out that we in West still struggle with (The World until Yesterday, by Jared Diamond)

Why America Is Not a New Rome 
Both America and the Roman Empire are less powerful than most people assume (Why America is Not a New Rome, by Vaclav Smil)

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 
Not predictable: Lots and lots of things had to go wrong for World War I to happen (The Sleepwalkers, by Christopher Clark)

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life
Being good at something means paying attention to the right things. Recommended. (Rapt, by Winifred Gallagher)

Drugs 2.0: The Web Revolution That's Changing How the World Gets High. 
It's easy to buy drugs off the internet, and there isn't much anyone can do about it (Drugs 2.0, by Mike Power)

German Genius
German history is one bloody musician, philosopher and scientist after another (The German Genius, by Peter Watson)

The Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up 
How streetsmart entrepreneurs write a business book that makes no sense (The Knack, by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham)

So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love 
The way to find the perfect job is not to not settle and keep looking, but to become good at what you do (So Good They Can't Ignore You, by Cal Newport)

Them: Adventures with Extremists
White supremacists, Muslim extremists and conspiracy nuts can be nice when meeting them in person (Them, by Jon Ronson)

1913 - Der Sommer des Jahrhunderts 
Vor 101 Jahren war die Welt nicht so anders (1913, von Florian Illies)

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think 
We probably shouldn't worry too much about running out of natural resources (Abundance, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler)

Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
 Maybe history is not so much the product of divinity as the realization of divinity (Nonzero, by Robert Wright)

L'histoire du type qui cherche une aiguille dans une botte de foin et qui trouve la fille du fermier (Fabuleux Hasards, de Claude Bohuon et Claude Monneret)

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
When presenting, don't expect people listen to you and read your slides at the same time (Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds)

January 13, 2014

Do you care what I have been reading?

If you don't - and I wouldn't blame you - ignore this post.

Over the next few days, I'll summarise the non-fiction books I've read in 2013 in Twitter format, using the hashtag #condensedBooks. Until then, here is a list of the books I read and tweeted about the previous year (i.e. in 2012):

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
Why you'd want your surgeon to operate on you by checklist. Best book I read in 2012 (The Checklist Manifesto, by Atual Gawande)

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
Being able to remember 10,000 random numbers doesn't mean you'll remember where you left your keys (Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer)

Chess grandmasters aren't particularly smart. They've just practised a lot (Bounce, by Matthew Syed)

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry
Psychopaths can be fun, too (The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson)

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed
This book confirms what I always knew: Lumberjacks are the pinnacle of manliness (The Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant)

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance
Improvement is a question of character (Better, by Atul Gawande) 

Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)
Cheap things don't sell (Priceless, by William Poundstone)

The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care
Personalised medicine is more than just genomics (The Creative Destruction of Medicine, by Eric Topol)

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values
Just because people don't agree on what's moral doesn't mean that there is no right answer (The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris)

Who: The A Method for Hiring
It's really, really hard to hire the right people. Checklists help (Who, by Geoff Smart and Randy Street)

Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey--and Even Iraq--Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport
Football clubs should spend more on signing data crunchers and less on aging celebrity footballers (Socceronomics, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski) 

The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
The central mission of a startup should be to learn what to do, not how to do it (The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries)

Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground
Credit card fraud has a certain nerdy glamour to it (Kingpin, by Kevin Poulsen)

The Genome Generation
Agrigenomics is at least as exciting as other sub-disciplines of genomics (The Genome Generation, by Elizabeth Finkel)

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Don't rely on common sense when trying to motivate people. They are too complex for that (Drive, by Daniel Pink)

How We Decide
The hardest problem is to know when to stop thinking and trust your instincts instead (How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer. This book has been retracted by its publisher since I read it)

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change
Will power rules: "Self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than does intellectual talent" (The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg)