Voluntary compliance is for your own good!

To my consternation, I just learned via an email from a friend that incoming students at UC Berkeley are being asked to provide DNA samples. Voluntarily, of course:

Instead of the usual required summer-reading book, this year's incoming freshmen at the University of California, Berkeley, will get something quite different: a cotton swab on which they can, if they choose, send in a DNA sample.

The university said it would analyze the samples, from inside students' cheeks, for three genes that help regulate the ability to metabolize alcohol, lactose and folates.

Those genes were chosen not because they indicate serious health risks but because students with certain genetic markers may be able to lead healthier lives by drinking less, avoiding dairy products or eating more leafy green vegetables.

OK, it's voluntary, right? And even though this is a government-run University, no one is being forced, which means no libertarian should care, right?

That's easy enough for a 55-year old libertarian to say. But thinking back to when I was eighteen, I didn't have access to the kind of 20/20 hindsight I have now, and I might have thought "How cool! Now I get to know all about my genetic health risks!"

As to invasion of privacy, banish the thought! This is all confidential, and no one will be able to find out which student's information pertains to whose. Except the stated purpose of this project is to soften the students up for what's coming:

The testing will be voluntary and confidential, with no one at Berkeley knowing which sample comes from which student.

Each freshman will get two bar code labels, one to put on the sample and one to keep. After the genotyping is complete, the results will be posted on a Web site using the bar code identification, so only the person who provided the DNA sample will know whose it is.

"In the decade ahead, the new genetics is going to penetrate everyday medical practice," said Mark Schlissel, dean of biology at Berkeley. "We wanted to give students a sense of what's coming, through genes that can provide them with useful information. I think it's one of the best things we've done in years."

But some bioethicists say the whole idea of genetic testing outside a medical setting is troubling....

To which I would add that the whole idea of sharing medical results outside a medical setting is troubling. Once your DNA is in your medical records -- and especially once the medical records can be accessed by government bureaucrats at will under PelosiCare -- the busybody mischief by Berkeley professors will look like child's play. All of our DNA will become subject to investigation via computerized database search engines, whether at the behest of law enforcement looking for suspects, government-run healthcare providers who want to butt into our lives in order to "help" us, or of course our friends at the IRS.

The implications are Orwellian, and I worry that the kids are being softened up when they're too young to fully understand and think things through.

Moreover, this fits into a disturbing pattern of policy implementation I have noticed over the years. First, people are asked to do something "voluntarily" (like, for example, cutting off your dog's nuts or switching over to the "right" lightbulbs). Once people become accustomed to doing such things voluntarily, they quite naturally become unsympathetic to those recalcitrant few who don't. And the good citizens will then be quite willing to support new laws, with criminal penalties for not doing what every good citizen should.

posted by Eric on 05.19.10 at 10:51 AM


Last year's summer project for students here at U.C. Berkeley was reading 'The Omnivore's Dilemma,' a book about farming and food processing practices in the U.S. Frankly, I liked the book. This year, there is no recommended summer book, just collecting student D.N.A. samples. I think reading a book was a better idea.

chocolatier   ·  May 19, 2010 12:36 PM

And the good citizens will then be quite willing to support new laws, with criminal penalties for not doing what every good citizen should.

Like Seat belt Laws
Like Child seat Laws
Like Smoking Laws
Like Cell Phone bans while driving

Can anyone think of more????

Tom   ·  May 19, 2010 1:04 PM

I think the logical response is to demand the data be sent to students via email, then wiped from the admin's servers.

TallDave   ·  May 19, 2010 5:10 PM

Meanwhile, here's our Regulatory Czar, Cass Sunstein abusing the term "voluntary" in a 2001 radio interview on the subject that's now know as the "Fairness Doctrine".


"Sites of one point of view agree to provide links to other sites, so that if you're reading a conservative magazine, they would provide a link to a liberal site and vice versa, just to make it easy for people to get access to competing views. Or maybe a pop-up on your screen that would show an advertisement or maybe even a quick argument for a competing view. [break] The best would be for this to be done voluntarily, but the word "voluntary" is a little complicated, and sometimes people don't do what's best for our society unless Congress holds hearings or unless the public demands it. And the idea would be to have a legal mandate as the last resort, and to make sure it's as neutral as possible if we have to get there, but to have that as, you know, an ultimate weapon designed to encourage people to do better."

Listen to the whole sorry thing here:


crawdad   ·  May 19, 2010 10:33 PM

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