January 17, 2013
Your Genome May Not Be Private
My take on privacy, especially on the Internet is that if we and/or the law can’t safeguard our privacy, we should at least know what we are giving up when we give out even innocuous information about ourselves. It’s a complicated process to keep track of it all, of course, as more and more of our characteristics are collated in databases. It was with great interest that I came across this article in Wired, Scientists Discover How to Identify People From ‘Anonymous’ Genomes. Apparently, with nothing more than the analysis of a DNA sample and a little genealogical sleuthing, it is possible to link that sample with an individual with a 12% success rate for Caucasian males. Here’s an example from the article:
Erlich and his team started with the observation that Y-chromosomes and surnames tend to go together. That’s because sons always inherit their father’s Y-chromosome and typically inherit his surname. Certain genetic stutters on the Y-chromosome, in which the letters of the genetic code repeat over and over, vary widely in the general population but tend to be shared by closely related men.
In a few highly publicized cases, people have exploited this to find their sperm donor father. In 2005, for example, a 15-year old boy reportedly found his biological father after having his own Y-chromosome tested and combing a commercial genealogy website for close matches. These matches pointed to a potential surname, which the boy combined with other clues — including the sperm donor’s birth place and date — to track him down.
The current research relies on matching the individual genomes with other publicly known information. It wasn’t too long ago that researchers were able to de-anonymize aggregated search queries. One example of how that works is here. I can imagine how marketers and health care providers may be interested in this. An email or a display ad might say something like “Get your doctor to proscribe Crestor. You’re genetically disposed to high cholesterol.” Here’s another quote from the article:
This is just the beginning. Just wait for the science to mature to the point where we have biological ID cards. Don’t scoff at the idea. You don’t want the terrorists to win, do you? [MG]
“Anonymity is a myth if you’ve got richly detailed genetic information and access to a variety of databases,” said Hank Greely, a law professor at Stanford University who specializes in the ethical and legal implications of emerging biotechnology. Researchers need to ensure informed consent from participants, Greely says, even if that means telling them it may not be possible to protect their privacy.
August 23, 2012
Does Studying For The LSAT Make You Smarter?
That's what one scientific study seems to indicate. LiveScience is reporting that studying for the LSAT can change brain structure and possibly improve IQ. Money quote:
Mackey and her team looked at brain scans of 24 college students or recent graduates before and after 100 hours of LSAT training over a three-month period, a statement from Berkeley explained. Compared with brain scans of a control group of their peers, the trained students showed increased connectivity between the frontal lobes of their brains, and between the frontal and parietal lobes. These circuits are involved in fluid reasoning, or the ability to tackle new problems, which is central to IQ tests.
Read the full article here. I always thought that the LSAT and law school had an effect on the brain. I just never knew it was a positive effect. [MG]
April 22, 2012
Browsing On A Sunday: It's Earth Day, and Commentary on the Job Market for Lawyers
It’s Earth Day. What better way to observe it by observing the Earth from the International Space Station. NASA has prepared an approximately four minute view of the planet taken in time lapse by the Expedition 30 crew aboard the ISS. The music is annoying, but the player allows for turning off the sound. If anyone viewing the Earth from space wondered if life existed on the planet, the vast blotches of light coming from urban areas would answer that question. More videos are here.
An article in The Atlantic examines the effects of the recession on the practice and profits of Big Law, and it isn’t good. The article is called The Death Spiral of America’s Big Law Firms. The initial focus is on the instability of top firm Dewey & LeBouef. The article, however, goes on to document the decline of business for similar firms and how they have coped. It’s not pretty. Partners are moving; fees are dropping as firms start competing for clients; and clients are more cognizant of the costs for legal services. This means fewer jobs for law graduates. That conclusion is not exactly a secret at law schools.
One of the types of jobs post-recession, part-time document review attorney is an example of a service provided at a lower cost. It’s also a service that is fed by the glut of graduates willing to work part-time to pay off debts. Graduates who land full-time jobs at firms will now have to consider whether there is enough work for the firm to maintain its roster. This article from the Charlotte Observer suggests that the legal job market is better than it was several years ago, though nowhere near the days when a law graduate could expect general success. Those days are not coming back with the retrenchment in services and fees.
Georgetown University is becoming the second school to offer executive management classes as part of a post law school education opportunity. The program is designed to help lawyers and firms understand the changing business landscape for the practice of law. Harvard started to do something like this a while back. I’ve said this more than once: If schools have the expertise to offer this as post-graduation training, why can’t they offer it as part of the regular curriculum? Is something that may be fundamentally useful to graduates relegated to the premium package for law school? The Washington Post has more on Georgetown’s program.
In a side note, the new law school planned by Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne has received approval by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals. Hope springs eternal. Will we see the day when late night television is graced with ads and infomercials for a law school degree similar to art and trade degrees?
The cost of applying to a law school is going up. The Law School Admission Council is hiking various fees, from taking the test ($160 up from $139), using the Credential Assembly fee ($155 up from $124), to sending scores to individual schools ($21 dollars up from $16). The price increases are a result of fewer students taking the exam. More on this in the Texas Lawyer. [MG]
August 25, 2009
Multitaskers Can Have, Uh, Cognitive Problems
The brain is in the news again. Not the mouse who wants to take over the world, but the one inside the head. This time the news involves the cognitive abilities of multitaskers. A series of tests show that people who multitask the most have a hard time concentrating and avoiding distractions compared to those multitasking the least. The study is called Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers, and authored by Eyal Ophira, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner. It is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 106 (33), August 25, 2009. The tests are described in an article on the Wired web site as requiring individuals to remember the layout of various displays of rectangles and to characterize groups of words from one time to another. Multitaskers consistently had performance problems when tested. I'd tell you more but I can't remember much about it having checked my three email accounts for the 30th time in the last five hours. Luckily I can remember where the citation is from. Read about it in Wired, here. [MG]