Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – February 25, 2015

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By: Kaitlyn Morabito

photo credit: Self II via photopin (license)

Forensics – DNA and Crime

Building face and a case on DNA

Although it may seem like a plot line from a prime-time crime drama, police are using DNA to generate sketches of suspects in crimes which lack eyewitnesses or photographic evidence, but in which the perpetrator leaves behind DNA. This technique, called forensic DNA phenoytping, involves using DNA to determine suspect characteristics including eye and hair color. Experts hope that as the technology evolves, they will also be able to predict skin color and whether they have freckles as well traits relating to hair (baldness, curliness), tooth shape and age. In addition to generating sketches, law enforcement may be soon able to use this technology to compare mug shots in their database to the DNA sketch. While forensic DNA phenotyping may not generate an exact likeness to the suspect, it may also be useful in ruling out suspects who do not match the phenotype. Police have already released a DNA phenotyping sketch to the public in a case in South Carolina involving the murder of a mother and daughter where there were no cameras or eyewitnesses. Opponents worry about accuracy, arguing that it may encourage racial profiling. (Andrew Pollack, The New York Times)


Peer Review

Nature to let potential authors try double-blind date

In an effort to reduce prejudice in the peer review process, Nature and its associated journals are adding double-blind review as an option when submitting papers. As opposed to the traditional single-blind peer review currently used by most journals where only the reviewers are anonymous, in the double blind scenario, both the authors and the reviewers are redacted. With the traditional system, there have been concerns about bias, both conscious and unconscious, which may unfairly impact women, minorities, and authors from lesser-known institutions. Nature piloted this system in two of their journals, Nature Climate Change and Nature Geoscience, and had enough success to expand this option to their other publications. However, they note that this is an on-going process and will evaluate how different fields respond to the double-blind option. Blinding the reviewers from the authors doesn’t guarantee anonymity; instead it may lead to the reviewers trying to guess the author which may be easier in smaller fields. This action by Nature is just one of many strategies aimed at evening out the playing field in the peer review process. Some journals are taking the opposite route and making the process more transparent by identifying the reviewers or utilizing and open review where comments are available along with the paper. (Dalmeet Singh Chawla, ScienceInsider)


Regulatory Science

FTC fines marketers of two apps that claim to detect melanoma

Recently, Health Discovery Corp, and New Consumer Solutions, developers of the apps, Mole Detective and MelApp, respectively, were fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). These apps claimed to be able to detect melanoma by submission of photos taken by one’s phone. The app would give users ratings of high, medium or low of the likelihood that the moles in the pictures were melanoma. Despite warnings on the app that users should see a doctor for a real diagnosis, the FTC determined that these apps misrepresented themselves as valid methods of melanoma detection.   Both companies have reached settlements with the FTC with fines ranging from about $4000-$20,000. Accuracy of these apps is a real concern, and a trained dermatologist should determine real diagnosis. A study in JAMA looked at four melanoma apps, which were not identified and found a 30% misdiagnosis rate. Health apps fall into a gray area in terms of regulation by the US government since they are not typically considered medical devices. The FDA has recently released proposed guidelines to regulate apps which can be used as a diagnostic. (Hayley Tsukayama, The Washington Post)



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Written by sciencepolicyforall

February 25, 2015 at 11:24 am

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