Implications of collecting DNA samples

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Plasma Man » Fri Jun 24, 2011 10:58 pm UTC

Your car metaphor is flawed, as each license plate is individual and registered in one location. There aren't the risks of false positives that a DNA database includes. Plus, having a car is not mandatory, whereas your system would be.

Aaeriele wrote:The hyperbolic portion is assuming that the minimal level of suspectness that such a wide search would confer would in any way be harmful to an individual. Do you honestly think the police are going to go to someone who is quadraplegic and vigorously force them to prove that they weren't the person to beat someone to death with a sledgehammer? Do you honestly think the police aren't going to immediately rule out someone who was in a coma at the time of a crime? Do you honestly think those examples aren't hyperbolic? Seriously?
Are the police going to turn up to interview someone who's quadriplegic if their name pops up as a match? Yes, of course they are. There is no way for the police to know whether someone was physically capable of committing a crime, just by looking at a DNA database. They will have to turn up in person, something that most people would find pretty stressful & distressing.
Or are you going to force everyone to have their full medical records linked to this database? Better include employment records too, in case someone tries to claim an alibi by saying they were at work. Oh, let's throw in the financial records too, they could be useful in trying to establish a motive for robbery.
Aaeriele wrote:Databases are not collections of swabs. Nor are they (at least for what we're discussing) collections of full gene sequencing results. They are small records of specific markers that are used for matching between two candidates.
[/quote]Correct, no argument there. I was pointing out that the process of collecting the tissue that will be used for creating these specific markers is very open to abuse. If you're willing to accept that someone could abuse a GPS tracking system, why should this be any different.
Here's how it would work: Person A takes swab from citizen B. Person A has another sterile swab concealed on them somewhere. When they are not being watched, person A rubs the two swabs together. They then have two swabs, each with a DNA sample on. They deliver one to the laboratory, as they are supposed to, but keep hold of the other one and use it for any of the purposes I described. This would be extremely simple and practically undetectable.

A_pathetic_lizardmnan, the big flaw in your argument (apart from the various unsupported assumptions that you've made in your probability calculations) is confusing very small numbers with the number zero. Under the present system, if a crime is committed on the other side of the country and I have no link to it, the chances of the police investigating me are zero. If a mandatory DNA datase is instituted, a crime committed on the other side of the country that I have no link to results in a non-zero probability of me being investigated, should a false positive flag my name up. That is a very important difference.

Post edited once to fix quote tags, no other changes. Edited again to add this note.
Last edited by Plasma Man on Fri Jun 24, 2011 11:35 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Fri Jun 24, 2011 11:05 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:Your car metaphor is flawed, as each license plate is individual and registered in one location. There aren't the risks of false positives that a DNA database includes. Plus, having a car is not mandatory, whereas your system would be.

But that's not the point. You stated that everyone in the database would be considered a potential suspect. Most of the people in the database, however, aren't going to match, so how are they considered suspects any more than someone whose license plate doesn't match the one being searched for? That is all the car metaphor was mean to illustrate.

Plasma Man wrote:Correct, no argument there. I was pointing out that the process of collecting the tissue that will be used for creating these specific markers is very open to abuse. If you're willing to accept that someone could abuse a GPS tracking system, why should this be any different.
Here's how it would work: Person A takes swab from citizen B. Person A has another sterile swab concealed on them somewhere. When they are not being watched, person A rubs the two swabs together. They then have two swabs, each with a DNA sample on. They deliver one to the laboratory, as they are supposed to, but keep hold of the other one and use it for any of the purposes I described. This would be extremely simple and practically undetectable.

And this would lead to what? How would it add any worse potential scenarios than someone taking a coffee cup from a trash can?

Plasma Man wrote:A_pathetic_lizardmnan, the big flaw in your argument (apart from the various unsupported assumptions that you've made in your probability calculations) is confusing very small numbers with the number zero. Under the present system, if a crime is committed on the other side of the country and I have no link to it, the chances of the police investigating me are zero.

If you have no link to a crime, your DNA won't match, because DNA matching is a link, just as much as happening to have walked down the same alley as where someone was shot.

So what you're saying is that because DNA matches can potentially link people to crimes, we shouldn't allow for the possibility of investigating people who are linked to crimes in that way.

What is special about DNA evidence as opposed to any other evidence, that it shouldn't be used to initiate investigations?
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Plasma Man » Fri Jun 24, 2011 11:32 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:But that's not the point. You stated that everyone in the database would be considered a potential suspect. Most of the people in the database, however, aren't going to match, so how are they considered suspects any more than someone whose license plate doesn't match the one being searched for? That is all the car metaphor was mean to illustrate.
There is a very big difference between a non-mandatory database that is not going to produce false positives and a mandatory database that will.

Aaeriele wrote:And this would lead to what? How would it add any worse potential scenarios than someone taking a coffee cup from a trash can?
Well, when taking the sample from someone, the swab will be sterile and uncontaminated. The personal details of the person the swab is being taken from will also be readily available, as it will be necessary to check that the right sample is matched to the right person. Neither of these is the case with your discarded coffee cup. Plus, again, your swab-taking scheme is mandatory, disposing of a coffee cup in a publicly accessible area is non-mandatory.
Aaeriele wrote:So what you're saying is that because DNA matches can potentially link people to crimes, we shouldn't allow for the possibility of investigating people who are linked to crimes in that way.

What is special about DNA evidence as opposed to any other evidence, that it shouldn't be used to initiate investigations?
I'm saying that neither I, nor anyone else, should have to suffer because of the fact that the DNA database will automatically create false positives. The police turning up at my door will affect how my neighbours perceive me. If there's been a high-profile crime in the area, they will assume that I'm being investigated for that. Sadly, in public opinion, it's not always a case of innocent until proven guilty, quite often the assumption is that there is no smoke without fire.

You've backed me into arguing the case against a mandatory database, putting me on the defensive. I now challenge you to justify why such a database should exist. Are you confident that the benefits in terms of increased crime-solving capability will outweigh the harm done by these false positive matches, and by the inevitable errors of profiles being entered under the wrong names? Have you even considered it?

A minor note: You may want to review the post I made immediately prior to this one. I had to edit it to fix some quote tags, but have changed nothing else.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby A_pathetic_lizardmnan » Fri Jun 24, 2011 11:51 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:A_pathetic_lizardmnan, the big flaw in your argument (apart from the various unsupported assumptions that you've made in your probability calculations) is confusing very small numbers with the number zero. Under the present system, if a crime is committed on the other side of the country and I have no link to it, the chances of the police investigating me are zero. If a mandatory DNA datase is instituted, a crime committed on the other side of the country that I have no link to results in a non-zero probability of me being investigated, should a false positive flag my name up. That is a very important difference.



Let's imagine a hypothetical crime scenario.

Crime X happenned. You are certain that a human did it. You now have your probability (1) to distribute as the evidence suggests. In order for someone to be a suspect, they need at least a 1%, or 0.01 chance of being the perpetrator.

You now have your certainty of 1 that you place evenly on all possible suspects in the absence of any evidence to implicate any of them in particular. If your suspects are "humans," you now have a 1 in 7 billion probability that any given human did it. Add up your probabilities: they comes out to 1.
7e9x1.42857143e-10
=1

Now factor in a probability of, say, 99% that the perpetrator was American. There are 300 million Americans. So you divide up .99 across Americans, and the remaining 0.01 across the rest of the world. Now each American has a 3.3e-9 chance of being the perpetrator. Everyone else in the world has a 1.49253731e-12 chance.
(300e6 x 3.3e-9) + (6700e6 x 1.49253731e-12)
=.99 + .01
=1

Now let's say that you figure with 90% certainty that the criminal was from the same city as the crime occurred in. So you divide that 90% among the occupants of that city, let's say 1M people. Everyone in the city has a 9e-7 chance of being the criminal. Every other american has a 3.01003344e-10 chance of being the criminal. Everyone else in the world has a 1.49253731e-12 chance of being the criminal.
(1e6 x 9e-7) + (299e6 x 3.01003344e-10) + (6700e6 x 1.49253731e-12)
= .90 + .09 +.01
=1

New evidence comes in: the perpetrator was a 189 centimeter tall white male, with 80% confidence. This demographic is a mere 10000 people. I think you get the drift.
(10e3 x 8e-5) + (1e6 x 1e-7) + (299e6 x 3.01003344e-10) + (6700e6 x 1.49253731e-12)
=.80 +.10 +.09 +.01
...
...
...

We eventually narrow it down to 1000 individuals with a 75% probability that it's one of them. Joe Schmoe is the most likely of these to have committed the crime. Let's prosecute him, right? No, in fact from the information they have so far, Joe Schmoe only has a 0.00527 probability of being the criminal, by the statistical analysis. It would be pointless to prosecute at this point: time would be better spent on determining which of the other possible suspects who together share .99473 of the probability couldn't have done it. Remember: the most likely person right now probably didn't do it. If you can whittle it down to 25 suspects who have probabilities in the 2% to 14% range, you're starting to get somewhere.

...
...
...

Okay, it turns out that we are 80% confident that Frank Smith did it, with a 10% chance that Jacob Cooper did it, a 4% chance Joe Schmoe did it, and a 6% chance it was someone else, divided properly. Obviously, we care most about the 80% figure, but 80% is not enough to declare guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So they use DNA evidence. As it turns out, a sweatstain at the scene has a DNA marker that occurs with 1% frequency in the population. They are 95% confident that the DNA is the criminal's. As it turns out, the DNA is a match for Jacob Cooper, but not Joe Schmoe or Frank Smith. The probability of Frank Smith being the culprit falls to 4%, Joe Schmoe falls to .2%, and Jacob Cooper rises to 95.5%, enough to prosecute on. At this point, we have a fairly good idea of who the culprit is going into the trial, and it becomes a matter of convincing the jury. If it turns out Jacob Cooper is innocent, that probability gets redistributed among the remaining suspects.

In all cases, total probability is 1, by definition. Nobody ever has zero evidence implicating them at any point, yet the justice system still works. It will make mistakes, but fewer of them with more information. A mandatory database will provide far more useful information, and in fact will decrease the risk that innocent people will be suspected and convicted of a crime. If you are not a criminal, this is good news for you, not simply neutral news.

plasma wrote:You've backed me into arguing the case against a mandatory database, putting me on the defensive. I now challenge you to justify why such a database should exist. Are you confident that the benefits in terms of increased crime-solving capability will outweigh the harm done by these false positive matches, and by the inevitable errors of profiles being entered under the wrong names? Have you even considered it?


Yes. Yes I have considered it This post should be adequate justification as for why information of any variety is good for solving crimes with minimal false positives. DNA testing will reduce false positives.

The question is not whether or not more information on a crime is a good thing. The question is whether DNA evidence does more harm than good in the courtroom due to peoples' misconceptions about its reliability. You do not have an inalienable right not to be a suspect. If you are wrongly suspected, that sucks, but it is not your right not to be questioned if the law has a good reason to suspect you.
Last edited by A_pathetic_lizardmnan on Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:06 am UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Fri Jun 24, 2011 11:52 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:There is a very big difference between a non-mandatory database that is not going to produce false positives and a mandatory database that will.

Yes, but again, that difference is not the one that metaphor was addressing.

Plasma Man wrote:Well, when taking the sample from someone, the swab will be sterile and uncontaminated. The personal details of the person the swab is being taken from will also be readily available, as it will be necessary to check that the right sample is matched to the right person. Neither of these is the case with your discarded coffee cup. Plus, again, your swab-taking scheme is mandatory, disposing of a coffee cup in a publicly accessible area is non-mandatory.

But that still doesn't change the fact that the things which are possible under one scenario are still possible under the other. (And really, it's not hard to get one particular person's DNA off of a coffee cup at all.)

Plasma Man wrote:I'm saying that neither I, nor anyone else, should have to suffer because of the fact that the DNA database will automatically create false positives. The police turning up at my door will affect how my neighbours perceive me. If there's been a high-profile crime in the area, they will assume that I'm being investigated for that. Sadly, in public opinion, it's not always a case of innocent until proven guilty, quite often the assumption is that there is no smoke without fire.

By that same argument, we shouldn't investigate crimes at all because such investigations do sometimes cause innocent suspects to suffer. Again, what is special about DNA evidence?

Plasma Man wrote:Are you confident that the benefits in terms of increased crime-solving capability will outweigh the harm done by these false positive matches, and by the inevitable errors of profiles being entered under the wrong names? Have you even considered it?

Yes, and yes. I am quite confident that the benefits will outweigh the harm, because I really do not see a significant amount of harm coming from it. If false positives are a common thing, then the very fact that they occur more frequently will lead to them having a lesser impact. As someone else mentioned, we are not throwing common sense to the winds.

Everything is prone to error sometimes, nothing is perfect. That doesn't mean that there isn't a net gain, even from very imperfect things.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Kag » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:05 am UTC

Plasma Man wrote:I'm saying that neither I, nor anyone else, should have to suffer because of the fact that the DNA database will automatically create false positives. The police turning up at my door will affect how my neighbours perceive me. If there's been a high-profile crime in the area, they will assume that I'm being investigated for that. Sadly, in public opinion, it's not always a case of innocent until proven guilty, quite often the assumption is that there is no smoke without fire.


A hit in a DNA database will not make you worth investigating when you were not already.

What's the incidence of false positives on these sorts of tests, anyway? That is, how often will someone appear to have markers they do not have.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby DaBigCheez » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:10 am UTC

While it's clearly a different percentage of people involved, it doesn't seem to me that a full DNA database would be inherently problematic in the "they're going to pull in everyone that matches for questioning" sense. If a witness to a crime said "the perpetrator had brown hair", they're not going to pull in everyone from brown hair all across the country to see if they did it; however, they may well pull in the victim's girlfriend, who was in town for the weekend and had brown hair.

To use more analogous percentages, even if a witness to a crime said "the perpetrator had pink-polka-dotted green hair, as only 50 people in the nation do", they're not going to pull in all 50 as suspects. They'd possibly pull in the two who were known to be in the area and had a connection to the victim for questioning, and use it as a lead to track down more evidence. It would not be a case in and of itself, it would be a lead to help build the case.

I see the DNA database being most useful to *rule out* existing suspects and prove their innocence. However, I think that if it is used to "fish for suspects", that doesn't mean those using the database will immediately abandon all common sense.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:11 am UTC

Kag wrote:What's the incidence of false positives on these sorts of tests, anyway? That is, how often will someone appear to have markers they do not have.


It's not so much a matter of appearing to have markers one doesn't have, but more that there will be more than one person with the same combination of markers.

For instance (a simplified case), if you have 3 markers, there might be person A with 101, person B with 110, and person C with 100, but also person D with 100 as well. DNA markers are not the full genome of a person, and thus are not necessarily unique; they're a subset. Sort of like how fingerprints are not necessarily unique due to the inherent imprecision of comparison.

http://www.dna.gov/statistics/statistic ... evaluation
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:13 am UTC

A_pathetic_lizardmnan wrote:The question is whether DNA evidence does more harm than good
Um, no. The question is whether a mandatory DNA database does more harm than good. All of your patronizing calculations ("Look! The probabilities all still add to 1! Isn't that amazing?") are irrelevant to that.

Aaeriele wrote: I am quite confident that the benefits will outweigh the harm, because I really do not see a significant amount of harm coming from it.
Even considering all the other potential harm from having your DNA on record, aside from criminal investigative procedure? (Potential harm which, incidentally, is why it's a violation of privacy to demand a sample my DNA to keep on record.)

Kag wrote:What's the incidence of false positives on these sorts of tests, anyway? That is, how often will someone appear to have markers they do not have.
Whatever that incidence may be, that's not what we're talking about with false positives. We're talking about someone who *does* have the particular markers they tested the crime scene sample for, but whose DNA wasn't actually at the crime scene.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:15 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Even considering all the other potential harm from having your DNA on record, aside from criminal investigative procedure? (Potential harm which, incidentally, is why it's a violation of privacy to demand a sample my DNA to keep on record.)

As I've mentioned before, I don't see a significant amount of potential harm from having the DNA markers used for criminal DNA matching on record. If we were talking complete sequencing of an individual's DNA, that answer might change.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Kag » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:20 am UTC

Right, but that's not even a problem as long as we give it the appropriate weight for the odds involved. My concern was that false negatives would lead to police eliminating guilty suspects.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby A_pathetic_lizardmnan » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:42 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
A_pathetic_lizardmnan wrote:The question is whether DNA evidence does more harm than good
Um, no. The question is whether a mandatory DNA database does more harm than good. All of your patronizing calculations ("Look! The probabilities all still add to 1! Isn't that amazing?") are irrelevant to that.

That was in response to the idea that someone should not be considered a suspect unless there is evidence that they are the culprit. Probabilities adding to 1 is quite important, as some people don't seem to understand (i.e. "the big flaw in your argument (apart from the various unsupported assumptions that you've made in your probability calculations) is confusing very small numbers with the number zero."). If you have zero probability at the start, you think the crime was not committed in the first place.

Ok, let the question be whether a mandatory DNA database does more good than harm. Well, actually, I would have to argue that it does. It does rather a lot of good when compared to a database with only some DNA, and when compared with none. The amount of harm it does is quite negligible. In fact, the only thing it does is create different true and false positives than other methods, ones that are not biased by people who "look shady". Obviously it would be less effective than current methods in isolation, but current methods are weaker than current methods plus a DNA database.

And before you ask, yes I would be willing to have my information added to the database in the absence of anyone else doing so. I don't intend to commit crimes, and DNA testing has the potential of screening me out of the list of likely suspects so that I don't have to deal with false positives as much.

Also, how exactly could DNA databases be misused? Nobody cares about your DNA under normal circumstances, or circumstances with less effort required than pulling a coffee cup out of the trash.

gmalivuk wrote:
Aaeriele wrote: I am quite confident that the benefits will outweigh the harm, because I really do not see a significant amount of harm coming from it.
Even considering all the other potential harm from having your DNA on record, aside from criminal investigative procedure? (Potential harm which, incidentally, is why it's a violation of privacy to demand a sample my DNA to keep on record.)


Name one form of actual harm that has at least a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of occurring to you. Because less than that and lightning starts looking very dangerous indeed, much more so than a week or so of inconvenience that comes from being a suspect until there was sufficient evidence that you were innocent.

Kag wrote:What's the incidence of false positives on these sorts of tests, anyway? That is, how often will someone appear to have markers they do not have.
Whatever that incidence may be, that's not what we're talking about with false positives. We're talking about someone who *does* have the particular markers they tested the crime scene sample for, but whose DNA wasn't actually at the crime scene.[/quote][/quote]
Then it will quickly become obvious that they were not the culprit. DNA databases would augment, not replace, current forensic practices.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:55 am UTC

A_pathetic_lizardmnan wrote:Also, how exactly could DNA databases be misused?
Several such scenarios have already been described. Consequences of someone else knowing about your risk for various serious diseases in particular could be pretty shitty.

gmalivuk wrote:
Aaeriele wrote: I am quite confident that the benefits will outweigh the harm, because I really do not see a significant amount of harm coming from it.
Even considering all the other potential harm from having your DNA on record, aside from criminal investigative procedure?
Name one form of actual harm that has at least a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of occurring to you. Because less than that and lightning starts looking very dangerous indeed, much more so than a week or so of inconvenience that comes from being a suspect until there was sufficient evidence that you were innocent.
Notice the part where I'm talking about other issues than criminology?

Kag wrote:What's the incidence of false positives on these sorts of tests, anyway? That is, how often will someone appear to have markers they do not have.
Whatever that incidence may be, that's not what we're talking about with false positives. We're talking about someone who *does* have the particular markers they tested the crime scene sample for, but whose DNA wasn't actually at the crime scene.
Then it will quickly become obvious that they were not the culprit.
More quickly than if it's someone appearing to have markers they do not have?
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby A_pathetic_lizardmnan » Sat Jun 25, 2011 1:10 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
A_pathetic_lizardmnan wrote:Also, how exactly could DNA databases be misused?
Several such scenarios have already been described. Consequences of someone else knowing about your risk for various serious diseases in particular could be pretty shitty.

gmalivuk wrote:
Aaeriele wrote: I am quite confident that the benefits will outweigh the harm, because I really do not see a significant amount of harm coming from it.
Even considering all the other potential harm from having your DNA on record, aside from criminal investigative procedure?
Name one form of actual harm that has at least a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of occurring to you. Because less than that and lightning starts looking very dangerous indeed, much more so than a week or so of inconvenience that comes from being a suspect until there was sufficient evidence that you were innocent.
Notice the part where I'm talking about other issues than criminology?

Kag wrote:What's the incidence of false positives on these sorts of tests, anyway? That is, how often will someone appear to have markers they do not have.
Whatever that incidence may be, that's not what we're talking about with false positives. We're talking about someone who *does* have the particular markers they tested the crime scene sample for, but whose DNA wasn't actually at the crime scene.
Then it will quickly become obvious that they were not the culprit.
More quickly than if it's someone appearing to have markers they do not have?


Ok, I can see where that could be a problem with insurance companies, missed that the first time through. Definitely worth considering, without some solid calculations I can't come up with a definitive answer, but order of magnitude-wise it looks like you have a good point.

In terms of total false positives, it will be lower. In those particular cases, those particular cases will have more of a pain. It's not one-sided, but it is a worthwhile tradeoff in terms of forensics. Healthcare, on the other hand, may well prove to be the dealbreaker here.

Next question: at such a time as everyone has their DNA on record due to fairly inevitable success of insurance companies in getting any data that will help them get more money, will DNA matching be acceptable evidence? I would argue that this is a "yes", but I doubt it will be much of an issue until we actually understand what genes do for the most part.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Beardhammer » Sat Jun 25, 2011 8:36 am UTC

Kag wrote:Right, but that's not even a problem as long as we give it the appropriate weight for the odds involved. My concern was that false negatives would lead to police eliminating guilty suspects.
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Aaeriele wrote:This is a silly argument. It's essentially the equivalent of saying "a carpenter should only have a hammer, not a full toolbox, because if they had a full toolbox, they'd have to use every tool in it on every job, and that'd be inefficient!"


A carpenter doesn't have to explain to a jury of english teachers why he had a coping saw but didn't use it when he was putting up trim in a house.


More like the carpenter has to explain why he didn't use the coping saw to a network administrator, who then explains that to the English teachers, who must then go use that information to derive the perfect recipe for red velvet cake, complete with icing. And then write that in Mandarin.

Sorry. Where were we?

Kag wrote:Right, but that's not even a problem as long as we give it the appropriate weight for the odds involved. My concern was that false negatives would lead to police eliminating guilty suspects.


If the DNA thing was the only information they had, maybe. But, assuming they can glean more than just a DNA sample from the crime scene, wouldn't they be able to rule out which hits are actually false positives? The guy that lives in South Africa and hasn't visited the United States in eight years probably didn't commit the crime that happened last week in Bumblefuck, North Dakota, so him popping up on the list probably is a true false positive. That guy in Bumblefuck that was in town the night of the murder, and who has been arrested once before for assault with a deadly weapon, while intoxicated? Yeah, might want to take a closer look at that guy, and maybe anyone else whose DNA showed up at the crime scene and who can be accurately placed near the crime scene at the approximate time of the murder.

Like others have said, the DNA wouldn't be the only piece of evidence, and I think they've done a fine job of explaining how having a full, complete database would be better than having a minimal, incomplete database.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Deep_Thought » Sat Jun 25, 2011 11:11 am UTC

@Lizardman: At the risk of dragging the conversation back slightly, I'd be interested to know more of what your background in maths is? I don't see a mention of Bayes rules, which is rather important in these situations.

I think part of the issue with this discussion centers on how much each person trusts the various institutions involved (Police, Forensic Science Services, whoever actually stores your DNA profile) to do their job properly. Many of my objections to a DNA database are practical ones due to the current UK government's track record in handling such things.

I worry about the competence of any government to maintain an accurate database of tens or hundreds of millions DNA samples and ensure they match up to correct names and addresses. Our government has proven to be pretty hopeless at this sort of thing in recent decades even with much smaller databases. I worry about the police calling people in for questioning with only DNA evidence to go on. I have read anecdotal evidence of this happening in the UK already. As has also been pointed out in this thread the current UK DNA database was brought in on the sly and arguably illegally. This kind of underhand behaviour further undermines my trust in any UK system.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Kag » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:00 pm UTC

Beardhammer wrote:That guy in Bumblefuck that was in town the night of the murder, and who has been arrested once before for assault with a deadly weapon, while intoxicated? Yeah, might want to take a closer look at that guy, and maybe anyone else whose DNA showed up at the crime scene and who can be accurately placed near the crime scene at the approximate time of the murder.


One more time: what are the odds that this guy is actually the murderer, but the test falsely indicates that his DNA is not a match?

False positives are, at worst, the same as not having the database at all. You're never gonna investigate people who weren't suspicious anyway.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Beardhammer » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:51 pm UTC

Kag wrote:
Beardhammer wrote:That guy in Bumblefuck that was in town the night of the murder, and who has been arrested once before for assault with a deadly weapon, while intoxicated? Yeah, might want to take a closer look at that guy, and maybe anyone else whose DNA showed up at the crime scene and who can be accurately placed near the crime scene at the approximate time of the murder.


One more time: what are the odds that this guy is actually the murderer, but the test falsely indicates that his DNA is not a match?

False positives are, at worst, the same as not having the database at all. You're never gonna investigate people who weren't suspicious anyway.


So what's the problem with a DNA database like the one being proposed, then? If you aren't concerned that it's going to cause innocent people to have their doors kicked in and result in them being carted off to jail at three in the morning, why's it a negative thing and not a positive thing?

I guess I just don't understand how having a DNA database like the one proposed is any different from a fingerprint database, or in terms of supposedly impinging on someone's right to remain innocent, how's it different from going "we've heard reports that the suspect has red hair, so let's keep out for any suspicious-looking gingers."

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Kag » Sat Jun 25, 2011 1:53 pm UTC

Beardhammer wrote:So what's the problem with a DNA database like the one being proposed, then?


Nothing. I just asked a question. You are arguing with yourself.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Jun 25, 2011 2:18 pm UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:@Lizardman: At the risk of dragging the conversation back slightly, I'd be interested to know more of what your background in maths is? I don't see a mention of Bayes rules, which is rather important in these situations.
Near as I could tell from skimming, the mathematics Lizardman used were equivalent to Bayes.

I worry about the competence of any government to maintain an accurate database of tens or hundreds of millions DNA samples and ensure they match up to correct names and addresses. Our government has proven to be pretty hopeless at this sort of thing in recent decades even with much smaller databases.
Yeah, weren't there problems with errors in one of the US's terrorism watch lists? I don't remember the details, but I do know that said list has at most about a thousandth as many people as a universal DNA database would have.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Sat Jun 25, 2011 4:51 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Several such scenarios have already been described. Consequences of someone else knowing about your risk for various serious diseases in particular could be pretty shitty.

gmalivuk wrote:Notice the part where I'm talking about other issues than criminology?

I'm not sure why this keeps coming up, as I've already pointed out multiple times that the 13 markers used for forensic DNA matching are not full gene sequences and thus are quite useless for knowing about things like disease susceptibility.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Sat Jun 25, 2011 8:23 pm UTC

I have to say, I find it astonishing that the better part of the xkcd forum members (well, the subset who are in this thread, anyway) are so gung-ho about a mandatory universal governmental DNA database. O_o
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Sat Jun 25, 2011 8:47 pm UTC

Cheezwhiz Jenkins wrote:I have to say, I find it astonishing that the better part of the xkcd forum members (well, the subset who are in this thread, anyway) are so gung-ho about a mandatory universal governmental DNA database. O_o


Could you elaborate on why? On its own, this doesn't say much...
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Sat Jun 25, 2011 10:17 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
Cheezwhiz Jenkins wrote:I have to say, I find it astonishing that the better part of the xkcd forum members (well, the subset who are in this thread, anyway) are so gung-ho about a mandatory universal governmental DNA database. O_o


Could you elaborate on why? On its own, this doesn't say much...


I frankly don't have a huge desire to be involved in the actual debate on this - I find it's going around and around in circles. I am merely expressing surprise, because as a general rule, while these fora are very liberal, they also seem to me to be very concerned with human rights in general (and often human rights as they pertain to new or relatively new technological developments and abilities) and take an approach which sees human rights as many, varied, and inviolate. Since I see this entire idea as very much a violation of privacy, I would have expected most people on the forums (actually, most people, period) to oppose such an idea.

But like I said, I don't really care to debate it anymore, because the two sides of this are essentially are going "Storing part of my DNA is a violation of my privacy and could result in some very bad and scary violations of other rights" "Nuh-uh!" "Yeah-huh!" I don't think the discussion is going anywhere particularly interesting.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Sat Jun 25, 2011 10:52 pm UTC

Cheezwhiz Jenkins wrote:Since I see this entire idea as very much a violation of privacy, I would have expected most people on the forums (actually, most people, period) to oppose such an idea.


I guess a lot of us have a hard time seeing exactly what privacy is being invaded in the case of forensic DNA markers, so our "privacy is good" switch isn't triggered. o.o
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:19 am UTC

How about the right to control my genetic information (particularly when that information is personally identifying)? If this was an organ, or any other part of my body, you would agree I had every right to exert full control over it; likewise with any original information or works I myself generated - why is it that when you mash up those two things, and get information unique to me that is a part of my body, suddenly I lose my right to full and utter control of where that goes?
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:33 am UTC

For approximately the same reason that we have the Fair Use doctrine.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:40 am UTC

OK. I demand you give me a cheek swab. Under fair use, I'm entitled to part of your genetic code!
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Kag » Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:58 am UTC

That depends on what your use is.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Jun 26, 2011 1:34 am UTC

Aaeriele wrote:I'm not sure why this keeps coming up, as I've already pointed out multiple times that the 13 markers used for forensic DNA matching are not full gene sequences and thus are quite useless for knowing about things like disease susceptibility.
Sure, but the OP (and your first couple posts in this thread) were about keeping DNA on file.

I must have missed when you switched to talking about only keeping a record of the test results for those 13 markers.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Sun Jun 26, 2011 1:44 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Sure, but the OP (and your first couple posts in this thread) were about keeping DNA on file.

I must have missed when you switched to talking about only keeping a record of the test results for those 13 markers.

Err, I'm fairly certain the OP and such were about DNA samples taken by the police - which are stored in the specific-marker format I was talking about. So there was never a switch... people just assumed that the police currently store full DNA samples (which they don't).

Cheezwhiz Jenkins wrote:OK. I demand you give me a cheek swab. Under fair use, I'm entitled to part of your genetic code!


First, you are not the government, and thus do not have a reasonable justification for utilizing my DNA.

Second, you have no established procedure in place for what you are going to do with that swab, how the data from it is going to be stored, et cetera.

Third, I said "approximately" Fair Use. Not specifically. The point is that just because your DNA is yours, does not necessarily mean there aren't reasons why the government might be justified in keeping certain records about it.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Sun Jun 26, 2011 1:46 am UTC

Cheezwhiz Jenkins wrote:OK. I demand you give me a cheek swab. Under fair use, I'm entitled to part of your genetic code!


First, you are not the government, and thus do not have a reasonable justification for utilizing my DNA.

Second, you have no established procedure in place for what you are going to do with that swab, how the data from it is going to be stored, et cetera.

Third, I said "approximately" Fair Use. Not specifically. The point is that just because your DNA is yours, does not necessarily mean there aren't reasons why the government might be justified in keeping certain records about it.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:57 am UTC

First, you are not the government, and thus do not have a reasonable justification for utilizing my DNA.

Second, you have no established procedure in place for what you are going to do with that swab, how the data from it is going to be stored, et cetera.

Third, I said "approximately" Fair Use. Not specifically. The point is that just because your DNA is yours, does not necessarily mean there aren't reasons why the government might be justified in keeping certain records about it.


First, fair use is not something that is exclusive to government. That is kind of the point of fair use - there is a fairly wide array of reasonable justifications for a wide array of individuals and entities citing, quoting, remixing, and otherwise using copyrighted material. Why does the government have any kind of exclusivity on the right to take your DNA without your permission?

Second, I don't have to have an established procedure. That's not part of fair use. I want to use your DNA as part of my scholarly research. I'm not going to run tests on it. I just want to cite it.

Third, so, pretty much totally not like fair use at all?
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby A_pathetic_lizardmnan » Sun Jun 26, 2011 7:15 am UTC

Cheezwhiz Jenkins wrote:
First, you are not the government, and thus do not have a reasonable justification for utilizing my DNA.

Second, you have no established procedure in place for what you are going to do with that swab, how the data from it is going to be stored, et cetera.

Third, I said "approximately" Fair Use. Not specifically. The point is that just because your DNA is yours, does not necessarily mean there aren't reasons why the government might be justified in keeping certain records about it.


First, fair use is not something that is exclusive to government. That is kind of the point of fair use - there is a fairly wide array of reasonable justifications for a wide array of individuals and entities citing, quoting, remixing, and otherwise using copyrighted material. Why does the government have any kind of exclusivity on the right to take your DNA without your permission?

Second, I don't have to have an established procedure. That's not part of fair use. I want to use your DNA as part of my scholarly research. I'm not going to run tests on it. I just want to cite it.

Third, so, pretty much totally not like fair use at all?


@Deep Thought: I did effectively use Bayesian math, though I slightly simplified it. However, the specific math is not really as important as the idea that "innocent until proven guilty" is an approximation of the rule of "don't favor specific hypotheses without evidence."

@Cheezwhiz Jenkins: Everyone wants to cite my DNA... That "CAG-GTA-GGA-TAG-CGAT-ACG-ATA-GCT-AGC-TTA-GCT-ATG-CTA-GCT-AGG-ATG-CGA-TCG-ATG-CGA-TCG-GAT-CGG-CTT-AGC-GTA-GGC-GAT-TGC-GAT-GCG-ATG-CGG-ATG-CGT-AGC-TAG-CGG-ATG" really was a genetic masterpiece... I suppose you can cite it, if it's for scholarly research.
More seriously, xkcdians tend to object to harmful or potentially harmful invasions of privacy. Before that reaction is invoked, we have to be convinced both that something truly is an invasion of privacy and that it's harmful. Some are convinced, some aren't. I personally think this would be a net benefit, but it's not one-sided. There are drawbacks, particularly cost, potential abuse, and human error, but that does not automatically lead to "this is a horrible idea".

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Deep_Thought » Sun Jun 26, 2011 9:55 am UTC

A_pathetic_lizardmnan wrote:@Deep Thought: I did effectively use Bayesian math, though I slightly simplified it. However, the specific math is not really as important as the idea that "innocent until proven guilty" is an approximation of the rule of "don't favor specific hypotheses without evidence."

Fair enough. It looked almost like Bayes, but not quite, so I just wasn't sure. The wonders of communicating maths via forum does not help (Although xkcd does support LaTeX markup :))

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby D.B. » Sun Jun 26, 2011 10:04 am UTC

Going back to the Uk system for a moment (which is where the thread started), i think it's perhaps relevant to remember the timeframe that the controversy started off. That would by my guess be roughly around the middle of the last decade, leading up to today - the same kind of period as when the government was pushing for 90 day detention without trial and mandatory ID cards amongst other things. My (anecdotal) experience was that there was a lot of suspicions about civil liberties in the UK general. Certainly there was enough that when Ed Miliband became the new Labour leader, he saw fit to indicate it as a problem in his first speech. Perhaps had the DNA database issues arisen at a different time, people would be more inclined to see the benefits.

Next up, yes, the uk system itself also matches on sets of markers. However, according to the wikipedia page,
...However, individuals' skin or blood samples are also kept permanently linked to the database and can contain complete genetic information...

We can slap a big fat 'citation needed' on that line. They do however later link to a guaridan article which talks about the following:
...In a separate twist, evidence has emerged that the Home Office has given permission for a controversial genetic study to be undertaken using the DNA samples on the police database to see if it is possible to predict a suspect's ethnic background or skin colour from them. Permission has been given for the DNA being collected on the police database to be used in 20 research studies...

which is exactly the kind of thing people who are wary* of a DNA database worry about. Sure, we're told that it'll only be used to help solve crimes, and who could argue with that? The thing is, once they've got a framework in place to collect all this info, they're only one statutory instrument** away from changing it without further consultation. And I bet any changes would tend to broaden its use, rather than narrow them. Politicans here are percieved as having a habit of introducing knee jerk reaction when the tabloids get their teeth into something. We'd be only one "think of the children!" event away from goodness knows what. And I say goodness knows what as I'm not really sure what one can do with the kind of volume of genetic data, aggregated with all the other info we have kept on record plus any possible future info they might decide to collect. I'm not really convinced anyone else does either. The whole country, on file, searchable? Even just the markers I suspect would be a fascinating resource to investigate.


*I count myself in this category - not hardline opposed as i can see the good it would do, but it worries me at some hard-to-pin-down-but-deep level.
**Hey, there's that mid 2000's period again!

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Deep_Thought » Sun Jun 26, 2011 11:12 am UTC

D.B. wrote:... and mandatory ID cards amongst other things. ...

On a technical but rather important point, how would a DNA database work without a corresponding ID database? The entire point of the DNA is to establish a person's identity. Seen as the UK and US don't have full ID databases (officially, unofficially the driver's license and tax databases do a pretty good job), wouldn't we have to establish a national ID database before a DNA one would be any use?

And yes, I agree with all your other points and am sadly unshocked about that study being given permission*.

*Was your Guardian mis-spelling deliberate? I thought the agreed mis-spelling was Grauniad? (UK in-joke to those from across the pond).

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby aoeu » Sun Jun 26, 2011 11:33 am UTC

D.B. wrote:The whole country, on file, searchable? Even just the markers I suspect would be a fascinating resource to investigate.

Isn't that an argument in favor of a database?

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Cheezwhiz Jenkins wrote:so, pretty much totally not like fair use at all?


*sigh* I already explicitly stated my actual meaning in using that particular metaphor; and yet you decided to jump on semantics. Whatever. I'm just going to restate the important part, I don't feel like indulging in that.

Aaeriele wrote:The point is that just because your DNA is yours, does not necessarily mean there aren't reasons why the government might be justified in keeping certain records about it.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Cathy » Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:23 am UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:Seen as the UK and US don't have full ID databases (officially, unofficially the driver's license and tax databases do a pretty good job), wouldn't we have to establish a national ID database before a DNA one would be any use?


Actually, in the US the Social Security cards are pretty much an ID database. The only people who don't have them are illegal immigrants, and many of them get only slightly falsified, but otherwise usable/accurate, SSCs. You need a Social Security number to get a bank account, a drivers license, pay taxes, and go to college. And while I admit there are probably people with none of those, they are in the minority.

Frankly, I view a DNA database as just one more piece of information. The only big hurtle would be to get juries to see that DNA evidence isn't the Be-All-End-All of a case.
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