Herb Allen’s ’63 investment bank gets a mention in this New York Times article about genetic testing for the masses.

Some people might fear a world where widespread DNA testing would remove the mysteries of their futures or even strip them of privacy. But the testing company 23andMe, which was the host of what it billed as a “spit party” in the middle of New York Fashion Week, filled with celebrities, wants people to think of their genomes as a basis for social networking. As in: You are invited to join the group Slow Caffeine Metabolizers.

Co-founded by Anne Wojcicki, the wife of a founder of Google, the company, which has token financial backing from Harvey Weinstein and Wendi Murdoch, hopes to make spitting into a test tube as stylish as ordering a ginger martini.

“It’s fun to learn about your own genome,” the 23andMe Web site says.

The $399 test is still a bit pricey for a high school science class, but not for much longer. What happens then? Consider my prediction from two years ago.

Up until now, we have all assumed (hoped) that applicants are mostly honest. The College does not check that you are “really” African-American or Hispanic. They take you at your word — although they certainly like to see club membership, essay/recommendation references and other signs consistent with that check-mark.

Yet what happens when every student at elite high schools gets tested? This will happen. Indeed, how can any social studies teacher resist such a test when it would serve as a great starting point for all sorts of amazing class discussions?

Then, once every junior at Exeter has taken the test, it will be time for some fun discussions in the college councilor’s office.

Uptight Parent: We would really like Johnny to go to Williams.

College Counselor: Well, Johnny is a great kid who will do well at Colby. But, with his grades and test scores, Williams would be quite a reach.

UP: If Johnny were African-American, he would get into Williams.

CC: Well, that might or might not be true, but it hardly seems relevant to this discussion since Johnny is white.

UP: But in the project that Johnny did for social studies showed that he was 2% sub-Saharan African.

CC: So . . .

UP: That means that he can check the African-American box on the Common Application.

CC: Well, the traditional usage of that box is for students that have always identified themselves, and been identified by others, as African-American.

UP: But it doesn’t say that on the form, does it?

CC: No.

UP: So, Johnny can check it, right? There is no school policy against it?

CC: Correct.

UP: In fact, since the test demonstrates that, scientifically, Johnny is African-America, I can count on the school to verify that designation in all its application paperwork.

CC: Yes. [Sigh] And I hear that the fall foliage is lovely in the Berkshires . . .

Think that this is just more stupid EphBlog fantasy?

Ashley Klett’s younger sister marked the “Asian” box on her college applications this year, after the elder Ms. Klett, 20, took a DNA test that said she was 2 percent East Asian and 98 percent European.

Whether it mattered they do not know, but she did get into the college of her choice.

“And they gave her a scholarship,” Ashley said.

Of course, being “Asian” does not help you when applying Williams.

Note also that these tests often make mistakes, so many of the box-checkers will actually be mistaken.

The point here is not that the current admissions policy at Williams is bad or good. It is what it is. The point is that there are significant preferences given to those who check certain boxes and that cheap genetic testing will provide many people with a plausible excuse to check boxes that, a few years ago, they did not have. How much will the admissions process change as a result? Time will tell. It will be very interesting to look at the time series of application by ethnic group over this decade. I predict that the raw number (and total pool percentage) of African-American and Hispanic applicants will increase sharply. Time will tell.

See here and here for bloggers who cover the science behind these tests.

The future is coming. Is Williams ready?

Facebooktwitter
Print  •  Email