Did you just say what I think you said? Talking about genes, identity and information

Identity in the Information Society 3 (3):435-456 (2010)
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Genetic information is becoming increasingly used in modern life, extending beyond medicine to familial history, forensics and more. Following this expansion of use, the effect of genetic information on people’s identity and ultimately people’s quality of life is being explored in a host of different disciplines. While a multidisciplinary approach is commendable and necessary, there is the potential for the multidisciplinarity to produce conceptual misconnection. That is, while experts in one field may understand their use of a term like ‘gene’, ‘identity’ or ‘information’ for experts in another field, the same term may link to a distinctly different concept. These conceptual misconnections not only increase inefficiency in complex organisational practices, but can also have important ethical, legal and social consequences. This paper comes at the problem of conceptual misconnection by clarifying different uses of the terms ‘gene’, ‘identity’ and ‘information’. I start by looking at three different conceptions of the gene; the Instrumental, the Nominal and the Postgenomic Molecular. Secondly, a taxonomy of four different concepts of identity is presented; Numeric, Character, Group and Essentialised, and their use is clarified. A general concept of Information is introduced, and finally three distinct kinds of information are described. I then introduce Concept Creep as an ethical problem that arises from conceptual misconnections. The primary goal of this paper is to reduce the potential for conceptual misconnection when discussing genetic identity and genetic information. This is complimented by three secondary goals—1) to clarify what a conceptual misconnection is, 2) to explain why clarity of use is particularly important to discussions of genes, identity and information and 3) to show how concept creep between different uses of genetic identity and genetic information can have important ethical outcomes.



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