Books Bite the Dust

, Deborah Lambert, Leave a comment

Given the lack of student interest in reading these days, it’s no surprise that the University of California at Berkeley decided to completely change the dynamics of the summer reading list.

In fact, this year they didn’t even attempt to saddle incoming freshmen with a book. Instead they have assigned the non-reading task of “returning a cotton swab with cells from the insides of their cheeks.”

The school will analyze the returned samples for “three genes that help regulate the ability to metabolize alcohol, lactose and folates,” said the New York Times.

“Testing is voluntary and confidential.” Results will be posted on a website, using the same bar code ID provided by the student.

As the “first mass genetic testing by a university,” the Berkeley program has already raised eyebrows among those concerned with responsible use of human biotechnologies.

Word has it that the experiment might legitimize or even promote the “controversial direct-to-consumer genetics testing industry,” which some experts like Jesse Reynolds, a policy analyst at the Center for Genetics and Society, believe is tantamount to “practicing medicine without a license.”

On a lighter note, some Berkeley officials suggested that this summer assignment which takes less than three seconds would have a much higher completion rate. “If we assigned them a book, it would be out of date by the time they read it,” said Alix Schwartz, director of academic planning for the college of letters and sciences.

To which John Leo responded that anything by “Shakespeare, Plato, Voltaire, comic books and oh so many other once-pertinent works” would also be out of date.

Deborah Lambert writes the Squeaky Chalk column for Accuracy in Academia.