Cancer Genomics and Parable of Streetlight Effect

Cancer Genomics and Parable of Streetlight Effect


The streetlight effect is a type of observational bias where people only look for whatever they are searching by looking where it is easiest.

The parable is told several ways but includes the following details:

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is.”

In a commentary published in Science Signaling, MIT professor M. B. Yaffe suggests that massive sequencing efforts in cancer are possibly driven by such streetlight effect. We agree completely and see such thing as natural outcome of big data and buzzword driven science. The following figure is from his paper via Scientific American.

The scientific drunk and the lamppost: massive sequencing efforts in cancer discovery and treatment

The massive resources devoted to genome sequencing of human tumors have produced important data sets for the cancer biology community. Paradoxically, however, these studies have revealed very little new biology. Despite this, additional resources in the United States are slated to continue such work and to expand similar efforts in genome sequencing to mouse tumors. It may be that scientists are “addicted” to the large amounts of data that can be relatively easily obtained, even though these data seem unlikely, on their own, to unveil new cancer treatment options or result in the ultimate goal of a cancer cure. Rather than using more tumor genetic sequences, a better strategy for identifying new treatment options may be to develop methods for analyzing the signaling networks that underlie cancer development, progression, and therapeutic resistance at both a personal and systems-wide level.

Also check the following link for more discussion. h/t: @Aquaskyline (Ruibang).

Cancer, genomics and technological solutionism: A time to be wary

Written by M. //