Ángel Carracedo: «I place more importance on science communication than on articles published in ‘Nature’ or ‘Science’»
Ángel Carracedo (1955) is Professor of Legal Medicine and Director of the Institute of Legal Medicine of the University of Santiago de Compostela. He is an internationally renowned expert in forensic genetics and member of regulatory bodies such as the Forensic DNA Regulator in the UK or the International Society for Forensic Genetics (ISFG), where he was president between 1999 and 2005. On the national level, he is also president of the Spanish Society of Pharmacogenetics and Pharmacogenomics (SEFF). His services have been required in famous cases of forensic investigation such as the tsunami in Southeast Asia or the 2004 Madrid jihadist terrorist attacks. As for genomic medicine, he has participated in the identification of genes involved in colon, breast and thyroid cancer. He has also taken part in detecting molecular basis of psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and other diseases such as Alzheimer’s or autism.
We had the chance to interview him, on the occasion of Professor Carracedo’s visit to participate in the Del laboratori al tribunal («From the lab to the courtroom») formative conferences, organized by the Institute of Legal Medicine of Valencia last March. One of the topics that aroused most interests among geneticists and magistrates was the one presented by Dr. Carracedo, who did not leave anyone indifferent at a conference on the interpretation of the DNA test where he showed his educational virtues. There, the Professor at the University of Santiago de Compostela tried to explain the real meaning of probability in forensic genetics to the attendees, which is presented as a standard for estimating likelihood. After his talk, a willing Professor Carracedo, who used the same relaxed tone of his lecture, and I spent a few pleasant minutes at the virtually empty facilities of the City of Justice where we discussed about medicine, genetics and the dissemination of science.
Genetics has triggered changes in many areas of Biology. Apart from biological research, to what extent has Genetics affected the law itself?
And in the near future, how will all these new tools provided by genetic research keep modifying and conditioning the judicial process? For example, I am referring to tools such as genomic banks, which are now a reality as evidenced in technologically developed countries. What can go beyond that?
Do you think that judges need a better preparation in order to understand these new tests which are offered by genetics? Or should scientists get their position closer in order to be understood?
You have collaborated on media cases where tools of genetic identification have been necessary: The Alcasser teenage girls case, the 2004 Madrid jihadist terrorist attacks or the identification of remains at Las Quemadillas in the Breton case. Have you ever felt any pressure either social or media while working in such cases?
Issues such as autism in children…
Do you think that psychiatric illnesses and their genetic component have been neglected from the research standpoint?
«Actually, we do not realize, but all this has affected our lives in many ways, and even justice of course»
«It is vital to introduce an understanding of probability in training programmes for magistrates, prosecutors and judges. It is the only way left to be able to assess correctly what specialists say»
«I find the media pressure unbearable in many cases. I think that it jeopardizes our legal and expert autonomy, and I am concerned»
What is your opinion regarding the perception of forensic genetics in general?
In fact, you are very involved in scientific projects and activities for young people. Is it necessary to introduce science in popular culture?
Do you believe that these new applications such as genomic medicine could be socially rejected to some extent like other disciplines of genetics were? I am referring to, for example, products originating from biotechnology.
So, do you believe then in this new concept of «Citizen science» or «Participatory science» referring to the citizenship as active commentators on scientific research?
Or they get rid of it…
So you advocate for putting an end to the two cultures as coined by C. P. Snow.
Juli Zacarés i Perea. Degree in Biology. MA in History of Science and Scientific Communication Student. University of Valencia.
«The most important thing that will happen in medicine thanks to genomics, other omics and system biology is a completely different classification of diseases»
«We understand very little about the world around us, but it is vital to understand what we do know because it is the only way to be more free and have better judgement»
«I think it is very important that all citizens reflect on the applications of science. But this involves a well-informed science to avoid that people are manipulated»