Google Founder Sacrifices Son, Last Shreds of Integrity to ScienceS

Google cofounder Sergey Brin and wife Anne Wojcicki are so unconcerned with privacy that they're donating their newborn son's DNA to science. So surely they won't mind if we tell you the kid's name.

A tipster tells us that "for security reasons," Brin and his wife, who's the cofounder of genetics-testing startup 23andMe, have given their son the official name of Benji Wojin (a combination of "Wojcicki" and "Brin").

And sure enough, someone has privately registered the domain name benjiwojin.com. Of course, the legendarily bizarre Brin, who posted pictures of himself in drag, got married in a Speedo, and had guests show up in diapers to a baby shower.

Papa Brin is already putting his son to work as a test subject for mom's business, according to the New York Times, which reports that he plans to have Benji tested for Parkinson's disease:

Mr. Brin and Ms. Wojcicki said they would check whether their son, who was born in November, also has the mutation, though he will not be able to donate his DNA in the usual way - putting saliva in small tubes, as 23andMe has promoted at celebrity-studded "spit parties."
"Babies can't spit into a tube," Mr. Brin said.

The disease is genetic, and runs in Brin's family. His mother, Eugenia, already has developed it, and Brin announced last September that he runs a high risk of developing it himself.

So Brin announced on his blog that he is funding a study that will subsidize the cost of having people with Parkinson's get their DNA tested through 23andMe; they will pay $25 instead of $399, with Brin's grant, one presumes, making up the difference.

This is at once a noble contribution to science — and an outrageous case of nepotism that raises questions of tax evasion.

23andMe is backed financially by Google, which became an investor as it repaid a personal loan Brin made to the company. (Anne Wojcicki's sister, Susan, is also an executive at Google — a position she got after she served as the company's first landlord.)

Previously, Brin had contributed money to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a prominent charity backed by the actor, who also suffers from Parkinson's. The Fox Foundation then went on to fund a Parkinson's study at 23andMe.

23andMe officially announced the study today — and confirmed that Brin himself provided the funding:

The initiative is made possible through funding by Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Mr. Brin's commitment comes from his personal interest in Parkinson's disease. Brin's mother has Parkinson's and he discovered through 23andMe that he has a genetic predisposition to the disease as well. He explained, "We can make significant progress in understanding Parkinson's disease if individuals join together and contribute their personal experiences to scientific research. Individually, our genes and experiences are lost in a sea of statistical noise. But, taken together they become a high power lens on our inner workings."

Mr. Brin's personal donation substantially underwrites the cost of genotyping the participants, who will pay only $25 compared with the usual commercial price of $399. Individuals who join through the PI and MJFF partnership will have the exact same data, information, tools, and access as individuals who have paid full price for the 23andMe Personal Genome Service.

Let's get this straight:

  • Brin is making a charitable donation, presumably tax-free, to the Fox Foundation.
  • The Fox Foundation is turning around and giving that money to 23andMe, a for-profit startup cofounded by Brin's wife and financially backed by Brin's company.
  • 23andMe will get to count the tests paid for by the charity as revenues, thereby pumping up its financial results, directly benefitting Google and Wojcicki.

We can all applaud Brin's contributions to science. But did he really need to go through what looks like a money-laundering scheme to make them?

(Photo via Edge.org)