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An Invisible Network Made Visible

A lot of recent focus in lecture has been on the relative strength of network connections.  This makes it necessary to define what exactly undermines network strength. For example, what happens if there are strong physical ties and non-existent social ties between individuals in a network?  A recent New York Times article, “One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring,” offers one striking example of this phenomenon.

When sperm is donated for usage in artificial insemination, it may be used multiple times in many patients. Recently, there has been growing concern as to whether there should be a limit on how many times donations may be utilized as children born to artificial insemination are increasingly learning that they may have dozens of half siblings.  This realization has been made possibly by a new website, www.donorsiblingregistry.com, that allows users to come forward and utilize the unique number assigned to their sperm donor to register and connect with half siblings.  Because users can only see voluntarily registered half-siblings, the website does not violate any privacy laws that in the past made it impossible for donor children to locate half siblings.  Given that donor sperm is often housed relatively locally, users have many times found themselves living amongst half siblings. Despite these newfound connections, the networks created between half siblings often lack a known central unifying node in the form of the sperm donor.  Under current U.S. legislation, sperm banks are allowed to protect the anonymity of donors, raising questions as to whether donor children should have more rights to their ancestry for social as well as medical purposes.

As opposed to a social network such as Facebook, individuals/nodes in the donor sibling registry network have an immediate interest in forming a strong connection. When an edge forms between nodes on donor sibling registry, there is already an inherently strong connection in genetic bonds, which may be viewed as an entirely separate network from the social one. Additionally, users on the website have joined with the intention of actively seeking out half siblings rather than passively making friend requests from time to time. As a result of such intentions, there are a number of success stories of half sibling relationships that have developed as a result of the website.  Many of these relationships have likely formed as a result of triadic closure occurring as half siblings connect with more siblings that join the site.

While users on the website do have the intention of forming a strong relationship, it may also be said that Facebook users seek out friends with common interests rather than physical similarities, which may be the basis for a more stable relationship. Thus, the cite may also lend itself to research with regards to the nature vs. nurture debate, as genetic similarities may not predispose people to exhibiting similar interests that often form the basis of strong relationships.

Click to access the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/06/health/06donor.html?pagewanted=1&hp (NYTimes.com offers 20 free article views a month)

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