Saturday, March 9, 2013

Making Sense About Making Sense

Image Source: Office of Biological and Environmental Research 
of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.
Sense about Science, a British charitable trust, has released a report entitled, Sense About Genetic Ancestry. The entire report is available as a free PDF download. Already several newspapers, such as the Telegraph, are stating that the report indicates DNA Tests are Meaningless. This is because the scientists refer to DNA testing as 'genetic astrology,' even though they are careful to say:
      "There are credible ways to use the genetic data from mtDNA or Y chromosomes in individual ancestry testing, such as to supplement independent, historical studies of genealogy. If, for example, two men have identified – through historical research, possibly involving surnames – a common maleline ancestor in the sixteenth century, it would be reasonable to use their Y chromosome data to test this. There are some ancestry testing companies that offer this service.  
      To answer a specific question about individual ancestry with any degree of confidence requires a combination of historical records and genetic information."
    No genealogist is going to dispute that advice, but there is no credible scientific way to use astrology, which is where their metaphor breaks down, and leads to bad media reporting. It could be argued the language of the report is as sensationalistic as the language of the DNA companies which the scientists are complaining about.

    The points the scientists raise are good ones. There probably are people taking the DNA tests without conducting historical record research, thinking the DNA test is all they need to do. And the report is meant for them, not for the genealogist who is taking the test with their eyes wide open about what the tests mean, and don't mean.

    If you're unsure what the tests means, read the report. I'm no expert, but I have read a lot about DNA testing, and I don't think I disagree with any of their premises, though I do find fault with some of the conclusions.

    No comments: