The Genetic Genealogy Community Responds to Last Week’s Article in Science


Last week I provided an analysis of the article in Science, “The Science and Business of Genetic Ancestry Testing“, which examined the benefits and pitfalls of genetic genealogy.

There’s been considerable discussion of the article and the author’s conclusions at the Genealogy-DNA mailing list. One of the most interesting posts was by Kim Tallbear, a long-time member of the list and co-author of the Science article. The post, “Response to Genetic Genealogists From Authors of Oct. 19th Science Article“, is important reading for anyone who is following the development of this story. The following is a quote from Dr. Tallbear’s post:

“We orginally had language in the article that noted the expertise of genetic genealogists such as some of you on this list. (My interactions on this listserv taught me well that there is a good deal of expertise here.) But with space constraints the editors cut that language.)”

The post also contains “an email response from lead author, Deborah Bolnick, a biological anthropologist at the University of Texas, to a genetic genealogist who was unhappy with our article.” Dr. Bolnick’s email discusses the eliminated section of the paper and emphasizes that there are a number of genetic genealogists who are very educated in this area of genetics:

“While there are many individuals like you who have learned a great deal about population genetics, the available tests, and the associated population history, there are also a lot of individuals who take these tests without knowing much about them. Our Science article was focused on that group of people because we feel it is important for every test-taker to have a clear understanding of what DNA tests both can and cannot tell us.

Education, as always, is the key.

4 Responses

  1. Hsien Lei 22 October 2007 / 11:30 am

    I think this is where consumers have to choose companies that are good at explaining what test results mean. Companies need to provide adequate support whether that means responding to emails directly to company representatives or forums where customers can exchange information.

  2. Blaine 22 October 2007 / 11:58 am

    I agree completely. It is just as important to tell the customer what results DO NOT mean as it is to them them what they DO mean.

    I also think it would be a great (if somewhat expensive) idea to provide a brochure in every testing kit which explains some of the benefits/uses and limitations of genetic genealogy.

  3. Hsien Lei 22 October 2007 / 12:26 pm

    Are you telling me they don’t already provide a detailed manual of some sort in testing kits/results? I’ve never taken a DNA test so I wouldn’t know what to expect but I don’t see why companies can’t at least make a hard copy of their web content. Hmmm.

  4. Blaine 22 October 2007 / 1:06 pm

    Let me provide a caveat – I don’t have current information for companies, but in my experience there is typically only a disclaimer and 1 or 2 pages of information, mostly about swabbing for DNA.

    If any readers know what is currently offered in testing kits (in the way of a brochure or information), feel free to leave a comment!

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