Sunday, 9 December 2007

CBC Marketplace distorts DNA genealogy testing results

I wonder, if I went to CBC headquarters in Toronto and tried to get an interview with Wendy Mesley about how they distorted the results of DNA testing in their recent Marketplace item would I get an interview? Showing a company refusing to be interviewed about a supposed abuse is a common approach for Marketplace. Would the CBC be as open as they expect others to be?

How did CBC distort this item?

1. The program chose the most basic mitrochrondrial DNA test (HVR1) to use on their subjects. Like going to a hotel which advertises it has luxury facilities, if you choose the room with the cheapest rate you don't expect it to be the most luxurious.

2. The program suggested that everyone with British roots should expect to have haplogroup H mitrochrondrial DNA. If memory serves about 70% do, which leaves the other 30%. What would Marketplace have done if the result for their test subject had been something other than group H?

3. By using the test done on Oprah, much more complex and expensive than that paid for by the CBC, and then setting Oprah's result as a benchmark on expectations, they set the tests up for failure. I won't comment on the reliability of the test Oprah took.

4. If Marketplace had chosen a male as their subject, and had him take a Y-DNA test, they would very likely have obtained results showing more ancestral insight. Perhaps the producers don't understand that only men have Y-DNA which, because it changes more rapidly than mitochrondrial DNA, gives greater resolution.

I would not particularly recommend Genebase, the company featured in the program, as a vehicle for DNA testing. In my view there are better options. However, Marketplace could not, and should not, have overlooked the emphasis Genebase places on Y-DNA as indicated by this extract from their website:

"Extend Family Research with Your Y-DNA Markers: Discover entire branches of your family tree using Y-DNA. Once your Y-DNA markers are tested, you can use them to trace your ancestral roots with DNA Analyzer, or join an exciting Surname Project to find distant relatives."

Why did the CBC misrepresented commercial DNA testing for genealogy in this way. Perhaps it makes for better infotainment, certainly not for better understanding.

2 comments:

TheGeneticGenealogist said...

Great post. The Marketplace segment was so poorly done. Genetic genealogy certainly has its weaknesses, but this segment was in left field most of the time. I'm not familiar with this program, but I think it's curious that they didn't interview someone who was happy with their results (of which there are thousands).

I'm glad to see that someone else had problems with the segment.

Hsien-Hsien Lei, PhD said...

The show's producer actually contacted me about this piece and they specifically investigated Genebase because they're a Canadian company and customers have lodged many complains against company over the past year. I haven't seen the piece but I suspect it's unbalanced simply b/c they were going for the Canadian angle. It's a shame because Canadians also have access to excellent genealogy DNA testing companies in the States. I better dig up the show and contact the producer....