Thursday, 15 May 2008

The DNA heritage test furore

In my posting comparing Ancestors and Ancestry magazines I made passing reference to Penny Law's article "Heritage Tests, revelation or rip-off?" in the June issue of Ancestors. Her conclusion, "its just a bit of fun." The article attracted the interest of the Daily Mail and the BBC. In a blog posting 14th May 2008: DNA furore Ancestors editor Simon Fowler admits that "My personal view is that DNA tests of these kind are a complete con and do not contribute to individual’s family trees."

Before painting such tests as a "complete con" surely the magazine should have made an effort to reconcile the results of the different tests? Was expert advice sought on the specifics of particular situation; if so it wasn't evident in the article. It appears that one test was done on the donor's autosomal DNA, so sampling across the whole spectrum of the donor's ancestors, whereas the other two looked specifically at the paternal and maternal lines, but with different terminologies used. Perhaps the fact that the article confirmed the editor's "personal view" was enough, along with the comfort of quoting the opinions of Cynics in the United States who may or may not be knowledgeable.

As to contributing to an individual's family tree, that isn't the aim of heritage tests. There are well established and highly successful DNA tests that are helping people sort out tangles in their family tree where paternity issues exist and helping link, or de-link, branches of family trees.

1 comment:

JDR said...

Max Blankfield of Family Tree DNA posted the following in the Rootsweb DNA newsgroup at: http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/GENEALOGY-DNA/2008-05/1210946256

Penny Law, the Deputy-Editor of Ancestors Magazine, The UK National Archives, wrote me in reply to an e-mail that I sent to The Daily Mail and Simon Fowler, Editor of the same publication. I also spoke to her this morning. I am appreciative of the fact that she wrote me, I feel that her answer was comprehensive and good, and I am happy with the fact that we opened a direct channel of communication.

Penny further noted that she "may well run a follow-up article", something that of course we will encourage her to do by supplying material that should be interesting enough - talking about DNA testing success stories, of which we have many.

We always welcome inquiries by the press, and many journalists contact us almost on a daily basis. Unfortunately this was not the case here, and while The Daily Mail sensationalist headline based on that story cannot be erased, our hope is that with more communication between us and the media, chances of something like this happening again will substantially diminish.

I wonder if Simon Fowler's personal opinion might be subject to revision based on better information?