What is wrong with some ancestry testing

By Razib Khan | February 28, 2013 1:27 pm

This is an example of the type of question I receive all the time:

Here is some genetic analysis of Somalis from yours truly. I don’t necessarily blame the public here, as the marketing of Y and mtDNA lineages has really gotten out of control recently. The problem is that the fine print that Y and mtDNA follow only one direct line of descent is usually there. But, it is accompanied by rich visual and narrative media that tells a story about that marker, and it is this that is salient for most. Not that the story being told is only a very small part of the overall epic cycle that is your genealogy.

(Also, in population genetics using the word “Caucasian” is really confusing. G2 can often be thought of as a Caucasian haplogroup, but I don’t think that that’s what my correspondent meant)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Personal Genomics
MORE ABOUT: Personal genomics
  • http://twitter.com/zenndiagram Zenn Diagram

    I think that comments like Ladlamhoona’s would be made even without the Y/mtDNA hype. I think that her comment indicates that she is thinking symbolically rather than statistically. People want to find one allele that symbolizes being X and then use it as a test to see if something is X. It is human nature to fixate on symbols. People love uniforms, flags, theology, fashion, buzzwords, etc…

    • S.J. Esposito

      Yes, but shouldn’t we fault the companies at least a little bit for playing to that and dispelling information in such a way that can be rather misleading to the lay public?

      Maybe not right now, but certainly in the near future, companies will need to find a better way to engage with the masses without sensationalizing results. Obviously the technology itself will mitigate some of this–e.g., it takes a lot more chicanery to sensationalize results that are based on genomic data than it does to do so on results based on uniparental markers–but, in my opinion, personal genomics as a field would do well to drop the “History Channel Special” feeling that some of them employ.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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