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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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

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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