Balding - Genealogy - November 2018
The Rise and Fall of BritainsDNA: A Tale of Misleading Claims, Media Manipulation and Threats to Academic Freedom
Direct-to-consumer genetic ancestry testing is a new and growing industry that has gained widespread media coverage and public interest. Its scientific base is in the fields of population and evolutionary genetics and it has benefitted considerably from recent advances in rapid and cost-effective DNA typing technologies. There is a considerable body of scientific literature on the use of genetic data to make inferences about human population history, although publications on inferring the ancestry of specific individuals are rarer.
Population geneticists have questioned the scientific validity of some population history inference approaches, particularly those of a more interpretative nature. These controversies have spilled over into commercial genetic ancestry testing, with some companies making sensational claims about their products. One such company—BritainsDNA—made a number of dubious claims both directly to its customers and in the media.
Here, Professor David Balding and colleagues from University College London outline their scientific concerns, document the exchanges between themselves, BritainsDNA and the BBC, and discuss the issues raised about media promotion of commercial enterprises, academic freedom of expression, science and pseudoscience and the genetic ancestry testing industry. They provide a detailed account of this case as a resource for historians and sociologists of science, and to shape public understanding, media reporting and scientific scrutiny of the commercial use of population and evolutionary genetics.
Kennett, D.A.; Timpson, A.; Balding, D.J.; Thomas, M.G.The Rise and Fall of BritainsDNA: A Tale of Misleading Claims, Media Manipulation and Threats to Academic Freedom. Genealogy 2018, 2, 47.
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Figure 1. Google trends show a strong correlation between the global and UK increasing interest in ‘DNA ancestry’ since c.2013. However, the growing interest in this new industry does not explain the newspaper coverage of BritainsDNA.