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Thread: Tom Chivers of BuzzFeed attacks BritainsDNA

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    Tom Chivers of BuzzFeed attacks BritainsDNA

    Tom Chivers of BuzzFeed has joined the crowd taking a hatchet to this particular company.
    https://www.buzzfeed.com/tomchivers/...O82#.cxngZqY5y

    BritainsDNA is a small player in the genetic genealogy arena, dominated by Ancestry.co.uk and 23andme.co.uk. Yet its eye-catching claims – including telling one customer they were descended from people who created “the first example of religious art in the west”, 32,000 years ago – have caught the attention of the Times, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, where its founder was interviewed by Jim Naughtie.

    While no one appears to take issue with the actual DNA testing carried out by BritainsDNA, a large amount of what it then goes on to claim about people’s ancestry is misleading, or generic in the sense that the same information is true of lots of people of European descent, in the opinion of scientists contacted by BuzzFeed News.

    Dr Adam Rutherford is a geneticist and the author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, a book published in September which alleges that BritainsDNA makes “meaningless”, “speculative” and “unsupportable” claims. He told BuzzFeed News that the descriptions of ancestors accompanying BritainsDNA’s genetic test reports are “eloquent, but mostly total bollocks”. He had his own test done in 2015. “I came out as ‘Germanic’,” he said. “They talk about this tribe struggling across the frozen Rhine as they moved westward towards the UK. They showed a picture of a guy with drawstring trousers and his top off, wielding a shortsword.”
    He goes on to quote David Balding, Debbie Kennett and Mark Thomas.

    Moffat has since sold the company to Source BioScience, where it sits in a portfolio called myDNA.global, along with ScotlandsDNA, CymruDNA, IrelandsDNA and YorkshiresDNA.

    Kennett’s view is that the ancestry information the company gives is “generic nonsense”.

    She points out that DNA testing “can be legitimately used for genealogy purposes”. For instance, you could find out more information about where your surname comes from, which is passed down the male line like a Y chromosome. Kennett, says she has traced her surname back to the 13th century using traditional genealogical techniques, and, by comparing her male relatives’ Y-chromosome to those of two people she is distantly related to, has used DNA testing to confirm her findings as far back as the 15th century.

    “When you combine the genealogical records or historical records with the Y-chromosome data you can make legitimate inferences,” she says. But she views “a fancy report with a haplogroup story” as “completely worthless.”

    BritainsDNA declined to comment when approached by BuzzFeed News.

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    Jean M, BuzzFeed! I chuckle at the name. BuzzFeed is not known to be the fountain of truth as they purport to be. Truth is massaged to better fit agendas and to provide fodder for the most part to compliant readers. It reminds me of Prada, fun to read, but of little value. Joe

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    Quote Originally Posted by Amerijoe View Post
    Jean M, BuzzFeed! I chuckle at the name. BuzzFeed is not known to be the fountain of truth as they purport to be.
    Just thought it was worth mentioning that the vendetta against this particular direct-to-consumer DNA firm rumbles on, based on stuff written when Moffat was in charge. The excuse is the book by Rutherford, published in September 2016. Moffat bailed out in March 2016: http://www.anthrogenica.com/showthre...rce-BioScience

    Given the way that firms come and go and modify their ideas, I preferred in AJ not to castigate any particular firm by name, but just to point out problems in general:

    Commercial genetic testing is precariously balanced on the cutting edge of science. Firms promising a certificate of Viking ancestry or descent from Niall of the Nine Hostages were jumping the gun. The science shifted before the ink was dry on the publicity material.
    Last edited by Jean M; 12-05-2016 at 02:35 PM.

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    This is not a "vendetta" against a particular company. The rationale for the reporter covering this story was that the pseudoscience had far more coverage than the actual science. All the mainstream British newspapers (The Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Mail, etc) have devoted masses of column inches publicising all the overhyped nonsense but none of them have shown any interest in setting the record straight.

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    Me, my father and my sister tested with Irelands DNA and the results were exactly correct. We have also tested with 23andMe, FTDNA and Ancestry. From our personal experience with this company I would recommend them. However, I would also recommend testing with the aforementioned big 3 first.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DebbieK View Post
    This is not a "vendetta" against a particular company. The rationale for the reporter covering this story was that the pseudoscience had far more coverage than the actual science. All the mainstream British newspapers (The Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Mail, etc) have devoted masses of column inches publicising all the overhyped nonsense but none of them have shown any interest in setting the record straight.
    Complete nonsense. All these negative comments about ScoDNA can just as well be aimed at for example the Genographic Project who also generate fancy maps with ancient haplogroup stories - yet strangely you Rutherford and Thomas have no interest in that at all. Might that be because FTDNA, who you tirelessly promote and defend, do their testing?
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacUalraig View Post
    Complete nonsense. All these negative comments about ScoDNA can just as well be aimed at for example the Genographic Project who also generate fancy maps with ancient haplogroup stories - yet strangely you Rutherford and Thomas have no interest in that at all. Might that be because FTDNA, who you tirelessly promote and defend, do their testing?
    It was the Buzzfeed reporter's decision to focus on BritainsDNA for the reasons I've already stated. I'm not aware of the Genographic Project promoting pseudoscience in mainstream newspapers in the UK or on BBC TV and radio. If they did then it would certainly be legitimate to criticise them. If you look at the BBC website the references to the Genographic Project are all to studies published in scientific journals. The problem with ScotlandsDNA/BritainsDNA is that the newspaper stories and media appearances were just PR exercises dressed up as science. People were misled into thinking that by testing with the company they were participating in a scientific research project. The preposterous claims made had a negative impact on the whole field of genetic genealogy and population genetics. To date, there has not been a single paper published by BritainsDNA in any peer-reviewed journal. The Genographic Project have at least published a fair number of papers, though quite a few of them are not of particularly high quality. They are also a non-profit organisation, unlike BritainsDNA which was set up as a for-profit company. I do my best to promote all the legitimate genetic genealogy companies and not just FTDNA.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DebbieK View Post
    This is not a "vendetta" against a particular company. The rationale for the reporter covering this story was that the pseudoscience had far more coverage than the actual science. All the mainstream British newspapers (The Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Mail, etc) have devoted masses of column inches publicising all the overhyped nonsense but none of them have shown any interest in setting the record straight.
    Debbie after reading your post again, your point is well taken. Due to a time constraint on my first read I did not give credence to your post. I apologise (apologize) for that slight. Ah, the freedom to spell as one wishes. Due to the wondrous process of thought and genetic peculiarities, topped off with an aged sprinkle of maturity, staying on subject becomes a challenge especially with my approaching expiration date.

    Where was I, ah yes, due to focused outside forces, there exists in many disciplines a fog between science and actual science. I was reluctant to use the term, actual science, because science at one time stood on it's own without any affirmative connotation. Many peer reviewers push whatever narrative produces the best return on funding. The testing companies are in themselves active in the arena of pseudoscience. Together with the backing of the entire electronic social network, science becomes what that network dictates. Is there a package of real science under that kilt? Someone please take a peek and get back to us. Joe

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    Quote Originally Posted by Amerijoe View Post
    Debbie after reading your post again, your point is well taken. Due to a time constraint on my first read I did not give credence to your post. I apologise (apologize) for that slight. Ah, the freedom to spell as one wishes. Due to the wondrous process of thought and genetic peculiarities, topped off with an aged sprinkle of maturity, staying on subject becomes a challenge especially with my approaching expiration date.

    Where was I, ah yes, due to focused outside forces, there exists in many disciplines a fog between science and actual science. I was reluctant to use the term, actual science, because science at one time stood on it's own without any affirmative connotation. Many peer reviewers push whatever narrative produces the best return on funding. The testing companies are in themselves active in the arena of pseudoscience. Together with the backing of the entire electronic social network, science becomes what that network dictates. Is there a package of real science under that kilt? Someone please take a peek and get back to us. Joe
    Thanks Joe. The peer review process is not perfect but it's the best we've got and it does at least have the merit of filtering out the worst of the pseudoscience. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get funding, and it tends to be medical research that takes priority rather than studies about our genetic history. Just because a paper gets through peer review it doesn't mean it's right, and also knowledge advances very rapidly so something published five or ten years ago might be completely irrelevant today.

    There are some companies and some services which are basically selling pseudoscience. That's particularly the case for companies that try and sell you things like nutritional supplements off the back of a genetic test. However, the major testing companies are not peddling pseudoscience. Some of them have published many scientific papers (eg, 23andMe, deCODE, Genographic Project). The AncestryDNA scientists have presented posters and abstracts at the big ASHG meetings. When marketing a product there is always going to be a fine balance between presenting the science accurately but without making it seem so boring that no one wants to buy the product. My concern in any case is not so much with the marketing of DNA tests, but the editorial coverage in the media.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DebbieK View Post
    Thanks Joe. The peer review process is not perfect but it's the best we've got and it does at least have the merit of filtering out the worst of the pseudoscience. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get funding, and it tends to be medical research that takes priority rather than studies about our genetic history. Just because a paper gets through peer review it doesn't mean it's right, and also knowledge advances very rapidly so something published five or ten years ago might be completely irrelevant today.

    There are some companies and some services which are basically selling pseudoscience. That's particularly the case for companies that try and sell you things like nutritional supplements off the back of a genetic test. However, the major testing companies are not peddling pseudoscience. Some of them have published many scientific papers (eg, 23andMe, deCODE, Genographic Project). The AncestryDNA scientists have presented posters and abstracts at the big ASHG meetings. When marketing a product there is always going to be a fine balance between presenting the science accurately but without making it seem so boring that no one wants to buy the product. My concern in any case is not so much with the marketing of DNA tests, but the editorial coverage in the media.
    Agreed, in their marketing approach, science, IMO, takes the proverbial back seat. Marketing is more or less geared towards the basic emotional aspect, the want to belong. I'm not on anyone's side on this matter, but that is how I perceive the present state of debate. Is science present, yes, without it their business model would not hold up. Is the science useful, yes and no, depending on one's aspect. Looking at it from the perspective of an involved discipline is quite different than this aspect of newly tested or dedicated hobbyist.

    Peeling the onion takes patience, perseverance, discipline and the wherewithal to forge ahead under duress if necesssary. Not many have these attributes, that's why scientists were invented. I was heading down the road of the white lab coat with my name scripted in gold thread, but I realized one of those proclaimed attributes was on shaky ground no matter how much of a self control wrapper I tried to feist upon it. I was fortunate enough to take a perceived negative and find where it would be most advantageous. I headed in another direction, using a perceived shortcoming as a positive.

    These companies need to take control of the narrative, where positive feedback becomes the norm. In today's global society there is a non stop assault on the aforementioned attributes. We live in a complex world, if peeling the onion stings your eyes, have someone else take over. You're a key, keep trying until you hear the click, wonderful things could await. Joe

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