Friday, 25 July 2014

Understanding genetic ancestry testing and debunking genetic astrology

I'm pleased to announce the launch of a new UCL website devoted to the subject of genetic ancestry testing. I've been working on this website with my UCL colleagues Professor David Balding, Professor Mark Thomas and Adrian Timpson.

The aim of the website is to explain how genetic ancestry tests work and to explain what such tests can and can't tell you, but with a particular focus on the inferences made about our deep ancestry. I am a passionate advocate for the use of DNA testing for genealogical purposes. DNA can be a very powerful tool when used in combination with both genealogical and historical records, especially now that the genetic genealogy databases are so large. However, it is much more difficult to make inferences about deep ancestry based on DNA evidence alone. Unfortunately many misleading stories and dubious claims which are not supported by the scientific evidence have appeared in the media. Such "genetic astrology" stories only serve to undermine public confidence in DNA testing and prevent the subject from being taken seriously. It is often difficult for the uninformed reader to make sense of these stories and to separate the facts from the storytelling. We hope that our website will go some way to setting the record straight.

The new website is an extension of our previous website which was devoted to the BritainsDNA saga. BritainsDNA are not by any means the only source of exaggerated claims appearing in the media, though to our knowledge they are the only company who have resorted to legal threats in an attempt to silence their critics. The BritainsDNA saga still features prominently but we have now added additional sections to the website looking at dubious claims from other commercial organisations, and deconstructing some of the doubtful research claims that have appeared on TV or in the press. We also have a section devoted to some of the more problematic theories about our genetic ancestry that are circulated over the internet, in the press, and across social media platforms. The new website can be found here:

The website is inevitably a work in progress, and will evolve over time. We would welcome any feedback and in particular suggestions for further topics which should be covered.


Caroline Gurney said...

Debbie, I love the new site. Many thanks to all involved at UCL. I will point my clients to your excellent explanations of the different tests. It would be helpful, though, if there was more said about Y-DNA and surname matching for genealogy purposes. The focus on debunking deep ancestry claims for Y-DNA testing means legitimate uses are to my mind rather underplayed. On a personal note I am thrilled to have found via the Debunking site. My vertically challenged, Catholic husband, who cannot remember the plot of Colombo episodes he has watched hundreds of times was delighted to learn that his I1 haplogroup means he is a very tall atheist with a fantastic memory!

Debbie Kennett said...

Caroline, Many thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you like the site. The legitimate uses of DNA testing are already well covered by ISOGG. There is a lot material on the ISOGG Wiki:

You might find these two articles of particular interest for interpreting Y-DNA matches:

The beginners' articles might also be helpful:

You might be amused to know that I am also married to a "fallen angel" from haplogroup I1!