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DNA ANCESTRY CON GAME-CONSUMER BEWARE!

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."

--Albert Einstein

"There's a sucker born every minute"

--P. T. Barnum

An estimated one million DNA ancestry tests have been purchased by Americans since 2000.

Below is an illuminating link to a DNA ancestry article. The article demonstrates how things can go terribly wrong when powerful technical tools fall into the wrong hands. Consumers should carefully explore ANY form of technology--especially those consumers who plan on expending their hard-earned $148 in pursuit of high-tech answers..

A Case of Mistaken Ancestry

Below is an intriguiging link to a June 26, 2008 special edition of CBS 60-Minutes. The segment focused on the highly controversial genetic genealogy scam:

The Hopes and Limitations of Genetic Genealogy

Before proceeding with your cheek swab and your ‘mail - in genetic ancestry test’, consider reviewing the extensive collection of internet articles focusing on the latest pseudo-scientific con game. The following are just a few:

/ Online DNA tests are no more accurate than horoscopes

/ Can DNA help me find my roots?

/ Look into the mirror rather than your DNA

/ Genetic experts slam DNA ancestry testing

/ DNA for genealogy research - bogus

An article appearing in a London-based internet publication reads as follows: "Online DNA testing services which promise to unlock the secrets of your ancestors are a waste of money. The companies boast they can go much deeper than a simple family tree to provide information that describes your genetic heritage." According to the consumer group, Which?, the tests provide such vague information, the results are hardly better than horoscopes. Which? Computing editor Sarah Kidner said: “One company, 23andMe, seemed to be hedging its bets when it said that the DNA sample came from somebody of Polish, Arab or Irish decent.” The consumer watchdog pointed out the fact that, thus far, these testing services are operating without any form of consumer regulation.

According to Simon Easteal, an expert in human evolution with the Australian National University in Canberra, "It's a complete waste of money."

Jonathan Marks of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte weighed in as follows: "It sure looks like science. Well, it is science. It’s done by scientists, and it’s done on DNA samples. And it produces real data. That’s the beauty of this scam. The companies aren’t scamming you. They’re not giving you fraudulent information. They are giving you data, real data, and allowing you to scam yourself."

Dr. Deborah Bolnick, an anthropology expert at the University of Texas at Austin, has dedicated an enormous effort to monitoring the claims and testing methodologies associated with the 20-30 internet-based companies that have moved in for their slice of the DNA ancestry pie. Dr. Bolnick and other scientists are urging academic associations to issue policy statements urging limitations on what these companies should be allowed to claim to unsuspecting consumers.

In some extreme cases of pseudo-scientific buffoonery, companies have gone so far as to issue outlandish claims targeting law enforcement investigators and criminal prosecutors. These claims boast that unidentified DNA profiles collected from crime scenes should be compared to ancestral databases. Incredulously, DNA ancestry con artists seem to have actually convinced themselves that valuable insights can be inferred relative to the racial/ancestral appearance of the unidentified suspects being sought by the authorities. Applied in the real world, such claims will effectively spawn a source of distraction to the skilled criminal investigators and prosecutors who serve the victims of crime and their families. Rather than focus upon traditional, rational approaches to identify viable suspects, detectives could be enticed into the dangerous practice of phenotypic profiling - all as a consequence of irresponsible, scientifically - bankrupt ancestral DNA boasting.

That which is written above is not a condemnation of DNA as a potentially informative future resource for gaining insights into our genetic history. It is even plausible that, someday DNA indicators from a crime scene ‘unknown’, might provide clues relevant to the DNA contributor’s physical appearance. The astonishing advances in DNA technology and human identity over the last 30 years provides all the evidence we need to extrapolate where science might take us by the year 2038.

Cutting edge research IS being used to chip away at the complex mysteries of ancestral DNA origins. These cutting edges are profoundly more advanced - as well as more expensive - than the customary human identity tests presently serving a vital purpose in criminal cases and paternity testing (STRs, Y-STRs, and mtDNA). Someday, science might traverse the vast expanse between looking at genotypes and deducing recognizable phenotypic characteristics. In a Fox News report released on March 18, 2009, we see a reference to initial scientific research steps advancing technology in this direction:

New advances in DNA science could change crime fighting

The bottom line: Today’s technology is a long journey shy of the ‘paydirt’ at which DNA ancestry con artists would like to convince consumers we have already arrived. As this unpredictable journey enters its early stages, individuals are well - advised to keep an eye on their wallets and listen to the wisdom of Meredith F. Small, an anthropologist at Cornell University. Dr. Small writes, “If you want to know who you are, look in the mirror. Written on your face is countless generations that have survived to reproduce, and the only thing you can realistically do at this point is thank them and then move forward.”

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