Archiver > GENEALOGY-DNA > 2007-11 > 1194009515

Subject: [DNA] Deborah Bolnick's follow-up to threads about Science article
Date: Fri, 2 Nov 2007 09:18:35 EDT

This is yesterday's news by now, but there were many posts about an article
"The Science and Business of Genetic Ancestry Testing" that appeared in the
October 19th issue of Science. You can review these by browsing the October
archives for a few days following that:

The lead author, Deborah Bolnick, had sent me an e-mail with some follow-up
information. It didn't reach me until yesterday. I am reminded that I meant to
post a response to some of you who were skeptical about the authors' control
over the final version, which deleted a more positive paragraph. I've certainly
had the experience of having my articles cut without my prior approval (and
also the opposite, material inserted that I didn't even agree with!).

The fact that Deborah Bolnick and Kim TallBear have taken the time to engage
in a dialog with the GENEALOGY-DNA mailing list is a very positive sign, and I
for one am very appreciative of that.

===== begin Deborah Bolnick's letter

Dear Ann,

I sent the following email to you last week, but accidentally mis-typed your
email address and the email was never delivered.  For some reason, it didn't
bounce back to me until today, so I'm now trying again.  I hope you get it this

I've followed the discussion on the Genealogy-DNA-L listserve regarding our
article on genetic ancestry testing in Science, and wanted to share a few
thoughts in response to some of the issues that have been raised.  Please feel free
to post my email (or excerpts from it since it is a little long).

First, I just want to reiterate what Kim TallBear has already said - that we
were not trying to critique the knowledge, contributions, or use of these
tests by the many genetic genealogists who have learned a great deal about the
tests and human population genetics/history.  Because my co-authors and I have
interacted with a lot of people who have taken the tests without knowing much
about them and who have been very unclear about the meaning of their results, we
felt it was important to draw attention to the need for every test-taker to
have clear understanding of what DNA tests both can and cannot tell us.  There
are some very good sources of information about the capabilities and
limitations of DNA testing (including the websites of some testing companies and
genetic genealogists), but we would like to see more testing companies and
professional geneticists/anthropologists do more to help educate those test-takers (and
potential test-takers) who do not have that knowledge.  Thus, while our
article may not say much that is new to expert genetic genealogists, we hope that
it will help to draw attention to these issues and encourage a wider discussion
-- especially among individuals who have not thought as much about these
issues.  This discussion will obviously benefit from the perspectives and
contributions of genetic genealogists, and it would be great to find a way to get more
geneticists, anthropologists, and genetic genealogists together to share
ideas at some point.

Second, I also want to say that I am less than happy with some of the recent
media coverage as well.  When talking with reporters about the Science
article, I noted that some test-takers do know a great deal about the capabilities
and limitations of DNA testing, and I talked about both the benefits and
limitations of the available tests (with the hope that the media coverage would
include what did not make it into the Science article due to space constraints). 
Unfortunately, the resulting stories were more one-sided than I had hoped (and
I was unhappy to be misquoted in several cases), perhaps because the reporters
thought it would be more "newsworthy" that way (as Kim TallBear previously

Finally, a few people have had some more specific questions about the
authorship, format, and content of the Science article.  The article was co-authored
by 14 people because it reflected our individual and collective research
related to this topic (even though it could have been written by any subset of the
authors).  Because the journal allowed us less than two pages of text, we did
not have the space to go into detailed scientific discussions with statistical
analyses.  We also did not devote the space to telling test-takers where to
find good resources on DNA testing and population genetics because the article
was aimed as much at scientists as members of general public (most readers of
the journal Science are professional scientists).  Some scientists have
dismissed genetic ancestry testing as silly and unimportant, and we felt it was
important to explain why that viewpoint is problematic.  Along with some of my
co-authors, I would like to write a longer and more thorough article for a
popular science magazine in the future, with the hope that that type of article
would be more accessible and helpful to test-takers.  In the meantime, we will
continue to provide advice to the test-takers who contact us, and will continue
to refer them to the Genealogy-DNA-L list.

All the best,



Deborah A. Bolnick, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin
1 University Station C3200
Austin, TX 78712

Office: (512) 471-8514
Lab: (512) 471-1964


===== end Deborah Bolnick's letter

Ann Turner

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