Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ethical Quagmire of DNA Testing

In an editorial entitled “DNA Standards” in the December 2013 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly Melinde Lutz Byrne and Thomas W. Jones lament:
When genealogists began to apply DNA test results to family history, they had the opportunity and responsibility to set standards—not for laboratory procedures, but for acceptable linkages to individual documentation, ethics, and interpretations. It was an opportunity missed. Had they been established, such standards would have set boundaries to embrace the power of genetic testing and, the same time, to avoid abuse. As difficult as it is to cite, describe, explain, or utilize this rapidly evolving tool, the real DNA-test quagmire is ethical.

Byrne and Jones raise important questions: 
With no established standards, editors face a conundrum when considering articles from DNA-test participants. Do they publish results that might affect relatives who have not released rights? When a DNA profile becomes as easily recognizable as a cursive signature, who has what rights?

However their implication that genealogists, by being more proactive, could have influenced the practice of DNA identification in the criminal justice system seems far fetched. 

The editors acknowledge that "widespread understanding of the capabilities and limitations of DNA testing lags behind technological advances." This pattern has been repeated over and over again with all technologies probably going back to the appropriate use of clubs in the age of the cave clans. Was it OK to use it on game? Was it OK to use it for self defense? To control others?

In more recent times the Internet developed far faster than our abilities to anticipate and understand how it should be used. In the last quarter century, no areas of science and technology have expanded faster than the Internet with the possible exceptions of astronomy and genetics. It is not in our ability or interest to try to stop these developments while we figure it all out. None of us have the ability to anticipate all the possible implications of developments in these fields. If we were that clairvoyant, we would be frozen into inaction by all the possibilities. But I suppose that inaction has occurred anyway.

Ethical behavior in the application of genetics to family history research and to health related endeavors is no simple undertaking. It involves balancing the:
  1. right to know;
  2. right to privacy;
  3. right to own and benefit from intellectual property; and
  4. right to protect our communities.

Should NGS have a role is discussing and providing guidance in appropriate practice? Should ISOGG? You bet!

Friday, January 17, 2014

"Ancestry by DNA" Offers New Tests --- But What Good Are They?

Updated from the post earlier today:

Ancestry by DNA is NOT although this branding is sometimes confused because the more established sometimes calls itself DNAAncestry. Ancestry by DNA has announced new testing options in an offering to subscribers of Find My Past

The website makes it appear there are three product lines and of course there are: 

DNA Origins
Ancestral Ethnicity

DNA WorldView 
Compare Your Past vs. Present

Lineage Testing 
Ancestral Migration Routes

One seems to be intended to look similar to the autosomal test has been offering since 2012. It is not by accident that this offering looks like Brand confusion seems to be by intent. The 15 customer reviews on Yelp gave Ancestry by DNA a generous 1.5 stars out of 5. 

One wonders why FindMyPast partnered in this deal. Perhaps it is because some kind of mt-DNA and Y-DNA tests would seem to be offered abroad:

Get 50% off a DNA kit today

Lineage testing can determine your Haplogroup which can show you how your ancient ancestors migrated out of Africa and what route they took on their journey to where you call home. Halpogroups are determined by analysing the DNA that is passed down from either your paternal or maternal side and can be traced back over 100,000 years. Your results will provide you with your Haplogroup, map, and guidebook for beginning your journey of self-discovery through DNA.

It is hard to see what the bargain is even at 50% off. Some STRs values are to be provided to males who test; but it is unclear how many. There seem to be two or possibly 3 levels of mtDNA results offered. What one gets at what price is also left open to guess. It is clear that the price for a full mtDNA test may be $199 (US) but does the 50% off apply to this? 

One more shot over our bow is the warning that:
Your certificate is accompanied by a manual, which discusses the interpretation of test results in greater detail. You will also receive a page with an in depth description of your haplogoup. All three are available for download in PDF format. Please note that results will only be available through our website for 1 year.
So if you take this test, be sure to download them promptly.

This is a flashy website; but what are we being offered? Check it out and give me your take. What are we being offered and at what price?

Dr D can think of no reason why persons serious about their family history would be benefited by any of these tests., FTDNA and 23andMe all offer far more useful information at comparable prices.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

DAR Partners with FTDNA to Offer Discounted 37 Marker Y-chromosome Tests

Wow! 2014 has already been a great year for genetic genealogists. First FTDNA introduced new X-chromosome analysis tools. This has already been blogged adequately by Roberta Estes and CeCe Moore so I will not attempt to duplicate their good work here.

Now the DAR is getting into DNA in a big way and is announcing a partnership with FTDNA for reduced prices on 37 marker Y-DNA tests:

 DAR Partners with FTDNA

You may click on the image above to see the details for this offer on the FTDNA site. Many more details were also released from the DAR site. The DAR is even sponsoring a new online course about using DNA evidence in support of DAR applications. Hallelujah! 

I have long been a critic of the DAR for not accepting DNA evidence to DISPROVE long accepted lines when that evidence establishes the members could not have been related to the Revolutionary patriot within genealogical time. Now I may have to initiate a new conversation with their staff.