Monday, April 13, 2015

What’s your next writing assignment for Dr. D.?

This post is addressed primarily to those of you who have read my recent book NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection. If you bought the book from Ancestry, I would very much appreciate it if you would leave comments – however brief – on the Ancestry site. This will help potential readers decide if the book would be useful for them.

I agree with most of the comments that have been made there so far including the one about the book being overpriced. That is the result of the publishing process I used to produce the book. It strengthened the book by imposing a tried and proven structure to the process; but it gave the publisher control of the pricing. I’ll have to decide if self-publishing is a route I want to explore in future writing endeavors.

The only comments with which I disagree are those that I should not have used so many family examples or that I should have disguised my personal association from these vignettes. Other readers seemed to believe these illustrated and gave strength to the book. I agree with this latter group.

What comes next?
Over the next few months I will be considering what if anything I want to write in the near future. Originally, I had envisioned writing a trilogy: one book on genealogy research; one book on incorporating DNA results into family research; and one book on ethical issues surrounding DNA testing in both the family history arena and the medical arena. The first book became Crash Course in Genealogy (2011). The second became NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection (2015). At the moment I’m feeling less confident that I can add much to the overall ethical debate although this field is going to continue to heat up as more medical practitioners incorporate DNA testing into patient care. Maybe there is more I can contribute if I concentrate on extending what I have started with genealogy research.

As many of you have observed, books about DNA testing are partly obsolete before they hit the street. The field is evolving that quickly. Although my recent book has a 2015 copyright date, my ability to include recent developments began to contract many months earlier. Much of the content was being frozen in ink a year ago. The field of genetic genealogy is evolving from its core in many different directions and much of this process is occurring rapidly. Among the sciences only astronomy can rival the growth rate of genetics. For both fields the explosion of informatics has allowed the processing of the huge data sets needed to support this progress. This speed of change calls into question whether books can help readers keep up with the disparate knowledge that now radiate out on tangents in all directions from a basic core of knowledge that all of us need in common. Can an author keep up with enough of these to write a useful book?

Whether you bought the book from Ancestry, the publisher, another vendor or checked it out from your library, I’d appreciate your thoughts on a more focused topic. What was not covered in NextGen that you wish had been covered? What would you like to see covered in more detail?
I encourage you to write me with your suggestions. You may email me at infodoc [at] or comment at the end of this blog post. I will carefully consider your comments as I decide on my writing plans for the future.

One and done
During the television coverage of the recent US men’s college basketball spring rite known as “March Madness”, we frequently heard the phrase “one and done.” For the uninitiated that expression refers to the phenomenon of would be super stars leaving college after only one year to seek their fortunes as professional basketball players.

Am I seeing a parallel pattern among authors of books on how to do genetic genealogy? It seems that after one book is published authors choose to take their careers in other directions:

Smolenyak and Turner (2004);
Fitzgerald (2005);
Pomery (2007);
Kennett (2011);
Hill (2012);
Aulicio (2014);
Dowell (2015).

So far second editions and sequels have not been in vogue in genetic genealogy. Is there a message here for Dr. D.? Please let me know what you think.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Does Ancestry think we are NOT OK?

I find Ancestry's DNA Circles intriguing and really enjoy seeing a green leaf match on my DNA results page. However, I do object to Ancestry's patronizing attitude toward its customer base. "Trust me" is not an endearing phrase when uttered by a used car salesman. That kind of response is no more endearing when it comes from a lab you have paid to analyze your DNA. Yet "trust me" is exactly what we are asked to do when Ancestry announces we have a DNA match.

We are told that Ancestry has "Confidence Extremely High" that they have identified a 1st to 2nd cousin (see above) but we have to take that on faith. We cannot see the total number of cMs that match with this alleged relative or the length or location of our longest matching segment. Ancestry does not think customers who paid for the test need this information. It would be nice to see if others match us on exactly that same segment but Ancestry does not want to confuse us with that information. After all the company seems to say, wouldn't customer supplied pedigree charts be a better way to document matches with our relatives than would be precise chromosome locations? :-(

Why does it have to be either/or? Lots of us in the customer base would like to have both! It would simultaneously give us more value and give Ancestry more credibility.

For the last 15 years direct-to-customer (DTC) genetic testing for genealogical information has gradually been emerging from the chilling paternalistic concerns of the medical establishment about letting civilians have direct access to our own genetic data. This information is taken from with the cells in our own bodies. We have been making progress on a number of fronts -- including US Supreme Court decisions that corporations cannot patent natural genes. Now in the last three years Ancestry is trying to exert a paternalism of its own over access to our personal genetic information. 

Many of you remember the 1969 bestseller I'm OK You're OK.

It was based on the Transaction Analysis model of Eric Berne. You may remember that we were trained to analyze communication transactions using diagrams similar to the one below. It seems clear to me that Ancestry sees transactions with customers as them (the Parent) giving us (the Child) the information they think we need and are able to handle without us asking too many hard questions that might overload tech support about it.

If this analysis of our communication pattern with AncestryDNA is correct, Ancestry sees it as Ancestry is OK but we the customers are NOT OK. This seems to be in direct contrast to Anne Wojcicki's stated goal for 23andMe to empower us by providing us with access to our own genetic information and thereby change the face of health care. 

As rumors are beginning to fly that Ancestry is exploring the possibility of providing health related information from our DNA, I wonder what the business model would be for such an endeavor.

Genetic Genealogy Reaches New Milestone

In June genetic genealogy will pass a new milestone in its growth and development in the US. Two simultaneous conferences will occur -- one on each coast. It is notable that high quality speakers can be provided at both. I anticipate that both will attract large audiences.

The first will be DNA Day co-sponsored by the Southern California Genealogical Society and the International Society of Genetic Genealogists. This Thursday DNA Day is now in its third year as a lead in to the annual three day Jamboree. The 2013 and 2014 events were excellent.
For those of you who cannot attend either of these events live, the Burbank event offers "24 hours of exceptional DNA education without leaving home." The link in the previous sentence leads to a detailed list of presentations. For those who will be in Burbank, learning opportunities continue on Friday morning. At least one of the Friday workshops is already Sold Out, but there should be plenty of room at the consultation tables.

I'm giving two presentations on Thursday, will be at a consultation table on Friday morning and on an "Ask the Experts Panel" late Saturday afternoon. I hope to see many of you there.

On Saturday, June 6th, those of you on the East Coast will have the opportunity to attend a slightly different event. It is being billed by its organizers as:
The biggest, most extraordinary and most inclusive family reunion in history!

About the Global Family Reunion

What: A day-long festival of music, food, comedy, speeches and contests celebrating the fact that humans are one big family.
When: June 6, 2015
Where: The New York Hall of Science, on the grounds of the World’s Fair.
The Agenda: It will be a Family Reunion meets a World’s Fair meets a music festival meets a TED conference. There will be talks by celebrities, scientists and comedians! Music! Food! Exhibits! Contest! Games for all ages!
The Cause: Alzheimer’s. All proceeds go directly to charity.
Who’s Invited: You! All seven billion members of the human family. Those with a proven connection will get a bracelet and be part of the biggest family photo in history. See for more details.
Entertainers and speakers: Henry Louis Gates Jr., comedian Nick Kroll, Lisa Loeb, Sister Sledge, Daniel Radcliffe (live or via video), filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, author A.J. Jacobs, Dr. Oz and comedian Michael Ian Black, and many, many, MANY MORE!.
Activities: Scavenger hunts, crafts, family trivia quiz by Ken Jennings, genealogy, storytelling, historical interpreters and over 450 exhibits from the New York Hall of Science, one of the top 10 science museums in the United States.
The Host: Conceived by bestselling author A.J. Jacobs
This event is cosponsored by FTDNA and Bennett Greenspan is a speaker.

That these events can be held on the same weekend and both have every indication they will be successful is a major milestone for genetic genealogy in the US. We need to take a moment and congratulate ourselves and then get back to work. We need to sell a lot of test kits at both events to build up our databases.