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Mon May 13, 2019, 12:27 PM

Like the emperor's new clothes, DNA kits are tailored for the vain

Most people remember the emperor: a vain ruler, swindled into paying for a nonexistent magical garment, parades in public, only to be embarrassed by a little boy. To me, the story is really about the swindling tailors. Audacious, imaginative, their true product is a persuasive illusion, one keyed to the vulnerabilities of their target audience. In contemporary terms, the story is about marketing; and as such, the tale is tailor-made for an examination of genetic ancestry tests, because these too are sold with expert persuasion, with promises woven from our hopes, our fears, and the golden thread of DNA.

With these new tests, as in Hans Christian Andersen’s 19th-century tale, a gap yawns between the promise and the reality – and now and then, as in the story, someone says so in the public square. For example, when Phil Rogers, a reporter in Chicago, tried out home DNA test kits from competing companies last year, he discovered contradictory results. So did the Canadian reporter Charlsie Agro and her twin sister Carly, who mailed spit samples to 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage and LivingDNA. As with Rogers, the companies gave different histories – Balkan ancestry, for example, ranged from 14 to 61 per cent – but 23andMe actually reported different scores for each twin. (According to the company, Charlsie has French and German ancestors, while Carly does not.)

The tests are sold with variations on a single pitch: find your story. The companies don’t mention that the story might shade into fiction, or that stories can conflict. The evolutionary geneticist Mark Thomas at University College London has dismissed ancestry testing as ‘genetic astrology’, but it could be as useful to think of it as genetic gossip: a rumoured past that, like most rumours, is at least partly true. It begins with a test-tube of spit and ends with fractional estimates: a story, whispered by an algorithm, in the language of information.

https://aeon.co/ideas/like-the-emperors-new-clothes-dna-kits-are-tailored-for-the-vain

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Response to brooklynite (Original post)

Mon May 13, 2019, 12:35 PM

1. Totally agree

In the initial results from 23andme, I had 1% Ashkenazi Jewish DNA, down to the point that they identified it as attributable to my 6x great-grandparent. It was a very surprising result given my heritage, and I told everyone!

Sadly, a few months later, that disappeared, and I was essentially exactly what I though I was.

I'm not spending the money to test this out with the other DNA companies, but stories like the one you posted and our own experience suggest that these tests are not very accurate.

I wonder when the first class-action suit will be filed so we get a couple of dollars out of the $100 we spent! (Or perhaps more likely, a coupon for $20 off the next test.)

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Response to DonaldsRump (Reply #1)

Mon May 13, 2019, 12:40 PM

3. Yeah, it's really hit and miss

Near as I can tell, they are basing their results on DNA history from dubious sources, possibly even their own data bases from around the world. DNA based genetic anthropology is being done, but it requires alot more detailed information than these tests are generating. A friend did two different tests, then got his sister to do one as well. 3 different answers.

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Response to brooklynite (Original post)

Mon May 13, 2019, 12:40 PM

2. I've just never been tempted.

I can't see what I'd learn being very useful to me. My parents are still alive, at 94 years of age, so I apparently have some decent genes. On my mother's side, someone tracked her geneology back half a dozen generations. My father's parents were Mormons, so I've seen even more records from that side of the family.

The only question that might possibly get answered is whether the rumor that there's some Cherokee genes floating around in my father's side is true or not, and I can't imagine caring about that, one way or another.

So, I'll save my money.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #2)

Mon May 13, 2019, 12:49 PM

4. Watch out, Mineral Man, you've done the unforgiveable!!!

You've mentioned the possibility of some Native American stuff in your DNA!!!!! Can't do that!!!

<sarcasm> Don't know how to get the little icon.

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Response to LAS14 (Reply #4)

Mon May 13, 2019, 12:54 PM

5. Surround the word with colons - :sarcasm: - to get this:

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Response to LAS14 (Reply #4)

Mon May 13, 2019, 01:50 PM

9. When you want an emoji click on the 'smilies' button when you're

composing your post. A bunch of smilies come up and if you click on any of them it will be included in your post.

At the bottom of the smilies page there is a button with three dots that take you to more smilies. You’ll find the sarcasm smilie there.

Try clicking on the Preview button at the bottom and you can see what your post will look like. If you like it click on the Post my reply button.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #2)

Mon May 13, 2019, 03:07 PM

12. I was never intersted in that stuff either

got a pretty good record of the last 5 or 6 generations on my family. But when my daughter, who didn't know I was her dad, did the test, it was helpful. She found me, I did it to make sure and now have another daughter and two more grands...….

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Response to Dyedinthewoolliberal (Reply #12)

Mon May 13, 2019, 03:10 PM

13. I know for certain that I have no children. My intention has always been

not to create any, for global population reasons. I still communicate with everyone I ever had sex with, except for a couple who have died. I know they never had any child of whom I am the father.

So, I wouldn't find any unknown offspring.

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Response to brooklynite (Original post)

Mon May 13, 2019, 01:17 PM

6. Interesting info

I haven't gone the DNA route but have thought about it. My adult son is giving it a try. I can track my side of the family back to the mid-19th century in eastern Europe, and my wife can track hers back to the Revolutionary War, and probably to England, Scotland, or Ireland a little before that. So we have a pretty good idea what's likely to turn up. There could be a surprise or two, I suppose. Depending on what his turns up, I might give it a shot.

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Response to brooklynite (Original post)

Mon May 13, 2019, 01:29 PM

7. Know what else is tailored for vanity?

A writing career.

It's like madlibs. You can answer that question with virtually any modern convenience. Hipsters and anachronisms rejoice, for we shall never want for "[Whatever Is Popular Right Now] Sucks!" thinkpieces.

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Response to brooklynite (Original post)

Mon May 13, 2019, 01:33 PM

8. They're also tailored for Insurance Companies & Employers to screw your entire family in the future.

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Response to TheBlackAdder (Reply #8)

Mon May 13, 2019, 02:03 PM

10. The number one purpose of these companies is to gather your most intimate data -- that of your DNA.

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Response to earthshine (Reply #10)

Mon May 13, 2019, 02:05 PM

11. Folks pay go give it away, bypassing HIPAA protections, with firms that can change TOS at anytime.

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Response to brooklynite (Original post)

Mon May 13, 2019, 03:13 PM

14. I always assumed they were bullshit money-making schemes. Guess I was right.

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