DID YOU SPOT THE LIES? Listen to what Dr Bruce Jackson, is saying in the video. Did you hear him say it is impossible to trace ones roots to a particular tribe or people in Africa? That is the proper and authoritative scientific perspective on the subject. The problem is, NO-ONE is listening to him. Because celebrities are doing it, everyone simply jumps on the bandwagon as if it is possible to trace one's roots to Africa. The truth of the matter is you can't. Any reports that says so is a lie. And that lie is very much on display in the video. The Gentleman is told he comes from the Ashanti people. That is a BLATANT LIE. Ashanti is a CONFEDERACY of Akan people similar to the USA is a federation of Caucasians. Ashanti exists within Akans. This means, you cannot isolate Ashanti from Akans as if Ashantis have separate DNA to other Akans. Therefore, just as someone cannot use DNA to prove one is an American citizen likewise someone cannot use DNA to prove they are Ashanti. The DNA report has to say the person is Akan, not Ashanti. Therefore, for the report to come out and boldly claim the recipient is an Ashanti shows clearly, it is a lie and the DNA report is not worth the paper it is written on.
According to Dr Bruce Jackson he and his colleagues were "on the floor laughing" after hearing 2005 reports that Oprah Winfrey announced she was Zulu.
These celebrities, Jackson said, have been misled about their lineage.
"I can assure that they're NOT what they're told they are," Jackson said. "There is no way that can be done."
Sadly no one is listening to experts like Jackson and his colleagues.
However it is not only Dr Bruce Jackson warning about the limitations on using DNA to trace one's ancestry. Consider the following:
As any fan of prime-time television knows, DNA analysis can be a great tool to track a killer. But as Claire Hirata of Torrance, Calif., discovered, genetic testing can also be an expensive and less-than-satisfying method of tracing a family tree.
For some time, Hirata had thought that somewhere in an apparently unbroken chain of Japanese ancestors there might be someone of Western origin. Then, in August, she saw an Internet ad from Genetic Testing Laboratories of New Mexico promoting ancestral identification via DNA. Excited that she might actually learn the answer to the family mystery, she filled out the forms, paid $148, swabbed her cheek and mailed the swab to the lab.
When her results arrived, Hirata received the surprise of her life. According to GTL, her ancestors were Central or South American, not Japanese at all. Something had certainly gone wrong. She e-mailed the lab with her concerns. No answer. She wrote to them again and submitted a refund request. No response. That's when she wrote On Your Side.
Online genetic testing companies have a checkered history. In 2006 and again in 2010, the Government Accountability Office issued scathing reports on the industry, citing vastly different results from identical DNA samples and multiple examples of deceptive marketing. In July 2009, in Science magazine, researchers from Stanford and four other universities reported "Direct-to-consumer genetic ancestry tests fall into an unregulated no-man's land with little oversight and few industry guidelines to ensure the quality, validity and interpretation of information sold."
Was GTL legit, or just another scammer? Its website looked credible — the main page listed several major accreditations, membership with the Better Business Bureau and major law enforcement agencies as customers — but GTL wasn't returning my calls, either.
A quick Internet check of the address revealed that the lab is on the campus of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. I dashed off an e-mail to the college president. Minutes later, Stefan Long, GTL's director of business operations, called me.
Long attributed Hirata's errant results to a confusing form in the GTL sign-up kit. Because DNA tests can sometimes have trouble telling the difference between Native Americans and East Asians, he explained, GTL needs a hint for what to expect.
"There are two check boxes," Long said. "One says Old World, the other says New World." Then he read me the wording on the form: "Choose New World if your parents are/were from the Americas or outlying islands or if you are unsure or do not know. Choose Old World indicating that you or your parents are from a foreign country."
Are the instructions to blame for a flubbed DNA test? >>
Following the instructions, said Long, Hirata — whose parents were born in the United States — must have checked "New World" and got a screwy result.
Long also explained that his company had a policy of not providing refunds for completed tests, but that in this case he would make an exception. He agreed to a redo of Hirata's scan and a full refund.
That would have been the end of the story, but then we learned from Hirata that she never filled out the confusing form. Turns out that GTL sent her an outdated form that doesn't ask the Old World/New World question.
So what could have been a scam turned out to be just a case of poor customer service — the wrong paperwork and no follow-up on Hirata's complaint.
As promised, GTL did the scan again; Hirata received her revised results 10 days later.
"According to the new data," Hirata wrote, "I am all Asian." She wonders, however, whether her complaint tainted the results. "I may still do the test with another company," she said.
Good luck on that. As medical anthropologist Sandra Lee of Stanford University told me, "Proving parenthood is relatively simple. You get half of your DNA from each parent. That same equation makes it very difficult to prove deep lineage. You get only half of the DNA from each generation. After three generations, that's a half of a half of a half. You might not be carrying any identifiable DNA from any one specific ancestor."
In other words, even if you pick a good DNA lab with a good reputation, you can easily spend your money, take the test and still be no closer to knowing whether your great-granddad was Harry, Henri or Hiroshi. Lee recommends that, given the current state of DNA science, family stories and public records are still the best tools for tracking ancestry.
Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For.
SOME MORE INFO
One of the by-products of human consciousness is self-consciousness, that is, knowing deeply that you are alive.
Part of self-consciousness is also wondering where we came from; it's clearly human nature to seek one's roots.
For some people, that task is relatively easy because there are oral legends or written words that go back at least several generations (assuming family history is passed down accurately). But for most people, the path backwards is rocky, cluttered with confusing detour signs, or simply blank.
For Americans, citizens of the quintessential melting pot, the quest for identity often propels older people (it's interesting that we often search for our dead relatives while looking death square in the face) to the lists of immigrants into Ellis Island or other ports of entry into the United States and to the repository of genealogy in Salt Lake City.
It also leads unwary seekers of the past right into the hands of scam artists who claim they can trace anyone's DNA back to its source.
Anyone with a spare $100 to $900 can buy a "DNA ancestry kit." Self-collection of DNA requires only a quick swab of the inside of the mouth to gather cheek cells. Mail that smear back and the company will then compare your DNA to various other samples.
But claims that this analysis will tell you much about where you came from are downright fraudulent, anthropologist Deborah Bolnick of the University of Texas at Austin and 14 co-authors recently reported.
Instead of tracing our genetic past, what we get is a scientific scam.
"It sure looks like science," says anthropologist Jonathan Marks of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, one of the authors of the study. "Well, it is science. It’s done by scientists, and it’s done on DNA samples. And it produces real data."
But, Marks points out, these companies are preying on the public because they simply don’t have enough comparative information to pinpoint a gene on a world map. They might match your DNA to some group on some continent, but what they don’t tell you is that you would probably also match the group next door if only they had some of those samples as well.
More insidious, these companies pretend to trace your unique ancestry through mitochondrial DNA, but that’s simply not possible. A few hundred years, a few generations, and every person's history is a genetic mishmash. One little gene isn't going to inform anybody about anything.
As Marks puts it, "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."
Humans have, in fact, turned the whole world into one large genetic melting pot. We have always been a species that crossed mountains, continents and oceans; we have always loved to mate outside our ancestral group.
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.
Meredith F. Small is an anthropologist at Cornell University. She is also the author of "Our Babies, Ourselves; How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent" (link) and "The Culture of Our Discontent; Beyond the Medical Model of Mental Illness" (link).
The GOOD NEWS
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