You’ve all seen those commercials on TV from DNA-testing businesses like Ancestry.com, 23andMe, and Living DNA.
The commercials portray DNA testing as such a science that they can break down your genetic ancestry into precise percentages, e.g., Native American (26%), Spanish or Iberian (23%), Italian/Greek (15%), African (5%), as in this commercial.
But in reality, what those DNA-testing companies sell is more con than science.
That’s what Inside Edition discovered when they had a set of triplets send their saliva to Ancestry.com and 23andMe for DNA testing. Although the triplets all came from the same womb, they got wildly different results from both companies. The DNA test results had the triplets differing from each other by more than 10%, which is a greater difference than the 7% genetic difference between humans and monkeys, the 3.1% difference in DNA between humans and orangutans, and the 1.2% difference between humans and chimps. (See “Animals That Share Human DNA Sequences“)
Indeed, genetics experts say the DNA-testing companies prey on gullible people by pinpointing your biological origins on a map with spurious specificity:
- Anthropologist Deborah Bolnick of the University of Texas at Austin calls “fraudulent” companies that claim DNA testing will tell you where you came from.
- Anthropologist Jonathan Marks of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, says that instead of tracing our genetic past, what we get is a scientific scam: “It sure looks like science. Well, it is science. It’s done by scientists, and it’s done on DNA samples. And it produces real data.” But these companies simply don’t have enough comparative information to pinpoint a gene on a world map.
To find out more about the sophistry sold by DNA-testing companies, Cracked spoke to Morgan, an employee of “one of the major ancestry testing companies”.
Morgan not only confirms what the anthropologists say — that the DNA tests are not as accurate and precise as they are claimed to be — he also reveals other problems, such as test results being “tweaked” to conform with the customer’s expectations because “It pays to suck up to the people who pay you,” and test samples being contaminated because the customers sent their saliva mixed with other substances, such as food or saliva from another person.
Most egregiously, Morgan also confides that his DNA testing company has faked African ancestry for customers deemed to be racists:
“I only know of two times somebody wanted to be tested for being another ethnicity because they didn’t like that ethnicity. Both times, [they were] white people not wanting to believe they had black ancestors. […]
[W]hat we did was add ‘< 1 percent’ to each African category of ethnicity. That way we weren’t lying, and they [the “racist’ customers] would both be wondering how much under a percentage point was. We always try to round to the nearest number because we sometimes hear about percentage points, but for them, we leave it open to whether it’s a one or a zero. […]
[One customer] wrote to us asking what that meant, and we wrote back that it meant it was under 1 percent. And we were not saying zero. Unless they got another test, that was going to bother them. Maybe they weren’t 100 percent Caucasian […] this way it leaves it open, and they’ll always be wondering.“