In October 2008, I reviewed an article by Dr. Alondra Nelson in the journal Social Studies of Science entitled â€œBio Science: Genetic Genealogy Testing and the Pursuit of African Ancestryâ€ (Social Studies of Science 2008 38: 759-783).Â The article was about the complex interpretation of the results of genetic genealogy testing by African-Americans and black British.Â Dr. Nelson is Associate Professor of Sociology at Columbia University in NY.
On Friday, an article by Dr. Nelson appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Henry Louis Gates’s Extended Family,” which is an introduction and review of the current PBS documentary miniseries Faces of America. Regarding the genetic testing aspect of the show, Nelson writes:
If the findings of conventional genealogical research produce fireworks, the results of the DNA analysis generate shock and awe. “Know Thyself,” the final episode, which shares its title with the slogan of Knome Inc., focuses mostly on genetic genealogy. Whereas prior shows relied heavily on analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome (Y-DNA), yielding results that included at most about 2 percent of one’s complete genetic inheritance, in Faces techniques are used that probe deeper into more of the genome.
The technical aspects of genetic ancestry tracing are explained, but without sufficient social context, much the way a manual can tell you how to operate a car without explaining automobiles’ role in modern industry, the development of suburbia, or the emergence of youth culture. We can’t hold a documentary for a general audience responsible for not presenting a complex metanarrative on the philosophy of genetic science. But we can expect some acknowledgment and interpretation of technology’s limits.
It is likely that some genetic genealogists will instantly disagree with or discredit Nelson after reading this article, since … Click to read more!