UCL Division of Biosciences


Why have we created this website?

We are making the full story public because we believe there are important principles at stake:

(1) Our major concern was the use of legal threats to try to silence criticism. We hope that this example will encourage others who have received similar threats to stand up for their principles. The threat is often bluster without substance and we should all make a stand against bullying.

(2) The exaggerated claims made by BritainsDNA misled the public about what is possible from genetic testing. Some of their stories were ludicrous, which undermines the efforts of scientists who are more careful about the degree of uncertainty associated with their findings. We hope that this case will encourage better communication of genetic testing information to the public. Note that our concerns are related to the inferences made from "deep ancestry" tests, and not genetic genealogy testing that combines DNA analysis with genealogical and historical records.

(3) The for-profit status of BritainsDNA was never revealed by the press and the BBC, who only described it as "research" or a "project", thus disguising its commercial nature. Crucially none of the "research" appears to have gone through the scientific process of peer review. We hope to make editors more aware of the dangers of covert advertising masquerading as science of public interest.

(4) We believe it is important that scientists are transparent about apparent conflicts between commercial and academic interests. BritainsDNA's Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Jim Wilson, is a director of the company and a major stakeholder, but the TV and press coverage only mentioned his role as a researcher at Edinburgh University. We hope that editors will take more care to disclose such conflicts of interest, and that academics will be more forthcoming about them.

Sense about science: introduction to genetic genealogy testing

Sense about science: introduction to the peer review process