We have been involved in criticising (both publicly and academically) some genetic ancestry testing companies and the claims they have made (for examples, see this website, this newspaper article and this paper). These activities have resulted in widespread support from academics and many branches of the media, including an editorial in Nature, but have also made us targets for others with investments in genetic testing companies or in claims they and their customers have made.
Eran Elhaik has criticised and made unfounded accusations against a number of individuals who have contributed to this site, particularly in relation to associations with direct-to-the-consumer genetic testing companies. For the sake of clarity, we have prepared declaration statements on this issue.
I have never had a relationship (financial or otherwise) with any genetic testing company, nor have I ever received any money or other benefits from one.
I have no competing interests. In particular, I have never received a fee or benefits in kind from any genetic testing company.
Consultancy related to a planned genetic testing service
I received a consultancy fee in March 2015 from Alex Heaton at LiveSmart during the early stages of development of this company, when they were considering offering a genetic testing service. Following my and others’ advice, the company decided not to offer a genetic testing service, but rather to concentrate on other health assessment services.
I have no financial interests in any direct-to-the-consumer genetic testing company nor have I ever received any payment from any DTC company.
I have tested myself and many family members at all the major genetic genealogy companies to help with my genealogy research. I have written frequently on the subject on my personal blog. Unlike many genealogy bloggers, I do not have an affiliate arrangement with any testing company.
I have been paid to write articles about genetic genealogy for a number of titles including Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, Family Tree Magazine (UK) and MIT Technology Review.
I am a volunteer project administrator for a number of projects hosted at FamilyTreeDNA including the Cruwys Surname DNA Project, the Devon DNA Project, the mtDNA Haplogroup U4 Project and the Y-DNA Haplogroup U106 Project. FTDNA is currently the only testing company which provides Y-DNA and mtDNA genealogical matching databases and an infrastructure to support genealogical projects and citizen science research.
Various people associated with BritainsDNA have tried to deflect my criticisms of their misleading claims by falsely suggesting that I worked for FTDNA. However, they failed to mention that Dr Jim Wilson, the former Chief Scientific Officer of BritainsDNA, was himself a long-standing co-administrator of the Orkney DNA Project at FTDNA.
I have given informal and unpaid advice to all the genetic genealogy testing companies from time to time, either in person at genealogy events or as part of beta-testing programmes. I have sometimes received gifts from the testing companies such as T-shirts, pens and bags.
For details of my genealogy affiliations see the disclosure statement on my blog
Free genetic ancestry tests received
I received a free DNA test from Living DNA as a thank you for the informal advice and feedback I had given them on the development of their new product. I declared this gift when I reviewed the Living DNA test.
Eran Elhaik has claimed that on my blog I “regularly attack genetic companies while promoting Living DNA” with an implicit suggestion that I have an undisclosed financial arrangement with the company. The false claim was subsequently removed and his derogatory comments were toned down. See this version of the blog post retained in the Wayback Machine. I have never received any money from Living DNA. While it is true that I have criticised the misleading claims of a number of genetic ancestry testing companies, I have promoted the use of all of the companies which provide DNA tests and matching services that can be used as a tool for genealogy research. Living DNA is currently one of five companies used in this way by genealogists, the others being 23andMe, AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage DNA.
Family Tree DNA
FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) has sponsored DNA lectures at a number of family history shows in Britain and Ireland: Who Do You Think You Are? Live held at Olympia, London, and subsequently at the NEC in Birmingham; Family Tree Live at Alexandra Palace in London; and Genetic Genealogy Ireland in Belfast and Dublin. I have been responsible for inviting the speakers and choosing the topics at the London and Birmingham events. The company has never exerted any editorial control over the content of the lectures. I have never received any payment from FTDNA for this work. The speakers do not receive fees and have not had travelling expenses reimbursed. However, FTDNA agreed in recent years to provide all the speakers with a free DNA test. I have used my tests on family members and project members, and have given away some tests as prizes at genealogy events. The cost of attending these events greatly outweighs the value of the tests provided.
I have no financial interests in, nor have I ever received any money from, nor do I publicly endorse any direct-to-the-consumer genetic testing company.
Free ‘genetic ancestry’ tests received
I have received free and unsolicited genetic ‘ancestry’ tests from 3 companies:
- FamilyTreeDNA provided a free Y-chromosome DNA test following a presentation I gave at Who Do You Think You Are Live in 2015. FamilyTreeDNA sponsored the lectures. Speakers did not receive an honorarium or travelling expenses but were offered a free FTDNA test as compensation. The company did not exert any editorial control over the content of the lectures.
- 23andMe provided a free and unsolicited test in April 2017 as part of being interviewed for the TV documentary Neanderthals: Meet Your Ancestors.
- Sofia Lindblom at Ancestry.com provided two free and unsolicited AncestryDNA tests on 12th July 2017, following a Workshop on Personal Genetic Testing at UCL in June 2017 that I was involved in organising. I used one and gave the other to my partner.
Consultancy related to a planned genetic testing service
I received a consultancy fee in Feb 2015 from Alex Heaton at LiveSmart during the early stages of development of this company, when they were considering offering a genetic testing service. Following my and others’ advice, the company decided not to offer a genetic testing service, but rather to concentrate on other health assessment services.
I have been accused by Dr Eran Elhaik at the University of Sheffield of having affiliations with LivingDNA, on blog posts such as here and here (and a previous and more unpleasant version archived here).
I have in the past had conversations with David Nicholson at LivingDNA in relation to:
- Taking part in a program of education to school children they claimed they were planning in association with ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ around genetic ancestry and combating racism.
- Providing unpaid advice to Living DNA on the problems and pitfalls of commercial genetic ancestry testing. As part of this advice, I suggested that the methods developed by Dan Lawson, Simon Myers, Garrett Hellenthal and Daniel Falush might prove useful in better revealing some of the complexities of the genetic ancestry of individuals.
In relation to the above, LivingDNA videoed me on 8th September 2016, and I commented on commercial genetic testing and what it has been used to say about ancestry and outdated concepts of ethnicity and ‘race’. In this interview I also commented on methods of inference that I believe capture more of the complexity of ancestry than most others (genomic haplotype-based methods, such as those developed by Dan Lawson, Simon Myers, Garrett Hellenthal and Daniel Falush). The views I expressed were scientific or concerning the ethics of dubious claims made by some ancestry testing companies, and I stand by those views. I did not give consent for the video of me to be used as promotional material for LivingDNA’s commercial ancestry testing service. Here is a link to the release form that accompanied the making of that video, which makes clear that it was shot for educational purposes, and not for promotion of a commercial enterprise. It is my understanding that the video is no longer on the LivingDNA website. I also understand that the relationship between Living DNA and Dan Lawson, Simon Myers, Garrett Hellenthal and Daniel Falush has since broken down.
So, for clarity, I have never received any money or other benefits (including genetic tests) from, nor do I have any financial interests in LivingDNA, and I have not publicly endorsed them.