UCL Division of Biosciences


BritainsDNA saga

On 9th July 2012 Jim Naughtie invited his friend Alistair Moffat, the managing director of BritainsDNA, onto BBC Radio 4's Today programme.  Like Naughtie's previous interviews of Moffat (March-2011 and June-2011), the interview had little content of any scientific merit, included many errors and gave a misleading impression that Moffat's genetic ancestry business was a disinterested research study. Naughtie failed to make even the most token challenge to his friend, despite Moffat's outrageous claims - about Eve's grandson, the Queen of Sheba, "bringing the Bible to life", and the founding lineages of Britain.

UCL Professors David Balding (DJB) and Mark Thomas (MGT) sent e-mails of complaint to the BBC and to BritainsDNA scientists. What followed was a sorry tale of legal threats from BritainsDNA, apparently intended to silence the criticisms, as well as threats to the St Andrews University student newspaper that covered the story, as did (in different ways) Nature, Private Eye and the Sunday Times, among others.  St Andrews University upheld a complaint against Moffat, who is its Rector.  The BBC's response to multiple complaints was initially very poor, and they compounded their failings with more misleading coverage of genetic ancestry including two hours of BBC TV programming that tacitly promoted commercial ancestry testing.  Eventually, after more than a year of stalling, the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit did finally (19/2/14) uphold a complaint on grounds of both accuracy and commercial prominence.

In these pages we try to tell the full story, including correspondence and links to relevant websites, together with some commentary to try to help the reader follow the thread.  We also point out some of the misleading publicity generated by BritainsDNA, and briefly outline what is wrong with it (including some useful resources to help understand the science and its limitations).

BritainsDNA ceased trading in July 2017 but these pages are preserved as an archive of the saga. We welcome feedback about omissions or corrections.