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DNA ancestry companies generate revenues in the region of $1bn a year, and the company 23andMe is said to have sold 10 million DNA ancestry kits to date. Although evidently popular, the science behind how DNA ancestry tests work is mystifying and difficult for the general public to interpret and understand. In this accessible and engaging book, Sheldon Krimsky, a leading researcher, investigates the methods that different companies use for DNA ancestry testing. He also discusses what the tests are used for, from their application in criminal investigations to discovering missing relatives. With a lack of transparency from companies in sharing their data, absent validation of methods by independent scientists, and currently no agreed-upon standards of accuracy, this book also examines the ethical issues behind genetic genealogy testing, including concerns surrounding data privacy and security. It demystifies the art and science of DNA ancestry testing for the general reader.
The noun science and all of its adjectival forms confers a sense of authority to its associated activities. Nearly everyone wants to be on the side of “good science.” Environmental agencies speak of “science-based” policy, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and many professional societies identify themselves with “evidence-based” medicine. Strong disagreements among scientists can create a cognitive dissonance within the popular culture. Yet, despite its authoritative position, the system of science – consisting of research and educational institutions, certified practitioners, journals and funding agencies – is embedded in a social context. The elements that make up this context can influence the questions that get asked, the studies that get funded, the results that get published, and the biases that enter into scientific practice and impair its quality.
The normative structure of science has evolved over centuries, beginning with the Enlightenment, continuing through the development of nation-states and the rise of international scientific societies, and during the current era of globalization. That structure includes a shared set of goals for uncovering the truths about the natural world, the recognition that science is a social activity that demands openness and transparency of claims and evidence, and the commitment to an epistemology that embodies a standard of empirical verifiability for certifying knowledge claims.