The impact of genetic ancestry testing

Attitudes on DNA ancestry tests:

The DNA ancestry testing industry is more than a decade old, yet details about it remain a mystery: there remain no reliable, empirical data on the number, motivations, and attitudes of customers to date, the number of products available and their characteristics, or the industry customs and standard practices that have emerged in the absence of specific governmental regulations. Here, we provide preliminary data collected in 2009 through indirect and direct participant observation, namely blog post analysis, generalized survey analysis, and targeted survey analysis. The attitudes include the first available data on attitudes of those of individuals who have and have not had their own DNA ancestry tested as well as individuals who are members of DNA ancestry-related social networking groups. In a new and fluid landscape, the results highlight the need for empirical data to guide policy discussions and should be interpreted collectively as an invitation for additional investigation of (1) the opinions of individuals purchasing these tests, individuals obtaining these tests through research participation, and individuals not obtaining these tests; (2) the psychosocial and behavioral reactions of individuals obtaining their DNA ancestry information with attention given both to expectations prior to testing and the sociotechnical architecture of the test used; and (3) the applications of DNA ancestry information in varying contexts.

If anyone wants the paper, email me, I can send you a copy. But really it’s just kind of dated because the information was collected in 2009, before the massive increase in 23andMe’s customer base which began in the spring of 2010. Additionally, “genome blogging” really hadn’t started much at that point.

In terms of the reactions to ancestry analysis, my personal experience after doing analysis on hundreds of people (most in public for AAP, but some in private) is that most are pretty calm about whatever they find out. On occasion you run into a stubborn person who is basically going to fix upon a really implausible explanation for a particular ancestral slice rather than the lowest hanging fruit. But there was one individual who had a freak out when their results were published, because it did not accord with family beliefs. I was kind of confused, and checked their results with their self-reported ethnicity. Weirdly the results were exactly what I would have expected from the self-reported ethnicity, so it was a really strange reaction.

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