The satirical magazine Private Eye have a short article in this week's issue (No. 1347, 23 August to 5th September 2013, p31) on two very different stories about red hair that were covered by the press at the end of August. The first study reports on a gene mutation found in people with red hair and pale skin which might explain their increased risk of melanoma. This research was published in the respected scientific journal Molecular Cell. Some newspapers, including the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, gave equal coverage to a "'groundbreaking' study from BritainsDNA, suggesting that more than 20m people in the British Isles have genes that produced red hair". The BritainsDNA red-haired study is potentially an interesting piece of research and the press release includes a useful map showing the distribution of red hair in the British Isles. Yet, as Private Eye point out, the study "is not peer-reviewed and is published only on the BritainsDNA website 'to coincide with' (read 'cash in on') last month's Redhead Convention in County Cork."
BritainsDNA promise us on their website that they will "participate in academic conferences designed to peer-authenticate and disseminate new findings and interpretations" and that they will "publish findings from its research programme in peer-reviewed publications". ScotlandsDNA was founded in 2011, and their sister company BritainsDNA was set up the following year. It does of course take time for research to be written up and to go through the peer-review process, but it is surprising that, despite the large amount of press and media coverage devoted to the findings of their research, there has still not been a single paper published in a scientific journal. I hope that we do not have to wait too much longer to see some of their research published in the scientific literature in the usual way.
- Private Eye on Prince William's DNA
- BritainsDNA, The Times and Prince William - the perils of publication by press release
- Sense about genetic ancestry testing
- I don't know what to believe: making sense of science stories. A useful publication from Sense About Science explaining the importance of the peer review process.