Saturday, 12 July 2014

Red hair and climate change

A number of newspapers this week, including The Independent, the Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Huffington Post, reported on a ludicrous story suggesting that the gene associated with red hair could die out as a result of climate change. The source of this story appears to be an interview with "DNA expert... Dr Alistair Moffat, boss of genetic testing company ScotlandsDNA" published in the Scottish Daily Record. I have not been able to find any evidence that Alistair Moffat has a PhD in any subject and he does not seem to have any qualifications in genetics so it is somewhat surprising to find that he is described both as a doctor and as a DNA expert. Most unusually the story was supported by a quote from "another scientist, who asked not to be named because of the theoretical nature of the work". I do not ever recall seeing any story in the press before where a scientist insisted on retaining his or her anonymity, though it is perhaps understandable in view of the nonsensical nature of the theory.

ScotlandsDNA have since claimed that Alistair Moffat was misquoted, though they have not enlightened us as to what exactly Alistair Moffat is supposed to have said.

The science writer Adam Rutherford has written an excellent article for The Guardian, Relax, redheads. You're not about to die out, exposing the bad science behind the red hair and climate change theory. As a side note, I get a brief mention at the end of the article for my blog post debunking the story of  Prince William's "Indian" DNA. The Prince William story emanated from a press release from ScotlandsDNA's sister company BritainsDNA and, as with the red hair story, was picked up unquestioningly by a gullible press.


jennyalogy said...

Yes, I saw that article and commented on the ludicrousness of it to my husband. All that climate change would mean is that redheads will have to be more careful in the sun - wear hats and sunscreen, just as they already have to in Australia

Anonymous said...

I guess it doesn't take a genius to guess who the anonymous scientist is.....

jon said...

I never thought it could get any worse than the first BBC Today interview. I'm just surprised that neither St Andrews nor Edinburgh University have reacted.

What is the current position with the BBC and complaints? At least as far as I could see they did not cover this latest publication by press release.

Debbie Kennett said...

Fortunately, the BBC don't seem to have fallen for the latest nonsense. I'm still waiting for a response from the Editorial Complaints Unit regarding my complaint about the Mark Forrest Show. I was initially promised a reply by 23rd June. I was told on 8th July that I should get a response within two weeks.

I'm still waiting for a reply from the BBC in response to my complaint about their satnav story. You can find the BBC/BritainsDNA correspondence here though I still need to put up some of the intermediate e-mails:

The BBC Trust didn't want to consider the issue of James Naughtie's conflict of interest, but such matters are very difficult to prove.