Thursday, 26 February 2015

The saga continues - CymruDNAWales, S4C, the Tudor surname and "Who are the Welsh?"

A genetic astrology alert has been issued for Sunday evening in Wales. I have received reports that S4C, the publicly funded Welsh language TV station, is scheduled to broadcast a programme at 8.00 pm entitled "Who are the Welsh?". This is another venture involving Alistair Moffat, the Managing Director of the Moffat Partnership, a company which offers genetic ancestry testing through its BritainsDNA, ScotlandsDNA, IrelandsDNA and CymruDNAWales websites. He is also the former Rector of St Andrew's University and has the unique distinction of being the only Rector in the university's entire history who was not nominated for an honorary degree. Readers of this blog will be well aware of the ongoing BritainsDNA saga which we have documented at length on our UCL Debunking Genetic Astrology website. The latest development in the saga follows a familiar pattern. Once again it would appear that tax payers' money is being used to promote a commercial company which has been disguised as a "scientific" research project. Not surprisingly it turns out that Ian Jones, the CEO of S4C, who commissioned the programme, is an old friend of Alistair Moffat's. A trailer for the programme can be seen here:


S4C have a dedicated website for CymruDNAWales where Alistair Moffat introduces the project in his usual florid prose:
Using the most advanced DNA testing in the world, we will replace myth-history, wish-fulfillment and folk tales with scientific facts. By sampling the DNA of the modern population of Wales we can trace the story of an ancient people far beyond written records, back into the darkness of prehistory, right up to the retreat of the ice and the coming of the pioneers, the first to see the familiar landscape of the old land for more than 14,000 years.
In order to participate in the "project" it is necessary purchase a commercial DNA test from the Moffat Partnership who are described as the "science experts in this project".

In anticipation of the programme Sense About Science have issued a Welsh-language version of their pamphlet on Sense About Genetic Ancestry. For details see here:

http://www.senseaboutscience.org/news.php/434/welsh-translation-of-sense-about-genetic-ancestry-testing-ahead-of-s4c-documentary

The programme has already generated controversy before it has even been aired because of the commercial interests involved and the unscientific claims that have already been made by CymruDNAWales. A critical blog has been published in Welsh in which the author claims that S4C were aware of the concerns of scientists but chose not to reveal them to the audience. The blog can be read here:

https://syndod.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/dna-cymru-s4c/#more-7

If you use Google Chrome it will automatically translate the text into English and you should be able to pick up the gist of the article.

The Welsh news website golwg360 reported on the concerns raised in the blog post and have published a response from Llion Iwan, Commissioner Factual Content for S4C. He claims that the "project" has "consulted widely with academics and experts in history, archaeology and the biosciences, in a number of respected organizations across the UK". You can read the article here:

http://www.golwg360.com/newyddion/cymru/178817-blog-yn-codi-amheuon-am-raglen-am-dna-y-cymry

We will have to reserve judgement until we've seen the programme and we find out who these "experts" are.

However, the coverage that CymruDNAWales generated in the Welsh press when it was launched in September last year does not inspire confidence in the scientific and historical credibility of the project as can be seen from the following stories which are remarkably devoid of "scientific facts":

- Dafydd Iwan, the former president of Plaid Cymru, was regaled with a fanciful story about his rare "Celtic" marker.

- Alistair Moffat's friend Ian Jones, the CEO of S4C, was told that his Scandinavian DNA marker indicated he was probably descended from Svein, the "invading Scandinavian warlord from whom Swansea first got its name".

- In a story published on Wales Online it was claimed that "a staggering quarter of all men in Wales with four Welsh grandparents can actually claim to be descended from about 20 rulers from the Dark Ages period – kings, warlords, or other powerful men who governed the land around 1,500 years ago".

It is of course very easy to make up exciting stories about our ancestry but storytelling is not science. Publishing misleading stories in the guise of science only serves to mislead the public and to detract from the legitimate scientific research in this field which is being done by reputable scientists.

In addition to the advertorial on S4C, CymruDNAWales are also trying to promote sales of their DNA kits by launching an appeal for "Welsh men with the surname of Tudor to volunteer to be tested by CymruDNAWales to ascertain if they can lay claim to having the family of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I as their forbears [sic]". To gain maximum publicity the appeal went out on the same evening that the last episode of the Tudor drama Wolf Hall was aired. However, the concept of the project appears to be fatally flawed. The family tree of Henry VIII, in common with all royal lineages, has already been very well researched and there are not thought to be any direct male-line descendants. Furthermore, surnames were adopted very late in Wales, and in some of parts of Wales the old patronymic naming system was still being used well into the nineteenth century. Testing men with the Tudor surname is, therefore, not likely to yield any meaningful insights! 

If you wish to watch the Welsh DNA programme on S4C, despite the genetic astrology warning, it can be seen in Wales on S4C and elsewhere in the UK on Sky 134 / Freesat 120 / Virgin 166. It can also be viewed live online at http://www.s4c.co.uk/clic/c_live.shtml though I'm not sure at present if the programme will be streamed in other countries. A recording of the programme will be made available for 30 days on the S4C/BBC iPlayer.

Related blog posts
- More on the S4C DNA Cymru controversy and my review of "Who are the Welsh?"
- My review of DNA Cymru Part 2 - the controversy continues

© 2015 Debbie Kennett

16 comments:

Brian P. Swann said...

I agree with almost all of your comments here, Debbie, and was aware of this but had forgotten about it.

However King Henry VIII's family tree has not been that brilliantly researched from the viewpoint of Y-DNA testing. You have to go back as far as a gentleman named Edynfed Fychan, ca 1170-1246, to find a direct male ancestor where you can go sideways and down, but there is at least one family line living today, which on paper should have almost all of the Y-SNP profile of King Henry VIII. Whether this gets mentioned on S4C is something else! Let alone tested. Most folk with a background in English or Scottish family history do not understand Welsh patronymic surnames and their genealogy, in my experience. For sure it is a waste of time testing folk with the surname Tudor. It is a common Welsh patronymic Christian name, usually spelt Tudur in the old MSS.

puzzledresearcher said...

While I appreciate your critique, the thing I fear will happen is that the by continually associating the word "astrology" with "DNA" the public will start to equate the two.

Unfortunately Moffet and company have dirtied the water for any real effort to use DNA to understand the past, deep family trees.

Debbie Kennett said...

Thanks Brian. That's fascinating. It will be interesting to see if they mention this on Sunday. I hope someone manages to get a DNA profile from the last remaining Tudor descendant for posterity. Ideally we need a comparison sample for triangulation but I don't suppose it will be possible to dig up Henry VIII.

Debbie Kennett said...

Thanks Puzzled Researcher for your comments. I know people do get sensitive about the association of the word astrology with DNA testing. I always try and draw a distinction between genetic genealogy and genetic astrology. The problem is that people read all this nonsense in the papers and because the stories are so ludicrous they don't take DNA testing seriously. Either that or people believe the hype and think they can take a DNA test to find out if they're a Viking or a Celt. It doesn't help that we have a second British company propagating this myth.

Alex Henderson said...

Why did you put "experts" in inverted commas?

Mists of Avalon said...

Thanks, interesting post. I look forward to the programme. I will watch it with my skeptical hat on.

I hope that in studying the modern population of Wales, BritainsDNA have considered the effects of large scale English migration into Wales over the last 200 years.

Another interesting fact is that only 35% of the Welsh population have what is considered a Welsh surname and in the 2011 census, 21% of people in Wales were born in England.

Debbie Kennett said...

Alex

I put the word "experts" in inverted commas because, based on what we've seen in the Welsh newspapers and on the S4C website, I'm not convinced that there any real experts involved in the programme. None of my colleagues at UCL, for example, have been asked for their input. Anyone can call themselves an expert but I would expect experts to be actively researching in the relevant field and publishing papers in peer-reviewed academic journals. I've not yet had a chance to watch the programme as our internet connection has been down so I reserve judgement until I've seen the programme.

Debbie Kennett said...

Thanks Mists of Avalon for your interesting comments. I hadn't realised there were quite so many English people born in Wales. I've seen first hand the effects of nineteenth-century migration into Wales because I have several examples in my own family history research. There were many people from North Devon who went to work in South Wales in the mid to late 1800s. Some of my own cousins left Devon to work in the copper mines. All these factors make it very difficult to use living people to study past populations.

Debbie Kennett said...

George

I am happy to publish comments from everyone but I will not tolerate personal attacks. If you wish to contribute please stick to facts.

My blog posts represent my own personal opinions. I am nobody's mouthpiece.

George said...

Debbie,
I am not personally attacking you ... I am attacking your overly biased blogging style.

You say you will not tolerate "personal attacks" ... but you and Mark Thomas are the leading 2 persons personally attacking Alistair Moffat with defamatory terms such as 'Genetic Astrology' I object to that term.

You THINK & HAVE YOUR OPINION that you are doing a 'service' to the Genetic Genealogy community by continually, and in a vindictive way, personally attacking Alistair Moffat for his interpretations of DNA test results. Remember that Jim Wilson, Moffat's partner is a pretty keen scientist in this area and their DNA test is a valid one. Those are facts.

Others, like me, THINK & HAVE THEIR OPINIONS that you are doing a 'grave disservice' to the Genetic Genealogy community by personally attacking Alistair Moffat and, most recently on St. David's Day in Wales, saying 'in advance before viewing it' an entire program on Welsh DNA was garbage because Moffat was involved in it.

That's like a biased New York Times book reviewer saying a book is bad and they had not even read it.

Some may see your recent postings on this as racial hatred for the Welsh and their 'Ancient British' ancestors like mine in Hg R1b-L371.

A good journalist and a good blogger does their best to remain unbiased. You have not.

You say you are not the social media shill or mouthpiece for Mark Thomas ... but with this posting here and other ones over the years ... it appears you are. And you try to enlist others also to rail against Moffat.

My advice to you is to have a 1 year quiet period on the subject of Moffat and go plant some flowers in your garden.

George Jones

Anonymous said...

Debbie,
Since you asked for facts, here are some.
1. Chromo2 (Y chromosome) is an exceptionally good product
2. The SNPs were picked by Dr. Wilson who is highly regarded for his knowledge of the Y chromosome
3. Wilson produced several highly useful haplogroup trees along with the Chromo2 chip which have advanced our understanding considerably
4. It is possible to buy a 'Raw' version of Chromo2-Y which has no or minimal historical interpretation/narratives
5. The fact that the product can be purchased with extra narrative and/or may feature in the media with historical interpretations you don't attach any value to is of no relevance whatsoever.

By contrast
1. You have launched countless personal attacks on Moffat and to a lesser extent Wilson, often issuing multiple Twitter attacks on the same day
2. You completely ignore all the strong positive things about Chromo2
3. You totally ignore similar faults in other companies products
4. You regularly post on internet forums using various reasons to stop people buying Chromo2 eg S21 forum, the hg I forum the other day etc etc
5. If people had listened to you we would have lost or been significantly delayed in our various community research projects
6. Your 'genetic astrology' tag, if justified, would also apply to a large portion of the 'genetic genealogy' community who spend all day posting the same kind of interprative deep genetic histories that you appear to deride. If you really believed what you post, and thought your arguments sound, you would also direct them to the amateur genetic genealogy community. Many haplogroup forums deliberate whether they can identify a 'Mr. Big' figure in the past and attach their defining SNP to him. They do the same with various historical ethnic groups. Why aren't you attacking these people too?





Debbie Kennett said...

George

Thank you for sharing your views. I am only using the term genetic astrology to describe misleading haplogroup stories. I have every respect for the research done by our genetic genealogy community which is in a different league altogether.

I did state I would reserve judgement on the programme until I've seen it which I've still not been able to do because our internet connection has been down. It was S4C's decision to broadcast the programme on St David's Day. It was a shame that they didn't feature some serious scientific research instead such as the People of the British Isles Project.

The Chromo 2 test is a good and perfectly valid test as I've stated many times elsewhere. However you surely aren't supporting the ludicrous claims that have been made about the results?

I have not enlisted others to "rail" against Moffat. Other people are perfectly capable of doing this in their own right. However, there do seem to be a lot of people who agree with me, including many friends in Wales. We are all concerned at the detrimental effect these silly stories have on our serious research efforts. I think it's difficult for you in the US to understand the extent of the problem.

I'm hoping that we will not be subjected to any more silly media stories so that I will be able to enjoy some more time in my garden!

Debbie Kennett said...

Dear anonymous

It would be good to know who I am talking to and if you have any affiliation with BritainsDNA.

1. I agree that Chromo 2 is a potentially useful test. I have written to this effect elsewhere, and also mentioned that it is possible to buy the raw data test without paying for the interpretation. See my reviews here:

http://cruwys.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/a-first-look-at-britainsdna-chromo-2-y.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/a-first-look-at-chromo-2-all-my.html

I also did a lengthy discussion on the merits of all the different tests here:

http://cruwys.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/a-confusion-of-snps.html

I agree that Jim Wilson has done some good work on the Y-chromosome and on the Y-SNP tree and particularly for M222.

Regarding your contrasting points:

1. I am concerned, as are many other people, about the misleading press coverage that has been generated as a result of the press releases and other media initiatives emanating from the Moffat Partnership. In my view these stories bring the whole field into disrepute and they mislead the public as to what a DNA test can and can’t tell them. I think we have a duty to promote the responsible use of DNA testing and a rigorous and scientific interpretation of the results. Academic debate, whether on Twitter or elsewhere, is part of the scientific process. If you disagree with any of my tweets perhaps you can join Twitter and discuss the matter there or perhaps you can start your own blog and share your thoughts with us.

2. As stated above I have already discussed elsewhere the merits of the Chromo 2 test. I have also worked hard on the ISOGG SNP testing comparison chart (http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Y-DNA_SNP_testing_chart) to ensure that people receive accurate information and can make up their own minds. We consulted widely for that page to ensure that we had covered all the angles. That page receives thousands more hits than my humble little blog.

3. There is a limit as to the time I can spend writing this blog, and I am mostly concerned with setting the record straight where there has been misleading press coverage. The other companies are not filling up newspapers in the UK with ludicrous stories. I’ve written critically about the misleading interpretation of results by some other companies (eg, Prosapia Genetics, Origenes, misleading ethnicity reports, etc). If there are problems with a test then I will liaise directly with the company so that changes can be made.

4. I do not post on forums telling people not to buy the Chromo 2 test. I generally tell people to seek advice from their haplogroup project administrators because the testing recommendations will differ from person to person depending on their objectives, their budget and the level of SNP discovery in their subclade.

I did suggest to the haplogroup I group that it might be worth waiting to see what's round the corner but many other people would say the same:

http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/Y-DNA-HAPLOGROUP-I/2015-02/1422926596

If you disagreed with my comment why didn't you share your views with the list?

5. I am only cautioning about the interpretation of results.

6. I do sometimes caution on mailing lists and in various Facebook groups about the over-interpretation of results but it would be a full-time job countering every claim. It’s a free world and people can interpret their own results however they want to. It’s a different matter when misleading stories are being told on TV or in the press and are being presented in the name of “science”.

Mists of Avalon said...

That's true Debbie. Modern Brits have become so mixed in recent centuries.

That's what I like about the POBI project taking rural samples with four grandparents in the locality. In the case of North Wales, POBI appear to have sampled areas like Anglesey and Gwynedd, good choices because many people in those areas are still Welsh speaking and long term local ancestry is highly likely - so in effect these people in North Wales are a good proxy for Ancient Britons.

By the way I watched the S4C program and it did feel a tad dumbed down. It is aimed at the general public I suppose, but there were too many celebrities and not enough detailed history/archaeology.

Debbie Kennett said...

Hi Mists of Avalon.

I like the approach of the People of the British Isles Project too and I'm looking forward to seeing the publication of their long-awaited paper which I understand is imminent.

Our phone line and internet connection were finally restored this morning and I managed to watch the S4c programme tonight. I intend to blog about it if I get the time. It was effectively an extended advertorial for ScotlandsDNA/BritainsDNA. They even used all the silly ScotlandsDNA haplogroup nicknames. It is disgraceful that a public service should have been hijacked in such a way to promote a commercial testing company. There was no mention of all the serious academic research that is being done (POBI, the Irish DNA Atlas Project and the Impact of the Diasporas Project). I note that Jim Wilson, ScotlandDNA's chief scientist, was notably absent from the list of credits.

Brian Swann said...

TUDOR: A patronymic name from the Welsh forename Tudur, used widely in North Wales. As Tudur it is found largely in that region in the 15th century, reaching 2% in Rhos & Rhufoniog and 1% in four other northern areas, including Powys Fadog. We may reflect that Henry VII's father was Owain ap Meredith ap Tudor. If he had chosen to use his father's name, we might have had a Merdedith dynasty.

From The Surnames of Wales, p. 116, by John and Sheila Rowlands.

Wonder if S4C and Alistair Moffat have a copy, as it contains a lifetime of research experience.