At-home DNA ancestry tests like 23andMe have become wildly popular over the past few years. However, the over 26 million people who have taken one of these ancestry tests aren't actually accessing a very comprehensive analysis of DNA that can reliably and accurately say where a user's ancestors hailed from. Results rely heavily on the database of users compiled by the company conducting the analysis, and are only able to make educated guesses based on a very small section of DNA.
While exacting accuracy may not concern you in a DNA test, there are ramifications when results are misinterpreted or important information is excluded. In particular, it can make race and ethnicity seem well-defined in a biological sense, which reinforces beliefs in essential differences between these socially determined categories.
Why is learning about our identity and heritage so important to us? What blind spots should we be most aware of in our quest for self-knowledge? Share your thoughts in the ongoing conversation on Vialogues.
Excerpts from the discussion:
@04:55 Anna Curry: We want to know why we are the way we are. Ancestry is a part of that. I think we believe if we know the countries our ancestors are from it will help us gain some important insight into ourselves. But given the limitations of this type of analysis, these companies need to more clearly state what their results actually mean and the level of certainty they have about them. Because the danger is people will put too much stock in them and make assumptions about themselves that aren't true.
@04:55 Rebecca Sullivan: I think it's healthy to see our past and our ancestry as a part of who we are. It would be unhealthy to get carried away and make our behavior or self-perception depend on our genetic ancestry results. Knowing a little bit about our DNA, though, can be a helpful reminder about the rich history that has gone into making us who we are.