Taking the measure of DNA evidence

 

A few weeks back, a story appeared in the science section of this paper with the title “Is distinctive DNA marker proof of ancient genocide?” The theory was proposed by a spokesman for IrelandsDNA, a commercial DNA testing company that also trades as ScotlandsDNA and BritainsDNA. He speculated that copper-mining Bronze-Age warriors had invaded Ireland some 2,500 years ago and all but exterminated the farmers already living here.

The evidence adduced was the prevalence of a particular Y-chromosome DNA marker among men in Ireland today, along with several pieces of archaeology in south Munster, where it is proposed the copper-miners might have arrived, along with that medieval compendium of hoary Irish origin stories, the Lebor Gebala or Book of Invasions.

The story also included balancing comments from Prof Dan Bradley from the Smurfit Institute of Genetics, which were commendably clear and, perhaps, restrained. He described the “genocide” claim as “based on a very strong interpretation of a small piece of a genetic pattern” with “no real scientific evidence” to back it.

Public attention is the life-blood of any commercial company and IrelandsDNA is no different. Technically speaking, it is one of the most advanced genealogical DNA-testing outfits in Europe, and shouldn’t need to attract customers by associating itself with such scientific theories.

The public may gloss over the balancing comments and the reporter’s diligent interrogation of the claims. It was frustrating to see that after a few days the story was still hovering in the irishtimes.com “Most Read” section and had clocked up almost 1,000 Facebook recommendations. There is a deep willingness among some Irish people to believe the worst of ourselves, and this story of genocide in our origins is by now well on its way to becoming part of received wisdom about the Irish past.

It is a shame.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.