This morning I received a call from John Pereira, VP of Business Development at Ancestry.com, to discuss my post regarding the recent issue involving the confusion surrounding the adoptee's parent/child DNA match. He informed me that it was caused by a lab error. He declined to tell me the exact nature of the error and, of course, couldn't discuss "Chris and Pat's" specific case with me, but emphasized that it wasn't a problem with AncestryDNA's algorithms or underlying science. He shared with me that the error affected a small number of people and AncestryDNA is doing all they can to remedy the situation, including implementing new policies to ensure this doesn't happen again. Those affected are being retested with fresh samples as an extra precaution. Without addressing any specific customer(s), he explained that those affected were "matched to some people who they shouldn't have been". He assured me that they were rushing out new kits (this was confirmed by the adoptee in my post, "Chris") and would process them as quickly as possible as soon as the new samples are returned. He couldn't give an exact time frame, but assured me that it would not take nearly as long as had been earlier quoted to "Chris" by Ancestry.com's representative.
In this case, it doesn't sound like having access to the underlying genetic data would have completely solved the problem since it would also have been incorrect. However, I still stand by my opinion that, with it, this situation would have been much more easily resolved. (In fact, a good example of this was the 2010 sample mix-up that affected 23andMe customers. Thanks to our active community and 23andMe's data transparency, the problem was quickly discovered and rectified.) Upon seeing an inheritance pattern that was clearly parent/child and reviewing the details of the corresponding match, it would have been undeniable in my mind that there was a lab error since these two people absolutely could not have shared that relationship. We wouldn't have wasted any time trying to fit a square peg into a round hole or on a "wild goose chase" as one of those affected termed it. There would have been no hours spent researching, speculating or, most likely, even blogging about it.
Let's face it, lab errors do occasionally happen. It is just very unfortunate for everyone involved that one of the small number of people affected was an adoptee and that an immediate family member prediction was the result of this error. It is heart wrenching to witness someone who has been denied their right to know "who they are" go through this experience on top of everything else they have been forced to endure in their search for their biological roots. By definition, we as genealogists understand the value of learning about our heritage and our ancestors. As a result, I cannot apologize for my passionate response to this situation. As a blogger, while striving to be unbiased about the various DNA testing companies, I do write from my own perspective. As an active participant in the genetic genealogy and adoptionDNA communities, I am not a completely detached observer. I have strong opinions and, sometimes, I unequivocally share them.
As I told John, I believe it would go a long way in easing their customers' minds if AncestryDNA were to release a statement that explained specifically what went wrong. "Lab error" is a bit wide in scope and when someone is handling our genetic data, we want details. On that note, it won't come as a surprise to my readers that I re-emphasized to John the importance to the genetic genealogy community that AncestryDNA release our genetic data to us. I mentioned that my colleagues and I were happy to discover that Ken Chahine's statements to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues in Washington D.C. on August 1st were in line with our belief that our genetic data belongs to us (video and transcript). During the second session, Dr. Chahine stated that "the customer retains ownership of their DNA and data". However, we feel that AncestryDNA's policies do not currently reflect this. John reiterated what I have been told before, which is that they are genuinely considering the best way to deliver this data to us. In response to my persistence, John told me that they are aware that this is important to me, but that they have to take into consideration everyone's feedback, not just mine. As a result, giving us access to our genetic data is not at the top of their list of priorities. He explained that they read lots of feedback and do a significant number of surveys and focus groups in order to determine what is most important to their customers and, by that process, their priorities are dictated. The problem with that is that the vast majority of those people will be new to DNA and a person just venturing into the world of genetic genealogy doesn't even know what they should be asking for. I appreciate that AncestryDNA's goal is to reach well beyond our community (as it should be and is in our best interest), but if these customers are engaged by their results and want to know more, where do they go? I can tell you one thing they do, they write to me and/or join our community's mailing lists and forums and ask questions. In my experience, these people who wish to explore genetic genealogy further, without exception, are disappointed when they realize what they have been denied. So, all of you out there who care about this issue need to make your voices heard. Let them know it isn't just me.
For all of you who have commented here, sent me emails and weighed in on mailing lists and forums, thank you! I am so sorry that I have not been able to respond to each of you, but I am reading them and John confirmed that AncestryDNA is too (except my email, of course!). My inbox is overflowing, but I do want you to know that I appreciate your sharing your thoughts, ideas and opinions and will try to respond to you all as soon as possible. I will also keep everyone updated on the outcome of the situation regarding "Chris and Pat" as privacy permits. Let's keep our fingers crossed for them.
*Update - 23andMe finds no match for "Chris and Pat".