Monday, 30 November 2015

Another DNA controversy facing Borders-based partnership


A Welsh television channel has commissioned an independent consultant to examine complaints about a series of programmes which rely heavily on work and research on DNA by Melrose company The Moffat Partnership fronted by broadcaster and author Alistair Moffat.

It is claimed DNA Cymru, currently being broadcast by S4C - the Welsh language channel - has misled viewers by attempting to define what it is to be Welsh without adequate scientific evidence. Critics have also alleged that public money has been used to promote Mr Moffat's company which charges up to £190 for an individual DNA test.

This new controversy, which has received detailed coverage in the Welsh language publication Golwg, comes hard on the heels of strong criticism of Mr Moffat's recent five-part series about Scotland's DNA, published by The Scotsman, from academics at University College London.

As we reported earlier this month, genetics experts at UCL were so concerned by the activities of Mr Moffat and his team that they set up a special website several years ago "to set the record straight". According to Professor Mark Thomas, one of the group responsible for developing the site, many of the claims made by The Moffat Partnership are not soundly based in fact, and are nothing more than "invented stories".

Several well known Welsh celebrities feature in the current S4C series, and their DNA samples are said to connect them to people who lived more than a thousand years ago.

The Golwg article tells how Welsh singer and politician Dafydd Iwan's DNA test strongly suggested he was a descendant of Welsh speaking kings who at one time controlled lands in England before retreating west in the Fifth Century when the Saxons arrived.

But Professor Thomas explained there was no basis to the claim that genetic ancestry could be traced directly back to the Fifth Century. Dafydd Iwan was certainly related to warriors from the Fifth Century, conceded the professor, but so was everyone else in Europe.

A spokesman for S4C told Golwg their complaints committee, which includes members of the S4C Authority, had commissioned independent advice about the complaints regarding DNA Cymru. Work on the report was continuing, and the committee would consider its contents in the coming weeks.

Supporters of the series have defended the information used in making the programmes as 'dependable and scientific', and say the test results could be used to identify genetic patterns in present day populations.

However, Professor Thomas has dismissed some of the claims made in the series as "mad", adding that there were no experts, apart from those employed by The Moffat Partnership, who agreed with that company's theories.

"Absolutely nothing they have said has been published in a scientific journal, which is the minimum needed for scientific credibility for this kind of thing", said Professor Thomas.

The challenges and criticisms levelled at Mr Moffat's company by the geneticists at UCL, including a full English translation of the Golwg feature can be found by following this internet link:

Debbie Kennett, a genetic genealogist who updates the website, has written a critique of the S4C programmes on her blog here:

Commenting on the first programme in the series, which was broadcast earlier this year on St David's Day, Ms Kennett writes: "It contained very little in the way of real science and was little more than a promotional tool for the commercial genetic ancestry business CymruDNAWales, one of the trading names of the Moffat Partnership, a company founded by Alistair Moffat. The editorial integrity of S4C was also brought into question when it transpired that Ian Jones, the CEO of S4C was an old friend of Alistair Moffat's".

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