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:

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:

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:

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 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