Consumers Corner # 29


 By Jim Murphy

The DNA home ancestry test kit bandwagon is picking up speed.

More and more of my friends and family members are swabbing their cheeks or spitting into tubes to find out who their ancestors really were. Some even received the tests as Christmas presents.

What’s more, you can scarcely turn on a TV without seeing someone – who thought their ancestors were German – learn they were from Scotland or Ireland or some other place around the world.

Almost every week, I hear another report of someone who has been surprised by the results they received back.

BUT BUYER BEWARE should be the motto here.

Don’t be too impressed by the ancestor results. And if you are using these for health reasons, rely on your doctor, not these.

The value and accuracy of these home tests are limited. A story by Ethan Baron published by the Bay Area News Group, says tests from four top-selling tests produced “drastically different results.”

Kristen Brown, quoted in that story, wrote a long article for Gizmodo titled, “How DNA Testing Botched My Family’s Heritage, and Probably Yours, Too.”

While one testing firm, Gencove, which she describes as a “small ancestry-test startup founded by scientists,” reported that 8 percent of her DNA was from the Indian subcontinent, another, 23andMe, found she had no South Asian DNA at all.

How Irish are you?

The estimates can vary widely. Says Jake Byrnes, Ancestry’s senior manager of population genomics, in Baron’s story, “While we think you’re, say, 20 percent Irish, it could be as low as 5 (percent) and it could be as high as 35 (percent),” Byrnes said. “That range will vary depending on that particular estimate and also on other populations that make up who you are.”

To me, a range of 30% is a lot closer to a wild guess than an estimate.

Adam Rutherford, an author and British geneticist, Brown spoke to, says, “These companies are asking people to pay for something that is at best trivial and at worst astrology. The biggest lesson we can teach people is that DNA is probabilistic and not deterministic.”

And these kits are not cheap. The top ones listed on Amazon as of late January 2018 were running about $80 for the ancestor genetic testing service. If you want the health portion, you will pay double that.

Before you buy one, think about this:

  • What will you do with the information you get?
  • And what will the company do with your information? That’s really the more important question.

As NBC News.com points out, when you send away your test, “you are giving away your full genetic code … including the mutation pattern that makes it exclusively yours.”

And that’s the most valuable thing you own, says Peter Pitts of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

If you seriously believe a company that has your personal data won’t market it every way they can, try this test!

Put home DNA testing into your Google search bar, and see how often you start getting ad messages about home DNA Kits as you move around the web. I’ll bet you get at least three within a day. That’s not a fluke. These advertisers are relentlessly stalking you.

So if you buy one of these tests, just be aware of the risks. Because once that genie is out of the bottle, you can’t put it back.



Stay safe. Don/t plug space heaters into a power strip or extension cord. They aren’t designed to handle the high current flow of a space heater and can overheat and catch fire.  Space heaters causes 79% of all fatal home heating fires, says the National Fire Protection Association. Last December, a faulty extension cord plugged into a space heater on a porch in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, Pa. caused a fire that killed two young children. Don’t let that happen to you. Stay safe.



When I moved into my house in Philadelphia, I didn’t realize I had no water shutoff valve. I found out after I had a leak and was shocked to find out there was no way to shut the water off. I had to call a guy to go out in the street, put a long pole down and turn off the main cutoff valve and install two valves inside the house.. Save yourself this aggravation. Take a look at the area around your water meter now and make sure you have at least one shutoff valve. Doing this now will save you a lot of frustration if you ever have a leak.




The speed – in miles per hour – that air comes out of you when you sneeze. This figure came to light when a 34-year-old British tried to stop a powerful sneeze by pinching his nose and closing his mouth. The result? He ruptured the back of his throat. Next time, I’ll bet he just lets it rip.

Source: Time


The number of daily complaints the FTC receives about telemarketing and robocalls from members of the National Do Not Call Registry.

Source: The Washington Post

–   88.6 degrees

The absurd cold in Fahrenheit degrees experienced in Yakutia, Russia, in January. While students routinely go to school there when it’s 40 below zero, this was just too cold. The students got a snow day.

Source: The Associated Press


Philly Fun Fact


If you haven’t yet seen the monument to Octavius V. Catto at the south portico of City Hall, check it out.

This is far more than a statue. The monument, by sculptor Branly Cadet, is a granite abstraction of an 1860 trolley car, says Carol Lawrence, chair of the O.V. Catto Memorial Fund.  Catto, who helped integrate public transit in Philadelphia, was shot and killed while promoting the rights of blacks to vote in a critical city election. The five trolley car pillars, complete with quotes from Catto, stand for his various roles as an educator, athlete, leader, National Guard major and more.

Take time to read the front and back of each of the pillars. You’ll learn a lot more about this heroic Philadelphia figure.

Photo Credit

“DNA” flickr photo by ghutchis https://flickr.com/photos/ghutchis/124782978 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license


Jim Murphy is a direct marketing copywriter who has run his own consulting business since 2004. For nine years, he wrote and edited “Choices,” an award-winning credit union magazine with a circulation of 80,000. Jim is also a certified member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guide and writes historical articles for the Queen Village Neighbors Association magazine.


Any comments made are Jim’s opinion, and not necessarily those of the Old Pine Community Center.





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