Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Things you might like to know in addition to your DNA test

Apparently those who promote DNA testing for genealogical inquiries feel compelled to explain all of the genetic intricacies of the program. Almost every class or presentation I have had on the subject has involved a huge amount of jargon. Years ago I became interested in synthesized music. I took an opportunity to visit a store selling some of the newer keyboard synthesizers in Scottsdale, just north of my home in Mesa, Arizona. The sales person in the store, talked to me about the different models available, but used a huge amount of music/technical language. Since I was just starting out in my interest, I was soon lost. As I left the store I said to myself, in two months I will know more that that salesperson about synthesizers and I did. Much, much more. I set up a complete sound studio and recorded some music.

This example illustrates and interesting point. One thing I learned in law school was that if you wanted to be a lawyer you had to sound or talk like one. Producing the jargon is one of the ways to increase the mystique of any pursuit. Genealogists are just as guilty of using jargon as any other technical pursuit and now genealogy is permeated with computer jargon as well. So here we go again, adding another layer of impenetrable jargon in the form of DNA terminology. If I wanted to impress people with my legal knowledge and promote myself as a lawyer, I would do two things. First, I would write about complex subjects and throw out a lot of legal jargon and a few Latin phrases, such as tort, replevin, etc. But secondly, at the same time, I would try to make all that mumbo-jumbo understandable. As a side note, the latest edition of Black's Law Dictionary has 7,500 terms new to the 10th edition. Talking the talk distinguishes an "expert" from the novice.

Self-styled DNA experts are no different than synthesizer salesmen or lawyers. They impress people with their knowledge of the subject for the purpose of self-promotion or to sell a product. This is also why there is a 10th edition of a law dictionary first published back in 1891. I recently read a scholarly article submitted to a journal by one of my own children. Fortunately I have an extensive vocabulary, but nonetheless, the article was all but impenetrably permeated with medical jargon. I commonly tell people to stop me and ask questions if they do not understand what I am talking about, but they seldom do, even when I know for certain I have lost them with my discussion.

Why is it that we are so afraid to stop someone and ask questions? One of the main reasons is that we do not want to disclose our own ignorance of the subject. Another good reason is that we do not know enough of the jargon to ask a question at all. This is way it is with DNA today in the realm of genealogy.

There is a very important story called The Emperor's New Clothes. The original is by Hans Christian Anderson. When we get into the mode of talking about a difficult subject such as DNA testing, perhaps we need to remember the Emperor and his new fine suit of clothes.

No comments:

Post a Comment