Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why Do We Test? - the JewishGen Version

JewishGen is a fine organization which has been working for the last thirty years serving - even forging - the community of genealogy researchers with Jewish ancestors. As they themselves tell us, they are "[p]rimarily driven by volunteers" which often means an uneven level of expertise.

Last week, a woman whom I shall call R, posted the following question on the DNA Testing Discussion List.
"Is there any reason to do or not to do the Big Y test?  What would we learn? "
I was taught to begin answering with brevity and only when pressed, go into detail. I replied:
If we need to know what we expect to learn before testing, we wouldn't test
much and we'd learn even less.

So much of my own progress has come from tests that my project members did before I had any idea what results were expected. This is especially the case when you consider that the database of tests has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last few years. You test now and three or five or a dozen years later some new test helps you solve some problem you didn't even know to describe when you tested. And when it comes to testing the older generations, the rule is always DO IT NOW. Even if you haven't a clue what you are after.

So R asked her question on the discussion list and I replied.

The anonymous "Moderator on Duty"chimed in as follows:
Your comment, which you should feel free to send privately to R if you're so inclined, would likely be read as disparaging her question, even if you didn't mean it that way. We will not be posting it.
For the record, we all know what to expect most of the time, and it doesn't stop us from living our lives. In the world of scientific research, grant applications generally require a statement of what the applicant expects to find. Statistical comparisons require a null hypothesis, i.e., an expected result, against which to measure the experimental results. And even infants know what to expect; they react more when they encounter something different from their previous experience. So R's question was a perfectly reasonable one.
A few minutes later, the JewishGen Helpdesk sent the following:
Your issue has been received by JewishGen and assigned #10995. A volunteer will follow-up with you as soon as possible.
You can view this request's progress online here:
I am guessing this had to do with the above exchange, but I have no idea and I never requested intervention. The link they suggested didn't work.They have acknowledged my follow up inquiry, but they still haven't told me what the "inquiry" was about.
As it happens, Blaine Bettinger - one of the top genetic genealogists - had just initiated a discussion on Facebook a couple of days earlier which included this:
I've noticed an interesting misconception among genealogists when it comes to DNA; namely that we must approach DNA testing or our DNA test results with a research question in mind. But that misses out on 95% of the fun of DNA!
The response to Blaine's post was overwhelmingly in favor of testing for its own sake, without knowing what will come of it.

I don't know who the anonymous moderator is. I do know that when the discussion is about opinions, research strategies and other non-fact-based matters, the moderators have to understand that there are many legitimate approaches.

Oh, and I did write to R directly. She had no problem with any of what I said in my original response.

Housekeeping notes
I am waiting for a time and an address for a talk I have been asked to give in Modiin (in English) on 7 September.

1 comment:

  1. I also love JewishGen but have run into overeager moderators on countless occasions (never with an appeal ticket). I can't even remember how many of my posts were turned away or all the reasons. Some were "too long" (all plain text and only a couple pages!), others went into "too much" detail (again, plain text, not more than an extra page, usually less), and so on.

    Then there was the time my ability to search got shut down and I ended up in an email conversation with one of the top execs who accused me of being a spammer or spy or something. No one could possibly do that many searches at once, he told me. All I did was a single surname search then I'd open a bunch of windows of the results and go through them one at a time (otherwise I would lose track of where I was). Even after telling him I did transcription work for a SIG and was a regular participant on the email lists, he still treated me like I was up to no good. When I asked for details on the auto-shutdown feature/bug so I wouldn't trigger it in the future he refused to tell me (all he'd give up is that having the windows open wasn't an issue, only the fact that several were processing at the same time). Either they fixed it or my slight caution has prevented it from happening again. But it was really annoying and not the sort of thing I'd expect from such a top notch organization.