Familial [mis]identification rates and experiments in video

Happy to say that a paper I wrote along with Erin Murphy, Yun Song, and Monty Slatkin is out today over at PLoS ONE (and on the arXiv).  In the paper, we implement the familial searching method of Myers et al. and estimate power, false positive rate, and rates of distant relatives misidentified as near relatives.  Short story: we find very high power and low false positive rate, however we also see high rates of relative misidentification.

These results are relevant to people inside and outside of the scientific community involved in decisions about the implementation of familial searching methods.  With that motivation [and generally], I’m experimenting with explaining my research through different media apart from technical manuscripts.

Adhamh Hoeltzel, Alex Safron, Mosaic Project youth leadership, and I collaborated to make a charismatic and informative general audience video explaining the idea and impact of familial misidentification in social context.  I’m hoping to see this video used in high school classroom or other educational contexts to introduce ideas and stimulate questions about forensic genetics.

For a quick technical overview, I made a short video abstract which outlines the basic questions and results for a scientific audience (video abstract idea thanks to Eline Lorenzen, more information coming soon).

Finally, I wrote a guest post for Haldane’s Sieve to motivate and explain the work to population geneticists without background in forensic science.

I’m curious to learn how these different formats are received and see other scientists’ alternate-media projects.  Most importantly, I’m excited to see more engaged discussion of forensic identification methods and their implementation.

Population genetic questions in forensic familial searching

The radicalized youth of the Nielsen lab are on a mission to make our research broadly accessible and understandable.

Because science is often presented opaquely and is given immense value/weight in our dominant culture, scientific argument can be used as a rhetoric technique to obscure reasoning and justify a particular agenda preferred for non-scientific [political/social/economic/whatevs] reasons.  (There are tons examples, for starters, consider the eugenics movement.)  As the mystique of scientific research dissipates and assumptions, findings, and limitations inherent in the scientific process become clear, our communities are more able to develop informed perspectives on scientific research and applications which affect us.

To this end!, (like Melissa said) we’ve started a couple projects which we’re really excited about.  The first is an ongoing collaboration with a phenomenal biology teacher at Berkeley High School.  We work together to design and teach topical lessons, augmenting the curriculum to include cutting-edge research and real-life connections.  Serendipitously, this week I’m teaching some lessons on the mechanics of forensic genetic identification and potential pitfalls.  (We do hope to make our materials publicly available during a high school science teacher workshop we’re planning for this summer.  Stay tuned!)

Another project we’re really into is making short videos describing our work in plain language.  The idea is that when we publish a scientific manuscript, we’ll put out a companion video presenting the same research to a general audience.  So!, without further ado, here’s our first installment.

Questions? Suggestions? Let’s hear it! Feel free to check out our [open access!] technical manuscript for all the juicy details.