Ann Cannon is an advice columnist at the Salt Lake Tribune, but her advice here is another worrying indication that there needs to be a great deal more education regarding how to interpret the results of DNA testing.

Ask Ann Cannon: A DNA test raises questions about my mom’s dad. Now what?

“Dear Ann CannonĀ 
“We gave our elderly mother a DNA test just for fun. She now knows her father was NOT her father. And no one is alive to answer her questions. She’s a mess right now. How reliable are these tests anyway? Our impulse as siblings is to tell her they’re not reliable and to forget the results. What do you think?
— Rethinking Our Gift

“Dear Rethinking
“I’m sure that outfits like and 23andMe would tell you that their results are very accurate, although I’ve known individuals who’ve sent their little tubes of spit to different companies and have received widely varying estimates of DNA percentages in return. But that’s not really the point here. The point is your elderly mother’s anguish. I fully endorse your decision to discredit the test results in her eyes. For all intents and purposes, the man who raised her is her real father anyway.”

The problem with this advice is that it shows a lack of understanding about what you get with your DNA results. Although the ‘ethnicity’ results may vary between companies, the actual amounts of DNA you share with your matches is absolutely accurate.

It isn’t clear here how “Rethinking” has arrived at the conclusion that their mother’s father is not her biological father, and that is also part of the problem. How did they come to this conclusion? Ann Cannon should not be offering advice based on such inconclusive information.

Furthermore, if it is ascertained from a DNA test that this person’s father is not her biological father, this is a truth that needs to be dealt with with a great deal of compassion and sensitivity. Simply rejecting the test results is not the way to help deal with the implications of such a complex and upsetting revelation.