Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Alien DNA test

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This week, we're launching a course called Introduction to Critical Thinking through Udemy!  It includes about forty short video lectures, problem sets, and other resources to challenge your brain, totaling about an hour and a half.  The link for purchasing the course is here, but we're offering it free to the first hundred to sign up!  (The free promotion is available only here.)  We'd love it if you'd review the course for us, and pass it on to anyone you know who might be interested!



Today we're going to take a break from subatomic physics and the Big Bang, not to mention the current state of political affairs (and I'm using that in both senses of the word) in the United States, to consider:

DNA tests that are designed to see if you have alien ancestry.

As with so many of the topics I address here at Skeptophilia, I owe this one to Reddit, that amazing clearinghouse for ideas from profound to ridiculous to completely baffling.  The post on Reddit that clued me in to the fact that alien DNA testing is a thing lands toward the "baffling" end of that continuum, although to be fair, the person who found it posted it on r/Skeptic, so they clearly didn't believe it themselves.

It was accompanied by a screencap of the offer on eBay, which I include below:

Being that the print is a little small, let me list the salient features:
  • It sounds like your typical DNA analysis kit, wherein you spit into a test tube and send it in.  I did one of these (23 & Me) just out of curiosity, not that there's anything particularly in question about my own ancestry.  My heritage is French, Scottish, German, Dutch, and English, and my DNA came back: French, Scottish, German, Dutch, and English.  At least it speaks well for the accuracy of the analysis, not to mention my genealogical research and the low incidence of infidelity in my family.  (Incidentally, my DNA profile allowed me to connect with four different people whom I had not known before, and who turned out to be fairly close cousins.)
  • The difference here is that instead of telling you your ethnic makeup, this test purports to tell you how much of it doesn't originate on planet Earth.  Note that it is accompanied by a highly scary-looking artist's representation of an individual who, if your test turns out to be positive, is apparently your Great-Great-Great Grandpa G'zork.
  • It originates in Canada, and you can't have it shipped to the United States.  I find this a little suspicious.  I mean, it could be because it would require the transportation of bodily fluids across national boundaries, which could be a serious issue vis-à-vis disease transmission, but I prefer the hypothesis that it's because here in the United States, they'd prefer it if we don't find out we're actually aliens.  So far, apparently they're keeping Rudy Giuliani in the dark, and he looks a lot more like the aforementioned G'zork than most of the humans I've seen.
  • It costs only $15.95 (Canadian).  This is a hell of a deal, especially given what it purports to do.  My 23 & Me test set me back eighty bucks, which I spent to find out what I more or less already knew.  (It did tell me that I have about three hundred "Neanderthal gene markers," which probably explains why I like my steaks on the rare side, and periodically feel like hitting people with a club, especially the ones who walk really slowly while blocking the entire aisle in the grocery store.)
So to any of my Canadian readers who don't mind sacrificing sixteen bucks for a little empirical research, I encourage you to buy a kit, and let us know here at Skeptophilia headquarters about the results.

Having a background in genetics, however, I have to wonder what they're using for their basis of comparison.  I know that in the historical documentary The X Files, the government had lots of deep-frozen alien babies in a lab somewhere, which (of course) Mulder found and (of course again) Scully didn't get to see.  So did they do a genetic analysis of the alien babies?

More importantly, why am I putting so much effort into analyzing this?

My general feeling is that even if alien intelligence exists, it's extremely unlikely that it will have a similar biology to ours, and even less likely that it will encode its genetic material the same way.  (Witness the fact that even related terrestrial species, who have fairly recent common ancestry, can't interbreed.)  So the chance of human/alien hybridization is nil, and that's even assuming they have naughty bits that are of the right size and shape to be compatible with ours.

Anyhow, that's our dip in the deep end for today.  And if you turn out to have alien DNA, I'm sorry if I sounded scornful.  I don't mean to insult your family.

Although I'd make an exception in the case of Rudy Giuliani.


This week's featured book is a wonderful analysis of all that's wrong with media -- Jamie Whyte's Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders.  A quick and easy read, it'll get you looking at the nightly news through a different lens!

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