Carl Zimmer is an award-winning science journalist whose insightful reporting on the frontiers of biology appears regularly in the New York Times. Of his thirteen books about science, one of my favorites is an early one, Evolution: Triumph of an Idea, a large-format, very enjoyable guide and companion to a PBS series on evolution. Stephen Jay Gould wrote the introduction. At our CSICon 2018 conference in Las Vegas, Zimmer gave a great talk on the powers, perversions, and potential of heredity (based on his latest book, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh). We asked him to follow that up with an article for Skeptical Inquirer.
In this day of ubiquitous DNA test kits, Zimmer’s “Seven Big Misconceptions about Heredity,” our cover article, is a cautionary reminder of how easy it is to draw the wrong lessons from what we learn about our personal DNA. More than fifteen million people have already had their DNA tested, and that number may reach 100 million by 2020. The data can be useful and fun, but it’s important to fight the misconceptions about it, Zimmer argues, and I agree.
I won’t elaborate on them here—his article does a fine job of that. But I think even those of you who consider yourselves reasonably knowledgeable will encounter some surprises. I did. Take a look at misconceptions #2 and #6, for example.