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The Citizen Scientist Who Finds Killers from Her Couch: How CeCe Moore is using her genetic knowledge to expose murderers.

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  1. Sahasrahla
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    Note on the source link "This article was originally published on June 22, 2018, by MIT Technology Review, and is republished [on Pocket] with permission." Since the original has a soft paywall I...
    Note on the source link "This article was originally published on June 22, 2018, by MIT Technology Review, and is republished [on Pocket] with permission."

    Since the original has a soft paywall I posted this version. The original can be found here.

    Provided a DNA profile, [CeCe Moore] first assesses, on a scale of 1 to 5, whether or not genetic genealogy is likely to break the case. A 5 is nearly hopeless. A 1 is a sure bet. The ranking depends on factors like the quality of the DNA and what a quick search reveals about the number of matching relatives in a growing open database called GEDmatch. [emphasis added]

    Moore developed a practice helping people track down sperm donors and mothers who’d given them up for adoption. She does not care that a man signed a contract with a sperm bank, or that a woman signed adoption papers. “A child is not party to that agreement,” she says. “I strongly believe each individual has the right to knowledge of their roots. When I learned there was a group of people denied access to that information, I felt it was a societal wrong. I wanted to do something about it.”

    Moore is both an exposer of secrets and a keeper of them. DNA results let her see infidelity, or what is termed “mistaken paternity.” She is, in her free time, creating a database of incest. She says she has probably encountered more direct DNA evidence of incest than any other person in the world.

    “There are really deep, heavy secrets people carry,” she says.

    According to a mathematical analysis performed in May 2018 by Doc Edge and Graham Coop, who are geneticists at the University of California, Davis, the chance that an American of European background has at least one second cousin (and perhaps a closer relative) in a database the size of GEDmatch is 25 percent. For other races, the figure is lower.

    Once she locates possible ancestors, she then moves forward in history, locating every child and every child’s child until the present. This process illuminates the family tree to which the suspect belongs. There is no CSI atmosphere, no multiple screens and large computers. It’s just Moore on the sofa toggling between sites like Newspapers.com and Classmates.com, school yearbooks, Facebook, and census records. [emphasis added]

    Moore must be careful that her work is correct. Sometimes she may provide more than one name if the answer is unclear. This means placing innocent people in the web of suspicion. “I do worry about innocent people being caught up,” she says. “The other side is they are already investigating hundreds of people. Completely unrelated people. When I do this work, [I give them] a much smaller list.”

    Police catching serial killers and solving other old murders with genetic information people have sent for testing has been in the news for a while, but this is an angle I didn't know about. Here, a private individual has been doing her own investigations with a public genetic database (and other sites like Facebook) not just to catch murderers but also to find mothers who put their kids up for adoption, sperm donors, and cases of infidelity and incest. This raises a lot of questions and concerns about the ethics of accessing and analyzing others' genetic data.

    3 votes