In This Week’s Show, episode 247, we use science to study our ancestors on the internet, in Utah, and in Nazi Germany… Good news, the last ones are dead.
Now, grab a beer and help us test the god hypothesis — because, while Eru Ilúvatar hasn’t struck us down yet, we are trying his patience!
Shea’s Life Lesson
This week I learned that if you boil a funny bone it becomes a laughing stock… I find that humerus.
Jenn’s Actual Lesson
Did you know that San Diego Zoo’s lovely Victoria, a southern white rhino, gave birth this past Sunday to a handsome little boy? (Well, he weighed about 125lbs so I guess ‘little’ is subjective.) He is the 186th rhino born at the Safari Park and the first southern white rhino born in North America from artificial insemination. Congrats, Victoria, and you don’t need no man!
But before we get to all that, let’s have a beer!
This Week’s Beer
Buffalo Gold Golden Ale from Boulder Beer - from RW
I’m going to go ahead and break rule #1 and start this story off with a dash of Nazi. Specifically, a 70-year-old conspiracy theory.
Rudolf Hess, for those who don’t know - not you Jenn or Steve - was a leading Nazi, Deputy Fuhrer, and an asshole. He was captured by the Allies in May of 1941 when his Messerschmitt Bf 110 crashed in Scotland en route to broker an unauthorized peace deal. The theory holds that sometime between his capture and the Nuremberg trials, Rudolf Hess was replaced by a doppelganger who stood trial for him and subsequently served his sentence.
W. Hugh Thomas, a doctor at Spandau, questioned if prisoner Spandau 7 was Hess as 7 refused to see his family and exhibited signs of amnesia. Subsequently the British government authorized investigation. Unfortunately, they had no means of truly verifying his identity so the conspiracy persisted. Spandau 7 was hung in 1987 at the age of 90.
It wasn’t until 8 years ago that we knew for sure. It turns out a pathologist at Spandau hermetically sealed a 1982 blood sample from Spandau 7. Considered unremarkable the sample was used as a teaching prop at Walter Reed Medical.
A US military doctor heard of the sample in passing and later, upon hearing of the conspiracy, put two and two together. Austrian molecular biologist, Jan Cemper-Kiesslich, extracted DNA from the sample and set out to find a living relative. The closest of whom had just died. “The family is very private,” said McCall. “The name is also rather common in Germany, so finding them was difficult.” Nonetheless, the team persisted and were able to track down a living male relative with whom they could compare blood samples and DNA.
The results presented an unwavering conclusion: there was a 99.9 percent likelihood that the Spandau 7’s blood sample and the sample of the living Hess relative were close biological matches.
And so, the mystery is closed. For their part the Hess family is understandably adamant in denying any further commentary or reaction to the results. “It is already a matter of public record that Hess’s wife, Ilse, did not believe the story,” said McCall.
Dead Nazi is dead.
This story was originally meant to be a primer for another story on White Nationalists reacting to DNA tests, so… to be continued, same nazi time, same nazi channel…
Ugh, Nazis: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/devgru-p/mein-waifu-is-the-fuhrer-a-parody-visual-novel
A story of science and WEIRD PEOPLE… REE...ree….ree...oh wait. :(
This week I bring you a story about science, and how a particular religion is trying to make it weird. But at least they believe in the science. Sorta. Kinda. Basically only when it supports what they are looking for.
To start things off, we are obviously living in a time where DNA and genetic sleuthing is a huge business. Everything from discovering if you potentially carry something worrisome for a child to solving long-cold criminal cases, DNA’s a big ole news-and-maker. A $99 kit from 23andMe promises to breakdown your geographic and cultural background and potentially put you in touch with relatives you never knew you knew (que ‘Colors of the Wind’).
As a matter of fact, you may remember I mentioned a few months ago my MIL had only recently discovered her birth family through the 23andMe kit. She now knows who her birth mother was, has new siblings and countless new nieces, nephews & cousins. But she’s far from alone.
In fact, per a review published by MIT last February, by 2017 more than 12 million people had participated and it doesn’t look to have tapered off since then. The majority of users are here in the US, but it’s increasing in demand globally.
So yes, it’s a big business. And that shouldn’t be particularly surprising; people love to learn more about themselves, and how much deeper can you go than to the level of your own DNA?
Something I do find surprising is that we have one particular entity to thank for the major boom among the general public dipping their toes into genetic testing. (An aside: personal DNA tests have been available since the late 90s, but were very cost prohibitive for the average person.) So what is this entity? Why, it’s the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints! ←-Preferred nomenclature.
Now, once you think about it, it makes some sense for anyone just casually familiar with the organization. I myself only started looking into this when I heard about the strong connection between the ancestry DNA kits and the Mormon church, and while the idea wasn’t exactly shocking, boy was I surprised at the scope and influence.
For starters, before we get to the what’s, let’s discuss the why ‘s the Mormons would be so interested in tracing genealogy. Turns out they believe in a practice known as ‘baptism of the dead’, which is basically a baptism by proxy in the hopes of bringing a person who is deceased into the fold. For Mormons this is especially important because their doctrine teaches that those of the faith will be granted (literally) their own planets and the families can all be together, forever, celestially. (We don’t need to really get into how several generations ago this happy family planet includes the slaves that the, of course, ‘man of the family’ owned.) What this means is that they are so fanatically focused on the family is would make James Dobson uncomfortable. Unfortunately for their record of trusting in the scientific community, they don’t seem to take into account that the (very distinctive) DNA markers of the earliest Americans indicate that Native Americans descended from peoples who migrated here from the Altay mountains of Central Asia...sometime faaaaar back in antiquity. Per Wikipedia: “(The) evidences from a genetic perspective agree with a large body of archaeological, anthropological, and linguistic conclusions that Native American peoples' ancestors migrated from Asia at the latest 16,500–13,000 years ago.” Sadly this is pretty much napalm for the beliefs of the adherents of Joseph Smith’s teachings, which, in case you forgot, centers on the belief that two groups of renegade Israelites settled the continent, and Jesus made some golden tablets to hide as the first Easter eggs in the forests of New York state to be discovered by whoever could pull the sword from the stone and thereby be crowned King of all Utah. Or something. Anyway, suffice to say their adherence to the power of DNA extends only so far.
Their collection of familial records started well before the discovery of DNA. In fact, one of the largest physical genealogical repositories exists thanks to the LDS church: The Granite Mountain Records Vault. It was started back in 1938 as a repository for the microfilm of previously researched genealogical records (which were pretty extensive for the LDSs; they had rigorously maintained records since the start of their cuuuul...ligion and their forced movement West...of course not due to their founder being an unscrupulous cad and charlatan, but because of religious persecution). Per the Granite Mountain information page on churchofjesuschrist.org: “Microfilming is the heart of this multi-million dollar genealogical operation. Microfilm photographers are filming records daily in locations the world over. Such documents as land grants, deeds, probate records, marriage records, cemetery records, parish registers, and other records known to be of genealogical value are being filmed. Over three-quarters of a million rolls of microfilm have been accumulated thus far, and several thousand new rolls are processed each month. The present collection of microfilmed records represents the equivalent of more than three million printed volumes of three hundred pages each.” By 1999 there were more than 640 million names.
Oh, and if you are concerned that a nuclear war may spell the end of this super-vault of knowledge: “The protection the Granite Mountain Records Vault affords cannot be equaled in an outdoor structure. There is nearly 300 feet of solid granite above the vault’s laboratory and office area and 700 feet above the six huge vault storage rooms. The storage area has three access tunnels faced with heavy bank vault doors in very strong encasements. The large door in the center tunnel weighs more than fourteen tons, and the narrower doors in the east and west tunnels weigh nine tons each.”
And never let it be said that the Mormom church can’t be dragged kicking and screaming into the present. In May of 1999 they launched their first genealogical website, that’s now in about its 4 iteration: new.Familysearch, which launched worldwide in 2009.
In February 2014 FamilySearch announced a partnership with Ancestry.com, findmypast, and MyHeritage, which includes sharing massive amounts of their databases with those companies, andLDS members receiving free subscriptions with these companies. In May 2018 they added and digitized their 2 billionth record.
Now, they aren’t content with remaining faceless online or through a mailed in DNA kit. Nope! Beginning in 2011, they have also created and hosted the conference RootsTech (the first convention had 3,000 attendees; the one held in 2016 had over 25,000 from all 50 states and 30 countries). The 2019 Utah convention has already been held, but RootsTech will hold its first London convention this OctoberPer its website: “At RootsTech, we believe in the power of family—and discovering your family story has never been easier! RootsTech is a 4-day event held annually in Salt Lake City, Utah, dedicated to celebrating family and discovering family histories. With over 300 breakout sessions, an exciting lineup of celebrity speakers, and a gigantic expo hall, we’ve got something we’re sure you’ll love.” Keynote speakers have included Laura Bush and one of the twins, LeVar Burton, The Property Brothers, Scott Hamilton and Buddy “Cake Boss” Valastro. So that’s a motley crew of mostly mediocrity.
Their penchant for obsessive genealogy and post-mortem and generations-removed baptisms is not without controversy, even extending past the fact it’s really weird. In the mid-1990s it was discovered that the names of about 380,000 Holocaust victims had been submitted for posthumous baptisms. Now, I’m no religious scholar, but since a majority of these victims were Jewish and they tend to follow Judaism, I can see why their less removed family members would have an issue with this. Per PBS.org: “In 1995, the church agreed to remove the names of all Holocaust victims and survivors from its archives and to stop baptizing Jews unless they were direct ancestors of a Mormon or unless they had the permission of all the person's living relatives. However, Jewish names have periodically been discovered since the 1995 agreement, including that of Holocaust survivor and Jewish human rights activist Simon Wiesenthal, which was found and removed in 2006. Catholics and members of other faiths have also been upset at the practice.”
Finally, I do want to end this on a mostly positive note. The Mo-mo’s are oddballs but generally pretty nice folks, and their VERY dedicated work in genealogy and making DNA testing more accessible has had some far reaching and positive effects. Of course as I mentioned at the beginning with my ma’n’law, separated families now have a chance to reconnect, individuals who potentially carry genetic concerns can be tested, and, my personal favorite, solving criminal and missing persons cases.
Now, depending on what side of the privacy coin you fall on, this can be potentially good or bad.
Take for example a company known as Parabon Nanolabs. Their company intro: “Whether chemically engineering synthetic DNA for creating nano-pharmaceuticals or reverse engineering human DNA for biomarkers of medical or forensic significance, Parabon NanoLabs is developing some of the most compelling products of the DNA Age.”
They have been instrumental in cracking some very important cold cases. One way is by offering what they call a Snapshot, which uses genetic phenotypes to basically create an image of a person based on their genetic markers. This has been used to narrow down subjects substantially based on narrowing down the pool by appearance.
But the more famous (and controversial) tactic they use is called ‘kinship inference’ and their own work in genetic genealogy. Many affordable DNA kits come from companies that retain the information and Parabon sometimes has access to these files. (I know that’s sorta vague, but it’s frequently changing due to changes in privacy laws and such.) By taking the DNA of a subject or unidentified decedent, the lab can check against the possibility of a relative having previously used the service and can then hopefully follow the trail of genetic breadcrumbs to an identity.
One of the most famous recently solved cases is that of the Golden State Killer. Joseph James DeAngelo committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California from 1974-1986, when he seemed to just vanish.
In June of 2016 it was announced he was arrested, thanks to an unnamed cousin who had submitted their DNA to one of the commercial site. DeAngelo was such a criminal piece of shit, he had not one, not two, but THREE crime-spree nicknames: the Visalia Ransacker, The East Area Rapist and the Original Nightstalker. Because he moved through various jurisdictions the crimes were never connected until DNA.
He’s now 73, at least he’s caught and the trial is going to be intense. (Oh, btw, he’s also a retired cop.)
So in conclusion, Mormons may not really understand the science behind DNA, but they’ve helped push genetics forward farther than they would have probably gotten on their own. So the next time a serial killer is off the streets, take a moment to stop and thank Joseph Smith.
Next Week's Beer
Dinosaur Death IPA from Big Lake Brewing
Donated By: Steve E
Canadian conservationists are organizing an ambitious rescue operation to save thousands of Canadian salmon that have been trapped by a landslide on their way to spawn.
When it comes to reproduction, salmon have a particularly hard time. First, they migrate from the ocean into the rivers where they were born and swim upstream until they end up in the upper reaches. Then they deposit their eggs on gravel beds after which most salmon keel over dead.
It’s an arduous trek. For the salmon of Fraser River in British Columbia, it has been made even more difficult by a landslide that has blocked off most of the river.According to conservationists, only around 700 fish have been able to make it through the affected area, leading to concerns that it will put the local salmon population at risk. There are plenty of humans and animals that rely on the salmon as a major source of food.
Consequently, the government has mounted a rescue operation. The plan is to put the fish into large tanks and airlift them over the rocks. At the moment, crews are building a holding pond where the salmon can stay until they are ready to be airlifted. They are also tagging the fish for research purposes and removing some of the larger rocks to make it easier for the salmon to pass through on their own.