DNA evidence about Jefferson revealed in a tasteful manner - Skeptics were big to admit ...

Judge and jury- DNA evidence about Jefferson revealed in a tasteful manner - Skeptics were big to admit they were wrong about Pres Jefferson, reveals Merrill Rose, executive vice president Porter Novelli.

Judge and jury- DNA evidence about Jefferson revealed in a tasteful manner - Skeptics were big to admit they were wrong about Pres Jefferson, reveals Merrill Rose, executive vice president Porter Novelli.

The revelation was called 'shocking'. To many, it was difficult to comprehend. Yet thanks to new DNA evidence, there was no denying the facts: President Thomas Jefferson fathered a child by his slave, Sally Hemings.

Published in the scientific journal Nature, the study of Jefferson and Hemings' descendants sheds new light on a historical controversy. Although a rich oral history had supported the theory that there was an intimate relationship between the statesman and his slave, most Jefferson scholars found the idea inconceivable.

Joseph Ellis, author of American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, referenced the subject in an appendix to his 1997 award-winning book.

'When scholarly defenders ... claimed that Jefferson was 'not the kind of man' to engage in illicit sex with an attractive mulatto slave, they were right for reasons that went deeper than matters of male gallantry and aristocratic honor,' he wrote. 'Jefferson consummated his relations with women at a more rarefied level ....'

In an essay appearing in the same issue of Nature as the study, Ellis discussed the implications of the new finding. Significantly, he and many other historians who had firmly denied the possibility of any such liaison, looked at the DNA evidence and admitted they had been wrong.

'Because I got it wrong, I want to step forward and say this constitutes evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that Jefferson had a long-standing sexual relationship with Sally Hemings,' Ellis said on PBS's Newshour with Jim Lehrer.

How rarely new evidence emerges related to long-standing controversies.

How rarely we have the opportunity to substitute fact for speculation.

Speculation about potential risks of silicone gel breast implants caused the FDA to severely restrict women's access to these devices and stimulated a flood of lawsuits. Years later, studies revealed there is no substantive evidence of a link between implants and the medical conditions noted.

However, this evidence, published only in journals, went largely unnoticed.

When a 60 Minutes segment depicted tragedies associated with 'unintended acceleration' of certain cars, the auto maker's sales plummeted and its reputation was severely damaged. Independent investigations later established the actual cause of such problems and the company was fully exonerated.

Yet, people remember the allegations and not the ultimate findings.

Why was the study published in Nature so effective in clearing up the Jefferson/Hemings controversy? The folks at Nature no doubt deserve much credit. From this outsider's view, it appears they released the findings in advance to the press, they gave a heads-up to those likely to be significantly affected by the news, and they engaged authorities with different points of view to help interpret the news.

In my mind, however, the biggest kudos go to the skeptics of the relationship who had the courage to put their own scholarship and credibility on the line and come forward to say, 'I was wrong.'.

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