Back in November, Ketchum announced her results: A team of scientists can verify that their 5-year long DNA study, currently under peer-review, confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch,” living in North America. Researchers’ extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species.
There was no paper to go along with the results. There is now a paper. With it comes a BOATLOAD of issues that leave this announcement less than spectacular.
The study, “Novel North American Hominins, Next Generation Sequencing of Three Whole Genomes and Associated Studies,” which analyzed DNA from a total of 111 high-quality samples submitted from across the continent, appears in the inaugural issue of Denovo: Journal of Science (http://www.denovojournal.com) on February 13.
“Novel North American Hominins, Next Generation Sequencing of Three Whole Genomes and Associated Studies.”
Authors: Ketchum MS, Wojtkiewicz PW, Watts AB, Spence DW, Holzenburg AK, Toler DG, Prychitko TM, Zhang F, Bollinger S, Shoulders R, Smith R.
DeNovo. 13 February 2013.
More information is available here at the project’s web site: Sasquatch Genome Project (Note: Site now gives 403 error).
The study, “Novel North American Hominins, Next Generation Sequencing of Three Whole Genomes and Associated Studies,” was conducted by a team of experts in genetics, forensics, imaging and pathology. The team, led by Dr. Melba S. Ketchum of DNA Diagnostics in Nacogdoches, TX, included Dr. Pat Wojtkiecicz, Director of the North Louisiana Criminalistics Laboratory; Ms. Aliece Watts of Integrated Forensic Laboratories in Euless, TX; Mr. David Spence, Trace Evidence Supervisor at Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences; Dr. Andreas K. Holzenburg, Director of the Microscopy & Imaging Center at Texas A&M University; Dr. Douglas G. Toler of Huguley Pathology Consultants in Fort Worth, TX; Dr. Thomas M. Prychitko of Helix Biological Laboratory in Michigan; Dr. Fan Zhang of the University of North Texas Health Science Center; and Sarah Bollinger, Ray Shoulders, and Ryan Smith of DNA Diagnostics.
Mitochondrial whole genomes were consistent with modern humans. In contrast, novel data were obtained when nuclear DNA was sequenced. Next generation whole genome sequencing was performed on three samples. Phylogeny trees generated showed homology to human chromosome 11 and to primate sequences. The data indicates that the Sasquatch has human mitochondrial DNA but possesses nuclear DNA that is a structural mosaic consisting of human and novel non-human DNA.
We finally see the other authors, at least. Note that none are academics, but forensic specialists. Problem one.
Problem two: This is a brand new journal. Was it launched JUST for this paper? Well, this is an interesting and HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS twist. We do not know what the standards are for review. There are no rules for starting up your own journal and calling it “peer reviewed”. And, indeed, that’s what was done (from Sasquatch Genome Project) (Note: Site now gives 403 error):
After this journal agreed to publish the manuscript, their legal counsel advised them not to publish a manuscript on such a controversial subject as it would destroy the editors’ reputations (as it has already done to mine). I have documentation on all of this drama. So, rather than spend another five years just trying to find a journal to publish and hoping that decent, open minded reviewers would be chosen, we acquired the rights to this journal and renamed it so we would not lose the passing peer reviews that are expected by the public and the scientific community. Denovo, the new journal is aimed at offering not only more choices and better service to scientists wanting to submit a manuscript, but also reviewers and editors that will be fair, unlike the treatment we have received.
Problem three: The paper costs $30 to download. No academic institution is going to have access to a new journal site so they will have to pay to review it. Some Bigfoot bloggers have received embargoed copies. Bigfoot bloggers. With NO scientific qualifications. I have yet to see any genetic specialists comment on the paper but it’s very early and I expect some will. I have requested access to the paper.
Problem four: Excuses. Check this out from the Sasquatch Genome Project page (Note: Site now gives 403 error):
It has been a long and tedious battle to prove that Sasquatch exists. We have had the proof for nearly 5 years but building enough data to convince mainstream science has taken a lot of time. Trying to publish has taken almost two years. It seems mainstream science just can’t seem to tolerate something controversial, especially from a group of primarily forensic scientists and not “famous academians” aligned with large universities, even though most of our sequencing and analysis was performed at just such facilities.
We encountered the worst scientific bias in the peer review process in recent history. I am calling it the “Galileo Effect”. Several journals wouldn’t even read our manuscript when we sent them a pre-submission inquiry. Another one leaked our peer reviews. We were even mocked by one reviewer in his peer review.
So Dr. Ketchum chose not to play by the rules and forged her own way. Why was the paper rejected by journals? Perhaps not only was it controversial but could it have been poor quality? I will have to wait to see what experts say but from what I have heard from those who did see it, it was not of good quality. It is more likely that it had some fatal flaw than that the scientific community was ganging up against her. There are PLENTY of journals that would have published this paper. She chose this route. That does not bode well for this to be taken at all seriously. Most people who compare themselves to Galileo end up NOT producing something earth-shaking, they are making excuses. When you propose the novel RESULT without having collaborated with the true experts in the field to check your work, odds are you made some error along the way. It reeks of pseudoscience.
Ketchum has also launched her own website called the Melba Ketchum Global Sasquatch Foundation (Note: Site now gives 403 error):
Due to the efforts of our founder Dr. Melba Ketchum it has been proven that the Sasquatch are a human hybrid. Here at G.S.F. we have made it a priority to protect these indigenous people from being hunted, harassed, or even killed.
That’s more than a little bit premature. On this site you can see pictures of supposed Bigfoot stick structures and a photo of a matted horse’s mane. Having heard about this before, Ketchum has alleged that Sasquatch “braids” the horse’s mane.
My initial opinions of this latest news? It’s a fiasco. It’s unprofessional and disappointing. The websites are amateurish, the goals are delusional and it smacks of a self-serving money-making venture. Melba has positioned herself as a self-named expert with additional projects set up to collect funds and protect an animal she insists exists. It has not been confirmed, contrary to her opinion that she has “proven” it.
As a good Skeptic, I am COMPLETELY willing to change my mind if the paper itself provides scientific value. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m not hopeful. This has been a long and torturous road not only for Ketchum but for those of us who awaited the results. This is what we get. Experts will weigh in. We’ll have updates as this story progresses.
UPDATE: The “sequences were not able to be uploaded to a GenBank® because of their lack of taxon” according to the paper. Also, there was a video provided of “Matilda”, a sleeping Sasquatch. I have not seen this video as it was temporarily uploaded and then removed via copyright issues. Those that did see were not impressed. It did show something and according to the paper, DNA was taken and respiration rates were obtained by watching the video.
I have read the paper. Because I have no specialized training in genomics or forensics, I can not comment on its validity. But I can say it begins with the premise that Sasquatch exists and this study helps to confirm that suspected idea. I await experts to comment on what we are seeing here.
UPDATE2: The Sasquatch Genome Project has authorized release of this video supposedly showing a sleeping Sasquatch. Copyright: Sasquatch Genome Project
UPDATE3: Prelim commentary on the science: Bigfoot genome paper “conclusively proves” that Sasquatch is real | Ars Technica.
As far as the nuclear genome is concerned, the results are a mess. Sometimes the tests picked up human DNA. Other times, they didn’t. Sometimes the tests failed entirely. The products of the DNA amplifications performed on the samples look about like what you’d expect when the reaction didn’t amplify the intended sequence. And electron micrographs of the DNA isolated from these samples show patches of double- and single-stranded DNA intermixed. This is what you might expect if two distantly related species had their DNA mixed—the protein-coding sequences would hybridize, and the intervening sections wouldn’t. All of this suggests modern human DNA intermingled with some other contaminant.
UPDATE (15-Feb-2013): I found this on a Bigfoot blog: Bigfoot Buzz
I did a little digging and I was able to corroborate Dr. Ketchums claims. I found that the following journal was recently registered to Dr. Melba Ketchum: Journal of Advanced Multidisciplinary Exploration in Zoology. I found that Dr. Ketchum had registered the Journal in her name in January of 2013. So yes Dr. Ketchum did just recently create the new Denovo Journal website because as she asserted she acquired the Journal of Advanced Multidisciplinary Exploration in Zoology.
More to it…Here is the more on the journal information from Jim who also commented below.
certainly is plausible that she purchased this journal in the way she claims. However, it still does not really make the picture any more rosy. [My mistake] It’s not exactly “self-publishing” but it’s shaky crap. We still don’t know the process it went through. Regardless, this was not a highly cited journal (it may be brand new). So it did not have credibility established. Regardless, info coming in from people who know what they are looking at are revealing that the paper is not good science.
Want real-time discussion on this? Go to the Monster Talk facebook group.