Ketchum uses April Fools paper as reference (Updated: Melba responds)

Oh my, will the scandal NEVER STOP coming for Dr. Ketchum.

The intrepid observers at the JREF forum have spotted a whopper of a flub by Melba Ketchum in her recent Sasquatch DNA paper.

Here is a snippet from her paper:

The above commonly reported traits, as well as other scientific evidence lending credence to the existence of Sasquatch, have been thoroughly researched and documented in both books and in peer reviewed manuscripts.[4-13]

Reference 5. is as follows:

Milinkovitch, M C, Caccone, A and Amato, G. Molecular phylogenetic analyses indicate extensive morphological convergence between the ‘‘yeti’’ and primates. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 31:1–3. (2004)

Well, this paper is a well known April Fools Joke.

The study reported in this article represents scientifically rigorous assessment of conflict between the published morphological characters and newly obtained molecular characters for species of questionable validity. More significantly, however, this study indicates that evolutionary biologists need to retain sense of humor in their efforts to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships.
Happy April Fool’s Day !

You can see the paper here.

But check out the conclusion:

All our analyses clearly indicate that the yeti is nested several nodes within a specific ungulate group (i.e., the perissodactyls, cf. Fig. 1) and, more specifically, forms a subclade with sequences U02581 and X79547 (cf. figure legend). These results demonstrate that extensive morphological convergences have occurred between the yeti and primates. It is quite remarkable that Haddock already identified 44 years ago the correct phylogenetic position of the yeti (despite he had seen only footprints in the snow) when he yelled at it ‘‘You odd-toed ungulate!’’ (Herge, 1960, p. 26)

Did you get that? Perissodactyls… odd toed ungulates? HORSES!

Now I’m certain that Melba has CERTAINLY pulled a funny one over on us because she MUST HAVE read this paper and since she is a veterinarian specializing in horses, she ABSOLUTELY knew what this paper said.

UPDATE: More hoax questionable papers cited in Ketchum’s references-

6. Coltman, D and Davis, C. Molecular cryptozoology meets the Sasquatch. TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution 21:60–61. (2006)

9. Lozier, J D, Aniello, P and Hickerson, M J. Predicting the distribution of Sasquatch in western North America: anything goes with ecological niche modeling. Journal of Biogeography 36:1623–1627. (2009)

UPDATE (25-Feb-2013): Loren Coleman posts a deeper look into these papers here.  He notes that Coltman & Davis is not technically a “hoax” paper but about a hoax. But, it still does not fit with references as the Ketchum paper suggests. I’ve revised my wording in red above.

UPDATE2: Melba responds via Facebook:

Do to the wild rumors out on the internet. I felt it important to address a new rumor about a possible hoax. First we have never hoaxed anything as there is no need to. We have the proof we need in the science. I hope this helps everyone understand.

One of the early reviewers asked for any and all references related to our subject matter. We neither agreed with nor endorsed any of those references used though Bindernagel’s books are a good effort since at the time he didn’t know the human element involved. It was not our choice to use any of them though. That ref was a testament to the idiocy surrounding not only the scientific bias against the existence of these “people” but also the request by reviewers for refs that we had not felt had any place in our manuscript and were not included originally. This same reviewer required the so-called folklore that is in the introduction. That also was not in the original manuscript

The typos above are original. To be clear, I do NOT think the paper is a hoax, nor the study. I think it showed TERRIBLE judgement and lack of professionalism. The placing of these certain papers in the document without reading them is the AUTHOR’s responsibility. Excuses and passing the buck are no good at this point. Look at what she is claiming – Sasquatch DNA! You can hardly get more controversial and you don’t have your ducks in a row? Unacceptable.

Thanks to Eve Siebert for the tip and calwaterbear on JREF Forum, hat tip INDEED.

Yeti no


  49 comments for “Ketchum uses April Fools paper as reference (Updated: Melba responds)

  1. February 24, 2013 at 9:16 PM


  2. February 24, 2013 at 9:17 PM

    RedRatSnake ~ If footers would put aside the need to have this monkey exist with Melba’s DNA and use common sense with a little info digging, they will see it is just another hoax put upon them, it’s not about if BF is real here, it is about stopping her and the fellow hoaxers now before anymore damaged is done, science will never listen if this kind of behavior is going to be the norm.

    Tim 🙂

  3. Silent Sam
    February 24, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    She also cites “Predicting the distribution of Sasquatch in western North America: anything goes with ecological niche modelling” by Lozier, Aniello, and Hickerson, which is not an endorsement of sasquatch but instead a cautionary tale against relying solely on ecological niche modeling.

  4. spookyparadigm
    February 24, 2013 at 10:12 PM

    And with that, I’m declaring the end of Sasquatch as a viable cryptozoological legend. It was created disparate folklore in 1929 by J. W. Burns. And in 2013 it passed back into myth in the context of accelerating and more and more ludicrous hoaxes, as well as being the subject of one of the most ridiculed television programs of the early 21st century. Passing on at the age of 84, Bigfoot (as Sasquatch came to be known later in life) leaves behind a moderate but robust pop cultural legacy, a minor contribution to Creationist and other alternative history schemes involving giants, and several nieces and nephews including Yowie, Chupacabras, and Mapinguari. Memorial services will be coordinated by Steve Austin, catering provided by the Jack Links corporation.

  5. Horsehair Braider
    February 24, 2013 at 10:19 PM

    Maybe this is the cause of the “difficulty” in getting the paper published?

  6. idoubtit
    February 24, 2013 at 10:34 PM

    Remember, she said it was the “Galileo Effect”?

  7. Stuart Robbins
    February 24, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    Oh wow. So, either she was incredibly lazy in her referencing, someone on her list of authors is trying to say they don’t believe the work, or she’s trying to see how far this will go. Or something else? What do you honestly think? I personally would love this to be the last one — her seeing how far this will go.

  8. Joel
    February 25, 2013 at 2:17 AM

    Her whole paper summed up in fifteen seconds.

  9. February 25, 2013 at 4:06 AM

    Did she really miss the part about the horse mane? :]

  10. drwfishesman
    February 25, 2013 at 7:57 AM

    I loved Ben Radfords reply to my tweet about this story.

    Benjamin Radford ‏@BTRadford

    @drwfishesman Yes, it’s pretty amazing. It’s like a real-life mockumentary satire of Bigfoot research.

    Like the Spinal Tap of bigfoot research. LOL

  11. February 25, 2013 at 11:35 AM

    Oh sure, laugh now but when it turns out sasquatch is actually a giant bipedal hot-headed ice borer then who’ll have the last laugh?

  12. Tyler
    February 25, 2013 at 12:04 PM

    The manuscript is the purest example of ‘scientifical’ work I have ever seen. No one in the mainstream will be impressed by the citation of a paper ‘written but never submitted’ and bolstered with supporting data from a MonsterQuest program. I conclude this product was never meant for the scientific or skeptical community.

    If you get a copy, scroll down to the end for something quite interesting; ‘The authors declare no competing financial interests.’ Really? Many scientific publications are behind subscription paywalls. However, I will wager that few or no scientists actually own the journal.

    In my opinion, regardless of the intended audience, the authors exhibited little respect for their readers.

  13. Procyon
    February 25, 2013 at 12:16 PM

    My god just read that paper, citing researchers “Dung” and “Haddock”, describing the yeti as stealing bottles of whiskey from campsites, etc. This is probably the end of Ketchum and her paper.

  14. drwfishesman
    February 25, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    They cited the cartoon Tin Tin in the April Fools paper…Tin Tin…Oh mercy, this is the worst time to pull a muscle in your rib cage…I’m laughing so hard, I’m in excruciating pain.

  15. February 25, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    I think, from what I can tell, she truly believes in her work. Look, the way I see it, every class has to have someone that was at the bottom. I think this is shoddy work, or perhaps hopeful work. Scientists can become very attached to their conclusions (and yes scientists do this all the time) and look for anything to back it up. If anything I feel sorry for her. Truly sorry. She garnered a lot of media attention, she is all over the internet and even broke into the big time of prime time TV. But, looking at her history, and the people she collected around her (the woman that feeds the Bigfoot that come to her backyard muffins?), this is not surprising. I truly doubt she’s going to jump out and say “haha HOAX! I fooled you”.
    I remember I have a friend that would write his papers and then tack on a lot of extra references…thinking the teacher would never check. One day, the teacher did check. Opps. I just wonder if this was the same thing, padding it to make it look better. I hope she takes it well. Maybe she is delusional enough that this will not bother her much. But yeah, sorry, it’s true, Melba Paper is Toast.

  16. One Eyed Jack
    February 25, 2013 at 2:52 PM

    I’m confused. Is Ketchum now claiming that this was all a joke or is she truly this clueless?

  17. February 25, 2013 at 4:18 PM

    Putting her references aside. I take it was a reference? …and she wasn’t using this as a previously published method; Part of the nuts, bolts and methods of her paper.
    Just a reference, OK, all is good now.
    So, she has a new and unique method for sequencing? that demonstrate (The stuff we don’t want to see) sound results, and will falsify conclusions like opossum, ursid, suid …ungulate :] e.g., horse mane.
    In the end, it needs to have enough detail to establish reproducibility. It does need at least that, to have any value for fellow researchers and specialists.

  18. February 25, 2013 at 6:27 PM

    Her excuse just makes it look even worse. Apparently she cited references not because they actually supported any points in the paper, but because, based on the titles, they seemed like they might fool people into thinking that they did. They were just window dressing to provide the appearance of being scientific. One might call it, I dunno, “sciencey.”

  19. idoubtit
    February 25, 2013 at 6:32 PM

    Jim: It does serve to please her followers but it was awful. In light of the fact that 80% of researchers don’t read their references[1], a small slip like this MIGHT be forgivable (maybe?) but NOT with this sort of tremendous claim. I am appalled at how sloppy this project looks and I don’t even KNOW all that went on. Actually, she could whip a very interesting book out of this…


  20. February 25, 2013 at 6:40 PM

    I like how she puts “people” in quotes, like she doubts that we are, in fact, people.

  21. drwfishesman
    February 25, 2013 at 6:46 PM

    The link to the April Fool’s paper is down. Too many people looking at it?

  22. Stuart Robbins
    February 25, 2013 at 6:47 PM

    “It was not our choice to use any of them though.” What a @#$%#@ cop-out. Seriously? This along with the whole, “the journal’s lawyers said not to publish” (or whatever the quote was) just further compounds the cra-cra. Granted, I’ve only been publishing scientific papers for about 7 years. Whenever a reviewer has asked me to add a reference, I at least read the abstract, conclusions, and skimmed it, and then *I* decided if I was going to add it. Sometimes I didn’t. And I told the reviewer why. If the reviewer insists the second time ’round then you can appeal to the editor to decide. But a simple, “We don’t think this reference adds to the validity of this paper because it is about a hoax” should have been enough of a response so that you don’t have to include it. Or you can put in the paper if you DO include it that it’s about a hoax but it’s part of the “literature” on the subject.

    Everything this woman does, to me, just makes this seem worse and worse and makes me side more and more with the original journal’s decision.

  23. Austin Popper
    February 25, 2013 at 6:48 PM

    Travis, I think she was trying to use the quotes for emphasis, the way some people who don’t know about italics or other accepted forms often do. Or maybe it was a Freudian Slip.

    Anyway, this looks less like a scientific study and more like a travesty every day, and it has not been looking good for years now.


  24. Bob
    February 25, 2013 at 6:59 PM

    *Gets more popcorn, as I have run out.*

  25. February 25, 2013 at 7:05 PM

    I was going to suggest that this might be some elaborate attempt at an anti-Sokal Hoax but after this recent outburst I don’t think that’s a credible hypothesis any more.

  26. snoma
    February 25, 2013 at 7:22 PM

    Are you one of the early reviewers Melba’s referring to, Sharon? Since you felt the need to clarify you don’t think her paper is a hoax.

  27. February 25, 2013 at 7:47 PM

    I’m in the process of writing a research paper myself (and about to start another one). The claim that a reviewer insisted that any and all references be included is absurd. I’ve never heard of anything like it. References are only included for the subject matter you discuss within your paper that isn’t your own. Were the references cited within the text? Otherwise, I would call it reference-padding — if the paper was legitimate on any level. Instead, I suspect the references were included (without reading them) only for the purpose to make the paper appear legitimate to those ignorant of publishing papers. The number of references does not a good paper make. My last paper only had 5 or so references. A reputable reviewer would have scrutinized the references and, possibly, rejected it if unused references were not removed.

    Ketchum seems to be avoiding the fact that getting a paper published can be a back and forth compromise situation. I was looking over some drafts just today and came across one my former supervisor has submitted that a reviewer had problems with. They sent back their review with suggestions. The paper was then edited, resubmitted, and published. Peer review isn’t an “all or nothing” situation unless the paper is absolute garbage or it was submitted to the wrong journal

  28. Graham
    February 26, 2013 at 7:08 AM

    You forgot that Melba is claiming that Sasquatch is the result of mating between Human and an unidentified ape.

    The first time I saw this concept was in a Batman Annual back in the 1980s (I think) where the villain was the son of a lost mountain explorer who “gave herself” to her rescuer only to go insane when she discovered she’d just slept with a Yeti…

  29. February 26, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    On Facebook I asked Dr Melba Barnum to explain me how early Mesolithic females willingly interbreeded with an “unknown hominid male species” 15,000 years ago.As far as I am aware Homosapien females do not & cannot give birth to hybrids

  30. February 26, 2013 at 9:40 AM

    I’m confused. The April Fools paper was required by a referee before it could be approved for publication in an online “open access for $30” journal Dr. Ketchum created herself?

  31. gnom
    February 26, 2013 at 9:40 AM

    I express my anonymous agreement with everything but
    “Look at what she is claiming – Sasquatch DNA! You can hardly get more controversial and you don’t have your ducks in a row? Unacceptable.”
    Well said, but what exactly is unacceptable? Are you saying, if she really has the definitive proof of Sasquatch, she should rewrite the paper and work fast on her paperwriting skills until the ceremony in Stockholm, of you’re saying we’re not going to look at her Sasquatch evidence because the reference is unacceptable?
    And yes, the reviewers sure do have stupid requests.
    Who knows? Such a doubtful time this is.

  32. idoubtit
    February 26, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    Gnom: What is unacceptable is that she claims to have this extremely important information but presented it in an extremely unprofessional manner. What is her goal? To help establish the reality of Bigfoot? Then make the data freely available and consult with all the experts that are interested. Instead we have secrecy, what looks like self-publishing and errors in GRAMMAR and SPELLING let alone literature citations. Sloppy all the way through. Disappointing and irresponsible.

    I had to fix my typo in ‘grammar’. BUT I FIXED IT!

  33. MullettMan
    February 26, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    Have you seen the pictures she posted of “Matilda” and then immediately removed for “copyright reasons”? They look exactly like a Chewbacca mask.

  34. gnom
    February 26, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    idoubtit: Is it extremely important, or not? If yes, shouldn’t the typo, spelling and grammar (on a website? Didn’t see much in a paper) be like, irrelevant? Shouldn’t the funny reference, requested by a reviewer or not, be irrelevant? You make no sense, really: the typo and the reference are so much more important than the extremely important finding, that they make it “unacceptable”?
    She tried to make the data freely available in a proper place and wasn’t allowed. Or you think it was just a plain lie?
    She said she consulted the experts and provided them data. One of them (David H. Swenson) publicly endorsed her results, which will probably be seen in a more formal shape when other consulted scientists finish their evaluations. Or you think it was just a plain lie, too?
    First she made too many press releases, and now she’s accused of secrecy?
    What’s so unbelievable in the story of a controversial find having trouble being published?
    After so many days, I’m starting to think that the Ketchum study is all correct, otherwise somebody would have shown it’s more serious aspects to be false already. Too many people would like to see it shot down for it’s method or data, not by means of a typo, spelling, or a bad reference. The mockery over everything but the study itself, after so many days, is starting to speak for itself. I’m expecting a U-turn soon.

  35. idoubtit
    February 26, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    Gnom: I’d suggest you go browse an issue of Science or Nature and see what actual science looks like.

    Melba Ketchum’s presentation of her Sasquatch data was like showing up on your wedding day without washing up and in a cheap, tattered dress.

  36. drwfishesman
    February 26, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    I don’t think you understand the process of scientific peer review, otherwise you would not be so compelled to “think that the Ketchum study is all correct”. And references are a serious aspect of the paper, not just the contaminated DNA samples. As a scientist one should practice their own quality control in respect to the paper. And putting in a hoaxed reference is bad quality control and shows lax standards in reporting and probably data collection as well.

  37. ProGrocker
    February 26, 2013 at 1:34 PM


    What evidence do you have that the DNA samples are contaminated? If you have listened to any of Ketchum’s interviews or read the study, you’d probably not make such a poorly supported assumption. It reflects badly on your own…um…quality control. The possibility of contamination has been thoroughly ruled out by multiple methods.

    I realize, however, that unfounded claims of contamination and poor data control (as opposed to publishing protocol) are the only refuges a pseudo-skeptical observer can seek at this point, so it’s unsurprising that so many go there.

    One must remember that Dr. Ketchum is a veterinarian and a DNA diagnostician, *not* a professional paper publisher, as so many scientists strive to be. It is not surprising that her attempt to publish has been messy, given both her lack of experience in it and the controversial subject matter.

    Still, an actual skeptic will dwell on the data. Why not focus the discussion on that instead?

  38. idoubtit
    February 26, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    ProGrocker: I have heard her claims about outside contamination. That may be true but who is to say that the DNA itself was not manipulated. We won’t know that unless we can dig into it.

    Once again, many commentators (many have not made it through due to violating the comment policy) utterly fail to understand what is at stake here and continue to be apologists for Dr. Ketchum.This is HER responsibility to prove what she has is what she says. That isn’t happening with the way she is dealing with these results.

    As I have said many times, very few of us are qualified to review a paper on genomics. I certainly am not. All I can comment on is what I’ve seen. However, I do rely on the conclusions of those who have seen it who have the proper experience. I hope to post that soon.

    As you mention, Dr. Ketchum is a not a professional academian. Maybe she should have consulted one for this paper! Things would have been a LOT less messy.

  39. Gnom
    February 26, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    I’ll just skip the “what makes you think”, the “where EXACTLY” and the arrogant and studentish “serious aspect of the paper” overstatement (since we’re anonymous here, so what’s the point?), and remind again that a PhD biochemist with huge experience in top genetics and the impressive list of honors, awards, patents and especially papers published (in Science, among others) read the paper AND had the data AND the tools – the first and only such case so far, as far as we know – and did not seem to mind the “tattered dress” when expressing his clear admiration for her work. After he confirmed her finding, of course. I guess nobody told him it’s unacceptable. But I guess it’s easy to ignore him – he’s just one man compared to so many spelling errors, and just one possible huge scientific breakthrough compared to a whole false reference.

  40. idoubtit
    February 26, 2013 at 1:58 PM

    Grom: Just one? What about all the others that have said it’s not good?–the_ethics_of_skipping_peer-review_for_monetary_gain

    I understand that Ketchum supporters don’t like that science is hard. That’s why it’s the most reliable method we have. And standards are pretty darn high.

  41. Gnom
    February 26, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    Why should it be HER responsibility to prove that her proof is proving what it was intended to prove? She’s done with that paper. It’s available. She also did her best to upload the raw data and finaly provided it to volunteering experts – time will tell who is was. You got it the wrong way: it’s up to others to confirm or disprove it.
    Btw, why don’t you call the GenBank and ask them if she ever contacted them?
    And also, I really don’t think you can manipulate the DNA in each cell in a chunk of meat and send it to another lab.

  42. idoubtit
    February 26, 2013 at 2:09 PM

    I’ve let Gnom’s last comment pass just to show you that anyone can apparently make a claim and SKEPTICS are supposed to prove that it’s NOT TRUE.

    I have an invisible pink dragon in my garage to sell you…

  43. drwfishesman
    February 26, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    So Ketchum has no reposibility to back up here claim and face the scrutiny that her paper draws according to gnom and ProGrocker is spouting consipracy by giant establishment journals and is unaware that DeNovo was started by Ketchum herself. Truly a last option when it comes to publishing research. I’ll say this about Ketchums paper (and bad science in general) if it’s a turd, it should be treated like one. If that means turning in my membership card because I’m not skeptical enough, I’m comfortable with that. The excuses for Ketchums work are pathetic.

  44. idoubtit
    February 26, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    Please abide by the comments policy. This is NOT a debate site. Provide sources for your assertions that I am an idiot or your comments will be deleted. 🙂

  45. drwfishesman
    February 26, 2013 at 4:37 PM

    Sorry…I am asserting the Ketchum started DeNovo herself and here is a source:

  46. idoubtit
    February 26, 2013 at 9:36 PM

    Everyone: Go to this post for reactions from evolutionary biologists and scientists.

  47. Darren
    February 26, 2013 at 11:36 PM

    Theory: Ketchum WAS (still is?) serious about her er, “paper” and its conclusions. Within a month, the derision will force her into the only move open to her – to claim that yes, it was a hoax after all.

    Reminds me more of Tommy Wiseau and the rebranding of “The Room” than any of the Guest mockumentaries.

  48. accava
    March 11, 2013 at 1:29 AM

    i think there is an extremely small chance bigfoot, but we are supposed to believe dna evidence from someone who doesnt know “do” from “due”…

  49. David Marjanović
    March 17, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    Dung is a perfectly cromulent Vietnamese surname; I think the Dung et al. (1993) paper cited by Milinkovitch et al. (2004) is the description of the saola, Pseudoryx nghetinhensis.

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