This is a must read. It’s what I have been waiting for – an easy to understand, thorough review of the Melba Ketchum Sasquatch DNA paper. This will explain a good part of the problems with the science – the faulty methods, the issue of sham inquiry (having the conclusion fit the data), the hazards of working outside your area of expertise and, perhaps most damning, Ketchum’s disconnect with reality and extreme hubris.
John Timmer, a former researcher in biology says:
Fundamentally, the scientific problems with the work seem to go back to the fact that some of the key steps—sample processing and preparation—were done by forensic scientists. As the name itself implies, forensic science is, like more general sciences, heavily focused on evidence, reproducibility, and other aspects shared with less applied sciences. But unlike genetics for example, forensic science is very goal-oriented. That seems to be what caused the problems here.
He describes how her conviction that no contamination occurred misled her interpretation of the results.
In this case, there was no need for careful examination; the results the team got from the DNA was a mix of warning signs that things weren’t right (internally inconsistent information) and things that simply didn’t make any sense. But Ketchum believed so strongly in the rigor of the forensic procedures that she went with the results regardless of the problems. In fact, it seemed as if almost everything unusual about the samples was interpreted as a sign that there was something special about them.
He also makes clear that the results clearly showed many red flags that she was on the wrong track but she didn’t see them. Was she was too blinded by her goals? The article contains quotes from an interview with Ketchum that reveal her encounters with the creatures and her desire to prove they exist and must be protected. She is CERTAIN that she is done that. No scientists should ever be certain – they should propose their idea and allow the world to critique it. In her misplaced desire to believe, Ketchum has instead steamrolled over ethics, quest for truth and the careful process of scientific inquiry.
After an hour-long phone conversation, there was no question about whether Ketchum is sincere in her belief that bigfoot exists and if her data conclusively proves that it’s worthy of protection. But, at the same time, it’s almost certainly this same sincerity that drove her to look past the clear problems with her proof.
Timmer also remarks on the obvious problem I also noticed with the results – how the creature’s genetics does not fit into an evolutionary framework. It makes no sense for an animal to not closely match things to which it is related. Because of its weirdness, we got that bizarre idea that this is “angel” DNA. Ketchum is supposedly a believer in the Nephilim idea. If this is the case, she could have religious motivations to show a very special being exists that DISPROVES evolution but bolsters the case for supernatural intervention.
He repeats the experiment done by David Winter (see this post) in checking the sequences himself and finding obvious issues. This, and his subsequent explanation for why the data likely looks the way it does seals the case for me that Ketchum probably had good intent but utterly failed at doing science here.
I expect Ketchum to have a suitable ridiculous response as she did with the other test that showed her results were flawed and also her silly response to the finding of hoax papers listed as references.
This incident is an interesting and VERY informative case of how not to do research. It also reveals that the Sasquatch field is anchored in a shifting, unstable, fantasy-based foundation of belief. This case should be used as a textbook example of sham inquiry and pseudoscience.