Ketchum DNA first retest and peer review: Fail (UPDATE: Response)

SciGuy blogger Eric Berger had a buddy who knows DNA. The geneticist was asked to test the DNA samples with Ketchum’s permission that were purportedly a novel and non-human species.

I had the ‘Bigfoot DNA’ tested in a highly reputable lab. Here’s what I found. | SciGuy | a Chron.com blog.

I agreed to be an intermediary between Ketchum and a highly reputable geneticist in Texas, whom I trusted and knew personally. I also knew that this geneticist was first and foremost a scientist, and if there was even a 1 percent chance the Bigfoot evidence was real, he’d want check out the story. I asked, and he was willing to approach the evidence with an open mind.

It was, he told me, a mix of opossum and other species. No find of the century.

So back at big reveal, Dr. Ketchum published the paper in a dubious journal with terrible references and it was immediately panned. She did note it was being tested by others. That’s good. And, as expected, it failed. It was not a new species. This case is closed. But the real question remains – what DID happen with these samples to get to that conclusion she did?

This test does not appear that it will be published so we have to take this word for it. I’m not sure what to think about that but it’s not an extraordinary claim being made here. This was the expected result – that Ketchum et al failed to find something extraordinary but messed up some samples along the way.

UPDATE: (2-July-2013) Ketchum has this to say about the testing on Facebook.

In response to the latest round of criticism. 1. We did give these folks access to the genomes. 2. They only pulled random sequences and did not look at the whole genomes. The person from UT that did our analysis told me that he never got all of the raw data uploaded to the second lab due to computer problems on the receiving lab’s end. 2. I offered raw DNA to this lab so they could extract and sequence themselves. They would not even give the courtesy of a reply. 3. They refused to even speak with me on the phone. The entire thing was completely and totally unprofessional. 4. They never tried to check the analysis done at the University of Texas even though the bioinformatics person put himself at their disposal.

What findings they gave were impossible since both of our labs would have had to extract feces to obtain these results. If it had been feces, we would not have been able to obtain the preliminary results that we got prior to the genomes. After all, they were the same extractions. You can’t get feces from tissue, blood and saliva. If we did extract feces, the quality scores would not have been this high. That is in the literature. This leads to a couple of possibilities. One, there is a conspiracy to suppress our findings. Two, they just didn’t care and didn’t believe that there is even the possibility that Sasquatch exists and therefore just wanted to be done with it because they had other projects. Three, they themselves suppressed it for fear that their careers would be damaged. The things that I know for sure are that it was not an adequate analysis, they did not even try to double check or recreate our findings. If they really had an interest, they would have jumped at the chance to resequence the raw samples. Funny thing, I offered the samples to three other places also and nobody was willing to test. Something is just not right. I also offered several people an opportunity to visit a habituation site including this reporter and his lab people so they could have a sighting. Of course they didn’t want that either. Bottom line, nobody except a few of you here even care about the truth. Most would rather perpetuate that BF is a myth or an ape.

Something is not right, that’s true. This continues to be joke science – an example of how NOT to do serious work.

UPDATE (3-July-2013): Ketchum mouths off to the Huff Post citing “jealousy” and that Berger may have switched the samples.  Holy cow, she is an embarrassment to the Bigfoot community. And that’s saying something!

UPDATE (5-July-2013) Eric Berger writes a response to her response and calls her out for behaving ridiculously.

If Ketchum really had the goods she would have gotten the work published in a reputable scientific journal. Instead she’s playing to an audience that doesn’t understand how science works, that wants to believe Bigfoot exists and is willing to send her some cash to further their delusions.

  23 comments for “Ketchum DNA first retest and peer review: Fail (UPDATE: Response)

  1. Massachusetts
    July 1, 2013 at 5:36 PM

    How strange that she concluded what she did, considering what appears to have actually happened, with 20/20 hindsight. What WAS she thinking?

  2. spookyparadigm
    July 1, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    They should publish it as part of a larger case study on pseudoscience and construction of scientific authority. Someone who has the historical and contextual side of it should partner with them, and put it in a sociological or folklore journal. It would be a standard reference for how to deal with, or decide not to deal with, such claims in the future.

    No, seriously. I think this would be a good idea.

  3. One Eyed Jack
    July 1, 2013 at 6:17 PM

    This case is not closed. Despite the negatives, die hard Big Foot enthusiasts will cling to it as “evidence” for years to come. This bit of pretend science will not die slowly.

  4. One Eyed Jack
    July 1, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    Make that “die quickly”. Oh what I would give for an edit button. :)

  5. K Martin
    July 1, 2013 at 10:22 PM

    While I have little doubt of the final conclusion, the lack of any details is troubling. How many samples were there? “A mix of opossum and other species” is hardly exacting.

  6. Mr. B
    July 1, 2013 at 10:47 PM

    Oh my. One Eyed jack is 100% correct: “This case is not closed. Despite the negatives, die hard Big Foot enthusiasts will cling to it as “evidence” for years to come. This bit of pretend science will not die [quickly]” Cue the next round of excuses by the believers.

  7. DW
    July 1, 2013 at 11:11 PM

    How is this a fail if you have a supposed geneticist who will not take credit for testing. This is not a peer review unless you can identify the reviewers and yes, i’m talking more than one. I don’t believe Ketchum’s results any more than anyone other skeptic but I think the skeptics are taking things for granted just like the non-skeptics took Ketchum’s results as fact without peer review. No offense meant to Eric Burger but he knows this and yet publishes his skeptic side without documenting proof. I know some will be quick to defend Mr. Burger so go ahead. I was just noticing the parallel between skeptics and non-skeptics or as it is put, “believers”. Seems rather one sided that this gets published when no real scientific proof is offered other than it was submitted to “a top geneticist”

  8. July 1, 2013 at 11:22 PM

    Let’s go back for a moment to 1989. Discovery of cold fusion was reported by P&F, not in a peer reviewed journal but by press release. Subsequent testing failed to find any evidence or to replicate the experiment, and it is arguable whether there was error or fraud by P&F. The subject should have died, but more than 20 years later there are still believers.

    Now substitute “bigfoot DNA” for “cold fusion.” There is no difference, and the believers will never let it die. They will still be crying foul and conspiracy decades from now. The only arguable difference is that there is far more likelihood of fraud than error in this case.

  9. July 1, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    DW, I think you fail to realize that the burden of proof is with the claimants of bigfoot DNA. As Sharon points out, Berger’s is not an extraordinary claim, and he is not required to PROVE Ketchum wrong. It is her responsibility to prove her case.

  10. DW
    July 2, 2013 at 3:16 AM

    Jim Price I was not talking about burden of proof. I was mentioning a peer review process not just a personal contact of Mr. Berger who also refuses to go on record for fear of damage to their reputation. That is not a peer review. This geneticist can test samples but I doubt they have the goods on what testing took place and how it was done. This is not a peer review until this information is also taken into account. I just can’t take Berger’s proof by this acquaintance because it is nothing more than a statement from Berger’s ‘personal acquaintance.’ This person was not required to prove Ketchum wrong but did so without a formal process and I’m betting this person knows that process. I just wonder why this unidentified person’s word is any better than anyone else’s? Because Berger says so? they ignored the process as a favor to Berger? This person is still unidentified and that is questionable to say the least. Like I said before, “I was noticing a parallel between skeptics and believers”. It appears the skeptics are calling this a peer review fail when it’s not an actual peer review. Some skeptics are using the term but ignoring the process. So, I am saying it is one sided when they say this issue needs to be peer reviewed to the believers but it is ok to have an unidentified expert make a statement and call the subject peer reviewed without actually following the reviewing process if you are a skeptic. That has nothing to do with burden of proof but more to do with ethics in science academia.

  11. Jon O
    July 2, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    Responsibility for the oversight of the peer review process lies entirely with the publishing journal. I agree that this expert’s experiments do not constitute actual peer review, not because of reviewer anonymity (which is the norm for most journals), but because Ketchum et al. sidestepped the process of peer review by publishing their own journal. Drug companies and technical equipment companies have also done this, and papers published in this format rarely become included in the scientific record. Because Ketchum knowingly dodged the peer review process, she can’t complain if scientists don’t take her seriously. And, outside of the peer review process, their is no formal process for testing results like these.

  12. July 2, 2013 at 9:51 AM

    The presence of possum dna does indicate that Ketchem’s bigfoot is related to the Georgia bigfoot of several years ago.

  13. Paul Hunter
    July 2, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    Wooops, it seems for now We’re Still the Only Upright Walking Primate!”

  14. J
    July 2, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    1, 2, 2, 3, 4?
    Seems she was a little bothered while responding.
    Must be tough being a disrespected “scientist”.

  15. July 2, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Melba: “This leads to a couple of possibilities. One, there is a conspiracy to suppress our findings…”

    If the verification does not agree, then it must be a conspiracy. Have you received your fact suppression check from Big Bigfoot yet? Mine came yesterday.

  16. July 2, 2013 at 2:09 PM

    Scientists: when you get involved in possible pseudoscience, please publish your results. At least post a full paper for others to review (I realize journals may not be interested.) Include a simple, plain-English conclusion. If you are not going to do that, don’t get involved. Don’t feed the conspiracy theories.

  17. K Martin
    July 3, 2013 at 2:29 AM

    2112,

    That is some very select reading on your part. Ketchum goes on to list other possibilities. There is much to criticize about her study, but acting like there is no possible conclusion other than she is being unreasonable in her reply is extremely short sided on your part.

  18. Kitty Lapin Agile
    July 3, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    The problem can be seen here…where she writes THIS
    “This leads to a couple of possibilities. One, there is a conspiracy to suppress our findings.”
    When your ONE, is “conspiracy” there is something wrong. At the least that should be number 4 or 5.
    When that’s ONE, you are not a scientist.

  19. Jodie
    July 3, 2013 at 11:46 PM

    In my opinion, Dr. Ketchum is the only one responsible for suppressing information because of the way she chose to handle herself and any so called research done with the samples over the years. Bad science simply doesn’t sell in legitimate circles, peer review has nothing to do with the conclusions, but with the processes that you use to draw those conclusions. Had she handled this situation professionally and competently, she could have legitimately published her results regardless of the status of their outcome.

  20. July 4, 2013 at 1:36 AM

    Let us not forget that, despite her claims, she never actually did attempt to submit her paper to any scientific journals. (For details on this, see the Monster Talk episode with Todd Disotell discussing this.)

    • July 4, 2013 at 11:45 AM

      Yes she did. It was submitted to Nature and rejected. Darren Naish reviewed it for Nature.

  21. Stuart Robbins
    July 5, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    “…they did not even try to double check or recreate our findings…”

    Not that we needed any more evidence, but this also shows she does not know the scientific process. In science, we don’t work to recreate someone’s “findings” or “results,” we recreate the process using the same input and see what the results are. That’s the whole point, to see if the results agree. The only reason you would try to reproduce someone’s “findings” in real science is if you get different ones, and then you go back and figure out how they possibly could have gotten their results in the first place — why you disagree.

    Completely off-topic: I hope to meet you at TAM! And you should come to my workshop (1A) if you’ll be there Thursday morning :-).

  22. July 14, 2013 at 7:13 AM

    Darren Naish talks about his part in the review process in the third episode of the Tetrapod Zoology Podcast. http://tetzoo.com/podcast/2013/2/20/episode-3-featuring-bigfoots-feet

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