Sykes’ reputation and his Yeti project get slammed

As we updated yesterday, Bryan Sykes’ claim of mystery DNA is being hyped by the media apparently ahead of his new book about his Yeti/Bigfoot project (the results of the Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project which had a goal of collecting organic material for so called “cryptids”, including that which people believe may be from Bigfoot, and analyzing the DNA in the samples). His television coverage was sound, the paper was published in a reputable journal, but then it was all downhill from there.

sykes times_leakeHis results were challenged twice. Here and here. The second rebuttal prompted a defensive (and rather ignorant) response from Sykes regarding molecular taxonomy. Not only does he continue to dismiss application of statistical methods to DNA, but now he’s accused of making up an institute. It’s catching the attention of other professionals in the community and they are not amused.

Scientist savaged for Bigfoot claim | The Sunday Times.

A GENETICIST at Oxford University whose new book claims to offer “the first scientific evidence on the survival ” of apemen such as the yeti and Bigfoot, has been attacked by colleagues who say the claims are nonsense and his research institute does not exist.

This is paywalled but here is a copy of the print version. More is provided by the blog biochemistri.es.

[The 2014 Royal Society journal paper] gave Sykes’s affiliation as the Institute of Human Genetics at Wolfson College, Oxford. Sykes is a fellow of Wolfson but he admitted the institute was mythical. “The journal required some sort of additional address in the college and, hey presto, I became an institute!”

Sykes’s book says he has been professor of human genetics at Oxford since 1997, but university officials said he had not held that post for a decade or so.

Here is the first Times piece:
times_sykes

What is going on here? Is this standard practice to embellish your credentials and to dismiss other professionals in order to support a book that so far has been promoted as concluding something more sensational than it really does? I’m baffled. This does not bode well. As I remarked on a Facebook post, “This is turning into a fiasco.” A friend remarked “Turning into?” Yes, indeed, it’s clearly already there. Bad form all around.

I’d also like to address the probable accusation that Sykes is being put upon because of the controversial subject, cryptids. Well, that’s deserved. He is making an extraordinary claim – one had better have the ducks in line, so to speak. It’s curious that this project is garnering more interest from other professionals but rather sailing clear over the heads of the non-scientific Bigfoot community who is not in any position to support it.

Tip: Eliecer Gutierrez and Ron Pine

UPDATE: (15-Apr-2015) The Proceedings of the Royal Society B paper, “Genetic analysis of hair samples attributed to yeti, bigfoot and other anomalous primates,” is being corrected to remove the non-existent affiliation. (Rearranging deck chairs…?)

  5 comments for “Sykes’ reputation and his Yeti project get slammed

  1. April 6, 2015 at 11:26 AM

    This type of thing happens far too often. When you are researching something so extraordinary any potential discovery needs to be fully disclosed, absolutely non-embellished and strong enough to withstand a storm of peer review from fools and experts (and there will be many). Arguing your ignorance as a method of defense is just foolish and does more to discredit a person than anything else. Rule #1 – Don’t lie Rule #2 Fully disclose your errors, potential inaccuracies and weak areas. Rule #3 Put ALL of your cards on the table. All the data, all the findings… everything. Rule #4 Ignore excessively rude and aggressive rebuttal – it will happen, don’t feed it. Rule #5 Speak in facts, not opinion and be prepared to back them up. If you give an opinion, state that it IS an opinion, otherwise people will take it as fact. Rule #6 Follow Rule#1.

    If you don’t have facts or are unwilling to have your discovery/sources peer reviewed, keep it to yourself. This is my two cents.

  2. B. Cooper
    April 6, 2015 at 1:27 PM

    Sykes is tone-deaf to the irony of his complaint about the “arrogance of bioinformatics.” A fundamental purpose of statistical analysis is humility—to guard against the very human propensity to detect false patterns in noisy data. It’s arrogant to believe that you’re so uniquely perceptive that you can’t be fooled by randomness in this way.

  3. Massachusetts
    April 8, 2015 at 10:13 PM

    I’m not clear what Sykes is saying about Zana. Is he saying she has archaic DNA that predates homo sapiens? But if that’s so, how did he arrive at that conclusion? What do we have to compare her DNA to other than Neanderthal, Denisovan, and modern human? Is he saying that her DNA appears to be African, but it’s different enough so as not to fit into any known modern African groups? Or do we simply not know what he’s saying, and will have to wait for his book to come out?

    Does anyone understand this better who might offer some clarity?

    Thanks

  4. R.
    April 9, 2015 at 5:01 PM

    Basically, what he is saying is: ‘ ‘ indicates quotes from the book.

    1) he has mtDNA from what is thought to be the skull of Khwit Genaba (Zana’s son, died 1952). The mtDNA is ‘African’, of the L2C family, supposedly closer to extant western African mtDNA lineages. Note that Ottoman slaves were predominantly of east African origin. This mtDNA doesn’t exactly match any in international databases. (here I’d like the input of someone more knowledgeable on what this means)

    1.2) said ‘unusually large’ skull he measured. ‘multivariate analysis of 29 standard skull dimensions put the skull outside of the range of modern human variation’.

    2) he has nuDNA from (so far 6) descendants of Zana (through her sons Khwit, Eshkba), there is apparently no living descendant from her daughters.

    3) this nuDNA is different to unrelated Abkhaz controls(12), and has ‘African’ sequences present that are not found in the controls. Highest % is 8.8, in Khwit’s grand-daughter Manana(b.1963) . nuDNA from the youngest descendant has just 2.7% of these anomalous sequences.

    4) Sykes claim that the ‘African’ nuDNA is ‘highly unusual’ and is researching it further, presumably in attempt to reconstruct as much of Zana’s DNA as possible. (my guess).
    He says the ‘African’ nuDNA sequences he has can’t be matched to any of the records collected while the DNA of world’s population was studied.

    _____________

    Unrelated but interesting is the analysis of a hair sample from the Walla Walla sightings. There three men saw two different creatures, and retrieved hair samples from the splintered wood of a recently twisted tree. mtDNA (‘very unusual indeed’ of the sample at first couldn’t be matched in a several 100K strong database. Eventually a match was found in a ‘rather obscure database from Central Asia.’ Someone from Uzbekistan. Sykes is puzzled by this, and declares it a ‘complete mystery’.

    ______________

    Rest of the book is basically a primer on bigfoot/alma researchers, outlines the personalities, brief history, and so on. Also includes a scathing review of Melba Ketchum’s paper. Her team messed up completely, and looks like their samples were contaminated.

  5. R.
    April 10, 2015 at 5:43 AM

    Also, I’ll try to clarify ‘african’.

    Presumably, Sykes means that this DNA is distinct to known Eurasian DNA lines, which are all derived from the small subset of people who left Africa. Thus, I guess that if DNA found is too different to what was found in natives of Eurasia, it’s declared ‘African’, because it apparently is not much related to DNA of these ancient migrants.

    The book says that he displayed the nuDNA data in software that tells you what parts of the genome are of what origin, and it showed blue for Europe, green for Asia and red for Africa.

    ____________________

    Here’s the mtDNA graph: Khwit’s mtDNA is of the L2C family.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiregional_origin_of_modern_humans#/media/File:MacaulayRichardsmtDNAtree.jpg

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