Exposing PseudoAstronomy

February 13, 2013

The Peer-Review of Bigfoot


Introduction

Today, after a very long-awaited process, forensic DNA analyst Melba Ketchum released the results of her work that allegedly proves Bigfoot exists, being a species roughly 15,000 years old, and having resulted from the interbreeding of a human with an unknown primate at that time.

There are numerous people talking about this in the skeptical underworld … I recommend the Doubtful News story, JREF forum thread, and/or MonsterTalk Facebook page.

Clearly from the title of this blog, I am not a biologist, forensic anthropologist, geneticist, nor any other thing related. And people on those threads I just linked to are covering details of this such that much of anything I say would just be redundant. However, I have talked about the peer-review process on this blog before (mainly here, but also here, here, here, here, and here). And Melba Ketchum’s “publication” of her results is another good example to illustrate the purpose of peer-review and point out the fact that all because someone publishes something in a “science journal,” it does not mean it’s good science.

Edited to Add (2/14/2013): Some zoologists who have read the paper have chimed in, indicating that this paper is not of good quality nor up to general academic standards.

The Requisite Background

To make a long story short that you can read in much more detail at any of those first three links, Dr. Melba Ketchum received several samples of biological material (hairs mostly, I think), several years ago. After alleged detailed DNA analysis, they proved to themselves it was Bigfoot material. They wrote up a paper for a scientific journal – which is what you’re supposed to do in mainstream science – and submitted it for peer review (the process where people who do similar types of work look over the paper and try to figure out if there are problems with it).

As the story goes in this drastically shortened narrative, this was all under wraps until November of 2012 when it was leaked out by some overseas colleague (I want to say Russian? but I don’t entirely remember). This forced Dr. Ketchum to go somewhat public with it and face intense media scrutiny.

I listened to her for a full Coast to Coast AM show back on December 23, 2012, where she was on the defensive and offensive. In listening to her, I actually felt sorry for her and decided to reserve judgement to see what would happen if her results were actually published.

And that’s what happened today.

Publication

The problem is, it’s not in a typical peer-reviewed journal. It’s not even in a science journal that has any track record. She published in the “DeNovo Scientific Journal. Sounds okay at first …

… except that the domain was purchased anonymously 9 days ago for a period of one year. And this is the only paper that the journal has put out. And in fact, they admit that when other journals would not publish their results, they went out, bought a journal, renamed it, and published their paper.

That is not peer-review. This is like a case where your spouse won’t do something you want them to do so you go and build a robot spouse that you program yourself to do that something.

As I said, I felt sorry for her and I was willing to give Melba the benefit of the doubt. This, however, removes all pretense of an attempt at having people look at this work and judge it objectively and go back and fix mistakes that were pointed out.

She also apparently does not understand the concept of “open access” (meaning free) because it costs $30 to view the paper.

Other Signs

There are many other signs of a lack of any validity here. One is that, earlier today, the journal’s website was using stock photos from websites without any of the required attribution. Those photos are gone now, a few hours later, but other stock photos are present still without attribution (though maybe these were paid for, but most licenses still require posting attribution).

Another is that on the Contact Us page, the name “Robin Haynes” appeared earlier today, but it’s missing now (but visible at the moment in Google’s cached version). There is fairly good evidence that this is the renamed Robin Lynn Pheifer, who has gone by a few different names, and is a woman in Michigan who claimed to have 10 bigfoots on her 10-acre property to whom she would repeatedly feed blueberry bagels.

Another is that people have started to contact the co-authors to see if they actually participated in the paper. Of the two who have responded, one said that he did no analysis nor writing of the paper (though was aware of it), while another hasn’t seen any recent version and could not extract any DNA from the samples he had tested.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure this is going to continue to get very detailed scrutiny over the next several days. The problem is that at this point, almost regardless of what is determined, this move to create one’s own journal and call it peer-reviewed (and scientific — after all, “Scientific” is in the title!) is a gross violation of the terms and process. It’s worse than Answers in Genesis having their own “Creation” journal because at least they are clear about what it really is. And it uses stock images with proper attribution.

Peer-review is not a perfect process. But it’s the best we have. Invoking the Galileo complex (which she did) and then making your own publication only serves to further polarize people: Detractors will use this as fodder to point out that you’ve got nothin’, and people who already supported you already think there’s a vast conspiracy to keep them down.

About these ads

18 Comments »

  1. Some people love mysteries and conspiracies so much and they want so much the fantastic things they believe in to be true, that they close their brains and forget logic and common sense.
    It is very sad that this happened to a woman of science.

    Comment by Jennifer — February 14, 2013 @ 1:13 am | Reply

    • I agree, it’s too bad. I seriously was going to reserve judgement after I heard her interviewed. But then, pulling something like this … it almost doesn’t matter now, even if she’s right. She’s destroyed her credibility.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — February 14, 2013 @ 1:26 am | Reply

  2. Huh. Someone has evidence for bigfoot and wants money before you can see it. No way!

    Comment by Karl — February 14, 2013 @ 8:22 am | Reply

  3. In her interview she did say that if the mainstream Science journals wouldn’t publish her findings…that she would make sure the public would get access to them , she seems to be doing just that ! There’s a lot of behind scenes politics happening right now , and everything will always get exposed in the end . It will be interesting to watch and see how this will all play out in the end . Many DNA tests were done in several unbiased labs , some of the researchers donating specimens actually filmed the collection of them , showing non contamination methods ….lets not be too quick to close our minds on all the years of hard work that has been done …..have fun out there !

    Comment by kAY — February 14, 2013 @ 1:29 pm | Reply

    • Kay, she put a woman in charge who claims she was feeding bagels to a family of bigfoots living in her backyard and was never curious enough to collect any physical evidence. And thinks this is a credible spokesperson for a new scientific journal. How many red flags do you need to see before handing over your credit card to a Nigerian Prince?

      Comment by Karl — February 14, 2013 @ 1:57 pm | Reply

      • I was speaking about reputable researchers . Also do you know the credentials of the woman she put in charge or just that she claims to have fed them . I can’t quite understand your prejudice , or do you claim that all habituators are imagining it all , could you please explain ( hopefully in a dignified manner without insulting ). It would make sense to use evidence from others not involved so close , or the nay sayers would quickly jump on the BIAS wagon . I mean no offence or disrespect Karl , and I am not so naive as to believe everything I hear , yet on the other hand , I’ve had enough experience to not so quickly disbelieve everything I hear too. Thank you for replying to my comment…I was wondering ….have you had any experiences with sasquatches on a personal level ?

        Comment by kAY — February 14, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

      • Again, Kay, perhaps you missed huge red flag where she invented a journal and put a person in charge who claims she fed blueberry bagels to a family of bigfoots living in her backyard.

        Comment by Karl — February 15, 2013 @ 6:20 am

      • Hi Karl ….first …thanks for playing nice. I actually did notice she put out her own Journal …..which is what she said she would do in that interview. Were I in her shoes , I might have done something similar to get the info to the public . And rather than footing the enormous bill out of my own purse strings ….I might charge a fee in the beginning to help cover costs , knowing this would be limited because once the info is out there , it doesn’t take long until some one posts it for free . OR… I might have just posted it for free …. We don’t know all the details of the behind the scene decisions yet as to why certain people were chosen to be put in charge, so I won’t make an uninformed decision either way yet . So ….rather than letting frustration over not getting immediate answers to all the open ended questions get the better of me…… I’ll patiently enjoy the journey :) chatting and running ideas by with nice folks like you .

        Comment by kAY — February 15, 2013 @ 9:53 am

      • There’s also the issue that people who have read it report that the paper is poorly argued, not objective, and even poor English. This, the other people she has put in charge, the route she has taken to get this “published,” and a lack of academics on the paper, are all problems that most of us in science would cause us to reject her position.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — February 15, 2013 @ 9:56 am

  4. This isn’t science. It’s wish fullfilment. The people who want to believe are going to do so, and they will shape their beliefs in whatever way they have to in order to legitimize this “paper”, up to and including giving the authors money to support their “cause”. But without peer review there’s no real story here. This paper offers no more evidentiary value than a comic book, and less than a supermarket tabloid (which at least requires confirmation).

    Comment by Kenny — February 14, 2013 @ 8:49 pm | Reply

    • With regard to the comment by Kenny, February 14,2013, I would make the following reply.
      I believe that this DNA Study was performed with all due attention to the Scientific methodology that it warranted. I believe the Article (“Paper”) was thoroughly legitimized by the fact that the Research was done by a long list of qualified Scientists and Universities, and that the results are fully capable of standing on their own merit. I would remind Kenny that Dr. Melba Ketchum, of DNA Diagnostics did not sequence the THREE Grenomes. That work was done by the DNA Laboratory of The University of Texas Southwestern at Dallas, using the state of the art instrumentation.

      The PRweb in Seattle Washington reported on their website at http://www.seattlepi.com/ the following information:

      “The team, led by Dr. Melba S. Ketchum, DVM, of DNA Diagnostics in Nacogdoches, TX, sequenced the three whole nuclear genomes using the next-generation Illumina HiSeq 2000 platform at University of Texas, Southwestern from a tissue sample, a saliva sample, and a blood sample. The three genomes all attained Q30 quality scores above 88 on the Illumina platform, significantly higher than the platform average of 85, indicating highly-purified, single-source DNA with no contamination for each sample. The three Sasquatch genomes align well with one-another and show substantial homology to primate sequences.”

      NOTE: The Three Q30 Scores of the three Genomes,with over 90 Gb of Raw seqence for each sample (Comprising greater than 30x coverage) were 88.6, 88.4 and 88.7 respectively. The Q30 is the percent of reads that have the statistical probability greaer than 1:1000 of being correctly sequenced (According to Illumina, a pure single source sample would have a Q30 score of 80 or greater with an average of 85). Therefore, not only were the 3 sequences submitted from a single source, but the quality of the sequences were FAR ABOVE the average 85 Score on genomes sequenced using the Illumina Next Generation Sequencing Platform AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS Southwestern in Dallas, Texas”.

      A Further comment made was: “The high quality of the Genomes can be attributed to the STRINGENT EXTRACTION PROCEDURES UTILIZED WHEREBY THE DNA WAS REPEATEDLY PURIFIED”.

      NOTE: It would appear that the Univesity of Texas Southwestern’s DNA Laboratory, is rather sure that these are good Genomes, and that they tested to be of very high quality. How could you ask for more than that? It is time for the Skeptics to admit that they were WRONG! It is a new Species.

      You will not be able to find a Geneticist who can argue with the results produced by the UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS. NOT WITH THOSE HIGH Q30 scores. New species have been accepted by Science with as little as 16 KB. Just a small number of base pairs. The sample size here was 90 Gb for each of three samples. See the Supplementary Data 7-10

      I believe that this groundbreaking DNA Study was done with great care and that the resultant findings are now capable of proving to even the most diehard, outspoken skeptics, PROOF that there is an unclassified Biped roaming North America. This evidence is backed up by the substantial work that has been done at instituions like The University of Texas at Dallas, Texas A & M University, and several other academic institutions and Professional Laboratories.

      Dr. Ketchum and her esteemed colleagues are to be heartily commended for the dedication that they have shown in the face of derision from the mass attacks by naysayers, skeptics and fools. I urge everyone, and especially hardcore Skeptics to take the time to read this amazing DNA Study and to become aware of the incredible quality of the Science behind it.

      Being a skeptic does not require that you cannot accept valid Scientific studies, that are done with a great deal of care and appropriate attention to detail by highly skilled professionals. It is time for the Skeptics to start preparing their favorite recipe for Crow Pie. I imagine it has a very fowl taste!

      My kudos to the BRAVE researchers who refused to give up and quit. They will go down in History!

      Comment by Charles Bootjer — February 21, 2013 @ 9:24 pm | Reply

      • To Charles Bootjer … Even if the DNA were properly sequenced and analyzed (something of which there seems to be much doubt), and even if there were appropriate peer reviews and publication in a reputable science journal (something which simply didn’t happen), one cannot get past the fact that any specimens to be analyzed were collected in unknown ways from unknown sources and handled in unknown fashions. The “Bigfoot” searchers are not trained in the ways of forensic scientists. If you collect a wisp of animal hair off a branch and just stick it in your pocket with your bare hands, you have (1) made an assumption about its source, and (2) contaminated it already. If you used this kind of procedure in a court of law, it would never stand up to a challenge. Add this major flaw to an already deeply flawed paper, and I think it is safe to disregard the matter as unproven.

        Comment by Ann Kah — April 1, 2013 @ 9:12 pm

  5. If I was confident I was the first to find DNA proof of bigfoot, I would not have to worry about charging $30 a pop to defray costs. I would well expect book and movie offers to soon start rolling in. I would also not try to create the trappings of a scientific journal to give it that “science-y” feel. I would simply release it as is, from my own site, FB page, whatever. I would not make up a fake name as a contact person. And, I point out for the third time, I would not hire bagel lady in any capacity.

    Comment by Karl — February 15, 2013 @ 10:06 am | Reply

  6. It is obvious to me that none of the previous people who have posted comments have gone to the website of the Sasquatch Genome Project, at http://sasquatchgenomeproject.org/
    I will comment, by going back to the first comment, posted on this subject, and attempt to set things straight for the record.

    The comment by Stuart Robbins on February 15 is in opposition to my opinion about the Article.
    I feel that it was well argued and very objective. Mr. Robbins should take note that the most important fact about this article is that Dr. Ketchum did not sequence the DNA. That job was done by the DNA Laboratory at the University of Texas Southwestern at Dallas.

    I was pleased when I became aware of the ongoing DNA Research that was underway and the new groundbreaking efforts that were being made by Dr. Melba Ketchum in Texas. I followed the websites and radio interviews about this research, and was gladdened by the December 24th Coast to Coast AM Interview.

    Dr. Ketchum spoke then in reply to the matter of sample contamination then and the Skeptics were not listening clearly, because they continued to rail that there must have been contamination of the DNA Samples for the resrearch to have shown Human Mitochondrial DNA. In almost every case, I had taken note of the fact that numerous opinionated individuals,who are skeptics had almost always made comments to the effect that the DNA findings must be flawed by some form of contamination, but the fact seems to be that an enormous amount of care had been taken by Dr. Melba Ketchum and her highly skilled associates, who used state of the art forensic techniques to prevent even the remotest possibility of that happening, and my reading of the Study confirmed the obvious conclusion that most of the skeptics had unquestionably jumped to their conclusions without any real factual evidence, as usual.

    The work done by the University of Texas Southwestern at Dallas has revealed that the Three samples that Dr. Kertchum had submitted for sequencing were of very high quality, and highly purified, and capable of providing results using the Illumina Next Generation Sequencing Platform that had a statistical probability greater than 1:1000 of being correctly sequenced. Obviously these were not “Contaminated Samples”

    PLEASE TAKE NOTICE OF THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION, As reported in the PRweb Seattle WA at http://www.seattlepi.com, :

    “The team, led by Dr. Melba S. Ketchum, DVM, of DNA Diagnostics in Nacogdoches, TX, submitted a tissue sample, a saliva sample, and a blood sample
    to the DNA Laboratory at the University of Texas, Southwestern, who then sequenced the Three whole nuclear genomes using the next-generation Illumina HiSeq 2000 platform. The University lab reported that the three genomes all attained Q30 quality scores above 88 on the Illumina platform, which is significantly higher than the platform average of 85, indicating highly-purified, single-source DNA with no contamination for each sample. The three Sasquatch genomes were reported to align well with one-another and show substantial homology to primate sequences.”

    NOTE: The important fact is that the three Q30 Scores of these three Genomes,with over 90 Gb of Raw seqence for each sample, (Comprising greater than 30x coverage), were 88.6, 88.4 and 88.7 respectively).
    The Q30 is the percent of reads that have the statistical probability greater than 1:1000 of being correctly sequenced According to Illumina, a pure single source sample would have a Q30 score of 80 or greater with an average of 85.

    Therefore, not only were the sample submitted for sequencing were each determined to be UNCONTMINATED and were from a single source, and the quality of the sequences that were obtained were FAR ABOVE the average 85 score of Genomes sequenced using the Illumina Next Generation Sequencing Platform at the UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS Southwestern in Dallas, Texas. A Further comment made about the samples was: “The high quality of the Genomes can be attributed to the STRINGENT EXTRACTION PROCEDURES UTILIZED WHEREBY THE DNA WAS REPEATEDLY PURIFIED”.

    NOTE: It would appear that the University of Texas Southwestern’s DNA Laboratory is rather sure that these are good Genomes, and that they were tested to be of very high quality. How could you ask for much more than that? It is time for the Skeptics to admit that they were WRONG! It is a NEW Species.

    You will not be able to find a Geneticist who can argue with the results produced by the UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS. NOT WITH THOSE HIGH Q30 scores. New species have been accepted by Science with as little as 16 KB. Just a very small number of base pairs. The sample size here was 90 Gb for each of three samples. See the Supplementary Data 7-10 in the Article

    I believe that this groundbreaking DNA Study was done with great care and that the resultant findings are now capable of proving to even the most diehard, outspoken skeptics, PROOF that there is an unclassified Biped roaming North America. This evidence is backed up by the substantial work that has been done at instituions like The University of Texas at Dallas, Texas A & M University, and several other academic institutions and Professional Laboratories.

    Dr. Ketchum and her esteemed colleagues are to be heartily commended for the dedication that they have shown in the face of derision from the mass attacks by naysayers, skeptics and fools. I urge everyone, and especially hardcore Skeptics to take the time to read this amazing DNA Study and to become aware of the incredible quality of the Science behind it.

    Being a skeptic does not require that you cannot accept valid Scientific studies, that are done with a great deal of care and appropriate attention to detail by highly skilled professionals.

    My kudos to the BRAVE researchers who refused to give up and quit. They will go down in History!

    Comment by Charles Bootjer — February 21, 2013 @ 8:51 pm | Reply

    • Now that you’ve had your own soapbox, perhaps you’d be more interested in responding to the actual subject of the blog post, that of her bypassing the peer-review process when no one would publish her paper, and some people in the field who have obtained the paper say that it’s poorly written and they would be embarrassed to write it. These don’t get to the subject of the validity of her data — I am in no position to speak to that. Rather, the point of this post is the process she underwent.

      And FYI, on the first link you reference, it was giving 403 errors the day I wrote this post and was trying to access it.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — February 21, 2013 @ 8:56 pm | Reply

    • “I believe that this groundbreaking DNA Study was done with great care”

      No. She cited an April Fool’s joke paper as it were evidence. Great care would imply she checked her references to see if they really supported her conclusions.

      http://doubtfulnews.com/2013/02/ketchum-uses-april-fools-paper-as-reference/

      Comment by Karl — February 25, 2013 @ 9:26 am | Reply

    • Please, pay no attention to ketchum’s parrot, or the one calling themself (Charles Bootjer), whom on another site uses the alias, (Charles bigfoot believer), because he’s droned the same mindless drivel and seems to have nothing new to say regarding the issue at hand.

      He’s either a person being paid to drone the message, or someone with such a meaningless religious belief, that he’s incapable of thinking for him/herself.

      Comment by The Expulsion Of Gods — February 26, 2013 @ 2:14 am | Reply

  7. Panda DNA? *chortle*

    Comment by Karl — February 27, 2013 @ 12:52 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Rubric Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,310 other followers

%d bloggers like this: