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Ketchum DNA Project: Top to Bottom

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on September 10th, 2013

The Ketchum story top to bottom is now available online from Skeptical Briefs.Sharon Hill

The Ketchum Project: What to Believe about Bigfoot DNA ‘Science’

On November 24, DNA Diagnostics, a veterinary laboratory headed by Dr. Melba S. Ketchum, issued a press release1 that rocked the cryptozoological world:

A team of scientists can verify that their 5-year long DNA study, currently under peer-review, confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch,” living in North America. Researchers’ extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species.

The study was said to include sequences of twenty whole mitochondrial genomes. “Next generation sequencing” was used to obtain three whole nuclear genomes from “purported Sasquatch samples.” The mitochondrial DNA was identical to modern Homo sapiens, but the nuclear DNA was described as “a novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species.” Thus, the researchers concluded from this DNA data that not only does the North American Sasquatch exist but that it is a hybrid species, “the result of males of an unknown hominin species crossing with female Homo sapiens.”

This announcement enthralled the press but annoyed many cryptozoology and science observers because it came with no published paper and no data, only a long and shady history of partnerships, projects, and promises. Ketchum promised the paper would soon follow. When it finally did appear, nearly three months later, it was less than impressive, made no sense evolutionarily, and sparked new controversies about her personal responsibility, the ethics of publishing, and what was going on behind the scenes with this project.

Science by press release is an unprofessional form and often is a bust upon peer review. (The classic example is cold fusion.) Melba Ketchum asked the public directly to buy into an extraordinary claim: that she has categorized Bigfoot DNA and understands its origin, proposing not one but two unknowns—Sasquatch and an unknown ancestor of Sasquatch. What evidence is there that this is true? We have only her word on the samples and just one paper that, as we will see, has had a difficult history, but there are no corresponding, converging lines of evidence. No other reliable physical evidence, traces, fossil record, historic record, or an undisputed clear picture or video of a Sasquatch exists. Moreover, environmental factors have not been shown to reasonably support the existence of a number of large primates reproducing in the wild often reportedly visiting human-inhabited areas. Even besides these obvious hurdles to acceptance, we have many reasons to be suspicious.

The Ketchum DNA project spans more than five years. Drama, propelled by occasional leaks that fueled speculation and hype, played out on the Internet via social media and blogs. Many inside Bigfootery had been following Dr. Ketchum’s progress closely for more than a year prior to the official announcement. Hints of the findings were long discussed in Internet forums and on websites. It is extremely difficult to parse what is factual and what is unfounded, and sometimes ludicrous, speculation. I have attempted to chronicle the story with the help of those who have been watching it more closely than I and, on occasion, Dr. Ketchum herself has spoken on it. Here I document the chronology and claims as best as I can, but many of the sources are secondhand. You can make up anything on the Internet and obviously some people do. However, rumor and wild speculation are a major part of this story primarily because the public was not given solid information but rather an intriguing tale.

Questions and disputes about the plausibility of Ketchum’s results and the origins of Sasquatch/Bigfoot created a schism in cryptozoological circles. The focus of the dispute is often on Ketchum herself, who has control of the entire project.

Who is Melba Ketchum? She is a veterinarian who graduated from Texas A&M veterinary school. She did not complete a PhD.2 While not an academic, she runs her own genetics lab and has been a coauthor on several published papers but never a lead author.3 With such a complicated and extraordinary claim as the discovery of Bigfoot DNA, her lack of experience in the specialized field of primate genetics hurt her credibility with the members of the scientific community who have actually expressed an interest in this project. She notes that she does have experience in forensics because she worked on DNA evidence from crime scenes, which was vital in assuring these study samples were not contaminated.4 There remains the murky area regarding the origin and history of the purported Sasquatch samples, the validity of her data, and how one can so definitively conclude “Bigfoot” from this one study prior to review by the scientific community. I found that these big ideas about Bigfoot precluded the data. Many other red flags obscure the view as well.

Read the entire report here.

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster.


16 Responses to “Ketchum DNA Project: Top to Bottom”

  1. DWA responds:

    Rocked? I didn’t feel any rocking.

    I issued a couple of very loud yawns though, some of my loudest on record.

    The time the skeptical community spends on stuff like this, they could spend properly considering the evidence, rather than dumpster-diving around the proponent fringe.

  2. cryptokellie responds:

    The “samples” are the key ingredient here. If the “samples” cannot be demonstratively shown to have come from or off of an actual Bigfoot then they are almost useless and if they could be shown as having done just that, than the question of Bigfoot’s reality would be answered anyway. DNA testing at that point would provide many interesting answers to many interesting questions that science will definitely have.

    Without verifiable samples you are merely putting the cart before the horse. The proof of this is that all these unverified “samples” have led to nothing in particular. I would rather not speak about Ms. Ketchum’s methods or results as I don’t know enough about genetics to comment on the prior and have doubts about the motives for the latter.

  3. PoeticsOfBigfoot responds:

    Interesting article, well written and informative. Thanks for posting it.

  4. Goodfoot responds:

    I would submit that the various cold-fusion failure (and some hoaxes) did not prove cold fusion “impossible”, and more than early attempts at flying machines proved that heavier-than-air flight was impossible.

  5. cryptokellie responds:

    Bigfoot is by no means an impossibility and I believe that one day a specimen or piece of one will prove that…one day.

  6. alan borky responds:

    Craig this remark alone makes me red flag the whole piece “environmental factors have not been shown to reasonably support the existence of a number of large primates reproducing in the wild often reportedly visiting human-inhabited areas.”

    It’s also why the internet’s a god send many different factions for many different reasons want to police to the point of destroying it because it allows people to make up their minds for themselves without having to defer to the ominiscience of those who think they know better than the rest of us and should be allowed to proffer us the tiny titty bits of information they think our pea sized brains won’t automatically misinterpret.

    Oddly enough some of the worst intellectual fascists I know view this sort of thing as being profoundly liberal and consider anyone who disagrees a fascist.

  7. uchimata responds:

    It’s a little sad when the scientific “skeptical” community can’t act scientific.

    Look at it this way. Robert Oppenheimer was guilty of attempted murder, he was a drunk, a womanizer, and hated blacks. He is still widely respected in scientific circles despite being a terrible human being. People judge him on his science, and not his character.

    Ketchum may have flaws, but who cares? The only question that matters is not her character or presentation, it’s whether she has demonstrated the genetic material of an otherwise unknown human type. In my opinion, she did. That’s exactly what the data shows, and no amount of sophistry will change it.

    You can’t ‘fake’ DNA. You can’t hoax 109 genomes. Even with contamination, the worst case scenario is that the samples were contaminated by a novel humanoid.

    Sharon Hill is a hypocrite. She herself only has a bachelors in geology. She is in no way qualified to judge the evidence presented yet she keeps on writing this nonsense and people seem to eat it up. Hell, she admits she can’t even understand the paper so why are people still reading this ad hominem garbage and pretending it’s scientific debate? It’s not. When a respected geneticist takes apart Ketchum’s data piece by piece and shows the flaws, then I’ll reconsider. I’m open to that, but no one is doing it.

    It’s easy to write a superficial article (with no actual science) attacking Ketchum, but it’s nothing more than chicken shit schoolyard bullying by grown children. The fact that Hill’s email is “shill@centerforinquiry.net” is rather telling.

  8. Goodfoot responds:

    Man. Reading your post, I kept thinking (having not looked at the name of the poster), I kept thinking, “strange; I don’t remember writing this!”

    Agree totally. Especially the last paragraph.

  9. Goodfoot responds:

    “Robert Oppenheimer was guilty of attempted murder, he was a drunk, a womanizer, and hated blacks.”

    You forgot “communist”; that’s pretty clear, especially with some things that have come out very recently.

    Excellent post.

  10. corrick responds:

    Excuse me for interrupting…

    uchimata …Oppenheimer was a physicist, in a “hard science” where human opinion is totally meaningless. Ad hominem.

    Goodfoot…”I would submit that the various cold-fusion failure (and some hoaxes) did not prove cold fusion “impossible”, and more than early attempts at flying machines proved that heavier-than-air flight was impossible.”

    And by that logic I still have big hopes of turning lead into gold.

  11. DWA responds:

    uchimata:

    “When a respected geneticist takes apart Ketchum’s data piece by piece and shows the flaws, then I’ll reconsider. I’m open to that, but no one is doing it.”

    While you are on that: the proponents’ thesis in general is still – after all these decades – awaiting its first serious assault from skeptics, something that their latest Abominable Science! pretty much assures us will never happen. As they don’t even appear to understand they have a thesis, they have never paused to analyze it. I would sooner bet that we will someday be found to be birds than bet the likelihood of the 100% Sasquatch False Positive.

    “It’s easy to write a superficial article (with no actual science) attacking Ketchum, but it’s nothing more than chicken shit schoolyard bullying by grown children. The fact that Hill’s email is “shill@centerforinquiry.net” is rather telling.”

    Shill, indeed. Come on, Sharon. Some science, please. It will be the first I have seen from your side, but I am patient. (Boy. AM I.)

  12. Dufusyte responds:

    Skeptics are ardent defenders of the current majority worldview, and nothing more. They are horribly terrified of non-mainstream ideas, and debunk them mostly by saying, “No one else believes this.”

    They are the true believers of the herd, and vicious attackers of anyone on the fringe of the herd.

    If the herd stood still, this would be a tenable position: defending the center of the herd (defending the mainstream worldview).

    But the problem is that the herd is constantly migrating from pasture to pasture (that is, science is constantly moving from discovery to discovery, from theory to theory), and so the herd is constantly in motion across the pasture. So grass (ideas) that used to be at the fringe of the herd later become the center of the herd’s grazing, and grass that used to be at the center becomes abandoned and fringy (old ideas fall out of favor).

    And so the skeptics 100 years ago who ardently defended the mainstream views of 100 years ago find that everything they ardently defended has now been abandoned.

    The lucky thing for skeptics is that they die before their beloved positions become irrelevant. Because science itself progresses one funeral at a time. That is, old professors need to die in order for their ideas to die, and the established paradigm cannot be transcended until all the proponents of it have bit the dust. This is because academics (old dogs) cannot learn a new trick. They have a vested (published) interest in old ideas, and a vested bias against new ones (which refute their old theories). And so, since the prof will not embrace a new idea willingly, the only way for his old crusty position to die is for him to die himself.

  13. Goodfoot responds:

    Same old corrick. Get back to us when you’ve reached the age of discernment.

  14. Goodfoot responds:

    Dufusyte: Superb analysis; skeptics have condemned themselves to the tar pits of Old Science. Science is nothing if it doesn’t move; skeptics (“scoftics”, really, as their position has nothing to do with traditional skepticism, and in reality is nay-sayism) tread water, terrified to swim into new waters.

    They’d be pitiable, if my pity weren’t better directed towards those who could actually be moved.

    Sorry, poor corrick; if you’re left behind, it’s because you were too terrified to take a single step.

  15. Alamo responds:

    Hi corrick,

    You’re about 60 years behind… Nobel winning chemist Glenn Seaborg already verifiably turned lead into gold back in the 50′s.

  16. Goodfoot responds:

    WHHHOOOO! Corrick burn!! ;)

    YEAH!!!



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