Posted by: Christopher Noël on February 13th, 2014
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the release of Melba Ketchum’s Sasquatch DNA study, “Novel North American Hominins, Next Generation Sequencing of Three Whole Genomes and Associated Studies.” While some researchers have embraced her findings, many more have dismissed them, based on an insufficient grasp of the data or a neglect of the data altogether. I would like to observe this occasion by exploring several aspects of the case.
1) Month after month, many have threatened to produce evidence of some sort of “data fraud,” but after a year, no such exposé has materialized, nor has a single shred of credible evidence. The entire Ketchum study, in addition to much supplemental material, can be seen and freely downloaded at SasquatchGenomeProject.org, and Dr. Ketchum has invited scientists worldwide to pore over it and offer responsible feedback. The most high-profile taker thus far has been Dr. Todd Disotell, who has built his brand over the years as a professional debunker of what he labels pseudoscience. “It’s just a joke,” he loudly proclaimed of the study, “junk science. She is a laughing stock.”
But let’s look behind the scenes. Disotell was given the opportunity to test one of the 111 samples used in the Ketchum study, a blood sample obtained by the Erickson Project at its Kentucky habituation site and provided to Disotell directly by Adrian Erickson himself. Disotell proceeded to sequence only the mitochondrial DNA (the vestige of the maternal line only), found it to be a 100% match with modern human, interpreted this result to mean that human “contamination” must be involved, and then summarily disposed of the sample without investigating the far richer territory of the nuclear DNA (which encodes the entire history of maternal and paternal genetic contributions over millennia).
a) his results only served to confirm Ketchum’s findings, the entire point of which is that Sasquatch is a surviving hybrid of an ancient pairing of human females and males of an unknown primate species; and
b) the Ketchum paper details at length the rigorous methods employed in the study to rule out contamination.
During an appearance on “The Joe Rogan Show,” Disotell admitted, “I can’t follow ¾ of that paper.” This is because, Ketchum explains, “Disotell specializes in evolution using mitochondrial DNA. He is not qualified to comment on the genomics or other disciplines in this study.”
2) It’s not hard to understand, of course, why so many in the mainstream media and the general public would accept at face value the words of a dynamic, self-assured debunker as he apparently “shoots down” a study whose implications are so profoundly challenging to conventional wisdom, so far outside our collective comfort zone. But why are so many serious Sasquatch researchers also willing to blindly accept this kind of groundless attack? Because it relieves them of having to question their deeply entrenched views on the subject. As Thomas Kuhn famously observed, “During revolutions in science the discovery of anomalies leads to a whole new paradigm that changes the rules of the game and the ‘map’ directing new research.”(The Structure of Scientific Revolutions); however, Kuhn also demonstrated the fierce tenacity with which science will cling to its outmoded paradigms even in the face of fresh, disconfirming data.
In the case of Sasquatch research, the founding fathers (such as John Green and Grover Krantz) operated under the fixed assumption that what they were dealing with was a type of ape. This paradigm has continued in force to this day, currently embodied most prominently by Dr. Jeff Meldrum, who rejects wholesale any suggestion to the contrary, especially eyewitness testimony by habituators who have actually interacted with this species and come to know their nature and intelligence first hand—not merely analyzed their feet. (250 of pages of my book, Sasquatch Rising 2013, are devoted to habituation experiences.) Matthew Moneymaker, too, holds this view; appearing on the “CBS Early Show” in 2012, he was asked, “Bigfoot, man or animal?” and answered conclusively, “Oh, animal. They’re not anything related to humans.”
Consider, then, what a vast leap is required to escape the gravity of such certainty in order to sincerely entertain the proposition that not only is Sasquatch somehow “related to humans” but moreover that when they originally arose, they were no less than half human, and that today, though much farther removed from us genetically than in that first generation, they remain a fellow member of the genus Homo and therefore our zoological next of kin.
Now add to this resistance the fact that the insiders’ club of Establishment Science is made up of academics, who naturally look down their noses at one such as Dr. Ketchum, an independent researcher, not part of any recognized institution, a “mere” veterinarian (DVM) rather than a PhD— never mind her twenty years of experience in genetic testing and her scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals (her CV can be seen on the website). Her background in forensics, too, flies in the face of the officially sanctioned approach to evolutionary biology.
Some enjoy piling on further with ad hominem blows, a notoriously weak mode of debate, including insults to her personality and to her accounts of having now seen individual Sasquatch in person. Some also present as damning evidence her willingness to speculate upon supposedly supernatural elements of the subject. (Eclipses and lightning were once considered “supernatural” as well, until natural science expanded to incorporate them.)
Whatever one may think of any of these putative “red flags,” they all have one thing in common—their utter irrelevance to the bothersome issue of the genetic data themselves, in all their richness and consistency.
3) Speaking of which, you will not hear the detractors mentioning the two independent outside laboratories, SeqWright and Family Tree DNA, that the study employed to blindly test samples, and that corroborated Ketchum’s results 100%, even though they had not been told what organism these samples were taken from. Nor will you hear them breathe a word about the study’s nine highly credible co-authors, precisely because not one of them has come forward to repudiate the study’s methodology and results, or even to distance himself from it to the slightest degree, which would naturally be the safest professional move, given that their names and positions are now publicly associated with the study.
- Ray Shoulders, Ryan Smith—DNA Diagnostics, Nacogdoches, TX
Patrick W. Wojtkiewicz—North Louisiana Criminalistics Laboratory, Shreveport, LA
Aliece B. Watts—Integrated Forensic Laboratories, Inc., Euless, TX
David W. Spence—Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences, Dallas, TX
Andreas K. Holzenburg—Texas A&M University, Microscopy & Imaging Center, Department of Biology and Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, College Station, TX
Douglas G. Toler—Huguley Pathology Consultants, P.A., Ft. Worth, TX
Thomas M. Prychitko—Helix Biological Laboratory, Detroit, MI
Fan Zhang—UNT Center for Human Identification, University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth, TX
This ringing silence speaks volumes as a clear, implicit endorsement. By the same token, of course, none of the co-authors has gone on record in support of the study, though in view of its worldly reception, can you quite blame them? Bigfoot usually still equals professional suicide.
4) In closing, let us return to Dr. Disotell. In the same Joe Rogan interview, he dismissed Ketchum’s hybridization hypothesis with the sweeping assertion that human females could not possibly have reproduced with males of an unknown primate species some 15,000 years ago because “There is no evidence that another undiscovered primate was living at the time in order to mate with human females.”
My first response is to agree that yes, we are very likely to lack evidence for anything “undiscovered.” We have barely scratched the surface when it comes to learning just who was around back then, within the genus Homo. Traces of the various participants in the proto-human evolutionary sweepstakes are so sparse and patchy that each new study of ancient DNA seems, thanks to rapidly improving modes of analysis, to reveal a new player or players. As Lyall Watson has written, “The fossils that decorate our family tree are so scarce that there are still more scientists than specimens. The remarkable fact is that all of the physical evidence we have for human evolution can still be placed, with room to spare, inside a single coffin.”
My second response to Disotell’s statement is to point out that since we are now beginning to pull back the curtain more successfully on this complex prehistoric drama, a surprising history of shared DNA is emerging.
Writing for Nature.com, Ewen Calloway reports that
Updated genome sequences from two extinct relatives of modern humans suggest that these “archaic” groups bred with humans and with each other more extensively than was previously known.
The ancient genomes, one from a Neanderthal and one from a member of an archaic human group called the Denisovans, were presented on 18 November  at a meeting on ancient DNA at the Royal Society in London. The results suggest that interbreeding went on between the members of several ancient human-like groups in Europe and Asia more than 30,000 years ago, including an as-yet-unknown human ancestor from Asia.
“What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a Lord of the Rings-type world—that there were many hominid populations,” says Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London.
The first published Neanderthal and Denisovan genome sequences revolutionized the study of ancient human history, not least because they showed that these groups bred with anatomically modern humans, contributing to the genetic diversity of many people alive today.
Whether or not this “as-yet-unknown human ancestor” has anything to do with Sasquatch is unclear, but the relevance for our topic is plain. Ketchum herself articulated them well on her Facebook page:
After reading the new Nature article about humans cross-breeding with other hominins, I just can’t understand why there is such an aversion to our study. Our findings are just like for humans with a percentage of Neanderthal DNA, only they show the novel Sasquatch DNA to be predominant in the genomes, with the human component being the lesser contributor. In other words, Sasquatch are Sasquatch, with a little human remaining in them from the original crossbreeding long ago. It is really simple to understand.
Ketchum’s critics, especially Drs. Disotell and Meldrum, have smugly rejected the very notion that a new hybrid population could arise and thrive within “only” 15,000 years. Well, consider just a single instance of cross-breeding between, say, a Homo sapiens and a Denisovan: This would produce a half-and-half hybrid in nine months. Now, broaden the picture to include tens of thousands of such offspring during a lengthy regime of inter-species reproduction, a regular paleolithic Peyton Place, that yields a dizzying array of combinations among ancient Homo species, 99% of whom eventually died out. Aside from us, those that did not die out became Sasquatch and its surviving cousins worldwide. The original hybrid ancestor of the Sasquatch we find around us today was, so to speak, a proto-Sasquatch, a creature that was later purified and strengthened, over more than a thousand generations, by breeding within its own ranks, not anymore with puny Homo sapiens.
Christopher Noël is the author of Sasquatch Rising 2013 and editor of the newly released anthology How Sasquatch Matters: Writers Respond to the New Natural Order. Christopher Noël holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy from Yale. Noël is a freelance editor (ChristopherNoel.info) and lives with his daughter in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.